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Adoption-Competent Mental Health Services

Therapy Adoption Paradox

Why This Matters

An adoption-competent mental health provider (i.e. counselor, therapist, psychiatrist) is a licensed specialist with direct professional experience and training regarding adoption-related issues. Some of these therapists have lived experience as adoptees or adopters or birth parents. According to Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Adoption is one of the key life transitions in which children and their families may need therapeutic support, and the need for support does not end when an adoption is finalized. Adoption-competent clinicians believe that children can heal in the context of familial relationships and work with both the parents and the child. Mental health professionals require an understanding of the complexities and core issues of adoption to best support families through different developmental stages. Implementing adoption-competent education, resources, and support services strengthens and stabilizes families.” (57)

Navigating the Search: Providers

Navigating the process of finding a licensed mental health specialist that meets your needs is daunting. 

  • I Am Adoptee is a nonprofit “created for adoptees by adoptees”. Their article titled “Seeking Counsel: An Expert Panel in Mental Health Shares Wisdom” provides an excellent guide on where to start and what to look for in a therapist as an adoptee. (56)
    • Therapists will often allow you to ask them questions before booking a session known as a “consultation”. These questions will hopefully give a patient a better impression of how experienced a therapist is in certain topics, the type of therapy they perform, and what to expect from the therapy process in general. Unfortunately, not every professional who claims they specialize in adoption actually has the experience or training to support that claim. A pre-therapy consultation is an excellent way to make sure your prospective therapist can meet your needs. Some of the questions I Am Adoptee recommends asking include:
      • Do you see adoptees, adoptive parents, or birth parents? If so, what are the ages?
      • How many individuals have you counseled, and over what period of time?
      • What is your experience working with transracial adoption issues?
      • What training have you attended that is specific to adoption? What types of training were these (about adoption issues, about specific therapeutic approaches to adoption)?
      • How do you conceptualize adoption-specific counseling?
      • What adoption-specific books/articles/social media outlets do you recommend to clients? (This may also be listed on their website).
      • What training/workshops/research have you sought that address diversity, social justice, equity and inclusion work in adoption? (56)
  • Child Welfare Information Gateway provides a guide to finding an adoption-competent therapist, “Finding and Working With Adoption-Competent Therapists”. This guide goes over why this is beneficial, different approaches to therapy (including which ones to avoid), and what to expect when working with a therapist. This guide is directed toward parents and guardians of adopted children. (57)

Where to Start Looking: Providers

  • Beyond Words Psychological Services is a Colorado-based nonprofit that serves “the mental health needs of the adoption constellation in multiple states”. It offers a database of mental health professionals who consider themselves adoptees. The provider data is voluntarily submitted (so not wholly comprehensive) but gives information about their certifications, what services they provide, their adoption specialties, and a little about their personal adoption story. (52
  • Intercountry Adoptee Voices is a nonprofit with American, Australian, Canadian, and European branches that hosts advocacy, information, and support-based services for intercountry and transracial adoptees in a variety of contexts, languages, and locations. One of these services offers a list of adoption-knowledgeable counseling services in the US alongside other relevant adoption services. (55
  • Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A..S.E.) in addition to providing clinician-led support groups, also offers sliding-scale individual counseling services in the Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. area (58). In addition to this, the organization created the  “accredited Training for Adoption Competency (TAC) program” and provides a list of counselors and therapists who have completed the training. This is a 12-week, 72-hour training, and while one training certification is not always enough to be truly adoption-competent, this list of over 1800 therapists is a good place to start looking before vetting the therapist personally. (59)
  • Psychology Today is a for-profit mental and behavioral health resource that hosts the largest directory of therapists in the United States. It is free to use, and search results can be filtered by location, insurance type, types of therapy, gender, issues the therapists specialize in, including adoption, and more. However, it is especially important to conduct pre-treatment consultations with these therapists to find out what adoption-competency means for them and what they are experienced with.

Other Services

  • US Child Welfare agencies in many states have implemented adoption support and permanency service for families adopting from the child welfare system. Some states, like Wisconsin, offer virtual support groups for a wider range of adoptive families in the state. Some, like Pennsylvania, host consistent events for foster families. Other states only offer basic information regarding how the adoption process works.
    • These resources can be found here, separated by state. (49)
  • Training and Workshops
    • These may cover parenting practices, mental health advice, guides on searching for birth family, navigating the adoption process, etc.
      • North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) provides online, recorded, and in-person training for adoption-related topics. (51) One of these courses teaches people how to set up a local adoption support group themselves. 
      • Creating a Family is a national nonprofit focused on providing training and education-based support to foster parents, adoptive parents, kinship caregivers, and adoption professionals. The courses are online and well-informed but do cost money to take. The podcast and articles are free.
      • Many of the other sources referenced above also offer trainings and workshops. 
  • Adoption Cost Alleviation and Financial Support
    • Grants
      • Grants are funds allotted for specific uses that do not have to be repaid. Grants are typically applied for through the specific organization offering them. Some organizations offer grants for families adopting be found through a variety of nonprofits. These grants must be applied for. 
      • Some well-established ones include: AdoptTogether, which functions as a crowd fundraising platform for families looking to adopt; A Child Waits Foundation, a nonprofit that provides grants and loans to qualified adopting families
      • The National Council for Adoption offers a fairly comprehensive list of these financial resources. (50)
    • Tax Credits
      • In the US, many adoption costs qualify for tax credits. 
    • Adoption Loans
      • Much like personal loans, adoption loans are offered through banks, have a set interest rate, and are expected to be paid back. 
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