I'm visiting Montreal with John Simmonds, CoramBAAF’s Director of Policy, Research and Development, to take part in the International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR). We arrived the day before the conference, and I went with my colleague Jeanne Kaniuk, Coram’s former Head of Adoption, to the Museum of Beaux Arts, to see a fascinating exhibition of Picasso and learn about the influence on his work of African art on the morning before the conference launch. After a packed first day that evening we went out for some cultural stimulation and to get a feel for the city and enjoyed visiting the Old Town of Montreal down by the Port – a bustling area with jazz musicians entertaining visitors.
The Indigenous Child Removal System in Canada
A very powerful key note presentation from Raven Sinclair about the ‘Sixties Swoop’ where over 30,000 children were removed from their indigenous families and adopted by White Protestant families. She herself was removed and adopted at the age of 5 and only reconnected with her Cree/ Nehiyaw community and was reunited with her birth family at the age of 27. Raven is now an Associate Professor at the University of Regina.
Raven talked about the systematic erosion of the rights of the indigenous communities - it was shocking to hear that it was only in 1960 that indigenous people were given the vote in Canada in 1960. Whilst Foster care is now used where there are child protection issues there is a significant over representation of indigenous children in foster care - 80% compared to 9% of the general population. There are clearly still significant challenges in how to achieve positive placement of these children when they need protection whilst ensuring they remain connected to their cultural heritage. A recent court case has led to a settlement from the Canadian Government to those affected in the Sixties Swoop.
On the first morning of the conference, Beth Neil from UEA presented her research for the One Adoption RAA looking at the needs of local adopted children and their families. She found 77% of the adopters surveyed had used Adoption support services, mainly low level services and they valued peer to peer support which was seen as accessible. The areas of unmet need they identified were therapeutic support, life story work, support with contact, clubs or activities for disabled children and therapeutic camps or respite.
The survey and evaluation has given the RAA clear messages about what local families need and this methodology could be used as by other RAAs who are still planning their adoption support services.
This afternoon went to an interesting session from the University of California on preparation training for prospective adopters on the issues when adopting children who were exposed to parental substance abuse - the TIES Pre-placement Education and Preparation curriculum aims to improve prospective carers knowledge of their potential strengths and the challenges of raising children adopted from foster care, their attitudes toward children with prenatal substance exposure and their substance-using birth parent(s), and encourage an increased willingness to adopt children from these backgrounds. The same team also demonstrated some of the tools they have developed in their therapeutic programmes working with both the parents and children.
Consensus statement on adoption
A international group of adoption experts have been drafting a Consensus statement to summarise the current status of adoption in enabling children who cannot be cared for by the birth parents or birth families to be cared for permanently by alternative parents. The evidence base that supports adoption is an important part of the development statement.
The conference provided the opportunity for a face-to face meeting between members of the group including Spain, the USA and the UK (John Simmonds and Julie Selwyn) to review progress to date.
The current document is detailed and lengthy and the discussion focussed on reviewing the content to ensure it maximises its impact on policy, and practice when it is finally published.
From Placement to Puberty - lesbian and gay adopters
The afternoon keynote was an interesting presentation from Abbie Goldberg, Clark University, New England who has been following 185 gay, lesbian and heterosexual families over 8 years, and gave us some interesting comparative findings. Same sex couples were found to be more open to openness in Adoption and could conceive of the birth parents as extended family. She particularly found gay fathers had positive relationships with birth mothers with relinquished children but lesbian mothers were more open where children were adopted from care. As with other studies she found no differences in children’s emotional and behavioural development relating to the type of family they were placed with.