JACKSON COUNTY — In 1996, adoption workers in the Coos County Child Welfare Branch decided to try something new: a class centered not on the expectations of prospective adoptive families, but on the children starting the adoption process, to create connections and foster understanding.
Now, with over 30 years of experience and some natural programmatic evolution, this pre-adoption program has recently expanded to Jackson and Josephine Counties.
“We couldn’t be happier to see this program expand. The positive feedback we’ve received from families after the program shows it is successful,” says Amy Durbin, Adoption and Guardianship Facilitator with the Department of Human Services (DHS). She has been involved for the ten years in running the program.
Today, the program now boasts a seven class curriculum, which includes one foundational introduction class for the current guardians, and six solely for the children. The classes are ideal for ages 4-16, and the main criteria is that participants have good verbal skills, their plan has been changed to adoption, and if they are in therapy, the therapist has determined the class is appropriate.
In each class, they talk about confidentiality and their story not being a secret but an individual choice of when they share with others. There are some hard conversations — especially early in the program, when the child is asked to reflect on what they remember about their birth home, if they remember what time of year it was when they were removed, and if they remember how it felt. One of the most important questions staff asks is if they know why they are in foster care, as some children do not really understand why. Durbin says it’s important to have about one staff per two children because these classes can be emotionally challenging, but feels the process is cathartic and positive.
Through the program, children find the adoption process demystified and connect with other involved community partners. When they visit a judge’s courtroom —for example, a place some children in care feel nervous about because of past experiences — they connect with the judge and ask questions about the process and their role. Children also do creative projects, such as filling bottles with layers of colored sand which represent people who love them, always leaving room at the top.
The children also go through the adoption process themselves with personalized Build-A-Bears and ultimately fill out an application and interview with an adoptions worker themselves in order to complete the process.
“Not every child on the adoption path is ready for this, or would find it appropriate, but it could help so many kids,” Durbin reflects. “All the messages are good. It’s that they’re loved, explaining why they’ve come into care, figuring out who their family is, and that there is always room for more love.”
The cohort model of the program also connects children to each other, and to see other children going through a similar process facilitates a greater normalization of the adoption process. Durbin feels a strong collaborative spirit will make the program successful in Jackson and Josephine Counties as well.
“It truly takes a village for this class, and it’s because we see what a difference it makes.”