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.