The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Presentation Descriptions

Ordinary Magic on the Developmental Road to Resilience

by Ann Masten


How do young people overcome adversity to succeed in life? This presentation highlighted research on resilience in development with a focus on transitions to adulthood and the adaptive systems that protect human development and promote recovery in the aftermath of adverse childhood experiences. Adoption was discussed in relation to both risk and resilience. Recent advances in resilience science and its applications in practice were highlighted.

Panel Discussion "Adopted Adults: Intersecting Personal and Professional Worlds"


  • Astrid (Castro) Dabbeni, Executive Director of Adoption Mosaic, Portland, OR
  • Judith Eckerle, M.D., Pediatrician and Director of the Adoption Medicine Program at the University of Minnesota 
  • Quade French, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Clinical Fellow, Counseling Center, University of California Santa Cruz

African American Adopted Children Launching Into Adulthood: Experiences in a Rural Faith-Based Community Setting

by Ruth McRoy & Kathleen Belanger

Since 1996, families and friends of Bennett Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Possum Trot, TX have adopted more than 77 African American children from child welfare. This workshop presented the latest findings from a longitudinal follow up study of Bennett Chapel families and youth, which was conducted in late 2014. Fifty-four of the original 77 children were interviewed in this study. Most of the children (61%) were under 7 when adopted with an average age of 5.7. The mean age of these youth now is 18.6 years of age. The findings suggest that practices such as focusing on the child, engaging communities in ways that are sensitive to their needs, sharing responsibility, culturally competent service delivery (including rural, racial, and religious competence) and supports and services, can result in positive outcomes for these children as they launch into adulthood in rural communities. The findings also highlight a successful model for rural recruitment of families of color and strategies to assist African American foster and adopted children and young adults.

Are You Still My Family?: Policy and Practice Around Post-Adoption Sibling Visitation

by Dawn Post & Sarah McCarthy

There is no formal court proceeding which terminates a sibling's visitation rights. A majority of the children in foster care, however, are placed apart from one or more of their siblings. Though some judges view keeping siblings together as a top priority, others give it little to no weight in determining the child's best interests. Once a child is adopted from foster care, they generally lose the right their rights to see that sibling without their adoptive parent's consent. Nationally, only four states allow post-adoption sibling visitation without the consent of an adoptive parent. In most states, sibling relationships thus fall into a legal gray area in which they not actually terminated, but not granted any protection. Even "open adoption" clauses will usually only include parents. Children in both open and closed adoptions are therefore often left to negotiate sibling visits with their individual adoptive parent without any court involvement or representation.
Social science research in the past decade has acknowledged the crucial importance of the sibling bond, but child welfare laws often continue to treat this relationship as an afterthought. Presenters discussed how the current practice of ignoring sibling ties is psychologically harmful to children and directly counterproductive to the goal of providing children with stable, permanent adoptive homes. They examined how an attorney for the child can advocate for an adopted client's sibling visitation rights, and how a change in current policies will benefit both children and adoptive families.

Breaking Bread with the ENTIRE Adoption Constellation

by Astrid Castro (Dabbeni)

In this workshop, participants learned what the term adoption constellation really means. There were opportunities to discuss the hurdles and challenges of creating community that is inclusive of all perspectives of an adoption journey. For some, this workshop challenged thoughts and ideas of what it REALLY means to break bread with the adoption constellation and for others it validated the path they are already on AND for ALL it provided tools on how to invite other members of the adoption constellation to their table.

Early Adversity, Challenging Behaviors, and Learning Difficulties: What Can Your Friendly MD Do To Help?

by Judith Eckerle

Children who are in foster care or who were adopted internationally/domestically typically thrive in their adoptive homes but can come to a professional’s attention because of learning or behavior challenges. While there are wonderful resources available to families through social workers, psychologists, therapists or neuropsychologists, we suggest a team approach that also includes a medically based evaluation. This presentation highlighted some case studies and ways that we approach children from multiple angles in order to optimize their potential.

Emerging Adult Adopted Persons and Their Families: Counseling a Diverse and Underserved Group

by Susan Branco Alvarado & Joy Lieberthal Rho

While 40% of all adoptions in the United States are transracial (Vandivere, Malm, & Radel, 2009), the vast majority of research seems to be focused on early childhood of adoptees rather than long-term effects of transracial adoptions on family systems. The period between late adolescence and young adulthood, defined as emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2000), and its developmental tasks may be more complex for those adoptees from transracial and international adoptions. Normative family lifespan events during this stage may offer more challenges for all involved in the adoption constellation (e.g., the adopted person, the birth/first families, and adoptive parents/families). Thus, we aim to demonstrate how theory related to emerging adulthood developmental stages for transracial and international adoptees impacts the family system. Utilizing a practice - based evidence method (Margison et al., 2000), descriptions of family counseling interventions are provided. Family counseling interventions offer a more systemic and comprehensive way to address concerns of late adolescent and young adult adoptees and their families (Weir, Fife, Whiting, & Blazewick, 2008). Because there is little information available that directly addresses emergent adulthood for this population, we examined developmental milestones from both late adolescence and early young adulthood to exemplify tasks during this stage. The co – presenters were both adopted persons and licensed clinicians with a combined 25 years of practice collaborating with adopted persons and families. They discussed their clinical experiences with this population and described the efficacy of incorporating the clinician’s transracial adoption identity into the counseling relationship. Specific goals of the presentation included the following:

  • Define and describe “emerging adulthood” as a developmental stage

  • Review of adoption related developmental tasks that define emergent adulthood and the family life cycle

  • Review of racial identity development models unique to the population

  • Explore common clinical issues that interfere with launching transitions

  • Describe practice model including assessment tools and family systems interventions

  • Discuss ethical considerations such as maintaining boundaries, addressing social justice issues, and addressing racism/microaggressions

Emerging Adulthood in Open Adoption

by Deborah Siegel

Adoptees experience unique issues that intersect with and amplify normative developmental tasks, challenges and crises facing many emerging adults in the United States. While much is known about these issues among emerging adults from confidential adoptions, an evolving body of research is now illuminating how children who grow up in open adoption may experience them. While it is well known that adoption is a lifelong journey, not an event, the relatively new concept of emerging adulthood offers fresh opportunities for researchers, policy makers and clinicians to understand the nature of the adoption experience at that stage of life.

This paper briefly summarized the developmental tasks of emerging adulthood, how those tasks are shaped by current socioeconomic and political circumstances, and explores, from a research perspective, what those tasks may be like for emerging adults who were raised from infancy in different open adoption arrangements, ranging from semi-open to fully disclosed.

The paper described the methods used in the latest phase of the author's two decade longitudinal qualitative descriptive study of twenty-two families living with open adoptions. It highlighted the most recent findings focusing on the narratives, perceptions, experiences, feelings and views of adoptees who are now in their twenties. The complex interplay of interpersonal relationships and emotional themes across the extended family system of biological and adoptive kin during emerging adulthood are explored.

It is striking that all of the emerging adult respondents in the study enthusiastically endorse openness in adoption and express strong preferences for knowing who their biological parents are and having access to them throughout childhood. Findings also indicate a wide array of different emerging young adult adoptees' responses to growing up in open adoption. For some emerging adults, openness appears to ameliorate emotional issues that virtually all adoptees face whether raised in open, semi-open or closed adoption. For others it may raise or even intensify developmental challenges at that phase of life. It appears that some search and reunion issues embedded in the traditional confidential adoption experience may occur during emerging adulthood even when the child has known and had contact with the birth parent while growing up in adoptive families. The paper explores these issues.

The complex intersections among these emotional, psychological, extended family systems implications and the impacts of digital communications and a shrinking middle class in emerging adult adoptees' experiences are also explored.

Based on the findings, guidelines for clinical practice in providing post-adoption support services to emerging adults and their extended adoptive and birth families are presented. Agency policy guidelines, changes in adoption law, and questions for further research are suggested.

Genetic Testing: What are the Risks, Potential Gains, and Continued Unknowns in the Context of Medical Decision Making for Adult Adoptees?

by Thomas May and Samantha Wilson

Currently, there are an estimated 7.8 million adopted persons in the U.S. For many adoptees, medical history is missing for at least one biological parent. During adulthood, the desire for increased genetic information may intensify not only as adults consider their own medical status and health decision-making (e.g., screening for health concerns known to cluster within biological relatives), but also as they consider family-planning decisions.

Genome Sequencing (GS) offers the possibility of "filling the gap" of dispositional genetic information that would normally be available to individuals (and their healthcare providers) through observation and biological family history. Though there may be some potential advantages to the use of GS in this context for adult adoptees, the potential for risk remains and some risks may be unique within the adoption community (versus the known risks in the nonadopted population).

This presentation provided attendees a chance to hear about emerging projects within the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at the Medical College of Wisconsin that explore the use of GS within the adoption community. Focus group information was presented that describes adult adoptees’ attitudes and opinions about the use of GS as an alternative route to genetic health information and other ways GS could impact adult identity development, impact on childbearing considerations, and influence of lifestyle/environmental factors.

Future studies that engage the adoptee community in further exploring the risks and benefits of GS within the context of unknown or missing biological health information were also highlighted.

Navigating Access to Higher Education

by Chris Langelier & Katy Andres

Katy Andres, a senior at Hampshire College, has spent this past year working on her Division 3 research paper focused on how youth in the public foster care system gain access to higher education. For this presentation, Katy talked about central themes she found during her studies. Participants were asked questions about their college experience and how they got to college through foster care and how being in foster care affects their college experience. For this workshop Katy presented the research that she has done and engaged a panel of youth experts in a conversation about their journey to access to higher education.

Predictors of Adoptive Family Relationships During Emerging Adulthood

By Amy Walkner & Martha A. Rueter


Research provides evidence for lower relationship quality in adoptive compared to nonadoptive families, including higher conflict (Levy-Shiff, 2001; Rueter et al., 2009; Walkner & Rueter, 2014), lower warmth and closeness (Levy-Shiff, 2001; Rueter et al., 2009; Walkner & Rueter, 2014), and lower relationship quality (Sharma et al., 1995; Walkner & Rueter, 2014) by adoptees towards their parents. Despite evidence of relationship quality differences between adoptive and nonadoptive families during emerging adulthood, what accounts for these family type differences is unknown. Examining these differences during emerging adulthood is important because emerging adulthood represents a major psychosocial transition between adolescence and young adulthood (Arnett, 2004). The importance of parent-child relationships in emerging adulthood cannot be overstated, as emerging adults with positive, cohesive, and nonconflictual relationships with parents have been found to benefit from a host of positive social and psychological outcomes.

Numerous adoption-related variables become salient during emerging adulthood, possibly accounting for family type relationship differences. Family unwillingness to discuss adoption (adoption communicativeness) is associated with individuation difficulties and family connectedness (Brodzinsky, 1987). Many emerging adult adoptees undertake adoption information seeking, gathering information about their adoption stemming from lack of adoption knowledge (Skinner-Drawz et al., 2011; Wrobel & Dillon, 2009). This may be impacted by adoptive parents’ revelation of previously unknown adoption information, consequently causing guilt or disloyalty in the adoptee (Wrobel & Dillon, 2009). Interest in one’s birth parents is a form of identity work connected to significant developmental milestones occurring during emerging adulthood (Kohler et al., 2002; Wrobel et al., 2004), and may be a particularly sensitive issue in adoptive parent-child relationships, with adoptive parents fearing decreased family relationship quality with a search (Brodzinsky, 1997).

The purpose of this research is to use regression analyses to investigate the influence of adoption on family relationships during emerging adulthood. Our study proposes the following hypotheses:

H1: Adoptee conflict (self-reported and observed) with adoptive mothers is influenced by self-reported adoption related variables (interest, satisfaction, and feelings about adoption; interest in adoption information and interest in search and reunion; adoption type)

H2: Adoptee closeness (self-reported and observed) with adoptive mothers is influenced by self-reported adoption related variables (interest, satisfaction, and feelings about adoption; interest in adoption information and interest in search and reunion; adoption type)

H3: Overall adoptee relationship quality (observed) with adoptive mothers is influenced by self-reported adoption related variables (interest, satisfaction, and feelings about adoption; interest in adoption information and interest in search and reunion; adoption type)

Data for this study comes from adoptees who participated in the Sibling Interaction and Behavior Study (McGue et al., 2007; Rueter et al., 2009). Final sample sizes vary depending on specific measures, with 272 adoptee self-reports on relationships with mothers and 274 adoptee-mother observations. Preliminary analyses on adoptee data provides support for our hypotheses, with adoption-related variables accounting for 10-16% of the variance of self-reported conflict and closeness with adoptive mothers during emerging adulthood. The proposed research included additional adoption-related variables as well as self-report and independent observations of adoptee-adoptive mother relationship quality.

Talking to Young Adults About Being Adopted

by Joyce Maguire Pavao


This workshop was a discussion of the challenges, stumbling blocks, and strengths that can emerge during young adult years. Society constantly tells birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted children/teens, “when you are 18 or 21, you can…” This idea can hurt the emotional growth of a teen/young adult and make a teen wonder, “When I turn 18, am I still adopted?

It is important to talk to young adults about adoption to help make sense of their story and their behaviors, to validate their experience as being normal, and to promote joining and reduce feelings of divided loyalty. Parents and professionals should start talking when the child is young and keep the conversation alive through the stages of childhood and adolescence. Talk in an atmosphere of openness and trust. Do not talk too much and do not force talk about adoption. The adult should be mindful of his/herself and his/her role in the conversation.

Adolescence is complicated for everyone. It can be especially complicated for teens/young adults who are adopted. Society has its own, often harmful, myths surrounding adoption. When you are adopted into a closed adoption, it can feel as if you are the only person in the world. You have no genetic connections. The structure of adoption, which suggests that we forget all about genetic lineage and concentrate only on present family, does not allow an adolescent/young adult to process and to make sense of both sets of real parents. This causes a very real and predictable divided loyalty. If an adopted adolescent/young adult has issues about loss, and if he/she has little or no information about origins, then the loss of her/his former self (child self) is harder than it is for those who do not have these issues.

If the professionals who serve these young adults and their families do not have an understanding of the world of adoption, the families and kids can be pathologized, and the situation can result in further disconnection. It is the responsibility of the professionals to learn what is normal under the circumstances of adoption.

Without an understanding of adoption and all that it means to all of the parties involved (birth and adoptive); of adoption as a lifelong, intergenerational, and developmental process for all parties (for birth parents, adoptive parents, the adopted person, and the families as a system); of adoption as a way of extending families and that it adds, not subtracts, another family – without all of this understanding, we will not be serving the children and families that we work with ethically or caringly. The schools from pre-school to graduate school play a huge role in shaping the lives of adopted children. In order to serve this population well, we must ensure that the educators, guidance counselors, and school administrators – as well as the pediatricians, mental health counselors, and other professionals that make judgments, diagnoses, and decisions about these children – are well informed about the challenges for all people in the Family of Adoption.

The Adoption Mentoring Partnership: Mentors Speak Out about Getting to College and What They've Learned as Mentors

by Adoption Mentoring Partnership Mentors

In this session participants will learn how mentors in the Adoption Mentoring Partnership program navigated their way successfully through high school and to college. They will discuss challenges they experienced in high school and key ingredients that helped them successfully launch into college. The mentors will also discuss what being a mentor in the AMP program has meant to them particularly as it relates to their identity.

The Role of Siblings in Adoptive Family Dynamics -- Adoption Communication, Adoptive Identity, and Developmental Outcomes

by Rachel Farr


In many families, siblings play important roles in shaping individual outcomes and experiences across development. In adoptive families, siblings may uniquely influence adoptees’ feelings about adoption and birth family contact. I will present research about siblings affect adjustment and experiences of adoption for a sample of 167 adoptees from adolescence into emerging adulthood involved in the Minnesota-Texas Adoption Research Project (MTARP) (Grotevant & McRoy, 1998). Particularly, those adoptees with siblings who were more involved with birth family contact demonstrated more favorable behavioral outcomes than those who had uninvolved siblings. Results also showed that for adopted sibling pairs, adoptees felt more positively about their own adoption when their siblings similarly expressed positivity about their individual adoption experiences. Implications of our findings will be discussed during this presentation in terms of the enduring contributions of sibling relationships from childhood into adulthood, and the unique ways in which adoptive siblings are important in shaping one another’s experiences of adoption. The presentation involved ample time for Q & A, as well as interactive dialogue with the audience about the role of siblings in adoptive families and connections with adoption policy and practice.

Transitioning from Adolescence to Young Adulthood: Experiences with Racial and Adoption Microaggressions

by Amanda Baden, Ellen Pinderhughes, Lauren Spinella and Andrew Kitchen

Adoption, orphan care, relinquishment, and foster care are highly visible family situations in the U.S. that affect a significant portion of the population. Data indicate that 64% of Americans report being touched by adoption (were adopted, adopted a child, relinquished a child for adoption, or had family or friends who were adopted) (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2002). All of these statistics merely reflect what has been clear for some time—adoption is now fairly commonplace and large portions of our society are affected by attitudes toward and judgments about adoption. A greater understanding of the often unconscious attitudes toward adoption, relinquishment, orphans, and the adoption triad (birth parents, adopted persons, and adoptive parents) is greatly needed to better serve this population and to understand the higher rates of mental health referrals (Miller et al., 2000) for those who are arguably most directly affected by negative judgments and attitudes—adopted persons.

This presentation built upon a new framework for conceptualizing the oppression experienced by the adoption kinship network (AKN) (birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees, foster parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.). The new framework utilizes the construct of racial microaggressions (Sue, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucerri, Holder, Nadal, & Esquilin, 2007) or the attitudes, judgments, slights, insults, and oppressive acts based on racial and ethnic differences that are communicated in everyday interactions, and extends the application of microaggressions to the experience of adoption (Baden, 2010, in press). Adoptees must cope with bias and the stigma toward adoption as reflected in adoption microaggressions. This form of microaggressions illustrates the complexity of the struggles that adoptees and their adoptive parents face when seeking to cope with biased behavior and attitudes. In addition, transracial adoptees face not only adoption microaggressions, but also racial microaggressions. Drawing upon findings from two qualitative studies, one with adoptive parents of Chinese children and one with adult adoptees, we will present examples of anticipated microaggressions as reported by adoptive parents as well as retrospective accounts of microaggressions reported by adult adoptees (domestic, transracial, and international). These examples illustrated the both the racial and adoption microaggressions in both models described above. Presenters presented a practice module for preparing for and addressing these microaggressions with case studies and best practices.

Are we Adequately Preparing Adoption Professionals to Work with Young Adult Adoptees?

By Bibiana Koh, Ruth McRoy & JaeRan Kim

This interactive presentation will highlight research examining undergraduate and graduate level adoption-specific curricula content. Presenters engaged the audience in a discussion of (a) salient adoption issues practitioners encounter with young adult adoptees and their families, (b) evidence-based and/or research-informed practices useful for adoption practitioners and, (d) what kinds of adoption competency training modules are available to prepare clinicians for work with this young adult population?

Speak Out Team Development and Youth Advocacy

Kim Stevens