An Introduction to ICAR5

I was drawn to the 5th International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR5) by Peter Selman, who is to be a keynote speaker at the event. Held every two to three years, it brings together leading researchers and highlights the themes and issues most pressing to the sector at that time.

The event started today - Thursday 5th January - and runs through to Monday 11th. It will be supplemented by a smaller conference (Redefining Family), which I will also be attending, I will write about it more detail when the time comes.

What is ICAR?

ICAR is an assembly that aims to improve the lives of people touched by adoption. It offers a rare opportunity for researchers to meet, exchange findings, share cross-disciplinary perspectives and debate the adoption landscape. Rhoda Scherman - the Chair for the 5th ICAR conference - writes that ‘ICARs serve as a means of bridging experiential and empirical knowledge’. It aims to synthesise research outcomes and set the future research agenda.

As such, ICAR was an attractive proposition and - I hope - a fitting environment to bridge my own experiential and empirical experiences, focus my research outcomes and set a clear goal for future learning.

ICAR5 is being hosted by the Auckland University of Technology (AUT). The building is stunning, mixing meditative tranquility with distractingly beautiful architecture. It is named after Sir Paul Reeves, a distinguished academic who recently passed away and who was passionate about society’s role in the protection of child welfare. It seems a fitting and inspiring place to hold a conference.

The Sir Paul Reeves Level 4 Foyer, AUT, Auckland

The Sir Paul Reeves Level 4 Foyer, AUT, Auckland

A review of the itinerary for this year’s ICAR offers a good overview of the themes that make up adoption in general;

  • Policy and legal
  • Vulnerability and risk
  • Open Adoption (promoting the sharing of information between birth and adoptive parents)
  • Health and development (which may include emotional, mental, relational or physical health)
  • Training - for practitioners
  • Foster care and long-term care towards ‘permanence’ - typically adoption
  • International adoption (in relation to domestic adoption)
  • Transracial, lesbian/gay adoption
  • Pre-placement
  • Post adoption

This wouldn’t be an exhaustive list of the key trends in adoption today (where is technology?), but nonetheless it provides a useful overview of what makes up adoption policy and practice from the perspective of a researcher. Over the next 4 days I will draw out the things that I find interesting and relate them to technology wherever possible.

Ahead of the first formal day of the conference, we were introduced to traditional Maori ‘Waiata’ (songs) and learnt the value of family to this unique and powerful culture. One aspect I found particularly interesting was that of ‘Whanau’ - pronounced Fah-nu - which means family. When we enter a room we bring with us our life principles, or ethos, which is a combination of our past, our present and our future. It also represent our family life. This essence is respected deeply by Maori culture and I think a lot can be said for the importance placed on family strength and unity. I have no doubt it will surface many times during the course of this conference.

We also heard from our first keynote speaker - Michael Tarren-Sweeney - a psychologist by trade who is working on a common developmental theory for children experiencing adoption. I fear (and revel in the likelihood) that this conference will generate an overwhelming wealth of information. Saying this, Michael drew out two challenges for protecting the development of children in care which I thought were worth noting down;

  1. Identifying vulnerable children at the earliest possible stage
  2. Minimising exposure to harmful psychological effects

There are numerous barriers and complexities to these issues, but I can’t help but think - putting debate and theory aside - that if these are issues need to be solved, how do we solve them and what part can technology play?

I took more notes from Michael’s talk that will fit into a sensibly-sized post - I will revisit them as my fellowship progresses.