November is national adoption month. This year’s theme is “Every Conversation Matters”, which means engaging youth in permanency plans through open conversations about adoption. As Adoption Month approaches, the Children’s Bureau kickstarted the conversation by hosting the webinar Every Conversation Matters featuring two young women with lived experience and an adoption supervisor.
The first young woman with lived experience to speak was Catherine. Catherine is a Maryland native who was adopted into her foster family at age 20. In the webinar, she described her progress since her teenage misconception that only young children are adopted. After being in a foster family for eight years, Catherine was able to attend a leadership conference about adoption. At the leadership conference, she met young adults who previously were adopted or were in the process of being adoption. The conference monumentally changed Catherine’s foster care path as she realized she could be adopted even as a teenager. After the conference, Catherine created a plan with her foster family and case worker to take steps to permanency.
Today, Catherine describes her adoptive family as true stability, love, and acceptance. After being adopted, Catherine attended and graduated from a four-year college and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment and commercial real estate. Catherine credits her adoption success to the leadership conference, the first time she was involved in a conversation about adoption for teenagers. Catherine fully believes conversation is the key to leading more youth in foster care into adoption, permanency, and an overall better quality of life.
Kim Bonham from Child and Family Services of Arlington County spoke about her Youth Engagement and Permanency research covering ambivalence, preparation, and readiness about adoption. In her study, Bonham conducted interviews on five topics: adult supports, adoption perception, permanence, adoption concerns, and birth family loyalty and identity. Two of the most significant findings to support building conversations around adoption was the lack of knowledge about adoption by youth not choosing adoption versus those who did choose adoption.
Bonham found that 50% of youth who did not consent to be adopted did not know anyone who had been adopted or associated adoption with something negative. Comparatively, 0% of youth who were adopted reported the same feelings. Lastly, 40% of youth who did not consent to being adopted had unanswered questions or concerns about adoption compared to only 10% of youth who did consent to being adopted. The lack of information about adoption and permanency relating to independent youth stresses the value of conversation. Since her research project, Kim Bonham has created peer groups to open the conversation about adoption among youth. Post-group surveys have reported new and positive feelings about adoption.
Lastly, Tawanna, 18, from New Jersey spoke of her experience of kinship care adoption at the age of 15. Tawanna cited her Court Appointed Social Advocate (CASA) as a key figure in her path to adoption. Having a CASA allowed for open conversations about Tawanna’s journey to permanency. Tawanna found her voice to advocate for the future she wanted, rather than an unknown future decided by adults who did not know her story. Advocating for her future has shaped Tawanna into a brave and thoughtful young woman dedicated to supporting other youth in foster care in their journeys into permanence. Tawanna is now thriving as a freshman at Seton Hall University studying Africana Studies with the hope to double major in Political Science or Sociology.
The stories from Catherine, Kim, and Tawanna all emphasize the powerful role conversation plays in achieving permanency. Catherine and Tawanna are extraordinary examples of the impact that advocacy and adoption education can have on youth in foster care. Adoption is scary for youth in foster care—many fear the unknown, fear that their biological family will feel betrayed, and overall misunderstand the adoption process. The power of conversation can break down these fears and show youth that they can have control of their own future.