The National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation (QIC-AG) is a five-year project funded by the Children’s Bureau, a division of the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services. It is designed to promote permanence when reunification is no longer a goal and improve adoption and guardianship preservation and support. For more information about this project, please click here.
Writer, April Dinwoodie, is profiling each of the eight projects that are overseen by the center for The Chronicle of Social Change. Today, she looks at the work being done in Vermont designed to keep families connected with available supports, to improve the family’s awareness of the services and supports available for both current and future needs, and to educate families about issues before problems arise.
While the day an adoption is finalized or guardianship is legally established is indeed important, by no means is it the end of the journey for a family. Under the best of circumstances, maintaining healthy family connections and ensuring family wellbeing requires preparedness, thoughtfulness and patience. In the adoption and foster care communities, navigating this journey can be even more challenging.
Even though it has long been understood that there is an acute need for pre-and post-adoption supports and services for families, there is often a lack of understanding and engagement on the specific needs families face. With this challenge in mind, Vermont designed and is implementing the Vermont Permanency Survey. The goal is to understand the experiences of families both pre- and post-permanency, identify strengths of families who report that they are doing well since their adoption or guardianship was finalized, and proactively identify families who are struggling or who might be at risk of post-placement discontinuity. The survey also includes a mechanism that enables families to self-refer to post-permanency services.
The project’s target population includes all families with children residing in Vermont whose adoptive parents or guardians receive a subsidy. The 28-page survey consists of two versions, one for subsidized adoption or guardianship from the child welfare system and one for private domestic and intercountry adoption. Both surveys include validated measures and questions identified by the site team to obtain in-depth understanding of the needs of adoptive and guardianship families surrounding several categories:
- Family well-being. Gaining insights to better understand and identify the factors that can impact the family unit’s safety, permanency, and stability; including understanding the strengths of families who are doing well.
- Child well-being. Identifying and understanding the strengths and challenges specific to children and youth who were adopted or are being cared for through guardianship.
- Caregiver well-being. Identifying and understanding the strengths and experiences of caregivers who have adopted or assumed guardianship of a child.
- Adoption and guardian experiences. Exploring a greater understanding of how well professionals did with preparing families for their journey and during the process of finalization.
- Community services. Identifying the pre- and post-finalization services available in communities as well as those services that were missing altogether or not available in a timely manner.
The Vermont team used a structured process in developing the survey, promoting the survey and conducting outreach to encourage participation. In advance of the survey rollout, an introductory letter was mailed and phone calls were made to all subsidized adoptive and guardianship families. Two weeks after the survey was mailed, another call was made to participants who had not responded to the survey. One month after the initial survey packet was mailed, duplicate copies (electronic and paper) were sent to all non-responders. Several reminders were sent to non-responders prior to survey closeout.
To access families who adopted through intercountry or private domestic channels, Vermont utilized a previously existing relationship with the Vermont Consortium for Adoption and Guardianship that facilitated a private adoption provider group. This group convened on a regular basis to work on various matters relevant to the population they engage.
It was through this pre-existing relationship that families were identified and invited to be included in the survey. In addition, several agencies agreed to distribute the survey to their families. This outreach was met with a tremendous response.
A total of, 1,650 surveys have been distributed and there has been a 58 percent overall response rate.
Data from the survey will be analyzed and the project results will be distributed across the Vermont system of care through district meetings to inform the ongoing needs of families post-permanency. In addition to sharing project data with the wider system of care, the district meetings will provide a starting point for a broader future discussion on sustainability. This broader discussion will explore options to improve collaboration, coordination, and service delivery among the various agencies serving the post-permanency population to more effectively and efficiently serve families formed by adoption or guardianship.
When the final data report, including qualitative data is available, a statewide conference will be held to disseminate project findings. Based on the preliminary survey findings including; families expressing a need for additional trauma informed and adoption competent supports and hearing that families are not readily and openly discussing the child and family’s experience of adoption; changes have already been made to trainings for frontline workers and licensing/resource workers surrounding risks and protective factors that impact stable permanencies.
One survey participant had this to say about the experience:
“Recently I was asked to participate in the Vermont Permanency survey. At first, I was a bit reluctant wondering if my voice would truly make a difference. I eventually ventured in and filled out the survey and found the process refreshing. The questions were poignant…they helped create perspective; a panoramic view, of the last 18 years of my life as a foster and adoptive parent. I was able to delve into some deep waters…questions that invoked honesty…and the process of reflection actually provided closure for me.”
This resource was sent to the entire population of Vermont families who have a Vermont subsidized adoption or guardianship. In addition, the guidebook is being distributed across the system of care to post-permanency staff, clinicians, educators, and physicians.
A statewide evaluation reporton the survey’s findings will be available in September 2019.
To learn more about the QIC-AG’s Vermont Permanency Survey, check out the full profile online. In future columns for The Chronicle, I will continue to describe the different interventions being tested at the other seven partner sites in more detail.
Started in 2014, QIC-AG is funded by the Children’s Bureau and through a five-year cooperative agreement with Spaulding for Children, and its partners The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
April Dinwoodie is a transracially adopted person and a nationally recognized thought leader in foster care and adoption. Dinwoodie’s podcast “Born in June, Raised in April: What Adoption Can Teach the World!” helps to facilitate an open dialogue about adoption, foster care and family today. She is the founder of Adoptment, a mentoring program that matches foster youth with adopted adults, and is retained by clients, including the QIC-AG, to help raise awareness of their work to support children and families.