ACT: An Adoption and Permanency Curriculum for Child Welfare and Mental Health Professionals ©
Session 1, “Permanence in Context,” provides an introduction to the curriculum and the facilitators, and gives background information on the development of ACT. This session begins the adoption and permanence knowledge and the skill building content, focusing on policy and practice challenges for permanence in a child’s life. The theoretical framework of this curriculum, the Seven Core Issues in Adoption, is introduced, with time spent on the first three issues, Loss, Rejection and Guilt & Shame. Emphasis is on the unique issues that the adopted person, birth family, and permanent family face in the lifelong process of adoption and permanency.
Permanence in Context
Session 2, “Core Issues,” continues the adoption knowledge and skill-building with further exploration of the Seven Core Issues in Adoption, discussing Grief, Identity, Intimacy and Mastery/Control. The clinical practices that are the focus of ACT have evolved over time, and adoption from a historical perspective is reviewed. This session introduces several practice interventions that professionals can use in their work, including: building self-esteem, genograms, time lines, life books and boxes, and biblio-therapy. These effective tools help both professionals and clients better understand the core issues in play.
Sessions 3, “The Art and Science of Attachment,” gives an introduction to the neurobiology of attachment. Early brain development in children establishes how their attachment patterns evolve, which determines how they cope with the world around them. Insecure attachment patterns have a negative impact on the child, leaving them impaired in their ability to attach to caregivers, affecting their emotional development. Learning to recognize these behaviors and exploring ways to empower parents to change this organized system of faulty internal beliefs held by the child will be the focus of this session.
The Art and Science of Attachment
Session 4, “A Developmental Perspective,” builds on not only the child’s attachment pattern, but their developmental level of understanding of adoption. A child’s understanding of adoption is not the same as an adult’s, and careful preparation of the child and family is needed to make the transition to permanency. Sibling issues are also introduced, as siblings have very complex relationships that affect and are affected by each family they move from. The discussion will include the questions around siblings and decision-making factors in sibling placements.
A Developmental Perspective
Sessions 5, “Family Constellation Challenges,” picks up where Session 4 left off, discussing such as whether to place siblings together, when to separate them, and helping children discuss their feelings. This session takes a look at birth parents, those who voluntarily relinquish their children and those who have their parental rights terminated by court decree, and the need for post-adoption support. A significant area of child welfare today involves kinship care, and how professionals can help assess and support this type of family building.
Family Constellation Challenges
Session 6, “Supporting the Permanent Family,” explores interventions to support constellation members, and how the practice of open adoption is defined. The values, attitudes and beliefs underlying the practice are discussed and participants are asked to examine their own perspectives. Search and reunion is another focal point; reasons people search, their roller coaster emotions, and the benefits and challenges experienced by not only those who undertake this task, but all parties involved.
Supporting the Permanent Family
Sessions 7, “Tools for Skilled Practice,” addresses such issues as lifelong impact of infertility for individuals and couples; individual identity, marital/couple relationships, sexuality, extended family relationships and parenting. Factors for the professional to consider during the assessment of clients considering adoption or relative caregiving are reviewed. Participants are given the opportunity to practice their assessment skill, including attention to factors to consider when looking at trans-racial adoptions. The complexities that arise when concurrent planning is the plan for a child and the issues surrounding placement disruptions and adoption dissolutions are discussed.
Tools for Skilled Practice
Session 8, “Diversity, Healing and the Family,” believing that children heal best in families, discussion reflects back to the neurobiology presented in Session 3, and the implications presented for healthy attachments. The difficulties that impaired attachments, developmental needs and traumatic histories bring, and the parenting challenges they created are addressed. Ways to enhance family attachment with appropriate discipline and therapeutic parenting methods will be presented. The conclusion of the curriculum focuses on the role of rituals and ceremonies in adoption and permanency related work.
Diversity, Healing and the Family
ACT Professional Consultation Community
To build on your investment in the ACT training program and your goal to becoming an adoption and permanency competent professional, we invite you to join the ACO’s ACT Professional Consultation Community where ACT alumni can come together to discuss various topics and cases, review and refresh the core ACT principles, and learn from one another.
Check out our ACT Professional Consultation Community flyer.
If you are interested in joining the ACO’s ACT Professional Consultation Community, please visit our event listing for details.
More About ACT
As a result of completing ACT, participants in their pre- and post permanency work will:
- Incorporate the model of the Seven Core Issues into the assessment, education and treatment of families touched by adoption and other forms of permanency
- Accept the profound impact of placing a child into an established family structure
- Appreciate the additional tasks that relative caregivers must address as family roles are changed in children’s lives
- Learn to enhance family strengths and empower the family as an agent of change
- Embrace the interrelated core principles of attachment and neurobiology; include the impact of trauma in assessment and in the development of clinical interventions
- Understand the additional developmental challenges that adoption and permanence place on the child
- Be able to assist parents to learn healthy attachment-based parenting skills
- Acquire the skills and tools for working with the whole family system to maintain the child in a family setting
- Recognize the complex issues that arise for today’s diverse family structures, including single parent families, relative adopters, domestic and internationally built families, trans-racial/trans-cultural families, and families with different types of openness and permanency arrangements
- Respect the long term roles and needs of the birth family and the importance of their information and connections to the child
- Competently address issues of search and reunion
- Understand the significant influence of the child’s genetic history, race and culture
- Value sibling relationships and their life-long importance
- Be able to link interventions and community resources to the family
ACT takes on ambitious goals. The following reflect core competency areas for specific levels of knowledge, values, and skills. Upon completion of ACT participants in their pre- and post- permanency work will have:
- A theoretical framework for skilled practice with all members of the adoption kinship network (adoption constellation).
- Understand how loss, grief and separation are core clinical issues in adoption and permanency for the child, adoptive family and birth family and apply this knowledge to appreciate and work effectively with each member of the adoption constellation
- Understand the impact of trauma on the child’s development, learn about attachment styles, and skills to support attachment based parenting.
- Cultural and historical understanding of adoption and the adoption process as it impacts both the adoptive families and the practitioner’s own views of adoption.
- Ability to conduct an adoption (permanency) competent psychosocial assessment that will identify strengths and challenges of prospective families and apply to psycho-educational training and preparation for the best possible parenting experience.
- Skilled planning and preparation for adoption and other permanency arrangements that:
- Respects the child’s genetic history
- Appreciates sibling relationships,
- Identifies clinical issues related to prior trauma that may impact the child’s ability to thrive in a new family
- Identifies and understands the unique cultural and multi-cultural issues that affect the child/family future experiences.
- Understanding of the clinical issues that affect the developmental stages for adopted children and the unique ways that children move through the stages
- Ability to identify the elements of ethical permanency practice
- Understanding of the core principles of neurodevelopment:
- Appreciation of the impact of trauma in assessment and clinical interventions
- Understand factors affecting early brain development
- Impact of neglect and traumatic stress
- Implications for the child’s development
- Implications for successful parenting.
- Ability to promote services within a culturally-competent, strength-based, family-centered approach by understanding the issues that arise for single parent families, relative adopters, domestic and international families, transracial/transcultural families, and families with different types of openness in adoption and permanency arrangements.
- Ability to assess personal strengths and areas for growth in permanency-related work
- Identifying personal biases and beliefs and how this may affect one’s practice
- Acceptance of openness
- Acceptance of diverse family constellations and differing parenting approaches among cultural groups
- Identification and understanding adoptive family and kinship family developmental stages:
- Process of family formation
- Impact of incorporating a traumatized child
- Building secure attachments
- Parent attachment styles and impact on parent/child interaction
- Developmental stages unique to adoptive family experience
- Risk points in adoption and permanency formed families
- Life span issues for adopted persons
- Race, ethnicity and culture factors in identity formation
- Integrating birth family and country of origin connections
- Understand and apply knowledge of the impact of infertility and child loss with the development and functioning of adoptive and kinship families
- Understanding of effective utilization of cross-system resources to support adoptive families, kinship families, birth families, and adopted persons.
Adoption and permanency create issues that are both complex and lifelong for children, adoptive parents and caregivers, and birth families. In addition, children in the child welfare system are more likely to have experienced trauma than other children, resulting in emotional and behavioral problems that create additional strain for adoptive parents and caregivers. The serious shortage of pre- and post-permanency service providers that fully appreciate these complex issues frequently leads to families feeling isolated, frustrated and hopeless, often leading to disrupted adoptions or foster care placements, and children being placed in group homes or residential treatment. Foster and adopted youth comprise a high percentage of the children in group homes and residential treatment programs, making it is essential for administrators and staff in those programs to also develop knowledge and techniques that will increase their ability to more effectively serve this population.
From the ACO’s perspective, one of the strong features of the Kinship/Seneca curricula is the tremendous integration between the curriculum and training for the professionals and the curriculum and training for the parents. The same language and the same concepts are used in both which will assist families and professionals in their work together. This was something our ACO Roundtable Advisory members highlighted to us – how important it was that both parents and professionals receive specialized training. As well, in addition to the very comprehensive manner in which the issues faced by all parties touched by adoption – adopted children and youth, adopted persons, birth parents, adoptive parents, siblings and other extended family – are dealt with throughout each of their life-long journeys, the curricula contain a rich resource of many practical tools for both clinicians and parents to use.
ACT is recognized as a model for the industry, across a broad array of essential services. Although applications vary, ACT’s theoretical framework, concepts and techniques have been successfully applied by professionals in a range of settings, including public and private agency social workers, outpatient clinics, therapists in private practice, wraparound teams, attorneys, judges, educators, residential treatment centers, and therapeutic boarding schools.
The eight (6 hour) sessions ofACT include didactic lecture, large and small group discussion, integrated learning activities, interactive experiences, video, and supportive reading materials. Your ACT training experience will include:
- A multimedia intensive integration of strength-based mental health and permanency principles
- Immediate applicability to promote permanency and avoid disruption
- Case studies, practice tools and activities focused on the adult learner
Kinship Center, now a member of Seneca Family of Agencies, has had a long history of bringing adoption competency training to California and other states in the United States. Over 20 years ago Sharon Roszia, M.S., Annette Baran, L.C.S.W., and Deborah Silverstein, L.C.S.W, began to see the real need for specialized understanding of adoption related issues by professionals and as a result, developed classes in the early 1990’s. As adoptive and foster parents and recognized educators in the child welfare field, they also brought a perspective from child and family therapy to inform and enrich the curriculum. They developed a training program that has been continually refined and updated and is now known as ACT – an intensive, comprehensive 8-day training curriculum.
ACT is also informed by Kinship’s Center’s over thirty year service history in California of providing a broad array of permanency services, including infant, special needs and inter-country adoptions; relative caregiver support; adoption specialty wraparound services; and child development and mental health clinics that are permanency specialty models. Kinship attributes the successful outcomes of its programs and <2% disruption rate historically to the impact of ACT on the skills and commitment of its staff to creating and supporting permanent families.
The ACT curriculum was originally developed to meet one agency’s need for specialized training of professional employees across programs and to compensate for the lack of a cohesive and inclusive curriculum that provided a comprehensive body of adoption knowledge via a set of unifying principles. Interest from outside professionals and organizations encouraged continued development, refinement, standardization and dissemination of the course in its current form.
To date over 7,000 professionals in the United States have been trained in the ACT curriculum.
ACT’s effectiveness is evaluated on an ongoing basis through participant evaluations. In 2011, Kinship Center issued a White Paper Report on the effectiveness of the ACT curriculum and a Summary Report of ACT Evaluations over the previous five years. It is clear from the reports that the ACT curriculum is effective and has delivered impressive outcomes as follows:
- Very low disruption rates – Kinship Center attributes the successful outcomes of its programs and its < 2% disruption rate to the impact of ACT on the skills and commitment of its staff to creating and supporting permanent families. This rate compares to a national average of 10% -25% in the US (Child Welfare Gateway, June 2012) and a rate in the UK of between 3 and 20% (UK Research Report: Beyond the Adoption Order, April 2014). At this time Ontario and Canadian disruption rates are not publicly available, although anecdotal evidence leads the ACO to believe Ontario rates are similar to the general US and UK rates.
- Effective professional support – 92% of professionals who have taken the ACTtraining use the tools, concepts and information from ACT on a daily, weekly or monthly basis; 75% on a weekly basis
- Better understanding of issues from the perspectives of all parties to adoption – the White Paper notes the specific increase in understanding of the issues faced by all parties to adoption
- In addition, in a survey of ACT graduates, 93% of former participants responding said they are better able to prepare families to expect and handle crisis points in the adoptive life cycle and 86% said they were better able to anticipate and address potential risk factors in potential disruptions
In the Spring of 2015, the ACO’s 22 Ontario highly skilled and experienced trainers completed the ACT curriculum. Key results of their overall evaluation of ACT are as follows:
1. Personal quotes about ACT overall:
“A professional program of this quality and caliber is unprecedented in Canada. The quality and relevance of the program content was stellar. The entire curriculum reflected a masterful integration of contextual information, evidence based knowledge, applicable theoretical paradigms, professional values underpinning ethical adoption practice, clinical tools and strategies for working effectively with those touched by adoption and resources for professional service providers and constellation members alike.” (Judy Archer, adoption therapist, consultant, curriculum writer, trainer with over 40 years of experience working in both Ontario and BC)
“An excellent resource because it is very comprehensive, current, evidence-based and clinically relevant. This type of training does not exist in any other format or venue in Ontario.” (Lorraine Franco, private adoption practitioner, mental health therapist)
“I was particularly impressed with the thoroughness of the curriculum because it covers every possible aspect of substitute care from its impact on children throughout their lives to the impact on siblings, birth family and extended family. Having worked in children’s mental health consulting to a children’s aid society over the past two years I can personally confirm the need for professionals working in these areas to gain a deeper, significantly more comprehensive understanding of the unique needs and dynamics inherent in adoption, foster and kin families. I have no doubt they would be eager to attend the ACT training.” (Jacquie Tjandra, child welfare and mental health professional with over 30 years of experience)
“I found this curriculum to be of great quality and very comprehensive. As a PRIDE trainer for over 7 years, I found the ACT curriculum more relevant and more in depth. I also lead a support group and provide peer support for adoptive families and am excited to share with them the knowledge that I received in the training. We need to find homes for our children and youth, and we need to have the appropriate resources for our families.” (Sylvia Gibbons, PRIDE trainer, Founded a support group for adoptive families, Founded a group for adopted youth, provides peer support through Adopt4Life, adoptive parent)
2. Key Quantitative Statistics
Overall the evaluations of ACT were extremely positive. 100% of Ontario’s 22 ACT trainers who completed ACT in the Spring of 2015 “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” with the following statements:
- I would recommend the ACT training to my colleagues in the field
- Professionals who have taken this curriculum will be better able to help those touched by adoption – adopted children & youth, adopted persons, birth parents, adoptive parents, siblings and other extended family
- The ACT curriculum will meet the needs of Ontario Child Welfare and Mental Health professionals
- The information that was presented will be relevant and useful to me in my day-to-day work
- The information presented will have an impact on how I deal with adoption-related clients and issues
3. Best Features of the ACT Training comments:
When asked what the “Best features of the ACT training”were our Ontario Trainers reported the following:
- “interactive, diverse training approaches that included time for questions, audio-visual material, collaborative group experiences and the opportunity to network across all the dimensions of adoption”
- “ACT curriculum is very comprehensive, current, evidence-based in best practices, and really well organized.”
- “materials provided for training are excellent – however group discussions were the best feature”
- “ACT curriculum is rich in detail and attention to key details that frame the adoption journey”
- “the interactive way of presenting the information”
- “the experiential exercises were a powerful tool to compliment the content of the materials”
- “to shift the paradigm I work under, for example I now understand Openness in a different, fuller and more relevant way and I also understand how critical it is to be aware of the role of loss in the patterns I see with my clients”
- “having the ability to have open discussions and hear a broad range of perspectives and experiences was helpful and informative and provided the ability to reflect on practices, judgments and what individuals brought to the learning environment”
3. Other comments:
- “… should be mandatory training for professionals working with our families”
- “… constellation model involves many of our community’s most vulnerable and at-risk people”
- “… adoption competent services should be available to all children and families across Ontario”
We are thrilled to report that the University of Toronto will be assisting the ACO in evaluating the effectiveness of ACT and Pathways 2 in Ontario, thanks to a 3-year research grant funded by long-time supporters of the ACO.
Dr. Barbara Fallon, Associate Professor & Associate Dean of Research and Factor-Inwentash Chair in Child Welfare at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto will be working closely with the ACO to design and monitor a comprehensive evaluation system for ACT and Pathways 2. This system will measure the ongoing effectiveness of both ACT and Pathways 2 in Ontario, from the perspective of both professionals and ultimately the families and children they serve. We are excited to work with Dr. Fallon and her colleagues on this initiative and very grateful to the funders who made this possible.
What do previous participants have to say about these sessions?
[The facilitator] was fantastic. She was so knowledgeable and able to translate experiences and examples in a way that allowed me to learn the materials. She was engaging and funny and heartfelt and insightful.
[ACT is] more in depth, more thorough, more practical, more collaborative [than other training programs attended].
ACT is more than just a training program. It provides a new lens to look at adoption and permanency through. This lens is a shift in the why and how we do things not just information being given and you have to figure out how to put it into practice.