...homeward bound

Finishing my 2.5 weeks in the US crowned five weeks of travel spanning the world, the social spectrum and the adoption sector.

Having landed home I quickly resumed day to day life and work. A few days later I received a letter from Julia, the Fellowship's Director, welcoming me home and outlining my next steps.

A report on my findings is due at the end of July 2016. To help make sense of my research, I have set up a pitch at a local RSA networking event in Bath and a brown bag lunch at my office to update my colleagues on my findings. Both of these will help me to practice communicating my thoughts and defining what I feel are the most important ideas, concepts, lessons and recommendations for the UK adoption industry.

This website will eventually become an online portal, storing my report, key findings and a record of references and contacts.

I will position my report against recent government reports to speed up and fast track adoption, suggesting better ways to make it more effective for young people and their carers through a better understanding of technology.

This journey - of better understanding and synergy - is not necessarily new and will continue to evolve above and beyond this research project. As such, this report will not necessarily provide distinct solutions, but provide a reference point for the sector in understanding how far we have come, what opportunities are available and where we heading in the search for better adoptions for all.

Washington DC - C.A.S.E & FIND

Back in DC, I traveled to the suburbs to spend a day with C.A.S.E - the Centre for Adoption Support and Education. They've been running since 1998 and have already featured in this blog, having delivered presentations on their online training platform TAC at ICAR5.

I came away with an invitation to develop and deliver a webinar on innovation in adoption - a generous and exciting opportunity to synthesise my findings in a practical way.

C.A.S.E do a great deal of good work; from counselling, advocacy, therapy, education to support groups, training and publications parents, children, teens, adults and professionals.

I met with their digital team - it was refreshing to see a social services organisation taking digital so seriously, investing time and money in staff to help deliver cross-platform solutions and materials. I have noted that this does not happen enough; that innovation is seen as an expense first and foremost, which creates an unhelpful cycle of under investing in technology and using self-limited experience to further devalue the point of investment. Through this team they have been able to develop their webinars; I was pleased to see that David Brodzinsky, formerly of the Donaldson Adoption Institute and a key influence at the start of my travel fellowship, was scheduled to deliver a webinar on the role of adoptive fathers.

I was also interested to learn more about their school-based programme. SAFE at School is a workshop and manual for teachers, educators and school counsellors detailing strategies for creating positive, adoption sensitive environments in schools. I asked them about how successful this had been; despite positive feedback and ongoing referrals, the programme had been scaled back due to cost. It seemed a great shame, as I am increasingly convinced of the need for schools to modernise the way they teach children about social and family structures. Still, it's encouraging to know that materials exist that begin to address this gap. It seems an unsurmountable challenge to access more funding in schools to deliver something like this (mirroring the challenges faced by C.A.S.E). I see the solution being advocacy for changing the curriculum of schools at a fundamental level, rather than producing additional costs for schools to take on.

Jason Gournay is based in Washington State and works for the Children's Home Society of Washington, a key FIND delivery partner for the Centre of the Developing Child's Washington Cluster.

CHSW are a private non-profit organisation with over 120 years operational experience. Most recently, Jason's focus has been scaling up FIND - the transactional science model of recording and analysing micro-interactions between children and caregivers to promote positive interactions. It deals with the visibility of these interactions in a positive and constructive way - rather than dwelling on mistakes it encourages the repetition and development of existing strengths.

FIND's video technology is both barrier and an opportunity. It's the expensive part of the processes, but offers great scope for providing online materials for parents to dip into without necessarily needing to enrol on the formal programme. We even thought that with the availability of high quality recording technology in mobile technology, producing material at home could become a possibility, so long as the capacity to edit and produce the short, 10 second snap shots of key interactions was retained.

Streamlining their back office support, making core content available online (balancing individualised material with class/'generic' material) and finding editing efficiencies are key areas for development. Tablets, for example, can record and edit without the need for multiple expensive products.

Jason talked to me about the expansion of FIND for Fathers; initially take up was low and the duration and intensity of the programme didn't appear to suit men. By making adjustments and running micro-pilots for fathers, they are starting the grow a successful model for engaging with men through a technology-centred intervention. I've agreed to keep tabs on their progress.

Summarising our thoughts on technology and adoption more broadly, Jason closed our chat by saying;

  • That adoptions should not be rushed; they are time consuming and we should concentrate on finding placements that children will stay in. He added that there is an interesting research programme in Oregon looking at genetic predispositions of parents - that styles of parenting can/might/should match with genetics in order to create lasting relationships between new families. In other words, if we were able to pair parents with child who share similar genetic traits, permanency would be more likely
  • Problem and solution identification should be child cantered
  • Due diligence, care and thought should not be overlooked in the onset of technological advancement

The next day I would be catching a flight home. Almost before I knew it, my travel time was over...

Amherst Day 2

During my second day in Amherst I was introduced to three more members of the local adoption community; Dr Patty Ramsey, David Sherer and Jen Dolan.

Patty is a Professor of Psychology at the local Mount Holyoke College and a close friend of Hal's. We spoke openly and freely about a range of topics over brunch; a nice reminder of the way that - in certain communities at least - it is as usual to talk about adoption as it is the weather or last night's ice hockey score. Although I suppose these kinds of conversations are fairly isolated (this was a pre-arranged meeting, after all), it reinforced how important it is to make adoption a normal thing to talk about, as difficult as it is to do this with socially sensitive topics.

Patty talked about parents, as she works extensively with parent support groups. She shared stories about websites that help people to find babies, rehoming already adopted children - some negative experiences that highlighted the apprehension around technology. Of course, these are activities that also took place long before the Internet had a part to play. It has made it easier to do these things, but not created the problems. We did reflect on the way that media (films and TV on this occasion) can - and does - present adoption in unhelpful ways, full of sentimentality, 'saviour' stories and 'bad seeds' rescued by their new parents. Having worked in international development and fundraising I see similarities with trends of orphan rescue and 'poverty porn'; where the act of 'saving' a child is glorified. The risk with adoption, I feel, is that this makes the child 'special' - this word is often used to describe adopted children, TO adopted children. They identify themselves as different when all they need is a childhood experience as close as possible to safety and security and support. The complexities of dealing with this status for traumatised children is misunderstood, ignored, or both.

More positively, we talked about the value of support groups for providing guidance about unexpected learning experiences, such as what it's like to change schools and how to navigate legal and medical systems. It's easy to forget that adoptive parents often become parents for the first time and so have to deal with all the usual challenges of parenthood alongside the unusual ones.

David Scherer is a child psychologist at UMass and an adoptive Father. We had a lovely conversation about his experiences; his profession gives him an interesting perspective into how children perceive and understand the process. We agreed that adoption is a process for children AND adults - that these processes sometimes work in parallel (chronologically) but also very differently (developmentally). Thinking about adults, David talked about the idea of scrapbooks for prospective parents made by children or adoptive families to help inform the learning process.

The role of technology, he felt, was to facilitate processes; of search and reunion, of education, of intervention. In the same way that adoption was exploited or mismanaged before the Internet, we shouldn't assume that technology or innovation will specifically create opportunities to search, reunite, educate or intervene. These processes happen anyway and it's about identifying the problems with these processes and making them more efficient or effective.

Jen Dolan joined David and I for a late lunch. Jen is the Program Manager for the Rudd Adoption Centre and contributed some of her own unique experiences. One that stood out was her effort to search for her adoptive child's birth family, herself! It made her reflect on a couple of things. First, the pace of technology and that pre adoption preparation would be key to to helping parents adjust more quickly to the inevitable speed of social and personal interactions online. Second, and in a more abstract way, it taught her about the porous family boundaries that affect the way control is managed, particularly for adolescents. I think this relates to one of Hal's specialist areas - Emotional Distance Regulation - which looks at the way that people, separated by distance, manage their emotional relationships over time. There are many deep layers of emotional and psychological experience that sit beneath what we see and understand about adoption. Technology benefits from being flexible, adaptable and customisable - attributes that will help any innovations supporting the ongoing intricacies of adoption to be successful.

Amherst Day 1 - Full Circle & The Rudd Centre

Another virtue of my effort to attend ICAR5 was the opportunity to meet with Hal Grotevant. I'd exchanged emails with him as an early connection in the adoption field. It was he who first recommended I take a look at ICAR.

I attended his key note (on his landmark longitudinal study) and spoke to him afterwards about my intention to travel to the US. He invited me to Amherst and after landing back in the UK made a start on arrangements to spend some time with him and his team(s).

On the afternoon of the 28th I hopped on a coach from downtown Boston for a four hour journey to Amherst. It's host to several colleges and learning institutions, but is the primary home of the University of Massachusetts (UMass), a sprawling and impressive campus combining greenery and diverse architecture. Hal was recently elected the Chair of the psychology department there. Among his various commitments there is the Rudd Adoption Research Programme. It was here that I was homed for two days as I met with staff, lab groups and local agencies to add to my understanding of innovation in adoption.

Marla Alisan - Full Circle Adoption

After a nights rest my first stop was with the Director of Full Circle Adoption, Marla Alisan.

Full Circle Logo.png

Marla is a lawyer by trade and leads this agency with a rigorous passion for ethics. I was joined by members of her small team including a case worker to discuss some of my ideas to date. Full Circle Adoptions is a fully licensed and Hague Accredited nonprofit adoption agency. The agency provides comprehensive adoptive services for families throughout the US and other countries as well. The agency provides adoption services to expectant parents, prospective adoptive parents and children. Expectant parents can be living in any state. The agency does not require expectant parents to travel - we work with adoption professionals close to where you live. Adoptive parents can live throughout the US and in other countries.

Marla was interested in a an online system that might remove the marketing aspect of adoption; connecting people to ethical social workers. Adoption is a lucrative business (as you will see from comments below).

We riffed on the idea of 'Tender' - an online matching app that allowed kids and families to meet one another online. It was an amusing exploration of matching technology trends with demands in the sector. We realised that in reality, matching social workers would be a better goal - they could then use their expertise to facilitate effective matching. It goes back to the 'worker to worker' ethos of MARE in Michigan. It also helps to moderate the activity of young people online. I am all for promoting ownership and independence in young people when it comes to their adoption experience, but either through supportive parenting or vetted and secure online systems

NB: I asked about state adoptions compared to private adoptions, the later of which had been the focus of all discussions since arriving in the States. Each year there are between 10-15,000 private adoptions compared to around 50,000 from State care. The influence of private adoptions seems to me to outweigh the the ratio of adoptions across the country. Data for adoption from foster care is good and it is free to adopt from the State. Private adoptions, though licensed, lack a degree of regulation in order to prevent exploitative practice affecting the sector as a whole. One (extreme) example of this is an agency who sent a birth Mother who gave up her baby for adoption an 'referral coupon' for any one she knew who might want to do the same. The commercialisation of adoption is very real in the US (Marla calls it the Walmartisation' - large agencies pushing smaller groups out of the market with aggressive tactics and large advertising budgets).

I was also reminded of the hierarchy of law that exists in the States - Adoption Law is Family Law is State Law - as such there are 50 different approaches to adoption practice. Efforts have been made to consider national laws to help equalise adoption approaches, but this is understandably ambitious.

Interesting asides:

  • Adoptionlearningpartners.org - a repository of training materials
  • Heart of the Matter Education - another resource which also allows practitioners to assemble credits for social workers and adoptive parents.
  • Gender - we talked about the fact that on one hand there is a devaluation of working with children that may cause more women to work in the field than men - conversely, high powered executive roles in NGOs and agencies are likely to be held by men such is the earning power in these roles.

Rudd Adoption Research Lab

Me during my visit to the Rudd Adoption Research Program

Me during my visit to the Rudd Adoption Research Program

The Rudd Adoption Research Program homes a lab group, where students and staff connect to discuss and develop ongoing research. I met with four students to introduce my research and get some inputs on how they view technology. We had an undergraduate, a fifth year student and a research assistant among the group.

Broadly, we agreed that the new challenge that technology presents is the immediacy of the Internet to confront adoptees with information about their lives. Accessing this information isn't necessarily the problem - being unprepared to deal with it is, alongside the potential lack in support from peers or parents if children are going about this process alone. AMP (see below) goes some way to dealing with this, as a student gave an example of a mentee who talked about this experience with their mentor (highlighting how difficult they found it to speak with their parents about these things!).

In their experience, most depictions of the adoption experience online were negative (this was taken from a South Korean support group that one of the students worked closely with). This surprised me a little. But in spite of this negativity, the process itself was positive in that those sharing their experiences were doing so in solidarity with others. This social support and validation of experience was crucial to the success of that support group - and to me, forms the basis of technology's ability to support better experiences for young people.

We also talked about genealogical testing, a practice becoming more common in the States. It is closely tied to securing and forming personal identities; the research assistant in the group is themselves from Columbia but doesn't know his ethnic background and so cannot subscribe to it in the same way that other people can. It's something he wants to know eventually. For $200 you can order a kit online, in the post - and depending on the service have returned within weeks a detailed breakdown of your ethnicity, health or family lineage. Some organisations even assist in connecting you with relatives (typically cousins) who are also in their databases, sparking a search for more birth family.

When I asked the research assistant about his early life as an adoptee (I'd typically keep identities hidden but his gender is important and relevant to this part) he echoed a discussion I'd had with Kris Freeark; children are inquisitive when they are young, becoming closed as adolescence starts (in relation to their growing social identify), only opening again when they approach adulthood. It seems to me that if open communication is not embraced at an early age, young people are at risk of suppressing their emotional development in a variety of ways - it is likely to result in more destructive experiences with search and reunion or result in more problematic social adjustments as adults (starting families, for example). The mentoring model is one example of bringing generations together to create shared, cathartic interactions.

Note to self: explore eCounselling trends in relation to online mentoring/peer support!

AMP - Adoption Mentoring Programme

The Rudd Centre have created a successful mentoring programme. There are currently 10 ongoing mentorships (importantly, with just two of them male) that run over a semester. Mentees are 8-12 years old and are matched to adopted mentors based on race, ethnicity, gender and adoption story.

I have agreed to stay in touch with the programme as I start my own mentor relationship in the UK through Mentoring Plus. It will offer two living case studies to help explore opportunities to create a broader mentoring network, utilising online technologies such as Skype or Google Hangouts (for video interaction) and Storyworth for facilitating Q&A sessions between adoptees.

This programme hopes to expand but has so far limited use of remote mentoring to a couple of cases; the face to face element of standard mentoring has undoubted benefits. Can a programme like this work purely online?

Boston Day 1 - Focus Group

Ruth McRoy - a close friend and professional ally of Hal Grotevant - couldn't be in town for my visit. However, she was able to make good use of her academic connections to set me up with three students with a personal and professional connection to adoption. I arranged a meeting in a local community library on the afternoon of my first day in Boston.

Much like my community meeting in Ann Arbor, I was shown that through just three people you can be introduced to the great diversity and complexity of adoption.

Changing Gatekeepers

One lady is a lesbian who has two children born of donor conception. These children were adopted by her partner. She has supported Ruth with the ongoing Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research longitudinal study. Personally and professionally she is interested in the transition into parenthood and the impact of interracial and sexual identities on adoption. She commented on the shift in parents as gatekeepers of children's access to information - I thought this was a good perception and one that summarises well the increasing relevance of social media on adoption. It is not a new worry of parents that their children will learn about things that they don't want them to, or before their are mature enough. The internet changes the interactions and responsibilities at play and we need to make an effort to adjust or mindsets accordingly.

Intelligent Data

The second member of the focus group had been adopted twice; once aged 9 and again aged 14. Now 35, he works in information technology. He helps to create tools that promote outcomes (rather than tools that simply manage more data, for example), evaluate programmes effectively whilst working in parallel with narratives - the stories themselves. He expanded on this by saying that he is concerned about ownership of personal narratives, which has become more difficult to do online. For example, if you decide to change the way you tell your story (as will happen over time), then finding and replacing content that you have already posted may be difficult. He spoke very knowledgeably about how data systems do (or more often don't) work for social work organisations. I linked him to the research of Philip Gillingham as many of his thoughts were echoed in this discussion.

I also noted that this was the second instance of an individual being adopted twice. I imagine that it's by no means an occurrence unique to the US, but it's not something I'd considered until travelling here. It raises important questions about incentivising 'faster' adoptions, as the repercussions of failed adoptions are severe. Perhaps they are also cyclical in the same way that expulsion from school can result ongoing difficulty academic alienation. The risks of expedited adoptions can be mitigated through better communication between social workers, caregivers and trained professionals to ensure that the right connections are being made quickly and that good decisions are not inappropriately delayed.

More Than Words

The last of the team was adopted from pregnancy. In addition to her academic commitments, she told us about a youth enterprise called More Than Words (https://www.mtwyouth.org/). MTW is a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business. It was started by an ex-Harvard student who realised that books left on the pavement for recycling would have resale value. Stocking a new bookstore to would also provide work opportunities for vulnerable youth. They have an online store (using Ebay's platform).

Interesting asides:

  • Schooling - there was consensus that education in this area is outdated. I have grown more interested in this area as the fellowship has developed. Whether or not solutions are connected with technology, it is certainly an area that requires closer attention.
  • Information sharing - the group spoke about the prospect of sharing too much information about a child; creating prejudices about that individual too early on. This, alongside photo listing, does not address root causes of racial and cultural challenges. Instead these issues are sustained as agencies compete to find adoptive parents quickly in return for the high fees these placements invite.
  • Good data - data is often funder driven (influenced by the requirements of those providing funding for the programme) and not the front line users who are working most closely with children. Social workers therefore have a conflicted relationship with technologies. Important issues are missed, such as; feedback loops (giving social workers back their data to work with); making systems user friendly; aligning systems to the organisations goals and objectives; evolving the system with the organisation - tthis can be acheived by investing in a technologist to lead the conversations between social workers and the system.
  • Refer to Punitive Father Registries and Children's Trust engaging Fathers in Fatherhood
  • http://www.youthhubboston.org - another example of youth-led enterprise in Boston

Centre on the Developing Child

Meeting with the CoDC had been on my agenda from the early days of planning for my fellowship. Though I eventually focused most of my interests on adoption-specific activities, I was still keen to meet with them to learn more about their projects supporting child development and better understand how scientific academia can be a part of improved adoption programming.

The Center on the Developing Child’s diverse activities align around building an R&D (research and development) platform for science-based innovation, and transforming the policy and practice landscape that supports and even demands change. We do this because society pays a huge price when children do not reach their potential, because half a century of policies and programs have not produced breakthrough outcomes, and because dramatic advances in science are ready to be used to achieve a promising future for every child.

Melissa Rivard is a project manager for the Centre's Frontiers of Innovation programme. FOI uses science to provide effective application to policy and practice, intervention strategies that allow for design, testing and refinement of interventions and a learning community to share innovation.

FIND - Filming Interactions to Nurture Development

FIND is a video coaching programme for parents and caregivers of high-risk children. It uses video to reinforce naturally occurring, developmentally supportive interactions between caregivers and young children. There is a 'serve and return' concept at the centre of this process; serve is when a child initiates an interaction, which is returned when a caregiver notices and responds.

Whilst more information can be found here, it is interesting to draw out FIND's five elements as key aspects of good quality developmental support;

  • Sharing the focus of the child
  • Support and encouragement
  • Naming (identifying an action of a child)
  • Back and forth interaction
  • Endings and beginnings

Overall, the programme helps to improve competence in caregivers. Children report improvements in developmental status, attachment and school achievement. Decreases in internalising symptoms and reductions in adverse childhood experiences are also anticipated - though research and scaled-up programming will confirm or challenge this.

This particular intervention clearly breaks down some of the key developmental milestones for children that are missed when family bonds break down. It is crucial, therefore - from a developmental perspective - that the priority should be to reconnect unstabilised children with the interactions listed above. This might be achieved through faster adoption, but not necessarily.

I asked Melissa about gender. Interestingly, the FIND programme has been adapted for fathers, based on low attendance. FIND-F (FIND Fathers) responds to males having reduced availability to complete the training (6 weeks compared to 10 for women) and a preference for selecting the gender of their coach. Making these changes has allowed them to engage with men through FIND more appropriately, building confidence in these males to participate in child support services

A key learning point for FIND has been the technical aspects of video coaching. Advances in technology make these systems more accessible, though there have been challenges in ensuring approaches are cost-effective, easy to use and secure. As such, the team have built in a process of identifying, purchasing and testing equipment (including new technologies) as part of the planning phase for each new implementation. Something to note for tech-adverse people and projects.

For reference:

  • Technology & Education Centre (robotic babies!) - http://realityworks.com/ - Melissa knew of this programme, which takes technology very literally in bringing to life key sex and parental education curricula through the use of robotic babies!

Q&A with the Ann Arbor Adoption Community

Tracy at PARC kindly invited me back on my last evening in Ann Arbor as a guest speaker at a round table discussion. It was an opportunity I was especially looking forward to, as it was another chance to sit down with community members: practitioners, adopted parents and (most importantly) their children to talk about adoption. We had young girls with adopted siblings, an adopted boy, an adopted boy with learning difficulties - it was invaluable to be able to interact in this way with a varied group of people.

I kept the agenda open to promote topics that resonated with the group. I also kept notes to a minimum to promote more natural and comfortable responses.

There were 13 of us altogether. We started with introductions - our names and 'what adoption meant to us'. Some offered interesting responses that synergised with norms of social media: 'broadening my world' and 'coming together as one'.

An intern at PARC spoke eloquently and pragmatically about a workshop she helped develop for parents scared about social media. Ultimately, it came down to the fact that they didn't understand it - fundamentally, in terms of how it worked and how it was used. There are hidden benefits that I thought were interesting; sometimes a face to face interaction isn't suitable or necessary. 'Meeting' online is a compromise and parents who help their children to do this may be preventing far more severe reactions as their children attempt to reconnect with family members or reconcile their pasts. At the same time we don't want to create a culture of dependency - good education for parents about social media will help them work with their children (digital natives) in a more healthy way.

It seems that fantasy surrounds social media in lots of ways; from parents who imagine that it will only end in trouble, to children who believe with naivety that it will bring them closer to others - without supervision or mutual support from an informed parent this can be dangerous.

Another adoptive parent talked about the language that a local group of adopted children from South America began to use to describe themselves; 'squad' was one such term. She remarked that when peer groups formed they revelled in shared identity and used their differences to boost their social status, if only in relatively small ways. This isn't surprising or unusual behaviour but it reminded me that for adoptees, knowing others who are adopted is often rare but can serve an important function in social development.

This round table session - over more pizza and American candy - was one of the most enjoyable and valuable of my time on this fellowship. Rather than pure ideas or information, it provided me with a grounding in community that I hadn't seen before. It allowed me to speak to children directly - to understand for myself how siblings feel when talking about adoptive siblings; how boys (there were two there) are hesitant to share ideas in front of adults but clearly had thoughts on their minds that they wanted to explore. Adopted parents were passionate about adoption and many had taken to it as a career. There were no fathers there.

It was in some ways a microcosm of what I had seen in different forms across the 5 weeks of my fellowship and it reassured me that I was on-track.

A chat with Kris

I found time before I left Ann Arbor to chat with Kris about some of her other work.

Kris talked to me about a workshop she developed after her own adopted child asked a difficult and profound question at a young age. Inquisitive Minds deals with parental anxiety and supports them to help open up honest and constructive conversations with their young adopted children as they become more aware of their 'unusual' family environment.

Backed up by a research study with 80 families, Kris developed a curriculum for delivering training programmes delivered over a weekend or 8-weeks. Monthly follow ups allow groups to meet face to face to discuss issues faced at home.

Her latest idea is to turn this into an online course. I look forward to seeing how this develops. This particular project is ultimately a combination of core skills (education) and technology, which provides the information to a broader audience (using Kajabi Next, a platform that allows individuals to create their own online courses).

Interesting asides:

  • Kris highlighted the prevalence of ADHD/learning difficulties in adopted children as a result of disrupted cognitive development, trauma and interrupted schooling. I hope to explore this during my time with the Centre of the Developing Child in Boston
  • On Your Feet Foundation - a charity set up to support grief and loss in birth mothers
  • AdoptiveFamilies.com - Adoptive Families is an award-winning resource for parents-to-be navigating the adoption process and for parents raising children through adoption. Founded as a black-and-white newsletter, it switched to four-color publication in 1994. In 2014, Adoptive Families transformed into an all-digital quarterly magazine and relaunched adoptivefamilies.com as a comprehensive searchable website containing the many resources from more than 40 years of publication. Adoptive Families provides information and support through expert articles, personal stories, expert audio, in-depth eBooks, made-for-sharing Clip & Save tipsheets, parent-to-parent interaction, and more. Adoptive Families maintains the vibrant online community, AdoptiveFamiliesCircle, and publishes Building Your Family: The Donor, Surrogacy, and Adoption Guide, a valuable resource and national directory for those considering their path to parenthood.

I found a school-orientated resource on their website - helping classmates to understand adoption. It begins to acknowledge the value of teaching children about family and that it is 'simply one of many ways to become a family'. 

They have a page dedicated to schools - https://www.adoptivefamilies.com/category/parenting/adoption-at-school/. I'm interested in the balance of responsibility between parents and teachers in educating children about adoption. I think governments need to do more to modernise the curriculum so that 'difficult questions' do not have to be fielded irregularly by children, teachers or parents. They are difficult because they are unexpected and driven by curiosity (as is bullying). It is encouraging to know that AF are exploring this gap and I will use it as a reference point for exploring developments in this area at home.

AF are an interesting model of centralised, community-driven information (I wonder if Irving Leon is aware of them and whether it demonstrates to him a fair approach to knowledge sharing). I will look into similar online hubs in the UK and to what extent they connect disparate resources effectively. 

Ann Arbor Day 3: Lunch with Irv

Later in the day, I drove to a restaurant to meet with Irving Leon, a contact of Kris'. An esteemed psychologist (specialising in reproductive loss), (self-confessed) technophobe and adoptive father. It was especially interesting to get a different perspective on my research. He disclosed his personal affiliation with adoption clearly and does so as part of any dialogue on matters relating to his work. This is because he feels this brings to the table a particular set of experiences and feelings (positive and negative) that influences the options and advice he might give. I told him that I have increasingly taken a similar tactic. It is important to my research methodology to be open about this, but it also promotes a transparency and honesty that would be hypocritical of me to avoid.

Irving (Irv for short) came prepared with three key points about technology and adoption. He preloaded his comments with an admission that his understanding of technology is limited by his inexperience in using it (not an irrelevant observation) and limited professional experience with adoption.

  1. Education: this was particularly aligned to the orientation of high quality, non-commercialised resources. By this he meant compromised by corporate sponsorship or cost-barriers. This also infers a neutrality to the information. I told Irv that I feel education needs to expand to school curriculum. Through Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs), the care system and the many forms of temporary and permanent family placements, traditional family dynamics are more complex than ever. Anecdotal evidence during my trip suggests that schools are yet to catch up - I would argue that they have been outdated for sometime. Schools should make children aware of the diversity of family dynamics from a young age as part of a balanced social and sexual education curriculum. This would help produce a generation of informed young people where being adopted is at least understood. This might not prevent playground cruelty, but that is perhaps a goal too far. In young people and adults, fear is often at the heart of anger, aggression or frustration. I was referred to STEAM schools who are starting to explore this in the US. I would like to find out more about the UK's efforts to do so and explore opportunities to research or advocate for these ideas.
  2. Videos: Irv feels that broadcasting the open adoption experience using video would be an effective way of promoting best practice. He is an advocate of open adoption (as am I) as this is what he experienced and it has worked very well. His family and his son have a close relationship with his birth family. In practice, video can be used to connect birth family (IDEA; could STORYWORTH be adapted to allow for moderated video recordings?) reducing distance. These interactions may then act as tools to help encourage more openness in adoption by highlighting that through moderation and appropriate supervision, technology can offer very healthy support for key stakeholders. A fear of disembodiment pervades adoption - adults are scared that their children will want to leave them and this places stress on forming 'natural' bonds. Mediation through the Internet can help to heal this process.
  3. Support Groups: I'm aware that these exist in great - if unquantified - amounts. For Irv, it is important that support groups allow people to think about adoption once ART has failed. Transitioning to adoption has two elements; 1) relief at not having to go through ARTs invasion procedures and 2) grief at not being about to parent your own biological child. Grief should not be assumed to take on a stage-based uniform shape - people react differently in all circumstances. What is common is that there should be an authenticity to adoptive parenthood that supports parents in dealing with their genetic and gestational losses. 

Reproductive Loss

This is not something I've thought about in great detail and my knowledge is still very superficial. However, it's an integral part of adoption, as it reminds us that both parties - children and adults - are dealing with loss. Our focus is often on the child but parents are dealing with a complex array of emotional challenges too. Technology - for it's impersonal universality, can foster closeness and togetherness. I have lost count of the number of times Facebook has reunited people in an adoption context. There is a human need to be connected, especially with family. Children will ask about their birth identities through natural curiosity. A platform like Facebook is already performing a basic function and these positives should be used to help produce a structure that protects the sensitivities of adoption (acknowledging the importance of loss, trauma, child safeguarding and protection, etc). It may also begin to integrate multimedia - such as video or the sharing of photos and creative writing - so that connections over distance are catering to the needs of the child as they navigate their early years.

Ann Arbor Day 3: PARC & MARE

Day three began with a round table session with two organisations working out of Ann Arbor, with remits across the State; PARC (Post Adoption Resource Centre) and MARE (Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange).

MARE - Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange

MARE are essentially a recruitment service for children in need of adoption. This is not to belittle or oversimplify their service, but MARE's core service steps in once children have been placed up for adoption with a view to promoting their availability (NOTE: in a discussion later in the week I pondered the ethics of 'marketing' children; a member of a focus group also commented on the ability to use photographs to search for more information about a child without full consideration for a child's welfare).

There are 13,000 children in care in Michigan. 2,500 have the 'goal' of adoption, which means that 12 months have passed since being placed into care, during which time the birth family have been unable to fulfill a reunification plan. (By comparison, the UK had around 93,000 children 'in care' in 2014 with 5,800 placed into adoption). This 12 month period can and does vary on a case by case basis but typically once this stage has passed, parental rights are terminated. These rights will usually be replaced by adoption, guardianship (with the State acting as the parent) or independent living. Children over 14 can deny consent to be adopted.

Of the 2,500 kids per year that reach this point, most are placed with relatives or family members. Roughly 300 are left. These children are photo listed on the MARE recruitment page. Professional photos and well written profiles accompany them and they are advertised in various media outlets. Data is collected on these children (in fact all children in Michigan are tracked and they advocate a 'worker to worker' approach, where representatives for families and children are connected quickly and efficiently. It is an interesting concept. Promoting children in this way is not new, but MARE's online resource seems more established, data-wise and holistic than others I've seen in the UK. I didn't ask questions about their success rates - how long it takes children listed on the site to be placed etc, though this would be useful to follow up on.

PARC - Post Adoption Resource Centre

PARC work closely with MARE (sharing office space), providing support for families after adoption has been formalised. This includes:

  • Educational seminars and training for adoptive families
  • Support groups for adoptive families and adopted children
  • Liaison for adoptive families with community services
  • Information and referral to appropriate community services
  • Adoption-sensitive, time limited, case management and crisis intervention services
  • 24 hour telephone access for adoptive families looking for support services

The meeting taught me more about the adoption process in the US; or more specifically in the State of Michigan. It transpires that processes vary greatly across the country. There are 52 counties in Michigan, each with a different court system. Whilst some communicate fairly effectively (allowing cross-state domestic adoptions to take place), others don't. Similar problems are caused by the sheer number of private adoption agencies in Michigan (who typically work alongside resources such as MARE to take adoptions forward from initially matching to legal, formal placement). There are over 100 companies registered with more than 200 sites in operation. These don't communicate effectively either. It results in occasions where children are placed miles from their home towns, when available homes are almost literally available next door.

This made me think about the local authorities in the UK. A meeting I had in mid-2015 with John Simmonds at CoramBAAF highlighted the problems faced by 'competing' LAs and opportunities for greater synergies between them. To contradict my previous concern, this opens up the likelihood of children being placed beyond their 'home' towns - but ultimately we want situations where safe homes are found in an appropriate time frame, and that excessive institutional care is not brought about due to shortsighted, closed systems.

Tracy, PARCs senior Project Manager, raised an interesting point about engaging boys. Where good male staff are supervising projects, it is very clear that boys will become more engagement.

MISACLIS

The group told me about the implementation of a new, sector wide database called MiSACWIS. It stands for the Michigan Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System. It took me back to my conversation with Dr Philip Gillingham about his research into new systems in social care organisations. True to form, though the theory and intention behind the new system was logical and fair (increased inter connectivity, quicker access to case workers, adoptive children and adoptive parents) the delivery has been very challenging for the sector, resulting in slowed, delayed or cancelled placements as workers adjust to changes and data catches up. Of course, workloads do not adjust and social workers are busier than ever managing their cases. There are positives about MiSACWIS, it will bring about meaningful changes to the way adoption and foster care is managed. It is just interesting to witness another example of failures to engage with technology in spite of the clear need for service improvements.

Interesting asides:

  • The duality of the 'solution' of adoption - two stigmas face adopted families; first that they are defined by problems - and even though large portions of adopted children face learning and emotional difficulties, some adoptions are relatively positive, happy no more troublesome than childhood unaffected by adoption. On the flip side, there is sometimes a feeling that once an adoption is finalised, problems have been saved (in a 'hallmark' emotional moment). This invites a different kind of challenge.
  • Michigan faces familiar problems - a shortage of foster and adoption families. MARE aims to connect social workers as part of a deeper network that aims to bring the right children and families together more quickly. There is still the issue of finding and training more adoptive families; or more transitional foster families. This takes time and should not be rushed in the name of finding quick placements - a problem exacerbated by financial incentives for adoption agencies to place children as quickly as possible.
  • Adoptions have been know to hinge on court systems, including a 6 month supervision period whereby an adoption is overseen before being fully endorsed. The people at my meeting were divided on the usefulness of this step - on one hand it makes sure a placement is fit for purpose. On the other it creates a lingering sense of temporariness, where things can still go wrong and things are still not settled. The balance here needs to come with good social work and honest communication with children.
  • There was a passing reference to an interstate technology system that would integrate State databases. Watch this (large) space!
  • PARC and MARE described the interesting context in Michigan surrounding a modified settlement agreement that resulted from a lawsuit placed on the State for unsuitable social care processes. It results in reforms to training, timelines, caseloads and funding for programmes (PARC being one of them).

Strengthening Myself - Child-led Technology

Early Tuesday morning, I took a small plane for a small trip North West to Ann Arbor in Michigan State. Here, I was reunited with Kris and given the chance to meet the Strengthening Myself (SMS) support group and a small but active adoption community.

STRENGTHENING MYSELF

My trip to Ann Arbor was inspired by Kris Freeark's workshop in Auckland about her support groups new website. I thought it was a great example of child-driven technology being used in a positive way to promote the best interests of adopted children. A few months after we first met on the other side of the world, we drove to her office to attend one of her weekly SMS sessions.

The group is currently three girls strong; all are adopted and all around 14 years of age. One girl supports Kris as an assistant. Another typically Skypes in from a neighbouring country (another example of innovative technology use), though this time she'd made the journey to be there with us. The last girl forms the regular trio of attendees. The group welcome others who come and go. They are due to be joined next week by a new girl.

You'll notice a stark absence of boys. This has been a problem for Kris and a noticeable gap in research to date; engaging with boys in open communication, support groups or discussion about adoption. Speaking from experience, this was something that I actively 'avoided', though I did probe about my past on occasion (as informed by my adoptive Mum this week after I asked her about my own curiousness). Even though we shouldn't be forcing children to talk about their past, ownership and honesty is very important. Children of different ages respond differently to 'adoption talk' - the girls at SMS said they hated being asked questions by their parents about how they felt! Probably a normal teenage reaction. But earlier in childhood, Kris feels there is huge value in reassuring kids that asking questions is positive and good - if giving the answer is hard, probe for more information about why those questions are being asked and why they feel the need to ask at that time. This can promote a health sense of engagement. Avoiding answering difficult questions can reaffirm fears in children that their past is something to be avoided, scared off, or explored on their own.

Several other ideas came up during the session:

  • Video games; would developing a game bring boys into the mix?
  • Mentoring; one girl in the group has attended other mentoring schemes through her school. It's led by a prominent sportsman who has set up his own leadership foundation. Would an adopted sportsman be a good role model for boys and promote a similar community where social change, skills development and leadership are part of the programme?
  • Storyworth; https://www.storyworth.com/ - an interesting looking platform which promotes storytelling between family members who are separated by distance. Could this be piloted as a tool for adoptees and adopted families to talk about issues, and for adopted children to reach out to birth family is a safe and creative way?

For the ICAR5 conference then recorded an interview between the girls which was shown to delegates. I think this is a valuable example of how online resources can be more interactive, personable and engaging for younger people. The YouTube generations respond to this level of visual interaction more than a website, forum or blog. We talked about Twinsters (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2980626/) a film which encapsulated our generation of digital natives (a reminder of a lovely term used by someone I met here in Ann Arbor). I suggested the group host a fundraising screening of the film. I wonder if they should think about fielding questions from adopted kids and posting video responses to YouTube...

Lots of great ideas and interesting avenues came out of a short 1.5 hour chat. After clearing up our plates, pizza crusts and soda cans, I felt that this small group have uncovered lots of useful thoughts. Namely;

  • The benefits of child-led solutions, using technology, supervised by an adult with good training (Kris moderates the website)
  • The limitations of stand-alone websites; I feel SMS would benefit from an add-on which creates interaction and engagement when they are not there and for kids who can't attend
  • Talking; children come out of their shells creatively and socially when they meet or interact. I suggested that the group try an 'invite a friend' day - even if this friend is not adopted. It may even help other adopted children come if they know they can bring a friend. The group have shown (through the production of hand made coasters) that getting friends involved helps to normalise adoption and spread information about the experience from those who are experiencing it.

The Journey Resumes - USA, March & April 2016

It has been 2 months since I returned from New Zealand and Australia. The space between my first trip and the second has allowed me to absorb and reflect a wealth of new information. I expect to learn a great deal more as I landed in Washington DC on Monday 21st March 2016 for two a half weeks in the USA.

To date, I have understood the differences that history and policy make in the experience available to people being adopted. Open adoptions in the UK have possibly promoted a more positive attitude towards it in the general pubic; largely it's seen as an ethical and altruistic act. Older children (such as myself) are aware of their place in the process and younger children or newborns are able to access information about their past fairly easily. Importantly, birth families are complicit and upheld as a key stakeholder when their children are being placed elsewhere, even if the reasons for family relocation are serious ones. Contact is promoted and support. Information about birth parents and their identity is available. Openness is healthy for young children and it makes search and reunion easier. There are of course exceptions to these 'rules' and adults will often find a way to make processes difficult; be it hiding information from their son or daughter or preventing healthy interactions with their past.

By contrast, however, New Zealand and Australia have fundamentally different approaches. In Australia in particular, their stolen generations adoption is associated with the theft of identity; this is emphasised by the Nation's policy of changing a child's birth certificate. This happens in the UK, but when adoptions are closed the consequences are severe. The impacts of Australia's stolen generation pervades today and though a specific and extreme example, highlights the importance of openness and honesty - key themes that I will bring out of my own research. New Zealand - together with Australia - harbor a deep and complex relationship with adoption through their aboriginal communities. Both within these communities and in their (dis)connection with wider society, the term adoption maintains a certain social stigma, though many groups are working hard to address this. Though the way that adoption has developed in these countries is very different - and I am sure that the US will offer more differences still - the challenges that face effective adoption are transferable; the UK must ensure that adoption is not stigmatised by normalising it an unfortunate but normal option for when birth families no longer work as they should. Adoption should be open and never hidden from a child. Children should own their experiences and understand them.

Technology has been a subtle but regular factor. I have probed for it's relevance and application. There are several instances where technology is being used - and often by children themselves, a sign that newer generations will do so automatically. There is a sense of caution that underlines it - this is most evidence when speaking with adults and than with children (though I'm prepared for this to be challenged). I hope to bring this into the foreground during my time in the US.

I will meet some familiar faces and many new ones between the 21st March and the 6th April.

  • After landing in Washington DC on Monday 21st, catching up on rest and offloading some luggage at a generous friends' apartment, I will fly to Detroit before making my way to Ann Arbor, a small town of 113,000 around 45 miles West of Detroit, in Michigan State. There, I will be reunited with Kristine Freeark, a child and family psychologist and coordinator of 'Strengthening MySelf'. I wrote about them earlier in my blog, and have been fortunate enough to be invited to spend three days in Kristine's hometown to meet those involved. PARC (the Post Adoption Research Centre) will also host a Q&A evening to bring me closer to an open dialogue with those affected or interested in adoption. This community interaction will balance out ICAR's strong focus and give my project a broader perspective, covering the realities of personal experience and opinion as well as underlying theory. Hopefully, anyway.

  • From Ann Arbor I fly to Boston where I'll spend 5 days. Three will be in the City, where I'll meet project staff at the Centre on the Developing Child and host a focus group with three students, where we'll discuss their experiences and attitudes towards adoption. I will then travel to Amherst to reunite with Professor Hal Grotevant, whom I met at ICAR5, where we'll spend to days discussing his sector leading adoption research and how he feels technology will play a future role. My time there will include further focus groups.

  • I arrive back in Washington DC on the 30th March. There, I will meet with several adoption agencies and begin the process of synthesising my research before the journey home to the UK on April 6th.

Some Interesting Conversations

After 7 days of conferencing, I took myself off to Melbourne Australia for a spot of R&R, as well as a series of one-to-one discussions with sector experts. Some of these were contacts I’d made during my time in Auckland. Others were through correspondence with people I’d been introduced to before I left the UK.

They helped to soundboard some of my initial ideas, challenge others and generally focus my attentions ahead of the second half of my fellowship in the USA.

DR PHILIP GILLINGHAM - Senior Lecturer and Director of the Master of Social Work, Graduate Certificates in Community Development, Social Policy and Social Work (Mental Health) at the University of Queensland

Philip has spent over 16 years in professional practice as a social worker, in England and Australia. He has worked in many fields of social work and has specialised in child protection, welfare and mental health. Most recently, his PhD has brought to my attention a research topic of great interest to my fellowship; human service organisations and the use of information and communication technology in social work.

This essentially refers to the way that charities or agencies record information about their clients (children in care, for example) and then use that data for reporting and analysis.

Philip became interested in how organisations working with children and vulnerable people selected their information systems, utilised them and evaluated their effectiveness.

Together we discussed the following challenges and issues:

  • There is a ‘blind faith’ in information systems; used without due consideration for how and why they are being implemented
  • As such they become political problems, with organisations looking to justify very significant levels of financial investment
  • Transactional systems (as you might find in the banking and insurance sectors, for example) present challenges for human service organisations who need to categorise people.
  • How do you categorise people? Judgements can inform stigmas - but without it, it becomes difficult to use the data effectively. For example, how do you define mental health?
  • Social work has seen a shift in recent years; from predominantly being based ‘in the field’ - working with individuals face to face with the administrative processes managed by dedicated staff, to a combined role that sees social workers carrying out much of their own administration.
  • This may explain the need for ‘bigger or better’ information systems; it also means that more and more users are clouding the accuracy of information put into it, making training and learning more difficult and costly, and ultimately compromising the effectiveness of the system in the first place
  • One system in Australia has 236 separate fields with which to store information (Philip highlights that we can create a field for anything - so sometimes we do!). However, aggregating data from this system is not positive. Apparently there were only 6 aboriginal children in care at one point in time. Data on children with disabilities was not available either - it is reported that around 50% of children in case are diagnosed with some form of physical or mental disability.
  • A pro-technology vibe is often based on unsupported statements for the benefits of technology. It should come down to the fundamental ability to make a positive different.
  • Technology should not replace human interaction, either.

Ultimately, his recommendations for uses of technology in adoption are:

  • To spend less money on it!
  • Thinking about returns on investment
  • Think about why information systems are needed, why and who will be using them
  • Data collection should be structured and we should only record what we need
  • We need humans to deal with complexity and assist with uncertainty

It was refreshing to hear this. I believe (and so does Philip, I feel) that technology has a place and that it can be a positive one. I agree that we shouldn’t feel that technology deserves a place for its own sake. No doubt it will be there - we should let adoptees inform the process and we should be cost effective with investments. But we should still invest - I have heard enough from the sector that technology is an untapped resource.

I also asked Philip about story collection for adolescents using technology. He wondered if this was about making this easier for researchers, rather than young people.

Why can’t it be both?

DR PATRICIA FRONECK - Senior Lecturer, School of Human Services and Social Work at Griffith University, Queensland

Dr Patricia Fronek is Senior Lecturer in the School of Human Services and Social Work, Gold Coast Campus, Griffith University and a member of the Population and Social Health Research Program (PSHRP). She has over 30 years of experience that spans across several practice domains, including health, disabilities and family formations specifically, adoption and surrogacy.

Tricia spoke positively about technology. Where there is bureaucracy and procedure (sometimes compounded by technology; see Philip Gillingham), technology can be a tool for efficiency. Technology is alive and communities are actively using it for lobbying and mutual support. 

She acknowledges a phobia of technology - certainly in older generations. A shift may occur naturally in the affinity for technology in child welfare. 

I asked her about Podsocs, a technology I’ve references on this website and that she created and produced. It started as she was tired of social workers being misrepresented and isolated to certain forms of media. It also allows busy professionals to tap into research themes and ideas more easily, rather than read lengthy reports. Podsocs only came about as a result of her tenacity and willingness to learn about the technology as she went. She received no support to do so. I think this story is a good example of the need for inventiveness and creativity when it comes to trying new ideas and making them successful. The website looks great, is accessible and offers a nice insight into the sector.

Patricia would like to see post-adoption support and the provisional of accurate information for adoptees be outputs of technological investment in adoption.

PROFESSOR CATHY HUMPHREYS - Professor of Social Work at the University of Melbourne

Cathy has a rich history in child protection, as a practitioner for 16 years, an academic in the UK for 12 years before returning to Australia.

Two projects in particular demonstrate a willingness to embrace technology; 

findandconnect.gov.au

An online resource for those interested in child welfare histories. It allows people to search a detailed database of child homes and related services for people looking to track down information about their past. Though the solution itself would be less relevant for the UK, with a history of open adoptions (though there is still a demand for tracing family histories), the way in which this resource was created is interesting. It is a collaboration between historians, social workers and specialist digital archivists, who used an existing database to bring together a live system of information. This holistic collaboration has created a simple yet effective service dealing with a critical need in adoption in Australia.

If speeding up adoption is a priority policy in the UK - and among many things,  a lack of adoptive parents another (see http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jul/05/councils-30m-fund-speed-up-adoption-searches), then a similar system - developed collaboratively by skilled experts and stakeholders - might be a useful system to consider in order to meet both demands.

ESAFE RELATIONSHIPS

Cathy also introduced me to eSafe Relationships, a forum of organisations using technology to prevent and respond to violence against women and their children.

Though not directly related to adoption, it was really interesting to hear about technology being addresses so specifically. The day-long meet asks questions such as how could you see the existing technology being integrated into your work?; What technology interventions are most needed? How do we make it happen and how can it be sustainable?; Does technology do more harm than good?

These questions remind me of an Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) questionnaire sent to various contacts in the adoption industry. It’s core question:  ‘How do you think Ofsted could use technology better to improve regulation and inspection for you?’). I have asked Ofsted if I can receive some of the responses, perhaps in return for some volunteering.

It also gave me the idea to create my own survey for the adoption industry to help inform this research.

Technologies include websites for story sharing (similar to I’m Adopted) and apps for helping women make decisions about how to deal with dangerous situations safely.

I have asked Cathy to keep me updated on this.

We ended our meeting with a valuable discussion about access. Access to technology for vulnerable people cannot always be guaranteed. This increases the chances of social and intellectual isolation. Making sure that technology is accessible will be an important part of future initiatives (as is tech literacy)

Redefining Family Conference - January 13th & 14th

The Redefining Family conference was an pleasantly interesting addition to the more meaty, intense ICAR conference. I gained some valuable insights into my research (see the previous post) as well as a new insight into surrogacy and donor conception. We met a sperm donor and a donor conceived child (or adult - now aged 28) who spoke openly about their experiences and feelings. Only now are we reaching the point when the sector will benefit from first hand testimonies.

The Redefining Family Conference Logo

The Redefining Family Conference Logo

In addition to adoption, the following options are available to those who want a family;

  • Kin-care
  • Surrogacy
  • Assistive Reproductive Technologies (IVF, for example)
  • Foster care
  • ‘Home 4 Life’ placements
  • Guardianship

It’s good that there are options; it means that there is a better chance of finding the right placement for every child. It also means that family dynamics and more and more complicated (remember our story from Ruth McRoy in post 6). With so many choices for caregivers, the importance of their training and resources is heightened. In my opinion, if a child is too young to understand, then well-training professionals need to be able to facilitate the placement. If a child is old enough to have an awareness of what is happening to them, they should be involved.

Ken Daniels, an ART researchers from Christchurch, believes that ‘children should never remember a time where they didn’t know’. I agree.

Other key themes and issues arose:

  • Empowering birth fathers in the event of infertility
  • Timing of loss and grief (parents diving into alternative family creation when they have not been able to process the grief of not being able to start a family for themselves)
  • As such, appropriate and tailored counselling for children and adults
  • Storytelling should be about a shared story (OUR story), rather than the story of the child (YOUR story). This prevents damaging feelings of being different, ‘special’ or marginalised

Reflecting on the role of technology (both in terms of ARTs and tech/innovation), we are likely to be in situations where the development of technology is outpacing the development of research.

MENTORSHIP

A person I got to know well during these conferences was Su Park, a South Korean living in Australia. She works for Relationships Australia and oversees their mentorship programme for adopted children. I think there are opportunities for their model or approach to have a greater impact.

Through regular activities (movie nights, arts and crafts, rock climbing), they focus on the social emotional wellbeing, identity and culture. Their goals; target early intervention (which comes back to Michael T-S’s opening ICAR keynote) and to develop social practice.

Mentors are adults, which helps to normalise the fact that adoptees can be adults too! Children (and some adults) sometimes forget this. Mentees are internationally adopted and from a variety of backgrounds, usually 7-17 years old.

The group based programmes circles around the following principles:

  • Make children feel welcome
  • Respect for their needs and pasts
  • Accommodate the interests and passions of the children
  • Have fun
  • Have shared positive experiences

They also play with purpose, an approach which acknowledges the important of play in child development, something that has been echoed regularly during my time in Auckland.

Using social media, we are able to harness powerful emerging voices. Diaspora are able to (re)connect. Positive stories are being told (as are negative ones), Concerns for safety and wellbeing are being raised and eased. Creative outlets are more accessible. Advocacy is becoming easier.

Adoptee centred and driven research (coined at the conference as ‘coproduction of knowledge’) is now more relevant than ever.

I'm Adopted

To follow up ICAR5, I signed up the Redefining Family conference, also hosted at the AUT in Auckland.

Assistive Reproductive Technologies have entered the mainstream in developing countries. Surrogacy, IVF and donor conception allow people to create their ideal families in a variety of ways. They present challenges that the adoption sector will be familiar with; how do we tell children how they were created and how their family functions? What are the developmental impacts on children and families? They also present new problems that we won’t necessarily understand fully for another 10 years, when surrogates and donor-conceived children become old enough to reflect and make their voices heard.

This conference brings together experts from all fields to see what they can learn from one another.

Before I summarise this smaller conference, I wanted to talk about a particular connection that I think will have a profound influence on this fellowship.

I’M ADOPTED

Gabriela Misca is well known for her research into the long-term study on Romanian orphans. She has started to ask interesting questions around technology and advocates an adoptee-centred research methodology.

To show us what this looks like, Gabriela invited 5 adoptees to tell their stories. It brought into sharp focus the power and accuracy of first hand testimony. It also demonstrated their natural inclination towards technology, which is something I found particularly positive. The group live streamed their talk to Facebook, to a page called I’m Adopted. With over 3,000 likes, it is a project that founder Alex Gilbert has seen grow rapidly since he started it less than a year ago.

It is a place for young people to share their stories and to get advice or assistance in searching for family members. It stems from Alex’s own journey (which has received impressive media exposure) to find his Russian birth parents. He was born there is 1992 and brought to New Zealand in 1994.

It’s a brave project, and not unique as my conversations with researchers reveals. But it is good example of a concept with strong theoretical importance. Young people, with exceptions of course, have a more positive experience of adoption when they are able to relate to others who have experienced the same, are able to write their own stories in their own way, be creative and have an open and honest relationship with their past. This website achieves all of these things. I think it would benefit from more educational resources (advice from adoptees who have had positive and negative experiences, FAQs, links to other forms of adoption support services), so that there is a deeper level of support and guidance. I’m not sure that supervision or moderation is a good idea. If we agree on the principles of openness, honesty, no secrecy, then we should commit to them. Too much apprehension around online access for adopted children is in the self-interest of adults who don’t want to have to deal with difficult situations (a fairly flippant statement; in other terms I might argue that research needs to be less researcher-led and more adoptee-focused).

Alex talking about his adoption story.

Alex talking about his adoption story.

Alex and four engaging and articulate young people broadcast their thoughts to our conference audience and live on the internet. You can see it here. It’s long at 90 minutes, but a brilliant piece of evidence as to the positive potential of technology to bring adoption to life for those who need it.

Caroline Jones, Child, Youth and Family, New Zealand

On Tuesday 12th January, I took a 45 minute stroll across West-central Auckland to the regional office of Child, Youth and Family (CYF).

The mural on the wall of the entrance to the CYF offices in Auckland.

The mural on the wall of the entrance to the CYF offices in Auckland.

They are a well-established Government department providing support services (including adoption) for key, vulnerable demographic groups.

I met with Caroline Lewis. Originally from the UK, she worked for Barnardos before moving to New Zealand in 2006.

Caroline was welcoming, open-minded and supportive of my work. She explained the context of adoptions in New Zealand - that a 1950s Adoption Act, which is still in force, defines a system that does not promote adoption from care. Instead, Day to Day Parenting Orders are granted, with additional Guardianship entitlements to cover choices of schooling etc. This is alongside legal entitlements for the birth mother. Adoptions are granted by way of direct applications, which can be used to help children outside of the country be relocated with other family members, for example. This comes with a set of perverse incentives. (education is subsidised for adoptees, for example). Openness is encouraged but not a legal requirement. Private foster care organisations are popular. Maori culture is understandably relevant; less than 10% of care givers are Maori, but over 75% of children put up for adoption are of Maori origin.

I drafted a few questions, the answers to which are below. They are not always verbatim responses, but a fair reflection of the overall discussion.

1) What does technology & adoption mean to you?

Coming from the UK, Caroline was particularly aware of the lack of technology in both practice and in systems across New Zealand. When she arrived, most processes were carried out using paper forms and internet access was limited. Today things are better, but the lag in making the most of modern day technologies and infrastructure is tangible, especially considering the lack of funds available to (re)invest in people and services.

2) What challenges or problems are most important to you and your teams?

As above! Providing good training to caregivers and practitioners is paramount. The realities of the care system and the expectations of care giving need to be made more obvious to parents and social workers. Trauma in particular is a difficult subject; hidden from view and liable to surface at any time during the life course of a child/adolescent/young adult or beyond.

There is currently a mandatory training programme (4 days) for all potential caregivers, but it is not suitably tailored for the various approaches to caregiving; be it fostering, adoption or otherwise.

3) What are CYF doing with technology that particularly excites you?

In spite of the lack of system advancements, CYF had been making use of Life Story Apps and similar software. Caroline is going to share details of this with me, but they appear to allow children to record stories and interact with their past in a creative way - positive sounding stuff. Caroline did mention that they needed to be adapted/modified from their original formats, so it looks as though there is still no specialist use of App technology for this purpose. I noted that this aligns with an apparent need for this type of technology to support story telling and creative therapy.

4) Nationally or internationally, what innovations are you aware of that you think worth finding out about?

Caroline stressed the important of resources and training for caregivers and practitioners. I agree - children need consistently good care. When they lose one or both birth parents at a young age, the developmental impact can be significant. They need to be replaced quickly. I would say that this is not necessarily the same as adopting a child into a new family quickly - like David Cameron is demanding in the UK. If we have a skilled workforce and an effective way of identifying young people and transferring them into supportive environments, then this will be a positive step in the protective and recovery of young people.

5) Is technology important?

Yes - of course! It supports smarter working.

Caroline and I agreed that improved technology requires funding; with budgets tight and cuts being made to public services in the UK, embracing effective technologies will take some work.

There is also a lingering suspicion in older generations, still, about the role of technology. This stems from a lack of understanding.

Thank you Caroline for the first face-to-face meeting of my fellowship.

Day 4: Storytelling & Parting ICAR Thoughts

Day four is the last of ICAR5. It’s been an enlightening experience, introducing me to the wider world of adoption, some of the leading exerts in the field and several people who I hope to be able to call friends or colleagues in the future.

TELLING STORIES WITH ART - ADOPTIC

Hybridisation by Hira Mansur (http://vaslart.org/xhtml/artdir/contemporary/List%20H/hira_mansur/)

Hybridisation by Hira Mansur (http://vaslart.org/xhtml/artdir/contemporary/List%20H/hira_mansur/)

Today, the theme of stories become more pronounced. Alessia Petrolito - an Italian living in Chicago - is an arts student. She is taking a refreshing look at adoption, working with professional artists who are adopted.  The art they produce is not treated as therapy in and of itself (though of course it may well be to the adoptee). Instead,  Alessia is bringing together their art and beginning to theorise how these adopted people are expressing themselves through moving, still and performed images. She has coined the term adoptic to represent the relationship between the optical and adopted experiences.

Can technology help to bring these people together more easily? Or disseminate their work to a wider audience? Either way, it reinforces the importance of story telling (and having the information available to tell your story) for adopted people.

AUTOETHNOGRAPHIES

This awkward but meaningful term takes the notion of story telling further. Anita Gibbs spoke of her study which is closely linked to ethical standards in research. It attempts to balance the experiences of adoptees with a robust theoretical and analytical framework. In contract to Alessia, who applies theory to art that would already exist without her, Anita’s work generates the stories as a means of producing her research.

There is an interesting dynamic here. If we ask children to create stories then do we need to be careful about creating a ‘false’ environment in which they do this? Could this affect the authenticity of the stories or put children in a position where they don’t feel comfortable engaging with their pasts in creative ways?

Saying this, I think stories are a crucial part of an adopted child’s development. They should be aware of their situations as far as their safety and security will allow. We know that creative play is healthy for all children - children in care, or from poverty or neglect, are more likely to miss out on these forms of stimulation. The work of Worldwide Orphans (WWO) attempts to address this gap - their Toy Libraries are designed to provide children with this crucial element of their development. WWO use a traditional NGO model to deliver their work - as far as I could tell there was no concrete research to back up their effectiveness of their interventions.

A Toy Library pilot in Bulgaria (http://www.wwo.org/document.doc?id=23

A Toy Library pilot in Bulgaria (http://www.wwo.org/document.doc?id=23

I like the idea of an app that allows children to diarise their thoughts and feelings. As a child I didn’t relate to the storytelling opportunities by adoptive family afforded me. I’d rather have been playing computer games or outside playing football. The format at this time was traditional, taking photos and writing creative words to build a book. For younger children (pre/early teens) and especially girls, I know this can be effective. Boys and older young people may need to be approached differently.

TRAINING FOR ADOPTION COMPETENCE

TAC-logo-final-cropped-300x269.jpg

The Training for Adoption Competency (TAC) initiative is led by the Centre for Adoption Support and Education in Maryland, led by Debbie Riley. Their aims are to:

  • To increase families’ access to adoption competent mental health professionals
  • To improve the well-being of adopted children and youth and their families

They demonstrated their online platform, which although familiar to the wide range of online based training across business and commercial sectors, appeared to be something of an innovation to the adoption sector. My meeting with the Child, Youth and Family Department of the New Zealand government after ICAR5 (more on that in a future post) revealed a frustration - at least in the public sector of the NZ welfare system - at the lack of innovation and technology. Private foster care systems have taken advantage of social media etc, and it seems as though the USA have been embracing more creative means of bringing messages to life and to more people. I look forward to asking questions of Australia’s approach during my time in Melbourne.

TAC have the following recommendations which I feel have broader relevance:

  • Expand and replication adoption competency training (nationally and internationally)
  • Create a resource directory of those clinicians who are adoption competent
  • Establish a national adoption competency certificate across countries
  • Support research on how adoption competency is manifested in clinical practice and its impact on client outcomes
  • Make post-adoption services available more widely

I’d like to see how relevant these issues are the UK. I’d also like to think that resource directories(an ambition of the Strengthening MySelf website among several other groups) and accessible post-adoption services would be helped by appropriate technologies.

Interesting Asides

I was also introduced to the Massachusetts Adoption Research Exchange (MARE). I have made several contacts in Boston/MA and through some sector-leading researchers, it appears to be a hub for interesting approaches to adoption challenges

Parting Thoughts

This conference has been very enjoyable and a great learning experience for me. I would say that in spite of this, it has been a series of discussions by adults, with other adults, about how children should be cared for. I know there is a gap in my research in capturing the thoughts and experience of adoptees. I think the second leg of my trip will be focused on complementing my theoretical research with a practical, child-centred approach.

I have also decided to consider my research a ‘scoping study’ - in reality I am gaining a broader understanding of the adoption landscape in relation to adoption, before identifying a series of specific areas for closer attention.

Day 3: Let's Go Viral!

‘The ultimate aim of adoption is to enable young people to tell their own story in their own way’ - Hart & Luckock, 2004)

Find out more about Strengthening MySelf at https://strengtheningmyself.wordpress.com or visit their Facebook page.

Today was defined by the most interesting workshop to date.

The adoptee-designed logo for the website

The adoptee-designed logo for the website

Led by teens, Strengthening MySelf is a website for early adolescents. It begins to allow young people to tell their own stories, should their family setting or peer group be unsuitable to do that for them. They want their project to go viral.

This is often the case, and unsurprising. Talking about adopting is difficult for some and adoptees are often the minority in schools** (in the US, 2.5% of children are adopted…)

**this tells me that we should do more in schools to talk about family dynamics.

It is interesting in that the website is owned by children, a simple mechanism but something I’d not previously thought about. The science is understandable - feelings are fast signals in complex valuing systems. Embracing them heighten the sense of belonging, acceptance, status and admiration. It is easy to see how underserving these needs can be damaging. Technology is the perfect way to enhance the ability of young people, growing up with it in day to day life, to own and engage with adoption in a health way.

The project has three aims:

  1. develop a website (after a teen asked ‘is there somewhere online I can communicate with people about adoption?’)
  2. to act as a mentorship model (the project started with an adopted assistant leader)
  3. focus on self-control

The importance of prosocial experiences is key to the science (and corroborated by other talks in this conference).

Self-control is another central concept. How do you make this attractive to young people? Do you need to try? What do they want to do?

One child, 13, had made a Prezi presentation about adoption and what it means to them. It’s great. Here’s a link.

https://prezi.com/gkqt1vzqmhu7/adoption/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

The fact that it’s called ‘One of the best things that’s happened to me’ is telling - positive stories of adoption are often untold. Perhaps they feel like they are letting the side down by saying that adoption was actually ‘fine’. The presentation contains a lot of harder, more negative feelings, but they are presented in an autonomous and empowered way.

I’d like to find out more about how this resource can be improved (a stand-alone website is paradoxically isolating. An App or a plug in for Facebook would adapt existing and successful networking platforms) and expanded.

I had another idea for an App which acts as an experiential diary (a target area identified by Hal Grotevant in his talk on microagressions). Adoptees could use the App to collect/present their experiences however they want (the product would be integrated with Twitter, Snapchat, Soundcloud, FB etc) and for that information to be collated in a central database for analysis and as an online reference point for younger children. The spontaneity of Snapchat, for example, is a useful entry point for people who would otherwise not want to engage in a group mentality. This applies to boys - NO boys are involved with the Strengthening MySelf website…

A mentoring programme would be a worthwhile addition to this process.

How do we better engage schools?

Can adopted children mix more with un-adopted children in nurture groups?

OPEN ADOPTION COMES OF AGE

Hal Grotevant and Ruth McRoy (Boston, USA) delivered an engaging keynote speech with a range of crossover issues.

They felt the social meaning of adoption has changed; from the transfer of a child from one family to the other, to an adoption kinship network; a permanent connection - through an adopted child - between birth and adoptive families.

This made sense to me and I noted the use of the word ‘network’, with its technological connotations.

Trends in technology has played a key role in the nature of open adoptions (as well as closed adoption, where search and reunion has become a dominant theme).

1980s: letters, visits and calls

1990s: email

2000s: Facebook, texting, blogs

2010s: Skype, social media

These trends are important, I think, in understand how young people like to engage with adoption. Face to face (in-person) contact is often seen to generate greater satisfaction in adoptees and adoptive families, but is less likely to happen where contact can be made remotely. I’m not sure how this could be reconciled (if it needs to be). Research suggests that simply contact is good, and the method should be suitable for the individuals in question.

SEARCHING

Closely related to this work was a presentation led by Amanda Baden on searching for birth relatives. I was pleased that it was a positive talk, in that searching for relatives using technology (though laced with challenges) is ultimately a good thing. They asked the question: 'who is helping people to find their relatives and how?'. The scene in the USA is complex, but in general I think there are more opportunities to connect and if these aren't embraced in a positive way, young people especially will still do it, but under the shadow of it being a bad and unhealthy act. This isn't what we want.

Their research reminds us that young people connect using less traditional methods (or using technology) with siblings/peers. Returning to out title statement, I am not sure to what extent a new product needs to be established in order to tap into a mainstream, viral mentality (one that most adolescents can relate to) whist appreciating their specific needs; or whether existing technologies can be adapted or simply embraced in a more positive way...

Day 2: ‘Draw a picture of your family doing something together’

Today was a busy day, full of some interesting insights and unexpected connections.

FAMILY DRAWINGS - ‘Draw a picture of your family doing something together’

An adopted child's drawing.

An adopted child's drawing.

I attended a presentation by Laurie Miller on children’s drawings. Despite the common use of drawings in child psychology, the technique is more rare in assessing adoptive children. Through the study they were able to perceive self-perception and family function - as you would imagine - but in the process shining a new light on the way adoptees are supported.

These pictures - you can see one above - reflect early experiences and are an interesting visual insight into the process of developmental support that can be offered to children. Again, it promotes creativity. I would be interested to see if technology could be used to help establish a system for providing children with this creative, therapeutic outlet in a more embedded way.

Interestingly, this particular study featured 48 girls and 25 boys. Far fewer boys volunteered for the project. This feels like a familiar problem! Reading about myself and my behaviour as a young boy in care, I hesitated to engage in creative or imaginative play. That has changed a little as an adult, but I saw something of myself in the challenges of this project.

ADOPTEES AS ADULTS (‘adoption is a lifelong process’)

I was beginning to ask myself how adult adoptees (as one myself) were being represented in adoption research. My questions were somewhat answered on day two with a small selection of presentations on the challenges faced by adoptees when they reach adulthood.

Margaret Grant, formerly of BAAF and now carrying out research projects in from her base in Scotland. An early study is looking at early adulthood adoptees (people aged 25 and above) - though in its primitive stages it is already unearthing some gaps in these areas, including the age of adoption. This is a consistent theme that I’m noticing - with adoption often instinctively linked to adoption from birth or early years, my own experiences (as well as some of the research coming out of this conference) tell me that adoptees who enter permanent alternative care at older ages are likely to experience their challenges in later life, in different ways. David Cross (of day two TRBI fame) spoke of trauma and key texts highlight that the effects of trauma can be passed on to family and partners. The trauma of early childhood experiences should also be part of the open, natural discussion of the self and of self-identification.

Jean Connick spoke on behalf ofVANISH - it was good to get a better understanding of their approaches. She has led a study into adopted women who have started their own families. Again, it highlighted this area as a growing and important aspect of adoption research. How this will turn into practice remains to be seen, I think.

A team from the University of Minnesota spoke compellingly about how Korean American adoptees talk about adoption with their children. They talked about socialisation - again, reminding us that adoption, unsurprisingly, is part of a somewhat natural social evolution and not simply a set of individual experiences.

The take-home message: adoption is a life-long process.

ALTERNATIVE REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES (ARTs)

The morning was defined by a set of technologies that I’d not necessarily considered; Alternative Reproductive Technologies.

Richard Lee, from the US, talked in detail about the transracial and transnational paradox; that the identities of children adopted in these ways are dissected by loyalties to their new culture as well as their birth culture. Richard also mentioned the best interest of the child; a theme that is present through the conference but often forgotten in the midst of adult stakeholder priorities. Interestingly, he talked again of connection. This time, the idea of a child best interests said to have changed over time to provide a connection to the future that parents who cannot conceive would otherwise miss out on. This stems from the cold war era, where a nuclear family would help to allay a sense of alienation during strong social uncertainty.

A thought for the day: finding out who you are is only a problem if you don’t know who you are in the first place. The UK is blessed with a strong history of open adoption. What I think we can do better is to normalise adoption for communities by covering the concept in schools and to continue to provide children and adults with innovative opportunities to network and connect - in a positive way, and not as an indication that these experiences set people apart from the way that families are otherwise created.

One of the most contentious issues surrounding adoption appears to be the loss of identity and the secrecy of closed adoptions, where information about what is happening is kept from adoptees. Our ICAR5 Chair and adoptee, Rhoda Scherman, is 52 and still does not have the right to access information about her adoption because her State in the USA still does not permit access to the information. Australia is stricken by a history of destructive adoption practice. It seems a desperate tragedy that this can happen. Openness - both in terms of access to someones past, as well as open communication towards children - is crucial. I think technology can play a part in this. 

Diana Marre from the University of Barcelona took this discussion forward. The pictures attached tells an amazing story.

The (complex) conception of a 21st century child.

The (complex) conception of a 21st century child.

Diana talked about the journey of one particular man from Italy to father a child.  Using his sperm, an egg donor from Thailand and a surrogate Mother from Eastern Europe (with the egg transferred from Asia to Europe using a British medical courier), the surrogate became pregnant and gave birth is Spain before the child and Father moved back to Italy.

It was fascinating and eye-opening to see how families are being created today - and what this means for children who will grow up managing all of these different complexities. I would only hope that they are told, in a positive way, how they came to be and that it might not be convention, it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed about.

Any one child might have up to five adult stakeholders responsible for an aspect of their life. It is no surprises that there is such a struggle to prioritise the rights and wishes of the child. Any technological solution should empower children in a way that allows for balanced adult supervision and oversight.

Day 1: Adoption is a Social Action

We were ushered into the main lecture room for the start of ICAR5 to the sounds and sights of a traditional haka.

Our traditional Maori welcome to the 5th International Conference on Adoption Research,

It was a powerful reminder of the values of New Zealand’s indigenous culture; the ‘Powhiri’ - or traditional welcome - stems from a desire to connect with others.  Reflecting on this experience, these values are at the same time timeless and ‘ancient’ - I think there is a similarity here with the way that adoption, as an inclination to provide a loving family for a child and establish the family that certain parents wants, is also defined by a sense of reflecting on the past rather than looking forward to the future.

Today was a reminder that conferences can be overwhelming. I will attempt to draw out around three key ideas each day that I feel that especially interesting or particularly relevant to adoption and technology.  As with Michael’s talk, any challenges that are raised I will attempt to compile, with a view to exploring the specific roles that technology can play in solving them.

I will bring together ‘Interesting Asides’ at the end of each post for anything that seems valuable enough not to dismiss altogether.

SIR ROBERT HARVEY

Bob Harvey is the former Mayor of Waitakere City. His story is fascinating - he is an adoptee, an adoptive Father and a birth father who put one of his own children forward for adoption. He made a successful career in advertising before finding out the true circumstances of his adoption when he was 50. This is remarkable, even for the many adolescents or adults who uncover their past at later ages. It caused him great distress before he refocussed his attention on becoming a successful public servant. I think Bob’s journey uncovers a couple of things;

  1. Messages of adoption are often most powerful when delivered by those who have experienced it
  2. Messages are most clear and relatable when it is done in a human way (rather than surrounded by theory and data sets)

Bob’s story also acts as a stark reminder of the problems causes by closed adoptions, where information is knowingly held back from adoptees. Supporting open adoptions should be done carefully and at the will of the child, but among a myriad of approaches and theories (such diversity is likely to be important in the variety of cultural/political/social contexts in which adoption takes place) - the one constant approach that I would promote is open communicate with children throughout the process.

MICROAGRESSIONS

This intriguing term was new to me. I hopped into a workshop on it, learning about the qualitative results of interviews with adults and children where subtle, negative comments (microaggressions) are ‘committed’. These are typically measured against racial and adoptive codes. It was an interesting if brief insight and afterwards there were several concerned comments from delegates about the risk of suggesting that young people are consciously committing a confrontational, aggressive act, micro or otherwise. Whether this is a case of terminology or errant theory, I’m not sure. What I think is important, is that conversations with young people about adoption are race are simply happening.

One delegate said something particularly insightful; as we are dealing with social stigmas, we are reminded that adoption is (or should be see as) a social action. Not an individualistic, selfish act. As such, it is an open and shared experience and interventions should always take this into account.

TRUST BASED RELATIONAL INTERVENTION (TBRI)

Technology!?

Technology!?

I experienced my first piece of good old technology today; DVDs. I took part in a workshop hosted by David Cross of the TCU Institute of Child Development in Texas.

In it, he introduced Trust Based Relational Interventions (TBRI), which focussed on training practitioners in dealing with the complex needs of adopted children, or children in care.

It unearthed a great amount of really interesting approaches - and usefully it linked closely to technology (speaking with David afterwards, they are looking to develop an App and continue to become a web-based platform for learning).

TBRI uses a range of engagement strategies; healthy touch, authoritative voice, value eye contact, behavioural matching, playful interaction. These would not be new to developmental or behavioural scientists. However, the concepts are closely supported by a sense of creativity. Not only is it crucial that children are creative in their early years but it looks as though this programme benefits from a creative approach. Harnessing the dynamics of child development in visual forms brings to life the process and puts the child at the centre of the process. Many of the videos demonstrate the methodology of empowering the child, mindful of their backgrounds - they are all aware of the videos being produced.

I will follow up with David and his work in more detail.

INTERESTING ASIDES

VANISH - http://vanish.org.au

VANISH are based in Melbourne, Australia, and provide a variety of free services for families and children affected by adoption, funded by the State Government of Victoria. They are an adoption network for information and self-help, which has been funded for 27 years primarily to provide search and support services to people who have been separated by adoption, and more recently also by state wardship and donor conception.

Podsocs - http://www.podsocs.com

I spotted Podsocs on the email signature of a connection based in Queensland, Australia, who I will be speaking with via Skype during my time here.  They produce podcasts for social workers on the run, it is an interesting use of technology, funded by Griffith University. I will be speaking with more of their staff to figure out if it works and how the application of this technology could be diversified.

NurtureGroups - http://nurturegroups.org

NurtureGroups are actually a UK based group, referred to us by David Cross during his talk on TBRI, who also use nurture groups with children in care.

NB:  This note is a placeholder for further thought; adoption in New Zealand and Australia is seen very differently to the UK. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was interesting to me to see the negative legacy that adoption has in Australia. For example, adoption means that the child received a new birth certificate, essentially losing their identity. As such, there is a tangible tension at the conference between the role of adoption in the UK and in Australia. In the UK and the US, adoption is the norm or a blessing. In Australia and New Zealand, it can be a taboo.

Lastly, an interesting fact - since 1940, over 1m children have been adopted globally.