“Part of the adoption process should be to help adoptive parents and children connect with other adoptive families. I don’t go to the agencies when I need answers. I go to other adoptive families and find out how they handled the situation.” ~ adoptive parent
In September 2010, NACAC began surveying adoptive families in the United States and Canada about their needs, experiences, and advice related to post-adoption support services. More than 1,100 adoptive parents have responded, and one thing is clear: adoptive families must have ongoing and varied supports to successfully parent children adopted from foster care.
Post-adoption support is not new. Adoption advocates, parents, and child welfare professionals have been discussing post-adoption services for decades—from the need for them, to the possible spectrum of aid. NACAC’s survey is part of the adoption community’s recent effort to more fully understand and quantify the supports and services that will lead to better youth and family outcomes.
Of the parents who responded to NACAC’s survey, 92 percent were mothers and 82 percent were part of a two-parent family. Survey participants’ primary reasons for adopting included wanting more children (47 percent), infertility (40 percent), and providing permanence for a foster child already in the home (35 percent).
In total, surveyed parents adopted more than 2,590 children and youth. More than a third of families adopted sibling groups, and more than half adopted transracially.
Of the children, most (65 percent) were adopted from foster care. Another 19 percent were adopted internationally, and 12 percent were adopted domestically as infants. Fewer than 5 percent of children were adopted by relatives, but NACAC is working with The Kinship Center in California to get more kin respondents.
Most of the children were adopted at a young age. More than half (51 percent) were age 3 or younger, 21 percent were between 4 and 6, and 12 percent were ages 7 to 9. Almost 16 percent were 10 and older.
More than one-third of families did not report any significant problems for their children in the community, in school, with peers, or at home. The majority, however, identified at least some issues that make life an ongoing challenge.
Of special needs identified, the most common were emotional issues (1,175 children) and behavioral issues (1,124 children). Surprisingly, only 364 children reportedly had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. This serious and pervasive disorder has lifelong repercussions, and is often underdiagnosed.
As expected, many children reportedly had significant difficulties in school (986 children) or in the community (589 children). When asked what would help with community relationships, 73 percent of parents indicated that a greater understanding of adoption issues—by school personnel and community members—would reduce the challenges their children face.
Number of Children with a Special Need
Most families reported that they needed support in the first year after adoption, but many reported needs arising years after the adoption. As one parent observed, an initial year of support cannot meet the ongoing needs of an adoptive family:
“Sometimes kids get over the initial issues, do quite well, and then something comes up that causes issues to rise again…. We’ve found that…[later on] counseling isn’t as available as it is for kids who are newly adopted.”
When asked about unmet needs, educational issues topped the list. More than 40 percent of parents reported that their children had unmet educational needs. Finding mental health care providers was also a major issue; 39 percent expressed concern about their children’s unmet mental health needs. Only 10 percent of parents stated that their children had unmet medical needs.
What services did parents need but not use? See the chart below for details:
- mentor for child (19 percent)
- family retreat (19 percent)
- support group for child (19 percent)
- community resource information (16 percent)
- respite care (16 percent)
Services Most Often Needed But Not Used
Parents identified four top barriers to accessing these and other services:
- inability to find needed services (43 percent)
- providers who don’t understand adoption (39 percent)
- services that cost too much (33 percent)
- providers who don’t accept Medicaid (30 percent)
On a more positive note, close to a third of parents (29 percent) reported that they encountered no barriers to accessing services.
When asked to assess services they used, parents rated as most useful adoption subsidies (64 percent) and advice and support from more experienced adoptive parents (almost 64 percent). Other top supports were medical care (54 percent), training and education (53 percent), online groups (47 percent), and newsletters (41 percent).
Parent feedback also revealed recurring themes about positive practices and approaches. For example, many parents suggested these actions:
- courage all adoption and child welfare professionals to receive in-depth training on attachment and mental health issues and treatments.
- Take the stigma out of asking for help.
- Spend time with other families who share the same experiences; contact can normalize issues families face every day.
- Make information and resources easily accessible for parents.
To help guide our advocacy efforts, NACAC asked parents to rank the top four issues that we should address in the future. The results fall right in line with what we have been working on, with the following most often top rated:
- adoption competency training
- mental health services
- training and education for parents
- educational advocacy and support
Many NACAC results mirror those in Keeping the Promise, an October 2010 post-adoption services study published by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Among its recommendations, the report asks child welfare professionals and policy makers to:
- Prepare parents to expect challenges and appreciate the benefits of services.
- Educate professionals about supporting adoptive families.
- Identify high-risk children, then provide services and resources.
- Stop cutting subsidy rates and post-adoption services.
- End forced custody relinquishments to obtain services.
- Develop a continuum of services and educate mental health providers.
Where Do We Go From Here?
NACAC is going to use the survey results to inform our ongoing post-adoption advocacy efforts at national and local levels. We will continue to work toward increased U.S. federal support of post-adoption services, both through Adoption Opportunities grants and a dedicated funding stream for post-permanency support.
Barriers to Services
At the local level we will advocate for increased commitment to adoptive families. For example, our Community Champions Network (CCN)—funded by Jockey International’s Jockey Being Family™ initiative—works in 15 U.S. states and Canadian provinces to grow coalitions of adoptive parents, youth, child welfare professionals, providers, legislative and administrative partners, and others. CCN aims to help develop, expand, and sustain community-based and parent-led post-adoption support services.
Please use our survey results and the Keeping the Promise report to inform your efforts to ensure that all adoptive families receive the support they need. Contact NACAC to learn more about advocacy strategies.