Adoptive Families Get Needed Support from DCF-UConn Health Partnership
For Sara and Brian Kleinman, a married couple who adopted three boys from foster care, having access to professionals who know adoption inside and out is a huge help.
"Having an organization that specializes in adoption and the joys and challenges that come with it is really critical," said Ms. Kleinman, who lives in East Granby and was first licensed to provide foster care in 2004.
That is why the Department of Children and Families (DCF) partnered with UConn Health to establish the Adoption Assistance Program (AAP) during the mid-2000s, said Allyson Powell, the AAP program director who herself adopted two children.
"Families continue to have needs throughout the life span of the kids they adopt," said Ms. Powell. "The AAP gives adoptive families a place to go for support in a confidential environment where they know they will not be judged."
The AAP provides post-adoption support -- including assessment, education, brief counselling, and referral services -- to adoptive families and to families formed through guardianship. Housed on the campus of UConn Health, the program is staffed by four licensed clinical social workers and by contracted case managers provided through the Village for Children and Families and the Family and Children's Agency.
The program receives approximately 600 calls annually, most from adoptive parents and legal guardians. Approximately one half of the calls received are requests for therapy referrals or for guidance accessing other services. The program also receives requests from other professionals for consultation support. The other half of the calls received result in a need for longer term support for a family. In these, a formal case is opened and the family is followed by AAP staff until the concern is resolved or when other services can be identified and are in place.
Ms. Kleinman said one of the biggest ways AAP helped her family was to educate her and her husband on how challenging it can be for a child to be in foster care - even in cases where the child is adopted.
"We did not have a full understanding of trauma and the attachment issues that result and how that affects the way the boys interact with others and attach to us as parents," she said. "The AAP gave us opportunities to learn to understand the foundation of some complicated behaviors that emerged. It is really critical for adoptive parents to have a hub to go to where that's what they know."
Ms. Kleinman affirmed the importance of making adoptive parents feel comfortable reaching out for help. "It always felt very supportive at the AAP," she said. "I never felt judged. They were warm, welcoming, accepting and knowledgeable. It felt like a safe place to go."
Ms. Kleinman said it has been a joy to adopt the trio - Grant, who is 15, Luke, age 13, and Caleb, age 11 -- but that having access to experts is comforting and invaluable. She said AAP has helped the family find clinical specialists paid for by the state, sent the boys to summer camp and guided the family to competent providers while offering some financial assistance for things not covered by their insurance.
“Each of my boys experience their birth story in different ways, and things pop up at different times for them individually. We are still figuring it all out with the help of organizations like AAP. They are a group of professionals who understand the complexities of adoption and are available to guide and support us in our parenting journey,” Ms. Kleinman said.
Ms. Powell said many families reach out for help because the children they adopted are struggling with their own histories.
"Adoptive parents can be uncomfortable with what to share" about a child's biological family and the story about the child's entry into foster care and ultimate adoption, Ms. Powell said. "A child may want to know more about their (biological) family, but parents can be uncomfortable and not confident how to talk to a six-year-old about it."
Ms. Powell said AAP advises honesty but also to talk in a manner that is right for the child's age and development. "We advocate to be really honest but in a developmentally appropriate way."
Ms. Powell said the program shows good results. Surveys of the families shows that 85 percent feel better equipped to meet their child's needs and that 94 percent are satisfied with the support they got from the AAP and would use the agency again in the future.
"People come back because they find us helpful and empathetic," Ms. Powell said.
The program recently released this Adoption Assistance Program Video.
Editor's Note: Adoptive families can contact the AAP by calling 877-679-1961 toll free in CT or anywhere at 860-679-4006. Families can also email the AAP at email@example.com.