As we have progressed in our understanding of best practice for adoptions, we begin to see where we can focus to greatly improve the adoption process and adoption outcomes. As older adoptees and adoptive parents speak up and voice their experiences, we continue to gain helpful insight. The need for families to be formally prepared for adoption was overlooked for many years in this country. Disruption of an adoptive placement is greatly decreased when services are provided to the child and family. Family preparation for adoption gives resource parents information and support to maximize the chances they will successfully parent a child permanently. Parents who lack the knowledge to meet the needs of their adopted children are more likely to end an adoption. Nationwide, social workers have changed their approaches to adoptive parents to educate them about the distinct differences between parenting adopted children and parenting birth children.
SWAN requires a training curriculum for families to become adoptive parents that includes training on what to expect from the process, how the system works, attachment, grief and loss, who the parents are, who the children are, the traumas the children in the foster care system have experienced, child development, parenting and resources. Adoptive families need to be aware of the services and supports (adoption subsidy, medical benefits, respite care) they can expect after an adoption is finalized. They should know what to expect during the adjustment process. Research has shown that the adjustment and attachment of both the child and the members of the adoptive family generally occurs in a predictable sequence of five phases: getting acquainted, the honeymoon, ambivalence, reciprocal interaction and bond solidification. Acquainting families with these phases of adjustment helps prepare them for what to expect during the adjustment process. When families are prepared well for adoption, they can identify their strengths as well as their vulnerabilities and so understand where they will need assistance to provide permanency for a child.
Some workers fear that complete disclosure about a child might frighten adoptive parents away, but incomplete disclosure can be the catalyst for disruption. Parents who know the history of their adopted children and are aware of their needs enter into the adoption with realistic expectations—a key ingredient for permanency. In fact, many families are advocating for their own rights to know about the histories of the children whose lives are entrusted to them.
We now know that adequate post-placement supervision is essential for families to continue moving forward to finalization and ensuring they are prepared for the future. Families need to know signs of disruption and where they can turn for support if these signs appear. In Pennsylvania, families are eligible for Post-permanency services to better assure for the permanency of the children they have adopted.
Finding permanent families, including adoptive families, for children in foster care is now recognized as a much greater need. Many children in the child welfare system who need permanency are labeled as “special needs” based on certain characteristics (established by individual states) such as age, race, disabilities or sibling sets.