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.


Hybridisation by Hira Mansur (

Hybridisation by 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.


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 (

A Toy Library pilot in Bulgaria (

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.



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.