Adoptions — Knowledge & practice
This page provides an overview of our approach: our underpinning philosophy, theories and principles that influence our adoption interventions in order to achieve our desired outcomes.
The child-centred perspective is all about focusing on a child's needs and best interests, their care, support and wellbeing. It's about understanding, at a deeper level, what influences a child's growth and development - how they attach to caring adults in their lives and what impacts on their ability to grow and develop into strong adults. Having a child-centred perspective requires that we become familiar with adoption outcome research that helps us to understand children and their needs so that we can work in their best interests.
Being child-centred is also about supporting and maintaining their rights. Central to this is the work of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) and the underlying theme of children's entitlement to special care, and the right to provision, protection and participation.
We support the paramouncy of the child's needs and interests. At the same time we are family-focused.
Supporting child-centred practice
Key messages from the research
- Children and young people are entitled to ‘special care and assistance’ and have the right to provision, protection and participation (OCC, 2005).
- Stability of care and attachment are critical to child wellbeing (Smith, 1996; Cassidy & Shaver, 1999 Bacon & Richardson, 2001).
- Children who have been abused and neglected in their lives can fear the proximity of adults and ways need to be found to facilitate attachment (Howe et al, 1999; Moore, 2006).
- Children and young people have a right to preserve their own identity, to enjoy their own culture, religion and language (MSD, 2002).
- Children and young people have the capacity to participate in decisions that affect them and the right to be listened to (Littlechild, 2000; SOI, 2005).
- Where possible, the child’s view is important to ascertain when assessing their needs in the adoption context (Hawkins et al 2007).
- Children are interested in adoption issues and the possibility of contact with birth family. Many would like more information about themselves and would like to be more involved in decisions relating to their adoption (Hawkins et al 2007).
- The life experiences of some adopted children may result in them having high and complex needs. Children may therefore require intensive services and adoptive parents may require training and support to help them manage difficult behaviour (Golding, 2007).
Family and culturally responsive perspective
Working with both birth families, and people wishing to adopt is key to good adoptions practice. The driving principle of family empowerment rests at the heart of the framework and guides practice toward more family-responsive approaches. The need to foster practice partnerships, including processes that involve extended families, is an important practice principle.
Adoption involves the making of critical life-long decisions and our role is to help families make the right decisions for themselves for their children. Supporting the cultural context of the family and working with social networks is also central to the practice framework.
Supporting family and culturally responsive practice
Key messages from the research
- In New Zealand, collective responsibility for children and young people, and the centrality of family is a key practice principle (MSD, 2002).
- Parents will need an understanding of the physical and social needs of minority children in their care (Folaron and Hess, 1993).
- Parents will need to be prepared to provide them with positive nurturing cultural experiences that will facilitate the development of a positive racial identity. (McRoy, 1990, 1994).
- Core social work skills: listening, empathy, friendliness and acceptance; are underlined as fundamentally important in working with birth and adoptive parents (Hart & Luckock 2006).
- Education can enable parents to discuss adoption in a way that neither stresses nor minimises the differences (Grotevant et al., 2000).
- Birthparents are able to explore all of their options, including adoption and parenting, when they receive factual unbiased information through nondirective counseling (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2007).
- Post-adoption support services can be important in assisting birth parents to maintain contact with their child and promote good outcomes (Sellick 2007).
- Diverse families require culturally responsive solutions and reflexive social work practices (Connolly, Crichton-Hill & Ward, 2005). In adoption the new legal family does not signal the absolute end of one family and the beginning of another, nor does it sever the psychological tie to an earlier family. Rather, it expands the family boundaries of all those who are involved (Reitz & Watson, 1992).
Strengths and evidence-based perspective
This strand focuses on the importance of strengths and evidence-based practice. The strengths perspective reflects a move away from a focus on deficits toward practice that enhances possibilities. Mobilising the strengths of the broader family to support both birth parents and families wishing to adopt can demonstrate family cohesion and support.
Evidence-based practice also requires that practice have a strong knowledge base. Building practice on a solid foundation of research evidence about what works in the context of adoption will better support good long term outcomes for children.
The Adoptions Practice Framework works on the basis that no one perspective is enough when working with parties to adoption. It is the weaving together of the perspectives through the phases of our work that makes our practice strong.
Supporting strengths and evidence-based practice
- What works' models
- Resilience discourses
- Empowerment practices
- Systems theory
Key messages from the research
- Openness aids positive long term adjustment of birthparents; the sense of entitlement of adoptive parents and healthy identity formation in adopted people (Berge et. al 2006; Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2007)
- Aldgate (1988) points out the importance of adults involved with children in the child care system recognising that separation involves fear, which needs to be mastered, and that loss involves grief which needs to be expressed. (Fahlberg, 1991)
- Participation in decision-making is a practice demonstration of empowerment (Connolly, 1999)
- Practice works in the context of role clarity, collaborative problem-solving, and good relationship work and the helping alliance (Trotter, 1999; 2002; McKeown, 2000)
- Work between birth and adoptive parents is a sensitive and important area of practice that balances the needs of those involved, acting also at times as ‘buffer’ and sounding board (Clapton, 2006).
- Helping birth relatives to cope with and adjust to the loss of a child is an important consideration in adoption work (Neil, 2006)
- Katz(1996) notes that the most successful adopters have a tolerance for ambivalence, find satisfaction in small positive behavioral changes, feel entitled to be parents, set limits, use humor, take care of themselves, and do not allow themselves to feel rejected by the child.(McRoy,1999)
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Berge, J.M., Mendenhall, T.J., Wrobel, G.M., Grovetant, H.D. and McRoy, R.G. (2006) Adolescents’ feelings about openness in adoption: implications for adoption agencies, Child Welfare, 85 (6), 1011-1039
Cassidy, J., & Shaver, P.R. (eds). (1999). Handbook of Attachment: Theory, research and clinical applications. London: Guilford.
Child, Youth and Family. (2005). Statement of Intent. Wellington: Child, Youth and Family.
Clapton, G. (2006). Mediated contact: Reflections on a piece of after-adoption intermediary practice. Adoption & Fostering, 30 (4) 53-63.
Connolly, M. & Healy, K. (2009). Social work practice theories and frameworks. In Social Work: Contexts and practice. 2nd edition, (M. Connolly and L. Harms eds) Chapter 2 . Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Connolly, M. (1999). Effective participatory practice: Family group conferencing in child protection. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Connolly, M., Crichton-Hill, Y. & Ward, T. (2005). Culture and child protection: Reflexive responses. London: Jessica Kingsley Press.
Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute (2007) Safeguarding the rights and Wellbeing of Birthparents in the Adoption Process. Retrieved from:
Fahlberg, Vera., (MD). (1991). A Child’s Journey Through Placement, UK Edition.
Folaron, G., & Hess, P. (1993). Placement considerations for children of mixed African-American and Caucasian parentage. Child Welfare, 72, March/April.
Golding, K. (2007). Developing group-based parent training for foster and adoptive parents. Adoption & Fostering, 31 (3) 39-48.
Grotevant, H.D., Dunbar, N., Kohler, j.K., & Lash Esau, A.M. (2000). ‘Adoptive identity: how context within and beyond the family shape developmental pathways’, Family Relations, 49 (4), 379-87.
Hart, A. & Luckock, B. (2006). Core principles and therapeutic objectives for therapy with adoptive and permanent foster families. Adoption & Fostering, 30 (2) 29-42.
Hawkins, A., Beckett, C., Castle, J., Groothues, C., Sonuga-Barke, E., Colvert, E., Kreppner, J., Stevens, S., & Rutter, M. (2007). The experience of adoption (1): A study of intercountry and domestic adoption from the child’s point of view. Adoption & Fostering, 31 (4) 5-16.
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McRoy, R. (1999) Special Needs Adoptions – practice issues – Garland Publishing, USA.
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Moore, J. (2006). ‘Theatre of Attachment’ Using drama to facilitate attachment in adoption. Adoption & Fostering, 30 (2) 64-73.
Neil, E. (2006). Coming to terms with the loss of a child: The feelings of birth parents and grandparents about adoption and post-adoption contact. Adoption Quarterly, 10 (1) 1-23.
Reitz, M. & Watson, K. (1992) Adoption and the family system: strategies for treatment. New York: Guilford Press.
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Sellick, C. (2007). An examination of adoption support services for birth relatives and for post-adoption contact in England and Wales. Adoption & Fostering, 31 (4) 17-26.
Smith, A.B. (1996). Opening remarks. In N.J. Taylor & A..B. Smith (Eds.), Investing in children: Primary prevention strategies (pp. 5-10). Proceedings for the Children’s Issues Centre Inaugural Child and Family Policy Conference, 10-13 July 1996. Dunedin: Children’s Issues Centre.
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