I attended the North American Council on Adoptable Children Conference in Los Angles in July 2015 with the intention of checking facts for my new book on adoptive parenting, discovering new ideas, and meeting wonderful people. I accomplished all three goals and found the whole experience exhilarating. There is amazing energy when more than 900 dedicated people meet and exchange ideas. The conference was full of inspiring sessions.
Adam Pertman, president and founder of the National Center for Adoption and Permanency presented a session on “Reshaping Adoption for the 21st Century: Progressing from Child Placement to Family Success.” I was so intrigued with his ideas that I whipped back to my hotel room and ordered a Kindle copy of his book Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming Our Families—and America. Pertman is a captivating writer. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his writing on adoption and we are privileged to have him as “one of us.”
Adoption has changed a great deal over the last decade, and it can change again. When international adoptions became less available, North Americans had to look for other ways to create a family. Single women, single men, LGBTQ couples, foster families, and interracial families became more desirable as adoptive parents. This has been a positive expansion of families for children, and finding families is important, but it’s just the first step. Pertman says we must ensure that adoptive families are permanent and successful. He would like to see our laws and policies focus on the ways in which all agencies can assist families to provide a successful environment. Ensuring success would mean that education, support training, and services came with the child. We can’t simply assume families are going to be successful if they adopt or foster a child; we must do more to ensure the probability is high.
Foster children are allowed to “age out” of foster care without ever finding a permanent family. Adoptive parents are left to muddle through difficult situations with their children, frantically searching for resources. Everyone in the world of adoption instead needs to concentrate on what kind of situation will be most successful for the child and family.
Set in research
Adam Pertman not only has original ideas but a broad knowledge of research and current theories. He was the president of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, which produces the latest research and disseminates it widely. Pertman is well aware of and values the research of others, but beyond that, he challenges all of us to consider something a little different.
Let’s look at the world of adoption philosophically, he suggests, on a systems level, and see if we can change the whole system. This would mean adopting a cohesive philosophy throughout North America that looks at permanent and successful families.
At first that may seem overwhelming, but the adoption community has made enormous changes already, around secrecy. That required a philosophical change of thinking, from prioritizing the protection of the adoptive parents to supporting the adoptees’ needs. A new cohesive philosophy of permanence and success will require changes of the same magnitude.
The New Vision
The new vision for prioritizing success and permanence would include openness, which has, for the most part, been accepted. It would include working harder to keep the family of origin intact. It would fund research so we don’t use a generation of adoptees as experiments and we could formulate our services and supports around what research defines as best practices. We need to support programs such as the Wraparound program, which provides a respite for youth and their families with the services and support of professionals. The change in focus of this new vision of adoption would make such programs a logical part of family success. Services for children and families must be an integral part of the adoption process.
I wish Adam Pertman had been advising me when I adopted my sons. It would have saved me years of blind experiments and mental angst about what and how to provide what the children needed. Imagine that when your child arrives in your home, a bundle of support services accompanies him. We would have, as Pertman suggests, a much greater chance of success in our families than in the present system, which requires us to search out support services, if they are even available.
I like it. I hope Pertman’s vision for success permeates our adoption world, and we can make these changes. We are, after all, loving, well-intentioned, and eager to be good parents. Such a system, concentrating on success for all families and providing support, would make our goal of successful parenting more likely.
Marion Crook, PhD, a nurse, educator, and adoptive mother, is the author of The Face in the Mirror: Teenagers and Adoption and twenty-five other books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her current book, Thicker Than Blood: Adoptive Parenting in the Modern World is due to be published in spring 2016 with Arsenal Pulp Press.