Ethics in Adoption Practice: Utilizing Adopted Persons, Birth Parents, and Adoptive Family Perspectives Ethically

Some may recall that in September the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC) submitted the following letter to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. I am pleased to say that I had an opportunity to speak with one of the conference organizers and not only did we have a productive conversation but she also offered recommendations for future panel presentation best practices.

The letter sparked interest by a DC metro area adoption agency, Adoptions Together, to request that I lead a three hour CEU workshop on this topic for their staff. I was enthusiastic to put together this workshop and present on October 16, 2012. Please see the workshop summary below:

Adoption and child welfare agencies historically have offered panels comprised of adopted persons, birth parents, and/ or adoptive parents, to train prospective adoptive families and other social service or mental health professionals. Little is known about best practices when offering such panels. Potential ethical issues surrounding confidentiality, dual relationships, conflicts of interest and testimonials for advertising are often under examined if recognized at all. This 3 hour workshop will address ethical issues and solutions to common potential pitfalls that agencies increasingly encounter. Specifically, the workshop aims to address the following:

  • Review the ethical codes of conduct for the four major mental health professions as they relate to adopted person, birth/first parent, and adoptive family publicity
  • Offer best practice guidance on selecting, preparing for, and debriefing panel participants
  • Explore how to best utilize both the personal and professional perspectives of each member of the triad in agency practice
  • Consider alternatives to panel presentations and testimonials for recruitment and advertising purposes.

The workshop was engaging and thought provoking for both the participants and myself. Most exciting was the agency director announced by the end of the workshop that systemic agency changes such as consent forms and post panel mental health check ins would be applied immediately in preparation for an upcoming panel.

A summary of best practice guidelines are below:

  • A careful review of each helping professions codes of ethics in regard to dual relationships and testimonies must be in place PRIOR to using panel participants.
  • Agencies/ child welfare groups should create “panel committees” to review ethics, appropriateness of panel candidates and usage, and plan for pre, during, and post training and mental health safeguards.
  • Consent forms outlining both the risks and benefits of panel participation should be issued, reviewed, and signed by the panel participants prior to the actual panel engagement. Consent forms should be placed in participants’ agency files with additional documentation of the consent review process, the individual risks and benefits to the potential participant, and a safeguarding plan for mental health care.
  • Training and preparation for panels should follow the Case Family Programs and Foster Care Alumni Strategic Sharing recommendations.

The APRC will soon issue a policy statement offering these best practice guidelines with the goal of national agency support and eventual implementation.


Racial Socialization in Cross Racial Families

I chose this article as it continues the discussion on racial identity preparation in adoptive families and includes cross racial families, which the author defines as families where one of the parents or guardians is Black. She uses the terms of African descent and Black interchangeably in this article to describe individuals included from African American, African, Caribbean and other persons from the African Diaspora (p 250).  On a personal note I was also highly interested in the inclusion of cross racial, non adoptive families, in this research as it directly applies to my family constellation.

Purpose of Study: The study aimed to examine how family racial socialization impacted their children’s experiences of racism in school and institutional settings and what differences, if any, where to be found between families with white or non Black parents/guardians versus families with at least one parent/ guardian of African descent.  Racial socialization is described “as the transmission of information, norms, and values about race and ethnicity to children (as cited from Hughes et al., 2006, p. 232).”

Method: The researcher pursued a qualitative study with two guiding questions. These are as follows: Research “Question 1: How do cross-racially raised individuals experience racism in schools?”  And “Research Question 2: How do cross-racially raised individuals perceive their parents/guardians’ efforts toward racial socialization (p. 235)?”

The study interviewed ten adult women, multiracial of African descent, between the ages of 20 to 43 years, who were recruited via outreach to Black/African college student groups, transracial adopted persons groups, scholars and professionals in the education and social welfare fields, and via word of mouth. The research utilized the Extended Case Method and critical race theory to create the interview questions and to guide the analysis. Eight of the interviews were face to face and audio taped and two were done via the telephone with detailed note taking by the interviewer.

Results: Several themes were drawn from the interviews. Under the category of “Experiences of Racism at School” the emergent themes were as follows: 1) Racism at the individual level, IE being called a “negro” during a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration event at school 2) Institutional Racism, IE Black children over representation in special education settings and/or being the only black person in a higher achieving class, 3) Racism within the Family IE rejection from extended family members for adopting a black child and/or partnering with a black person.

Under the category of “Family Approaches to Racism” the themes were as follows: 1) Who’s talking about race and racism? IE “Parents and guardians who openly acknowledged the reality of racism and the impact it could have on their child focused on preparing their children for bias, strengthening the child’s sense of self, and passing on cultural traditions and values (p 240)” and 2) Who’s not talking about race and racism? IE “In contrast to those families who used direct or modeling techniques to teach their children about racism were families who emphasized colorblind or egalitarian approaches, avoided conversations about race and racism, and sometimes denied their child was also Black (p. 244)”.

When examining the adoptees who were interviewed another theme including the intersectionality of race, adoption, and abandonment as evidenced by the following participant response:

“There is a risk involved in resisting the denial that your parents have put on you for so many years; the risk is that if I come out as this person of color, if I come out as a Black person and acknowledge that I’m Black there’s a possibility that you aren’t gonna love me anymore because your whole lives you’ve been telling me that Blackness is wrong. So how do I maintain my status as a Black person in this family if I acknowledgemy whole self and if I do it at what cost do I do it? . . . And I see this now in the kids I work with. Even if their parents are liberal and like “I know you’re Black” . . . there’s something still going on there about being able to be a whole Black person (p. 246).” 

Discussion: The research found that families with at least one Black parent/guardian spoke more openly about race and offered more guidance on responding to racism versus families with white parents or no parent/guardian of the Black race not directly addressing this subject. The researcher was clear that the study did not look for information on why some families do or do not address the issues of race and racism but posited many possibilities. These, gleaned from previous research, include fears that talking about it will hinder the child’s potential, the child will not understand, and will make them angry or bitter.  For White persons these fears are compounded by not wanting to be perceived as racist and not acknowledging white privilege, and interfering with attempts to remain “colorblind”.

Implications: This study adds more information to the growing body of literature for adoptive parent training and now cross racial parent training on the racial socialization and preparing for racism when raising children of color. The quotes from the interviews were at times, quite poignant, and expressed the pain, hurt, and fear that individuals experienced as children when confronted with both direct and more subtle (micro aggressions) forms of racism. On a personal and professional note I was delighted to notice that many of the authors cited were persons with whom I have interacted both professionally and personally and once again am humbled to be in the company of such expert scholars and practitioners in the field.

Snyder, C.R. (2011). Racial socialization in cross racial families. Journal of Black      Psychology, 38, 228-253. Doi: 10.1177/0095798411416457