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.


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.


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.




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.



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 -

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 -

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.