A New ‘PSA’ for Building Strong Families

This article was originally published on Adoption Today.

In today’s modern world, family dynamics are ever-changing. The diversity of family experiences is far richer and more challenging than ever before and we must make sure society is keeping up with the transformation. There is beauty in this diversity, yet there is also complexity. While all families have needs, families that come together through fostering and adoption often experience an added layer of intricacy that often requires added supports. According to The Donaldson Adoption Institute’s (DAI) adoption perceptions study, 80% of adoptive parents felt that more support should be offered after a child is adopted. Participants in the study identified a variety of needs, particularly in areas such as openness, transracial adoption, trauma and identity development. In this study, more than half of the general public and the adoption community also expressed that more public funding is needed for pre-and post-adoption services.

When adoption is treated as a one-time transaction instead of the lifelong transformation it is, needs are often left unmet. The consequence of this range yet all serve to create a less than optimal family experience. What’s most needed now in adoption is to create a context in which we consider the needs of families within a framework of rights. The reality is, every family has a right to be provided with the supports needed to ensure their strength. These supports will differ based on the unique experience of each family, and the onus is on society to meet families where they are in order to create an environment in which families can thrive. As we embark upon National Foster Care month, a time to raise awareness and reflect in particular on adoption from foster care and older child adoption, it is critical that we renew a shared commitment to identify the needs of children and families and reframe the conversation as a matter of rights. At DAI, our message throughout the month and beyond will center on the Preparation, Support and Advocacy that are essential elements of building strong families and ensuring healthy futures for kids.

Preparation

Becoming a parent is a life-changing experience and always requires preparation. To become a parent through adoption, there are many practical steps needed at the outset in order to receive approval to pursue adoption. These steps include, at minimum, a home study as well as certain clearances. Often times pre-adoption education occurs, yet these requirements vary greatly from state to state. Healthy parent prep in adoption though asks us to take stock of the complexities embedded in this family dynamic. This includes providing information and support surrounding identity development, cultural and ethnic diversity, losses, and building relationships among the extended family of adoption. Pre-adoption education and support is a basic right that must be provided to all families. All families deserve to start their journey with eyes wide open; in this way, we can best ensure that kids and parents have a solid foundation for some of the complexities that may arise as their journey continues.

Support

When an adoption is finalized in court, families experience a big step in their journey. The adoption finalization is best experienced as a new beginning for the family, not as an end point. Adoption is an ongoing experience of transformation with different needs at different times that ebb and flow much as they do for other modern families of today. In the absence of the right supports in place, families may needlessly struggle. Just as the landscape of families is ever changing, so too is the landscape of adoption. Today’s adoptive families include one mom or two dads, a blending of cultures, ethnicity and race, and increased relationships between adoptive and birth family members, among other areas. All of this makes for a richer experience than ever before, but also an experience with new and added layers. Ensuring that supports are accessible and available is needed, including making sure that allied professionals such as educators, doctors and therapists, are knowledgeable and skilled in responding to the unique experiences of adoptive families. This is a basic right that adoptive families should expect and that parents and kids deserve.

Advocacy

Adoption lives within a social context that at times has added difficulty to this journey. Many times, societal perceptions and beliefs about adoption are inaccurate and unrealistic. This makes influencing changes in policy and practice all the more difficult. Further, there is a heightened need for today’s families to be aware of and able to respond to the continuing discrimination that abounds, particularly when considering differences in race, class, culture, and sexuality. This awareness allows parents to best be able to have conversations with their children surrounding what they are seeing and hearing that may feel confusing or even frightening at times. All of us have a responsibility to advocate for family equality as parents and children deserve to grow up in an environment in which they feel secure. For families that come together through fostering and adoption, this includes ensuring the right supports are in place from the very beginning and throughout a lifetime. Advocating in this context requires members of the adoption community, those that love them, and the professionals that serve them to join together and voice their needs as a matter of rights. Together, we can ensure that perceptions are realistic, services are appropriate, and families are responded to equitably and in a way that affirms their unique construct.

Every family has a right to be strong and every child deserves to grow up in a family that is prepared and supported in meeting their needs. Bringing a child into a family — whether by birth, adoption or the blending of families — is life-changing for everyone involved. When the adoption process is thoughtful, ethical, equitable and we recognize the lifelong impact on all involved, it can be transformational, with extended families formed by adoption representing models for a truly evolved definition of family.

 

DAI posts news articles and commentary in areas relevant to adoption and foster care adoption as a way to aggregate information for members of our community. Links to the original article and publication source are included in each post. The views expressed in the articles posted on our News and Views section do not necessarily represent those of DAI, our staff, agents or affiliates. If you wish to read original commentary by DAI, check the blogs on our website as well as at The Huffington Post.