National Effort to Address Therapy Quality for Adoptees Reaches New York

An adoptive family. Photo: Children’s Home Society of Minnesota

Adoptees can face a unique struggle with grief, loss and identity — contrary to how they are often depicted in films like “Annie” or “Superman.” But most graduate programs in counseling and therapy rarely explore the issue, or the complexities of the child welfare system, leaving adoptive families nationwide to struggle alone.

An ambitious new program launching in New York aims to address that, the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York (AFCCNY) announced in an e-mail blast to its members this week.

A Maryland nonprofit called the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) developed the Training for Adoption Competency (TAC) program, rolling out in New York this month. It’s a rigorous, 11-month post-graduate training program for mental health professionals. About 1,500 clinical social workers, therapists and psychologists in 17 states have already taken the once-a-month classroom sessions and accompanying assignments.

“The demand for this specialization is on the rise,” noted the AFFCNY e-mail announcement about the new program. “We receive numerous requests per month from families who seek a therapist who understands their concerns and need for connection.”

Studies show adoptees suffer from elevated rates of behavioral and learning problems, and most observers agree the lack of treatment options is a borderline crisis. A few post-graduate programs at universities finally began rolling out child welfare-specific therapy curriculums in the 2000s, but those programs were never scalable quickly enough to meet demand among child welfare-involved families. TAC, says C.A.S.E. co-founder and CEO Debbie Riley, combines user-friendly web-based learning with rigorous in-person courses.

“The field is really beginning to see that adopted children and children in the foster care system can have significant mental health issues,” said Riley. “We’re trying to align best practice with building a workforce that understands the implications of loss and grief and adversity, and feels competent enough to talk with children and understand those underlying issues.”

AFFCNY’s interim Executive Director Pat O’Brien expects to enroll 30 professionals  outside New York City to start in the TAC program, which is listed on the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for child welfare interventions with a rating of “Promising.” Riley says it took 10 years of development and evaluation to qualify the program. She sees it as a companion to C.A.S.E.’s less-intensive, 20-hour online training program for child welfare caseworkers. An estimated 10,000 caseworkers have taken that program nationwide, which was developed with $9 million in funding from the federal Children’s Bureau.

“By aligning those two products we’re hoping to build a common language between mental health and child welfare professionals, who don’t always talk well together,” said Riley. “We’ve got child welfare professionals and therapists who don’t understand systems of care in child welfare and systemic issues, and don’t have training.”

O’Brien says he drove hours from Brooklyn to Worcester, Massachusetts, to participate in the TAC training himself.

“The goal is to train professionals to be able to share important information with families on why sometimes children do things out of the ordinary. It’s all based on their own development trajectory, which often involves trauma and loss,” said O’Brien. “There are many qualified therapists in this world, but we need a pool that we feel comfortable referring our families*, and the first step is taking this training for adoption competency.”

TAC was developed with private foundation support, including from the Dave Thomas Foundation, and is funded by fees of therapists who participate.

*Updated, Monday, October 7th: Pat O’Brien was previously quoted saying AFFCNY needs a pool of therapists it feels comfortable referring referring its “members.” O’Brien has clarified to The Chronicle that AFFCNY does not have paying members , as his previous quote suggested. 

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Michael Fitzgerald
About Michael Fitzgerald 76 Articles
Northeast Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Follow me on Twitter: @mchlftzgrld