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Support Groups

Overview: What are they? Why do they matter?

Current research on post-adoptive services for adoptive parents indicates that adoptive families benefit tremendously from formal and informal post-adoption services. Support groups are an interesting example of this since many of them are facilitated and led by a licensed clinician who supervises and guides every session (formal). In contrast, many of them are peer-led and more social than anything (informal) (43). 

Research shows that adoptive parents, adoptees (both child and adult), and birth families find these services immensely helpful in easing the transition, coping with a wide variety of issues, and finding a sense of community and belonging with others from similar circumstances. 

Multiple studies found that adoptive parents reported support groups helped combat feelings of isolation and create a shared community. Adoptive parents in these studies reported that having consistent access to an informed counselor/clinicians helped them feel more confident and less alone in navigating a complicated process such as adoption and parenting in general.  This was notably especially crucial for parents who adopted from the foster system. On top of this, peer-led support groups for adoptive parents were reported to help with personal feelings of disruption and isolation and provide a sense of community that would not otherwise exist. (47)

Significantly more support groups and other post-adoption services exist now than they did even ten years ago, most likely thanks to the internet and reduced stigma; however, certain groups are still underserved in this regard, namely low-income people and people in more rural areas.

Support Groups: a Non-Comprehensive Guide

Adoption support groups come in many shapes and sizes. Most are region specific, but, with the emergence of Zoom/Online meetings, national options are becoming more common. Many are affiliated with a specific adoption agency and require either former use of their services or to fall under their nonprofit’s purview (Gladney offers a lot of Post-Adoption Services for all people in the process(42). Many of them can be found through local therapy and counseling services; however, these are usually not free or require one-on-one counseling as well. Because there are so many options, many of them with limited purviews, it can be daunting knowing where to look for support groups.

Where to Start Looking: Support Groups

  • There are adoption-specific support group directories. These are usually less comprehensive than an in-depth personal search might be, but they are also a good place to start to see what is available in an immediate sense.
    • Some of these directories include:
      • Psychology Today: These will be mostly paid, counselor-led support groups, but will likely be the most comprehensive directory of licensed counselors, social workers, and therapists in any specific region and allow narrowing the search by “support group” and key terms (like “adoption”). 
      • North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) is a non-profit adoption advocacy organization based in Minnesota. One of the resources they offer is a database with adoption-related support groups across North America (mostly in the US and Canada)22. They also offer a directory for “Local Adoption Support” which includes local resources for more comprehensive post-adoption services but also includes support group information. (46)
      • AdoptUSKids is a national nonprofit that works with families and child welfare professionals to educate and encourage adoption from the foster system. They host a “post-adoption support services” directory for recognized states, territories, and tribes, which includes parent support groups (21).
      • Raise the Future is a nonprofit with offices in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. It focuses on a “wrap-around” model of providing services to foster families, children, and birth families. It also provides a fairly comprehensive list of support groups and organizations within the three states it operates out of (48). Most of these groups are in-person and peer-led. They also range from being foster system specific to Christian to LGBTQ+. 
      • American Adoption Congress is an international nonprofit intended to provide information and legislative advocacy for adoption-related topics. They provide a list of support groups state-by-state which serve all parties of adoption. Many of these groups are peer-led, but there are also options for groups led by professionals. They also provide a guide to starting your own peer-led support group. (54
      • The US government’s Child Welfare Information Gateway provides a state-by-state list of State Foster/Adoptive Family Associations/Coalitions. These coalitions provide training and support (often through support groups and other community events) for families fostering or who have adopted from the child welfare system. The organizations listed do not all offer the same services. Some of them are incredibly comprehensive, while others are fairly limited in their scope, but they are an excellent place to begin looking for support groups and other supportive services in a specific state and are usually directly associated with state governments making them highly regulated. (53)
      • Intercountry Adoptee Voices is a nonprofit with American, Australian, Canadian, and European branches that host advocacy, information, and support-based services for intercountry and transracial adoptees in a variety of contexts, languages, and locations. They provide a list of intercountry adoptee-led support groups in the countries they serve. (59) Some of these groups are more limited in their scope than others, focusing on specific countries of origin. (60)
  • Search Local Adoption Nonprofits. These do not always offer support group services; however, many of them do, and even the ones that do not may be worth reaching out to to see if they have any knowledge of support groups in the region. 

Terms to Know

  • Post-Adoption Resources/Services: This is a larger umbrella term encompassing post-adoption support groups but also includes things like counseling, workshops, birth family search aid, information on parenting in specific contexts, and more. 
  • Peer-Led Support Group or Peer Support Group: This is a more informal support group. It is led and sometimes facilitated by unlicensed individuals who instead have personal experience with the support group’s topic. Expect these to be more similar to social time. When conducted in person, they are often held at a public place like a coffee shop or someone’s home. 
  • Clinician/Counselor/Licensed Professional-Led Support Group: This type of support group is a more formal counterpart to peer-led support groups. It will be facilitated and guided/supervised by a licensed professional (usually a counselor, therapist, or social worker). Expect these to be more structured. 
  • Internet Forums: These are online discussion boards with established topics for each. They can be used to ask questions, get advice and empathy, and interact with others; however, these are essentially the Wild West of adoption support groups. There is often little way to confirm someone’s identity, and, while some of them will have set “rules” (such as no hate speech or discussing specific topics), those rules may not protect people from bad advice or ulterior motives. Some popular adoption-based forums include:

Vetting a Support Group/Organization:

  • Know what you are looking for, and, perhaps more importantly, what you are not.
    • Are you willing to work with your affiliated agency? 
    • How many times are you hoping to meet?
    • Are you hoping to gain something specific (like parenting advice, coping skills, or the ability to meet and connect with people from similar circumstances)?
      • Ex. Transracial adoption support groups are somewhat common
    • Do you prefer online or in-person?
    • Do you prefer the group to be religious or not?
      • Some adoption support groups are Christian oriented or affiliated with a church.
    • Are you looking for Peer-led or licensed counselor/therapist-led?
      • Are you mostly looking to meet like-minded individuals with similar circumstances?
        • If so, peer-led support groups are likely ideal.
  • Or, are you also looking for professional advice?
  •  If so, look for support groups led by a counselor, social worker, or therapist. Relevant licenses will usually be listed next to the facilitator’s name. Some ones to look for include MFT, LCSW, LSW, LPC, MSW, Ph.D., and more. If there is no mention of licensing, assume it is peer-led support. 
  • Formal support groups like this are also more available or at least more advertised for teenagers (and sometimes younger children) than their informal counterparts (presumably for liability reasons). 
  • Do not hesitate to reach out and ask questions.
    • Some positive aspects of formal support groups include that, outside of the group just not being an ideal match, it is a lot easier to know the qualifications of the group leader (again license information should be provided) and, due to the more traditionally structured formatting, individuals are more likely to know what they are getting into. 
    • Peer-led groups facilitated by a reputable nonprofit entity also seem easier to vet and have the assurance of being backed by a reputable organization.
    • Some forms of support groups are more difficult to vet. Many peer-led support groups are facilitated by individuals, not organizations. This means a recommending database may provide someone with nothing more than a name and a phone number.
      • This does not mean the support group is bad, but it definitely raises the amount of work required for basic due diligence. 

Specific Support Groups: a Noncomprehensive List

  • Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A..S.E.) is a nonprofit that serves Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. It provides sliding-scale counseling services to adoptive families in that region and provides free online support groups for adoptive parents led by a licensed social worker (44). The online support groups are free and open to the public regardless of region. The organization also offers in-person events in the states they serve as well as online support group options that are region specific (i.e. Northern Virginia often has coffee meet-ups).
    • Support Groups Overview:
      • Support Groups Serve: Adoptive, Foster, and Kinship Parents
      • Region: Nationwide for online; Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. for in-person
      • Online or In-Person: Both, mostly online
      • Type of Support Group: Both Peer and Trained Counselor Led 
      • Notable Affiliations: None
      • Cost and Income Requirements: Free and N/A 
  • Adoptive Knowledge Affiliates is a nonprofit founded by adoptees based out of Austin, TX. They offer regular online peer support groups for adoptees (adult, male, and female), adoptive families, DNA discovery, and birth families (45). They also host adoption-related Zoom book clubs and annual conferences for people from anywhere in the adoption process. They also provide search services for adoptees and birth families, a lending library, and extensive resources and informative materials linked on their site.
    • Support Groups Overview:
      • Support Groups Serve: Adoptees, Birth Families, and Adoptive Families
      • Region: Nationwide (online) and Central Texas (In-Person)
      • Online or In-Person: Online (with a few in-person options for meetups) 
      • Type of Support Groups: Peer 
      • Notable Affiliations: None
      • Cost and Income Requirements: Free and N/A
  • On Your Feet Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and advocating for birth mothers. They host moderated, peer-led Zoom calls 3 times a month that are open to the public. (61) This organization also hosts birth mother retreats (both in-person and virtual) and a peer mentorship program between birth mothers.
    • Support Groups Overview:
      • Support Groups Serve: Birthmothers
      • Region: Nationwide (online) 
      • Online or In-Person: Online 
      • Type of Support Groups: Peer 
      • Notable Affiliations: None
      • Cost and Income Requirements: Free and N/A
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