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November 2021Vol. 22, No. 10Spotlight on National Adoption Month

This issue of CBX features National Adoption Month and brings to the forefront the need to find loving, stable, and permanent homes for children and youth waiting to be adopted. Read a message from Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg, Esq., and the Jim Casey Young Fellows about a new permanency option that aims to connect youth with caring adults while preserving key family relationships. This issue also includes valuable resources for professionals and the families they serve.

Issue Spotlight

  • Identifying Families Who May Be Struggling After Adoption or Guardianship

    Identifying Families Who May Be Struggling After Adoption or Guardianship

    A study published in the Journal of Public Child Welfare, "Identifying Families Who May Be Struggling After Adoption or Guardianship," evaluated the use of administrative data in identifying families who need postpermanency supports. Identifying these at-risk families can be challenging. Public systems do not regularly collect information about child well-being after children have been placed, and there is often limited funding for these postadoption activities. Agencies typically only become aware of a struggling family after they are contacted by the families themselves. Many agencies also already struggle with funding their services and do not have extra funds to use on collecting additional data or widespread outreach. The researchers set out to determine whether utilizing the administrative information already collected during various points of the adoption and guardianship processes can be a way to alleviate some of the costs of identifying families in need of additional supports and create a path for targeted services for the families who need it most.

    For the study, the National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation, a service of the Children's Bureau, compared the risk profiles of adoptive and guardianship families using administrative data to understand the risk of postpermanency discontinuity. The researchers also analyzed data collected from surveys administered to parents and guardians from four sites in the United States (Catawba County, NC; Vermont; Illinois; and New Jersey) who adopted through public agencies. The surveys focused on measures of child behavior, caregiver strain, and family relationships as well as whether the adoptive parent was inclined to adopt again. The survey responses were used to answer the following research questions:

    • How well did the administrative data identify at-risk families or families who were struggling?
    • Are there key measures, scales, or individual questions that could be asked of all adoptive and guardianship families to allow us to identify adoptive and guardianship families who are struggling?

    The study's findings suggest that administrative data may be an unreliable indicator for identifying families struggling after adoption. However, the research indicated that these survey questions could form the basis of a check-in for families after adoptions or guardianships are finalized and help identify and engage struggling families for prevention services. 

    To learn more about the study, read "Identifying Families Who May Be Struggling After Adoption or Guardianship" in the Journal of Public Child Welfare.

     
  • November Is National Adoption Month

    November Is National Adoption Month

    Each November during National Adoption Month, the Children's Bureau, in partnership with Child Welfare Information Gateway and AdoptUSKids, brings to the forefront the need to find loving, stable, and permanent homes for children and youth waiting to be adopted. According to Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System data for 2019, there were over 122,000 children and youth in the United States waiting to find permanent homes. The theme of this year's National Adoption Month is "Every Conversation Matters" to emphasize the importance of youth engagement and truly listening to what the young person has to say, what their goals are, and how they feel about adoption. Youth are the experts of their own lives and should be a partner in their own permanency planning and the decisions about their future.

    The National Adoption Month 2021 website features resources, tips, and tools from Children's Bureau adoption grant recipients to help child welfare and legal professionals cultivate relationships and start conversations with youth about permanency. This year's website also contains resources designed specifically for youth, including about how to get involved and ways to share their stories effectively. In addition, the following are a few of the new developments to the website:

    • There is a new Ask Youth Challenge for social media that encourages the use of the Ask Youth graphics and the #AskYouthChallenge hashtag to show our commitment to listening to teens and making their voices heard in every conversation. 
    • The About page includes more background information about National Adoption Month.
    • All National Adoption Month activities and events are now on the National Adoption Month Partners page.
    • The Youth Engagement Practice Examples page features resources from Children's Bureau adoption grantees related to building relationships with teens.
    Visit the National Adoption Month website throughout November and beyond to learn more about this year's initiative and to find resources, stories, and tools to help engage youth in the important decisions that affect their lives and lead to loving, permanent homes.
     
  • Introducing SOUL Family, a New Permanency Option

    Introducing SOUL Family, a New Permanency Option

    Written by Patricia Duh and Sonia Emerson, Jim Casey Young Fellows with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Aysha E. Schomburg, J.D., associate commissioner, Children's Bureau

    This National Adoption Month, we recognize the children and youth waiting to be adopted into loving, stable, and permanent homes, and we acknowledge their voice and input about what they need for their own lives. This year's National Adoption Month theme is "Every Conversation Matters," so I have devoted this space to the voices of Jim Casey Young Fellows and a new permanency option, SOUL Family, that aims to connect waiting youth with caring and supportive adults while preserving key family relationships.

    ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    You are graduating-you want someone there. You need advice-you need someone who cares. But what if you have no one? Too often, that's the reality facing older youth in foster care. There are now three permanency options-adoption, guardianship, and reunification. And while APPLA (another planned permanent living arrangement) has its advantages, especially for boosting housing stability, it does not address the critical relationships young people need to thrive. These permanency options may work for many young people, but they are not sufficiently flexible for all. As a result, nearly half of young people age 16 or older-including the 20,000 who age out each year-exit foster care without the loving relationships they need. 

    Choosing SOUL Family

    In October, we shared preliminary ideas for a new choice-the SOUL Family Permanency Option. It stands for Support, Opportunity, Unity, and Legal Relationships. What does SOUL offer? One of its designers sums it up: "Having a choice in my permanency. Building connections that are important to me and not just the ones others believe are important to me."

    SOUL would establish legal relationships between a young person (age 16 or older) and at least one caring adult. It would carry the legal status of a lifelong familial relationship and maintain a young person's legal relationship with their parents, siblings, and kin. It would also encourage other adults to support the young person-by providing education or career guidance, for example. And the young person could still access supports to navigate relationships and meet their well-being needs. 

    What brought us here? Three years ago, Jim Casey Young Fellows began sharing painful personal experiences with permanency. A young person might get adopted-which is good. But too often, adoption severs cherished family relationships. If the adoption fails, a young person loses family connections again. If they reenter the system and then age out, they have no family, no supports, and no services. It can feel like being pushed off a cliff over and over again. 

    Permanency Matters

    In designing SOUL Family, Jim Casey Young Fellows wanted to spotlight what young people actually need-and their needs can be complex because human beings are complex! Fellows want people like you-caseworkers, system leaders, providers, and advocates-to listen to young people, recognize key relationships, and ask youth as soon as they enter the child welfare system: "Who is important to you?" 

    Early responses to SOUL Family have been amazing. The following are some of our favorite comments:

    • "Designed by young people for young people. It doesn't get any better than that!"
    • "SOUL Family gives an adult permission to stay connected."
    • "SOUL Family provides all the supportive people a youth needs to pursue the life they desire."
    • "Hearing different stories from [young] panelists was an eye opener for me. It is evident we do need to broaden our definition of family." 

    We couldn't agree more. SOUL Family is flexible. It's youth led. It honors a wider array of unique cultures, family structures, and communities. 

    Join us in redefining permanency in your community. Introduce a new path to permanency that is flexible, inclusive, and focused on belonging. That's what young people are telling us they need. It's time to listen. 


  • An Exploratory Study of the Impact of Adoption on Adoptive Siblings

    An Exploratory Study of the Impact of Adoption on Adoptive Siblings

    Although there is a large body of research on the impact of early childhood trauma on children who were adopted as well as on the impact adoption has on adoptive parents and children, there is not much research regarding the impact adoption has on biological children in families who adopt. The Journal of Child and Family Studies published a qualitative, retrospective article, "An Exploratory Study on the Impact of Adoption on Adoptive Siblings," that explores the impact adoption has on the well-being of these children.

    The study surveyed 182 adult biological siblings (aged 18 to 64 years) in adoptive families about their experiences in their families both before and after adoption. Researchers asked participants 10 open-response questions and categorized the results by preadoption, initial transition, and postadoption with the following themes emerging from each:

    • Preadoption
      • Reaction to the news that their family was planning to adopt 
      • Perceived involvement in the preadoption process
    • Initial transition 
      • Adjustment during the first year of adoption
      • Perceived quality of their relationship with their parents during the initial transition
    • Postadoption 
      • Experiences after the initial transition
      • Influence on their personal life and emerging patterns of how adoption impacted their life decisions
      • Perceived influence on family relationships
      • What they would change and wished their families had done differently in their families' adoptions to improve the experience and have a healthier functioning family

    The results indicated there was a range of both positive and negative experiences, and many reported parentification, feelings of invisibility and/or resentment, and trying to reduce the burden on their parents through peacekeeping and people pleasing. The results from the questionnaire also found two opposite lasting effects of adoption: the positive effect of personal growth (such as increased empathy, compassion, and maturity) and negative effects (such as mental health issues, broken relationships, trust issues, and a jaded worldview). Adoption of siblings also had a large effect on whether the biological sibling chose to enter a child welfare- or social welfare-related field or foster or adopt themselves.

    For additional details about the study, including clinical implications, suggestions for service improvement, and a more detailed look at the results, read "An Exploratory Study on the Impact of Adoption on Adoptive Siblings." 

     

     

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News From the Children's Bureau

In this section, find the latest news, resources, and publications from the Administration for Children and Families, the Children's Bureau, and other offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as a brief listing of the latest additions to the Children's Bureau website.

Training and Technical Assistance Update

This section features resources and updates from the Children's Bureau's technical assistance partners to support practices and systems that improve the lives of children and families.

Child Welfare Research

In this section, we highlight recent studies, literature reviews, and other research on child welfare topics.

  • Six Ways That Court Processes Impact Decision-Making and Hearing Quality in Child Welfare Cases

    Six Ways That Court Processes Impact Decision-Making and Hearing Quality in Child Welfare Cases

    A recent brief from the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explores the impact of judicial processes on child welfare cases. The brief, How Court Practices and Resources Relate to Judicial Decision-Making and Hearing Quality in Child Welfare Cases, highlights the following practices that can affect child welfare cases:

    • Judicial continuity. Study findings suggest that having the same judge handle a case may improve how quickly a case is processed. This can reduce the amount of time it takes for children and youth to achieve permanency by reunification or adoption.
    • Frontloading cases. Devoting more time and resources early in a case can improve engagement and reduce the time it takes for a case to close. This can include providing parents with legal representation and involving them in court hearings early in the process.
    • Continuances. Continuances, or stopping and rescheduling hearings, can increase the time it takes to close a case and disrupt the hearing and court processes.
    • Calendaring/scheduling. Reducing the amount of time a family has to wait for a hearing can improve their perception of the court process. Scheduling hearings at a set time can also improve efficiency and prevent families from waiting for their hearings to begin.
    • Judicial staff time. High judicial workloads can negatively impact child welfare cases, as judges may have less time to devote to court hearings and preparation. Findings indicate that judges who had more time to spend on child welfare cases were more likely to meet timelines. 
    • Physical court environment. The physical court environment can contribute to the trauma families experience in court and affect their ability to prepare for hearings. Negative environmental factors include uncomfortable waiting areas, rules prohibiting parents from bringing food for children, and unclear information about hearing locations.
     
     
  • Evaluation Summarizes Insights From Child Safety Forward Initiative

    Evaluation Summarizes Insights From Child Safety Forward Initiative

    Child Safety Forward is an initiative designed to reduce child maltreatment deaths through a community-based approach. The initiative was developed as a result of a 2016 report from the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities: Within Our Reach: A National Strategy to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities

    A recent report presents insights from an evaluation of Child Safety Forward's effectiveness in five sites over the course of a planning year. The sites were Cook County Health in Illinois; the Indiana Department of Health; the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, CT; and the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Sacramento County, CA. Each of the sites received technical assistance from the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, including help with technology and training, developing local partnerships, and more.  

    At the conclusion of the planning year, the sites were evaluated around five learning cycles:

    • Developing an initiative-level theory of change
    • Building a robust technical assistance model that is responsive to the capacities and needs of the demonstration sites
    • Understanding the value of a learning exchange for demonstration sites
    • Exploring how COVID-19 influenced Child Safety Forward
    • Evaluating the planning year's impact on the development of the demonstration site's implementation plans

    The brief provides the following insights:

    • Systems need to use a public health, cross-sector approach.
    • Systems need to adapt and respond to changing environments.
    • Policies and practices addressing racism, disparate outcomes, and power dynamics between systems and families are underdeveloped.
    • Systems should not rely on quantitative data alone.
    • Technical assistance and shared learning are needed to sustain effective strategies. 

    Read Child Safety Forward Planning Year Evaluation Brief for more information. 

     
     

     

Strategies and Tools for Practice

This section of CBX offers publications, articles, reports, toolkits, and other resources that provide evidence-based strategies or other concrete help to child welfare and related professionals.

  • CASA for Children Develops Family Engagement Pocket Guide

    CASA for Children Develops Family Engagement Pocket Guide

    The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and Texas CASA designed a toolkit to help child welfare professionals and court-appointed special advocates (CASAs) practice collaborative family engagement techniques. These strategies can help children and youth in care stay connected and maintain relationships with their support systems. The guide provides ways for professionals and advocates to gather insights about a family and identify who in the family network can be involved in case planning and decision-making. Although the guide was developed for professionals and CASAs in Texas, much of the information is pertinent to those in any location.

    The guide discusses the following tools: 

    • Connectedness map: A map that uses shapes and lines to illustrate someone's connections to others
    • Ecomap: A map that illustrates someone's connections using arrows pointing toward and away from people to indicate one-way and reciprocal relationships
    • Circles of trust: A diagram of concentric circles that illustrates how close someone is to the subject based on their distance from the center of the circle
    • Genogram: A map of a person's family and how the members are connected
    • Mobility mapping: A timeline of a person's life with markers for places they've lived and significant people
    • Internet searching: A practice to track down information about an individual's family
    • Seneca Search: An online tool that helps find names, addresses, and contact information of family members
    • Out of country search: The process of tracking down relatives who live outside of the United States
    • Tree of Life: An illustration of a tree used to help an individual reflect on their life
     
  • Engaging Youth and Families to Achieve Permanency

    Engaging Youth and Families to Achieve Permanency

    Written by the Capacity Building Center for States


    In honor of National Adoption Month, let's take a moment to consider the more than 120,000 children and youth waiting to be adopted and the very real promise of achieving permanency through authentic partnership with youth and families. Engaging families and youth in individual permanency plans, as well as in larger agency or systemic permanency-planning efforts, brings vital voice, choice, and expertise into the process and is more likely to lead to permanent families for youth (Children's Bureau, 2021).

    The information below is adapted from two Center for States publications: The Role of Leaders in Engaging Youth and Families to Achieve Timely Permanency for Children and Youth Waiting to Be Adopted and Supervisor Toolkit: Engaging Youth and Families to Achieve Timely Permanency for Children and Youth Waiting to Be Adopted. These publications offer tips and concrete strategies that leaders, supervisors, and caseworkers can implement as they work to embrace a permanency-driven culture of youth and family engagement. 

    Do Agency Policies, Procedures, and Values Support Authentic Partnership?

    Are you an organizational leader responsible for setting the tone and expectations for family and youth partnership? Consider asking yourself the following questions as you reflect on current practice and emerging priorities:
    • How does our organization reflect (and how do I model) a "culture of curiosity" in which staff at every level are motivated to actively seek information from and tap into the expertise of families and youth with diverse experiences and perspectives?
    • How am I facilitating the development of authentic relationships with youth and families at every level of the organization? Do staff have the time and support to intentionally partner with families? Is family and youth engagement an expectation that is built into position descriptions and performance evaluations?
    • What am I doing to share power and decision-making with youth and families in agency- or system-level permanency efforts? How am I ensuring that the partnership is mutually beneficial as opposed to transactional?
    • How do I demonstrate that I value, encourage, and expect youth and family involvement at every stage of the permanency process?
    • How am I supporting supervisors working to strengthen their team's capacity to partner and share decision-making with families and youth in permanency planning? 

    Are Youth and Families at the Center of Individual Permanency Planning?

    Are you a supervisor supporting caseworkers in their efforts to partner with youth and families in permanency planning? Consider pulling your team together to brainstorm the agency and team supports needed for caseworkers to strengthen their practice and reviewing the following questions: 
    • If workloads are impeding staff's ability to authentically engage youth and families, what could be eliminated to make time for prioritizing relationship building?
    • How has your agency's and your team's work been informed by youth and families with lived experience? Are you seeking out youth and families with diverse experiences and perspectives?
    • What kind of training does your agency offer to support the development of staff skills in youth and family engagement and empowerment, cultural humility, and culturally responsive practice?
    • How are staff supported and expected to create meeting agendas with youth and family members of their choosing?
    Check out Supervisor Toolkit: Engaging Youth and Families to Achieve Timely Permanency for Children and Youth Waiting to Be Adopted for additional questions for consideration, ideas for team activities that promote reflection about meaningful youth and family involvement in permanency planning, and worksheets for caseworkers to reflect on their own practice in building trusting relationships, developing a youth- and family-centered permanency-planning process, and leading meaningful permanency meetings.

    Authentic partnership with youth and families is a key element of effective casework and policy development. Consider using and sharing these new resources as you and your colleagues identify your best next steps to engage youth and families in your agency's permanency efforts.

    Reference 

    Children's Bureau. (2021). Quality improvement center: Engaging youth in finding permanency, HHS-2021-ACF-ACYF-CO-1911. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.

  • Webinar Discusses the Value, Impact, and Application of Parent Partner Programs

    Webinar Discusses the Value, Impact, and Application of Parent Partner Programs

    In a recent webinar from Casey Family Programs, presenters discuss the effectiveness of parent partner programs. 

    The webinar covers the following topics: 

    • Key components of parent partner programs
    • Research findings on parent partner programs
    • Key program benefits of parent partner programs 
    • Benefits and challenges of family-centered practice
    • Ways to share research findings, implement parent partner programs, and sustain existing programs
     

Resources

This section of CBX presents interesting resources, such as websites, videos, journals, funding or scholarship opportunities, or other materials that can be used in the field or with families.

  • Tips for a Successful Transracial Adoption

    Tips for a Successful Transracial Adoption

    The adoption process can be a lengthy and complex one. This is particularly true for prospective parents planning to adopt transracially. Maintaining and nurturing a child's connection to their unique culture and its traditions is vital to their ability to thrive and succeed. With this critical need in mind, adoptive families and child welfare professionals provide the following suggestions on how to successfully maintain these connections:

    • Talk with family and friends about your plans, the changes and challenges becoming a multiracial family presents, and whether they and your community will be supportive and accepting of you and your child.
    • Connect your child with mentors and role models who share similar racial and cultural backgrounds and who can serve as a source of information and an ally.
    • Make new community connections with groups that center on your child's race and heritage, such as enrolling in a diverse school and becoming involved with the child's culture's faith community.
    • Find opportunities to regularly talk with your child about race and culture and provide a safe space for and encourage honest communication.
    • Commit to educating yourself about racism to help your child cope with and respond to it and the prejudice and discrimination they may experience in life.
    • Celebrate your child's heritage and its traditions and acknowledge the positive contributions that people of all races and cultures make to society. 
    • If possible, adopt a sibling group; doing so can lessen a child's feelings of isolation, encourage a sense of fitting in, and maintain cultural connections
    For more information, including links to related content, read the AdoptUSKids' article "Seven Suggestions for a Successful Transracial Adoption."

  • How Foster Parents Can Support Their LGBTQ+ Child

    How Foster Parents Can Support Their LGBTQ+ Child

    The challenges and trauma that many youth in foster care have experienced or will experience can be compounded for youth identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes questioning), and others (LGBTQ+). As a result, they need foster parents who are supportive, willing to listen and learn, practice empathy, and advocate.

    An article on Parents.com discusses the overrepresentation of LGTBQ+ youth in the foster care system and the associated problems this subset of marginalized youth may encounter. It includes details from an interview with a child welfare professional who was in foster care as a youth and is a gay Black man. He describes how foster parents can mitigate the struggles that LGBTQ+ youth may face while in their care and provides guidance and tips on what foster parents should and should not do when caring for a LGBTQ+ child. He focuses on the need for foster parents to proactively educate themselves on topics such as individual expression, gender role and identity, common stereotypes, and the use of appropriate versus discriminatory terms and phrases. 


Training and Conferences

Find trainings, workshops, webinars, and other opportunities for professionals and families to learn about how to improve the lives of children and youth as well as a listing of upcoming events and conferences.