Each year, the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) hosts a conference for individuals who have been touched by adoption and foster care. From social workers to adoptees, the conference gives the child welfare community an opportunity to learn more about the complex issues surrounding adoption, foster, and kinship care.
While the information shared at NACAC’s 2018 conference could fill textbooks, as we look back at all that we’ve learned, we recognize a few key themes that can help you feel invigorated and ready to fight for children in your care!
- You have the power to change your reality. Jules Alvarado of Alvarado Consulting and Treatment Group told us that if we change our thinking, we can make new choices, inspire new experiences, and discover new feelings. An aspect of this change is accepting your current frustrations and acknowledging that these struggles will not control your life. Sally Ankerfelt and Joann DiStefano of GIFT Family Services encouraged us to use this idea to overcome ambiguous loss: “Say, ‘this is where I’m at,’ and be okay with that. You are where you’re supposed to be.”
- You must take care of yourself before caring for others. From learning how to care for ourselves to recognizing the unresolved pain we all carry, it is clear that our abilities to care for clients and kids is directly affected by the time we spend (or don’t spend) caring for and listening to ourselves. Speakers helped us find new ways to care for ourselves, including mindful breathing techniques and meditation, so that we can keep daily dilemmas from becoming complete burnout.
- You can and will make a difference. No matter what subject a session covered, experts in the field of child welfare repeatedly reminded parents and social workers that their role in a child’s life is always significant. In the most challenging moments, it can feel like your impact is small or the obstacles you face are too large to overcome, but Ed Morales of Socorro Consulting reminded us that the number one predictor of positive change in a kid’s life is a healthy relationship with a caring adult. This connection is one of the most powerful mental health interventions that exists.
- Youth voices matter. At this year’s conference, one of our most heavily attended session was “Youth Voices Matter: What Our Experiences Have Taught Us,” a workshop that featured a panel of young adults who have experienced foster care or adoption. The room was filled wall to wall with parents and professionals who believe in our youth advocates’ motto: “Nothing about us without us.” Across the hall, writer and speaker Sue Badaeu, alongside Voice for Adoption’s interim executive director Joe Kroll, reminded advocates and activists that advocacy is about more than having your voice be heard, it’s about “getting other voices heard—whether it be your children, your clients, or youth in general.” These voices, amplified by yours, can make a difference.
- Community is essential. You didn’t need to attend our session on LGBTQ+ parenting or our workshop on ambiguous loss to learn about the importance of community on this parenting journey: You just need to look around! Across three floors of the St. Paul Intercontinental Hotel, parents and professionals put our experts’ advice to the test by making connections that will last a lifetime. Finding families that look like yours, professionals tackling similar challenges, and communities that share your joys can be the key to solidifying a child’s sense of identity, a family’s sense of belonging, a worker’s decision, and a parent’s sense of sanity.
Whether coming from a speaker’s presentation or in the words shared among peers during lunch breaks, it seems like there is no end to the wisdom and support shared at NACAC’s 2018 conference. Now, rejuvenated and inspired, we aim to share this wisdom with you throughout the next year as we begin to prepare for #2019NACAC! See you there!