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