• Graham Wright

The Time for Standardized Services to Support Families is Now

By Graham Wright, M.Phil., MSW

NCAP Team Member

A new report from AdoptUSKids, titled “Post-adoption support across the country: Themes and opportunities,” lays out the availability and nature of various post-adoption services in the United States. The report spells out a fact many of us in the field have recognized for decades: that services for children and families after adoption are woefully lacking in much of the country, despite the availability of federal funding opportunities.

Those of us at NCAP couldn’t agree more. Indeed, this unfortunate reality is a one of the major reasons why NCAP’s mission is to promote “family success,” which simply can’t happen without ongoing, systemic support for vulnerable children and the adults raising them.

The report’s findings are informative, but it makes few specific recommendations. Our view at NCAP is that, after 40 years of placements of traumatized foster children, the time has come for the development and implementation of a standardized set of resources and services for this population. And those supports should be available to families of origin, foster families, kinship and guardianship families, and any/all others who work so hard to give children and youth a real shot in life.

A standardized system would include essential elements such as individualized needs assessment; training and education; respite care; individual and group support; trauma-informed (and adoption-competent) therapy; mentoring for children and families; financial assistance; and crisis intervention. The delivery of services should be through entities funded by state and federal dollars, with service levels determined by family need. Additional money may be needed for startup in some jurisdictions, but ongoing funding streams already exist if creatively used, and the alternative of the cost to the taxpayer of a family’s dissolution or a child’s return to foster care is always greater.

In 2002, I established Adoptive Family Therapeutic and Education Resources (AFTER), within Kinship Center, precisely to offer such a standardized system to the families of Santa Clara County, CA. From its initial provision of information and referrals, it grew to include therapist education, judicial liaison, short-term therapy, group support and eventually full-scale Adoption Wraparound, that naturally included respite for both children and their parents.

Thanks to the vision of Kinship Center, county staff and state leadership, this model became a state pilot and rolled out across Northern California. Over 10 years, AFTER prevented residential placement for 83 percent of the adopted children it served. The Adoption Wraparound concept has been duplicated by numerous California agencies since then.

It can be expected – or at least hoped – that the AdoptUSKids report will stimulate some incremental efforts at the state and/or local levels, which should be very welcome news to professionals and families in the trenches. But the information within this insightful document should also serve as a rallying cry for a substantial level of federal commitment. NCAP is working every day toward that end, and now it’s clear we need to redouble our efforts. Heroic families throughout the country are tired of waiting.

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