Unique study on adoptive parenting sheds light on lack of post-adoption support

Posted on Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A University of Ottawa researcher, Professor Alice Home, has released a four-part video highlighting the findings of a new study, Special needs adoptive parenting: Canadian stakeholders' view on parents' experience and support needs. It's the first study to examine the views of such a wide range of insiders in more than one region of Canada. The study's findings confirm the major challenges facing adoptive parents, including the lack of post-adoption support and the complex task of discovering and understanding a child's special needs.

“Unfortunately, children who demonstrate signs of disabilities such as FASD (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or autism are sometimes only diagnosed after the adoption has been finalized, when the child is a toddler or older,” says Alice Home, emeritus professor at the University of Ottawa's School of Social Work and the parent of adopted children with disabilities. “Other times, children can be misdiagnosed, leaving the parents confused and trying to piece together the puzzle themselves, with limited support. What's more, parents who adopt internationally may not know that they can also face post-adoption challenges from unknown risks.”

The study concentrates on parenting adopted children aged one to 12 whose special needs or risks stem mainly from disorders, disabilities or medical conditions. Twenty-six interviews with British Columbia and Ontario adoptive parents, their associations and social workers yielded rich data on parenting challenges, support, unmet needs and priorities. Study participants included Aboriginal, immigrant and French-speaking parents, some of whom had adopted internationally. Family size varied and several families were headed by one parent.

With the videos, created from small workshops with adoption and disability groups, Professor Home hopes to make the study findings and community feedback accessible to everyone.

“Parents often have trouble seeking help. They don't want to show that they are struggling, and fear someone might say they were not a good match. However, if we can make information readily available, we hope that they will feel less alone in their struggles.”

There is little Canadian research to guide these families or those seeking to help them.

“Sixty percent of children aged 12 and over who were adopted from foster care in the United States received services for mental health or other disabilities,” says Sarah Pedersen, executive director of the Adoption Council of Canada (ACC). “While comparable Canadian statistics are lacking, the findings of Professor Home's study sample provide a good indication of the extent of the disabilities.”

Despite disabilities, children can thrive in adoptive families that are aware of the children's needs and are given the tools they require to help them. ACC launched an online survey in British Columbia and Ontario to learn the extent to which the findings from this small study sample are reflected in a larger yet similar population.


Kina Leclair
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