Every child, whatever the context, needs a permanent family. Having been in home care myself, I can personally attest to this need.
When I was young, I was placed in day care after my mother died and my father’s inability to overcome his addiction to substances. My sisters and I spent several years hanging around from place to place before being looked after by an aunt and uncle.
I was 16 years old.
For my sisters and I, the stability provided by our “forever home” made all the difference. The feeling of security allowed us to flourish. No more neglect. No more abuse. Frankly, without their willingness to open their home and their hearts, I don’t know where I would be.
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Since 1995, November has been marked as a time of deep introspection on adoption. This year, Adoption Awareness Month is all about engaging the voices of youth and leveraging lived experiences to improve adoption.
Now more than ever, it is perhaps imperative that we all take stock of this goal.
In Kentucky, there are over 9,000 foster children. Of these, nearly a third are awaiting adoption. Of course, everything must be done to preserve families; this includes strong prevention and intervention services. However, the sad reality is that some young people will have to be adopted.
Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of working with foster children and parents in child welfare agencies at the local, state and federal levels. My personal experiences – especially the time I spent in home care – have greatly influenced my professional practice and my research with these young people. I choose to view my personal experiences not as an obstacle but as an asset. These experiences have given me a unique ability to connect with those who are or have experienced foster care and adoption.
Through all of these interactions, I have come to two simple but profound conclusions:
Adoption actors have a unique perspective on the adoption process.
We, as a society, must work to integrate this perspective into adoption programs, policies and protocols. These stakeholders include youth, adoptive parents and siblings, biological families and others.
Historically, the collective voice of young adoptive parents has been excluded from the lexicon of child protection services. Too often adoptees are excluded from research studies or from the conceptualization and implementation of adoption programs and interventions. Of course, adoptees are often invited to share stories of their experiences, usually at annual events or fundraisers. Unfortunately, these stories are often relegated to a point in time that is more about pulling the hearts of potential donors and much less learning from these experiences as a mechanism for improving the system.
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If the adoption system is to achieve its goal of providing safe and stable “permanent homes” for young people, agencies and programs must incorporate the lived experiences and expertise of adoptees. However, integrating these experiences will not be easy. Meaningfully integrating the perspectives of those who have lived through adoption will require a fundamental paradigm shift.
In his seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn explains that paradigm shifts are necessary when existing frameworks and worldviews are no longer able to meet needs. The traditional paradigm of seeing adoptees as passive and incompetent beings participating in a system that must be led by others is no longer able to meet the needs of the child protection system. As such, those working with and in the child protection system must embrace a paradigm shift based on a singular principle: adoptees have valuable knowledge, knowledge and expertise that must be incorporated into the process. child protection education, practice and research. .
In order to fully realize the potential for integrating lived experiences into the child welfare system, we need to change the lens through which we view adoption. Adoption is not something we do to children and families; in some cases, adoption is rather a necessary process to ensure the permanence of young people and their families. In light of this, we as a society must take steps to explicitly improve this process. This includes ensuring that adoptees have a say in the policies, programs and services that affect them. We can achieve this by supporting adoptee groups and associations, working to create advisory and advisory committees for young people, and advocating that child welfare agencies hire adoptees as employees. Regardless of the method, we must intend to tap into the unique perspective of those who have personally experienced adoption.
Jay Miller, PhD, MSW, CSW, is Dean and Dorothy A. Miller Research Professor of Social Work Education, and Director of the Self-Care Lab at the College of Social Work at the University of Kentucky. In addition, he is a proud alum of hospitality and kinship. You can follow his work via Twitter @ DrJayMiller1.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Improve KY Adoption By Listening To The Kids Who Have Been There | Opinion