Post adoption support
In conversation with Trevor Jordan
[Transcript of this podcast is found in the tab below]
In this podcast, Trevor Jordan talks about post adoption support – who is affected, some of the issues that affect people, and the need for post adoption support services.
Trevor Jordan is President of Jigsaw Queensland Post-Adoption Resource Centre, was a Member of the National Intercountry Adoption Advisory Group and a Public Assessor on the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal before it was disbanded by the new government in November 2013. He has over twenty years experience in teaching and researching applied and professional ethics in a wide range of fields, including public sector ethics, criminal justice ethics, health care ethics, human services and social work ethics. His special interest is in ethics and adoption.
Recommended citation – APA6th
Fronek, P. (Host). (2014, January 5). Post adoption support: In conversation with Trevor Jordan [Episode 62]. Podsocs. Podcast retrieved Month Day, Year, from http://www.podsocs.com/podcast/post-adoption-support/.
Special note: The School of Human Services and Social Work at Griffith University is conducting research into post adoption support for Australian intercountry adoptees. If you are an adult intercountry adoptee, care about post adoption support in Australia and want to contribute – email Patricia Fronek firstname.lastname@example.org.
For post adoption contacts in your state: http://www.ag.gov.au/FamiliesAndMarriage/IntercountryAdoption/PostAdoptionSupport/Pages/contactdetails.aspx
Transcription Podsocs 62: Post adoption support: In Conversation with Trevor Jordan**
Thank you to the Belinda Lapierre for this transcription
[musical intro to 00.10]
Hello, and welcome to Podsocs, the podcast for social workers on the run. Brought to you by a bunch of social workers from Griffith University in Australia.
I’m Tricia Fronek, one of that bunch, and we’re just basically really glad you found us. So, happy listening.
Today on Podsocs we are speaking with Trevor Jordan about post adoption support in Australia. Good Morning Trevor how are you?
Trevor: I’m fine thanks Tricia.
Tricia: Now Trevor, tell us a little bit about yourself and your work in this area of post adoption support.
Trevor: Well currently I’m President of Jigsaw Queensland, which is a post adoption resource centre. Jigsaw’s been going for over 36 years now and was originally started by people affected by adoption wanting to help to facilitate search and reunion in the days where there was no help from the government, so people help set up contact registers and then also lobbied for change, but also provide support. Currently we provide information to support to anyone affected by adoption.
Tricia: And is that all sorts of adoption Trevor?
Trevor: Absolutely yes. And ah… of course recently there’s more intercountry adoptees and adoption and adopted parents involved, but traditionally it’s been parents and sons and daughters searching for each other…and ah some adopted parents involved as well.
Tricia: So Trevor, what are some of the issues faced by people post adoption?
Trevor: Well, it really depends on what stage of the life cycle [laughs] they are in. Obviously, particularly for adoptees it depends also on when they are informed that they are adopted…and ah, we have a lot of people from the generations in the 50’s and 60’s who were not told that they were adopted, so they’re what we call late discovery adoptees, so that raises particular issues as well, but usually people think about searching when they turn 18, ah as an adoptee and often the birth mothers ah um…think about search and reunion for a long time before that as well.
Tricia: What have we learnt from that about when we tell children, or how we tell children?
Trevor: Well I think the current wisdom is to tell people early and often, and not to make the mistake that telling them once is enough, because with developmental psychology what adoption means to a child aged four or five is different from what it means when they are aged eight and what it means to them when they are 12 and what it means to them when they are 16 and then what it means to them when they’re 40. So we get a lot of people enquiring because they hit what we call a milestone. So for example, obviously turning 18 and becoming and adult and having the right to search for information and doing it all yourself is one milestone. Another milestone is when people get married; another milestone might be when they start a family of their own, another milestone might be when they get to midlife and maybe start to encounter medical issues. Another milestone for a lot of people is that they are getting older, and an adoptee for example may realise that their birthparent may not be alive for much longer, so people are prompted by their life circumstances and then people are also prompted by whether being adopted is effecting their everyday life. So the effects of adoption can slowly build up depending on how adoption is dealt with in the family, so people can often grow up with all kinds of issues, identity issues obviously of who they are and where they come from but also issues of anxiety and depression because certain things aren’t talked about in the house, ….or adoption is discussed with a lot of high anxiety in the family as they are growing up, so all these factors combined prompt a person to make an enquiry with a post adoption service for some information or some support.
Tricia: Because there can be torn loyalties or concerns about searching for your family…because I have come across people who don’t want to hurt their adoptive parents even when they are open about it, do you have a comment on that?
Trevor: I that’s…I would say that is very common. In fact I would say that is probably around, if I made up a percentage to describe in terms of our experience, it is probably around over three quarters of adoptees who are searching that way. They have had what would be classified as a good adoption or a reasonably happy experience, but it can be that when they… and they are often encouraged by their parents to search, but it is just the nature of relationships, is that even though parents encourage their children to search, it can be a threat to the amount of time their son or daughter is going to give to the relationship with them etc., so it is just going to naturally involve a feeling for the adoptee of being pulled between two families; one that they’ve grown up with and one that they are related to but haven’t grown up with but want to establish a relationship. So the adoptee is often in the middle and moving towards one increase’s the tension if you like; if you can imagine that on an elastic band between the two families, then moving towards one puts more tension and stretch on the other relationship. So just a natural thing to happen, but you have to be aware of it and negotiate it and talk about it.
Tricia: Trevor, how easy is it to search for information in Australia?
Trevor: The problem is it varies from state to state because we are a federal system and the recent senate inquiry into forced adoptions…one of the recommendations was to overcome some of the difficulties that federalism creates in terms of record keeping etc. But in Queensland for example, people have the right to access their information and they will be given that information. People can still indicate a contact preference as that means as to whether they want to be contacted, or how they want to be contacted, but if you recognise the other person’s preference you still have a right to the actual information. So… terms of accessibility, getting the information….just about anywhere is reasonably straightforward. It doesn’t necessarily cost the same in every state and one of the recommendations was that this information should be made freely available rather than any administrative costs attached to it. Because once people get the information then they have to search Births, Deaths and Marriage records, which of course charge for searches and once again because we are in a federal system the costs can multiply.
Tricia: How about if your family is overseas?
Trevor: If you are overseas then umm we work closely with an organisation called International Social Services and they are an organisation that’s been around for a century now and ah they’re involved with any family issue that involves issues across borders and helping people search for adoption related matters is part of their breadth, so that’s a fee for service thing. In fact, ah just explain a bit about Jigsaw, Jigsaw is run by trained volunteers and it’s a peer support group; most of the people working as volunteers have been impacted or effected by adoption themselves and we provide emotional support and referrals to others, so we’re not professional counsellors, so we work very closely with the government departments that provide information with groups like International social services that help search overseas and with other organisations here in Queensland such as Post adoption support Queensland who offer professional counselling services and the Salvation army family tracing service which help do searches as well.
Tricia: Do we have enough support for either domestic adoptees or intercountry adoptees in this country?
Trevor: I think well … I think we could always do with more, the issue is that there is support available and part of the frustration I suppose in the recent couple of years during the inquiries is that people were saying there wasn’t support but there is and.. ah it’s not always utilised. The issues really are accessibility to that support, particularly for people in regional areas and affordability. Some organisations in some of the states (the non-government ones), have to charge fee for service in order to be able to provide a service, so the issue is really accessibility and affordability. The accessibility can in part be solved by more professional’s and counsellor’s becoming more informed about adoption issues, so they can provide service at their point of delivery and support and information on adoption and that will be the quickest way to increase accessibility to post adoption services, but I suppose as most people who work in Social Work know they probably receive one lecture in their whole degree on adoption and if they haven’t done a placement within adoption services they would have very little information or experience about adoption in their professional training.
Tricia: And that’s a common concern isn’t it?
Trevor: I think so, because it’s not a … I mean adoption affects hundreds and thousands of people, in that while there has been tens of thousands of people adopted in Australian they have two sets of parents, they have siblings on both sides of the families, for example the adoptees do, its hundreds and thousands of people are potentially impacted by adoption or have questions about adoption, umm so the relative porosity of training about adoption is a concern. Now adoption services itself within government is not a large area. It’s… ah you know compared to other areas of social policy it’s...ah small bikkies. But to the people who are concerned with those issues it can be quite an impact on their life. So there has to be government and non-government individual professionals working together here. In fact, I see post adoption support working best in Australia if it is a combination of government services providing information and support in the first instance, non-government post adoption services providing information and support and professionals providing individual support, but informed education about adoption specific issues as well.
Tricia: And there’s two issues really that come to my mind. One is that post adoption support actually starts long before an adoption actually happens.
Trevor: Oh absolutely. Current best practice is… part of the whole process with adoption is to educate and inform prospective adoptive parents and also in terms of intercountry adoption, part of the reason why adoptions take so long is that more effort is put into preparing the children themselves in terms of preparing them for the adoption experience in their country of origin, so that preparation goes a long way, but then we get back to the developmental issues that what we know [laughs] … when we have the experience of not having a family and then becoming a family through adoption and the experience of having an adolescent adoptee, or the experience of being an adopted family in search of reunion, or the experience of being an adopted family at the latter end of life, you know as parents are getting older etc., those experiences are radically different. So no matter how well people are prepared and I think in Australia in most cases adoptive parents are incredibly well educated and informed and most of them are fairly well enlightened you know, if they keep their ears and eyes open and hearts open during the process, they’re very well informed. But life takes over and the message needs to be to those people its ok to come back and get support. In the past adoptive parents feared going back and seeking support, because there’s this idea they were assessed as being good enough to be parents they went through quite gruelling processes of assessment then there was this kind of reticence to go back and say I oh need some help, I need some support here, how do I deal with this situation? And this is becoming more important as a lot of adoptions now involve special needs children as well so...
Tricia: Yes, they’re going to be older and special needs. And there is no failure to say I need some assistance here.
Trevor: No, I think that’s right and it’s not even a matter of you have to wait and say you have psychological difficulties. It’s about information support, education, it’s a spectrum of needs and in fact the earlier the intervention in terms of getting support…
Tricia: And sometimes it’s just about knowing that what you are doing is ok.
Trevor: Well that’s right, its normalising the experiences and people realising it goes with the territory. I had a friend once who umm adopted a child from Korea and she’s grown up in adolescence and began to act out and umm this is a fair while ago now and he was just sitting talking to me once and said you know, you don’t realise this is all going to happen because everything focuses on an infant and people forget sometimes infants grow up with all sorts of issues and particularly If you’re the only Asian face in a country town, there’s going to be issues growing up.
Tricia: Hmm and it’s not necessarily a reflection on parenting, it’s just the way things are, there are issues to deal with.
Trevor: That’s right and I think the message now… in the past the message was.. ah you create adoptive families and they’re just like other families.
Tricia: But they’re not.
Trevor: That message was slightly wrong. The idea…the truth is they’re just like other families, plus they have the fact of adoption. Cause back in the days of kind of closed adoption systems in a sense in why secrecy was often promoted, was the idea that people could pretend to be just like other families. But it’s better to recognise that you have all these issues other families have, plus you have to deal with issues of identity, issues of loss and grief and those sort of things as well.
Tricia: And the second thought I had Trevor, was post adoption support is not just for adoptees, it’s also for parents and adoptive parents and all the people involved.
Trevor: Absolutely, and you know one of the reasons…you know Jigsaw we, umm are there for everybody effected by adoption, is because you know the overall goal of what we do is about helping people to build and sustain a relationship of trust, either that’s within the families they’ve grown up in, or the families they’re going to reunite with, so everything is involved around building up relations of trust and so it’s very important that not everyone’s involved together, but everybody’s needs are being addressed if possible.
Trevor: We run for example… we have ah.. support groups for adoptive persons and we have support groups for original parents. But we also have an open group where adoptive parents can come and friends and siblings can come because it impacts everybody in their life and often people’s support people are important to them in processing information about how they feel about adoption, so the other thing our open group does, is it lets people meet people from that other side of the fence if you like, or that other perspective and hear, so the adoptee often before they find their own original parent might be talking to someone in a support group, and get to know a different perspective than they have in their head and the same with the parent might learn.. they might not have been able to have found their son or daughter yet, but they can meet other adoptive persons and talk them about their experiences. Everyone’s experiences are going to be different but there are some common themes.
Tricia: And I think it’s very difficult for people who also haven’t been adopted, or who haven’t lost a child to really, really, really know what that feels like…that experience.
Trevor: Oh that’s right, and that’s one of the you know common things we find in our support groups, is that you know after people have come once, or even the first time, or even a few times, they say you know this is the first time with a group of people who get it, I don’t have to explain or justify myself. I’m with people who get what it’s like and that my experience is a bit different, and that’s the power of peer support groups. We don’t all have the same story, in fact it helped normalise the fact that it’s not about cookie cutter responses, it’s about our own story and developing our own voice and developing the confidence to let people know what our needs might be, and how we might reach out and listen to and respond to the needs of others. There’s a dominant story in adoption I suppose and that is that some young woman has a love child and that love child is adopted and life goes on happily ever after for everyone else. But a lot people are adopted under varying circumstances. Some have been…some are forgotten Australians for example, who have been in an institution and have been adopted. So they have two sets of experiences, umm it can be quite traumatic in some circumstances not always in fact. In my own birth family my birth uncle was never adopted, he was put in the orphanage and then umm, you know when he was a young teenager sent out to work on farms as it was in the old days. So his experience were umm perhaps different, but then my original mother was also adopted for a short while, but she was only adopted for six months when she was five years old, so adoption is something people come into and out of at various stages and their experience is not always the same. Sometimes we get people in our groups who weren’t really adopted, but they found that their older sister in their family was actually their mother, so they often share the experience that adoptees have, of being in a family where there are secrets and identity issues and we’re getting increasing interest from people who are offspring of donor offspring from IVF except…
Tricia: There is a line of thought Trevor that identifies IVF and other forms of forming families through medical intervention as somehow different, and that kids aren’t going to need that information. What do you say about that?
Trevor: Well I think it’s just people wanting to put the genie back into the bottle I mean umm for the people who you know, who struggle to raise awareness of enlightened adoption policy, the kind of secrecy that’s involved around gamete donation is just like people are trying to go back to the old days pretending it doesn’t really matter. What they’re really saying is it doesn’t matter to the parent’s, but it does matter; experiences tell us it does matter to the children when they grow up they have rights and umm one way it’s kind of different because umm in a family created in that way…and there are many types of families created that way, but just taking one example there might be a biological mother might have a sperm donation and the father in the relationship then is in a sense is a social father.. now the mother still has a biological connection with the offspring, whereas the father doesn’t. Whereas with adoptive parents they both share the experience of not being related to the child, so in a donor family you already have some differences in experience that can be quite profound as time goes on.
Tricia: And what we do know regardless of what it is in families, secrets are never a positive thing and can actually cause harm.
Trevor: Well that’s right, because eventually secrets come out and then people feel a sense of betrayal, a sense that you know families are supposed to be built on trust, that people don’t trust them with basic information about their origins and people have a right to know where they come from, and who they’re related to. In most cases that information is just information and in some cases it may have negative emotional impacts attached to it. But in our experience people are happier knowing the truth and being able to deal with something concrete rather than having putting up with a secret and dealing with a lack of information. Well the sad thing is, in the whole area of donor conception people are repeating the mistakes of the past with regard to secrecy identity and assumptions… that the basic thing is that people don’t recognise that the child becomes an adult and that adult has a voice and some say. So people should listen to adult donor offspring and what they view about rights to identity. I mean the other issue is you know, adoptees might have several siblings. I myself have nine birth siblings and one adopted sibling but particularly in the old days a donor offspring might have hundreds of siblings and you know that’s hard to get our head around sometimes.
Tricia: Trevor we’re almost out of time, any final words on the issue of Post adoption support?
Trevor: Well, I think the key thing with post adoption support is that people seek support for sometimes, just for informational reasons and sometimes for emotional support, so we talk about an outer and inner journey so that’s the kind of help that’s provided. The other thing I suppose is that you know at Jigsaw we’re not concerned about… you know we’re not marketing a position or selling anything. it’s all about helping people establish and sustain a relationship of trust and that’s what search and reunion is all about, you know, also I guess in terms of post adoption support, there’s a lot of support going on in the internet but good intentions are not enough, there has to be some training, so that’s why at Jigsaw all our volunteers are trained, and umm do a course that’s similar to a lifeline counselling course but with added information on adoption. Most of our workers have done a mental health first aid course and have an understanding of core issues in adoption and that’s when you can offer real support. And there’s kind of a professional approach in the sense that when the volunteers are helping they put their own issues aside as best they can, just as any professional would and focus on the client and their needs. Unfortunately a lot of what goes for support around the place in peer support is people don’t put their own needs aside for a moment while they’re trying to help other people, and umm a whole lot of boundaries are mixed up. So although we’re peer support we do kind of approach things at the same sense of umm…
Trevor: Professionalism yes, in a sense that you’re there for the other person. You’re there for what they want and their self-determination, and you know I think trained volunteers without them I don’t think we would have got where we are today in terms of raising awareness about adoption policy and practices, and what needs to change and certainly without the enlightened professionals who work in the area helping with those changes as well, and people in government, we are in a better situation now than for example our colleagues in the United States ,where most of those states still have closed systems of adoption, and people can’t access their original birth certificate. Even though we live in what they would call a relative paradise, there still remains the issue for each individual person about their story and the impact that adoption has on them, and what they want to do now in terms of search reunion, not searching, dealing with issues that are related to adoption.
Tricia: Now Trevor before we go I’m going to do a plug for the post adoption research happening at Griffith. Myself and a very strong research team are doing research on post adoption research support for intercountry adoptees, so any intercountry adoptee who has been adopted into Australia and is interested in participating in this research, to please email me, you can email me at the email@example.com, or my Griffith email address firstname.lastname@example.org, and thank you Trevor Jordan for being on Podsocs.
Trevor: Oh it’s a pleasure to be here, Podsocs is great.
Tricia: [Laughing] Thank you Trevor.
[Musical outro 28.44 to END]
Interview ENDS: 29.04