–Melanie Chung-Sherman, LCSW, LCPAA, PLLC.
Indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
–Proverbs 2: 3-5
Through the years of working in the field of child welfare there continues to be a universal need that resonates with triad members (adoptees, birth parents and adoptive families) and that is the need to be understood by others who can both claim and share in the unique narrative that adoption can bring. According to the 2001 U.S. Census Bureau reported by Evan B. Donaldson’s Adoption Institute, there are approximately 1.5 million children adopted in the United States alone. This figure makes up approximately 2% of all children in the United States and estimates that over 60% of the U.S. population has been touched by adoption in some way . Despite the evidence of this broad community that has been built by adoption, post adoption services offered to the adoption triad has been remarkably inconsistent through the U.S. Due to budget cuts and a lack of adequate resources, post adoption services that include counseling, support groups and additional outreach services for triad members have either been non-existent or very limited in nature. For those touched by adoption, we know that the need for adoption-sensitive support and assistance during different life stages can be critical and this happens long after adoption finalization. Over the years there has been a vacuum regarding these services.
Over two years ago, I sat down for lunch with Rob Pine, Executive Director of ChristianWorks and Heather Ellis, Adoption Director and we began discussing the need for more outreach and adoption-specific counseling. After working in child welfare for over a decade and taking an active role in placing children into families by adoption through agency settings that were not adequately providing long-term support for triad members after adoption finalization morphed into ethical and moral dilemma. Adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents would return to their respective agencies in need of help and counsel, only to be referred somewhere else. Ultimately, it takes a vast amount of courage for anyone seeking outside help when faced with complex issues and challenges, but finding a specialist who can “speak” a similar language to their adoption story was another thing altogether. It was not uncommon to hear triad members share their frustration in finding a counselor who understood the complexities of adoption. Many triad members shared that they cannot locate a counselor who understood the role that adoption may play in their lives. The question than became, “Well, why not us?” The answer was evident. This was a call to fill a need and provide an extension of a ministry that had not been adequately met in the North Texas area so that those touched by adoption have a safe, nurturing and loving place to go to speak openly about their experiences, gather information specific to their needs and receive the specialized services inherent to adoption.
Adoption-focused counseling is unique from traditional counseling in several ways. It serves all members of the triad regardless of how a family was created that ranges from international, kinship/step-family, private, infant, CPS foster care and adoption, embryonic and in-vitro adoptions. It is important to note that adoption is not a pathology that needs to be fixed. However, it is vital that mental health professionals can help triad members recognize that there are unique aspects to consider that can impact an individual or family in many different ways.
I am very excited and blessed by the opportunity to partner with this new program. There was both a personal and professional connection to this project. I was called into this profession years ago when my family was struggling for professional guidance. It was during that time that I knew that I wanted to help triad members. My brother and I were adopted internationally in the 1970’s. The paradigm at that time was that “love was enough;” however, there was little research and education for adoption professionals and triad members to utilize about the unique dynamics of adoption. My brother struggled with attachment-based issues that led to several in-patient hospital settings and frequent trips to psychiatrists. The professionals who were there to provide help focused solely on behaviors, but none of them had ever touched on the deeper issues surrounding adoption—the loss of his birth family, fear of abandonment, multiple placements before joining our family, lack of history, pain of rejection and impact of racism in our community at that time. I, too, had these fears, but expressed them in another way. Our family struggled to find counselors attuned not only to the needs of our family’s narrative, but an expert who could speak sensitively from an adoption-perspective. As time went on, the sense of alienation, isolation, shame and fear increased. My parents felt as if they had failed and without someone else guiding, nurturing, and sharing that those feelings were normal in adoption, they stopped seeking outside help. We desperately desired for someone else to connect with us and offer professional guidance as well as relate to our struggles without judgment or pre-conceived notions about adoption. Like so many triad members, we were crying out for a sense of hope, community and understanding.
Through the mission of ChristianWorks, it is our hope to provide these services to those who are in need. Adoption is a life-long journey that continues well beyond placement. It is never too late to seek help or guidance. We want to provide a sense of support and community to all triad members and adoption professionals alike so that the generations to follow will be forever changed.
 Fields, Jason, Living Arrangements of Children, at pg. 9, Current Population Reports, P70-74, U.S. Census Bureau (Apr. 2001). [Children encompasses the ages 18 and under. The total includes the approximately 500,000 children living with one biological parent and a stepparent who adopted them.]
 Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, Benchmark Survey. 1997.