Forget Me Not Family Society
PRESENTATION TO GRADUATE STUDENTS IN THE
SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK, UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
Wednesday October 9th, 2014
by Bernadette Rymer
Originally published in Adoption Circles #71 Fall 2014 – Patience
We are delighted to share with you news about our second annual presentation to the graduate students in the School of Social Work at U.B.C.
You may recall that in our Adoption Circles newsletter of Fall (October) 2013 issue #66, which focused on the theme of Anger, we reported in detail about our first ever presentation at U.B.C., which was a remarkable success. So much so that we were invited back for a repeat presentation this past October. In planning this year’s presentation with Dr. Edward Kruk, he expressed his hope that we not change our presentation very much as last years was outstanding.
Our FMNFS mandate specifies that a major purpose of our society is to raise awareness of and to educate people (all those touched by adoption and all concerned professionals) about adoption issues. Further, it was our hope that our presentation to the graduate students would open their eyes to the truth and the trauma of adoption, and that they would seriously reflect on how this information would inform their future clinical practice.
Our presentation team included:
- Bernadette Rymer, Birth Mother, Program Development, Presentation/Event Facilitator.
- Nancy Kato, Birth Mother, Co-Facilitator and Panel Moderator.
- Gail Davies, Birth Mother, Panel member.
- Triss Matthews, Adoptee, Panel member.
- Elizabeth Christian, Adoptive Mother, Panel member.
- Marnie Tetz, Adoptee, President of the FMNFS.
- Michael Grand, PhD, C.Psych, Professor in Clinical Psychology, University of Guelph, Ontario. Dr. Grand specializes in adoption studies and advocates openness in adoptions.
Photo: Elizabeth, Bernadette (standing), Gail, Dr. Grand, Nancy Kato
Presentation: Ten graduate students and Professor Kruk attended our three hour presentation which was comprised of a variety of activities including:
- Panel presentation of personal stories, representing all adoption constellation members.
- Presentation on research on open adoption, and openness in adoption, by Dr. Grand.
- Small group reading and discussion of research and landmark articles (documented and dating back to 1938), then sharing key points and inquiry questions with all students.
- Information sharing, with open question and discussion format.
Our adoptive mother panel member, Elizabeth Christian (my sister of whom I am so very proud), chose as the title of her story Adoption: A Happily Ever After Tragedy. As we listened to the personal stories shared by each panel member we relived our own adoption tragedies.
Student responses to our stories and presentations were very revealing, for them and for us. From observations of students’ body language, their comments, main points and questions during the presentation and on the evaluation form, our shared stories and presentations were big ‘eye openers’ for them. Several students commented that they had no idea of the depth and complexity of adoption trauma on mothers, adoptees and adoptive parents, and that before our presentation they had believed adoption to be a ‘win-win’ for all involved. Many students appeared to be shocked by what we shared, and some seemed to be is a state of ‘dis-ease’ as they were asking deep questions about their own profession, and social workers involvement in past and future adoption practices.
Evaluation: The session evaluation was a two part process.
- Part one: Before the presentation students were asked to individually reflect on, and write down their knowledge and understanding of six issues/ aspects of adoption.
- Part two: At the conclusion of the presentation students were asked to consider their new learning and understanding of the same six issues. The issues on the evaluation were:
- Primal Wound
- Disenfranchised Grief
- Effects on Birth Mother
- Effects on Adoptee
- Adoptive Parents
- Open Adoption/Openness in Adoption
Photo: Triss Matthews, Gail Davies and Dr. Michael Grand
SUMMARY OF STUDENT RESPONSES
While our observations of student responses provides us with valuable objective feedback, we hope that reporting student responses verbatim will give you a sense of what this experience was like for the students and for us. The overall rating of the session from students and Dr. Kruk ranged from positive/useful (3 responses) to very positive/ useful (8 responses).
Main Points of Presentation and Discussion:
- Mothers not informed of long term effects (emotional, psychological, etc.) on her or her child, despite existence of supporting literature dating back to the 1930s.
- Mothers not given opportunity to mourn loss of child. Trauma not recognized, disenfranchised grief.
- Mothers had no access to counselling or support once papers are signed.
- Mother gets stuck emotionally. Personality damage associated/defense against grief. Lifelong pathological grief.
- Recruiting of single mothers to give up/give in to pressure (child deserves a better life, you’ll forget all about her/him) was common practice.
- Primal bond remains. Ongoing fear of abandonment and always feeling like outsider.
- Adoptees want/need their feelings validated.
- Important for adoptive parents to understand the context of adoptees behaviour i.e. behaviours are coping strategies, not personality traits.
Mother and Adoptee:
- Lack of choice for mother and child.
- Impact on familial and other relationships.
- Healing occurs through repetition of personal story/narratives.
Openness in Adoption:
- Although openness in adoption is now very common, there is limited understanding amongst professionals and public about what this means. Important to have shared understanding and definition of open adoption.
- Greater openness results in positive outcomes for all. Openness is fluid and on a spectrum.
- Need ongoing training in adoption trauma counselling.
- Need counselling and support for all in adoption constellation throughout the process.
Photo: Students listening to Bernadette
Student Questions arising from Presentation, Readings and Discussion:
- Who advocates for the birth mother?
- How do we ensure that mother’s decision to relinquish the right to parent her child is an actual (informed) choice? What role do social workers play in ensuring this?
- Counselling and support for birth parents finishes when the adoption papers are signed. Why? How do we change the system to continue to support birth parents beyond adoption?
- What are your opinions/beliefs about adoption?
- Why is well documented research about the trauma of adoption being ignored by professionals in our field?
- Why are we (social workers) not better informing mothers/fathers?
- How do you define what is in the best interests of the child?
- Why do we give the adoptive parents a falsified birth certificate, and present it as a legal document?
- How can we change current system?
- How do we effectively lay the ground work between all parties to ensure better outcomes for all?
- What are the current systematic barriers to successful open adoptions?
- When are closed adoptions beneficial?
- What are the available supports for everyone in the constellation?
- What are the implications for social work practice?
We have many people to thank for contributing their time, energy and expertise so that this event could be successfully presented on a world-class social worker stage. We offer our sincere thanks to:
- each panel member for their time, effort and willingness to share their stories in such a public format, and
- to Dr. Michael Grand for so generously sharing his time and expertise with us.
And to all those in our worldwide adoption support community who have dedicated their lives to adoption truth advocacy, research, education and support:
- In Canada: to Monica Byrne, Parent Finders, Canada; Karen Lynn and Sandra Falconer Pace, Canadian Council of Natural Mothers; Wendy Rowney, Adoption Support Kinship.
- In the U.S.A: Nancy Verrier, Clinical Psychologist and Joe Soll, Psychotherapist, both researchers, authors specializing in adoption related issues and healing.
- In Australia: Evelyn Robinson, Social Worker, author, adoption truth advocate.
And most especially we offer our sincere thanks to Dr. Edward Kruk, Associate Professor of Social Work, U.B.C. for his support, continued encouragement and valued invitations to present to his graduate students.