Abstract: Adoption and Guardianship Enhanced Support (AGES): Designing a Program to Provide Families What They Need, When They Need It (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Adoption and Guardianship Enhanced Support (AGES): Designing a Program to Provide Families What They Need, When They Need It

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Ahwatukee B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Kerrie Ocasio, PhD, Assistant Professor, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA
Nancy Rolock, PhD, Henry L. Zucker Associate Professor of Social Work Practice, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Rong Bai, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Boston College
Joan Blakey, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN
Rowena Fong, EdD, Ruby Lee Piester Centennial Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background/Purpose: Legal permanence through adoption and subsidized guardianship is a desirable outcome for children when reunification is not possible. However, adoptive parents and guardians often report feeling ill-equipped and unsupported to meet the needs of their children as they emerge overtime, which may result in familial instability or diminished well-being. In an effort to help these families, a new intervention, Adoption and Guardianship Enhanced Support (AGES), was developed to specifically address the needs of families at the indicated level of prevention, in order to prevent the need for more intensive services. The paper aims at describing the challenges confronting families who participated in AGES and discuss the intervention approach to addressing these challenges.

Methods: The intervention design was guided by implementation science frameworks and social work practice approaches, resulting in an individualized, goal-oriented, and family-centered support approach that was tested and refined with a pilot group of 32 adoptive parents and guardians (caregivers). Using a grounded theory approach, interviews were conducted with the participants to understand their needs and how the intervention support approach was addressing their needs. Responses were reviewed, recorded, transcribed, and coded using open coding, axial coding (creating subcategories), and selective coding (refining theory). To develop themes that assist in answering research questions, coding is an essential connection between collecting data and developing an emergent theory that reflected the participants’ experiences.

Results: Adoptive and guardianship families struggled with a wide range of issues, and the themes that emerged revealed that caregivers reported different degrees of urgency. Urgent issues include difficulty managing serious mental health and behavioral problems that are leading to significant family strain and consequences for the child with other systems and for which there are limited or inaccessible community resources. In comparison, some issues needed to be addressed with long-term plans. These included issues such as negotiating a relationship with birth family, and issues related to transracial adoption. Caregivers reported that, more than anything, they needed support that would help them increase their capacity to care for their children. These types of supports were reported: 1) helping families make difficult decisions; 2) being a sounding board for families; 3) equipping families with knowledge of available resources; 4) assisting families with the set-up with those services; 5) navigating the various systems; 6) figuring out the right diagnosis and establishing the appropriate services to help with that diagnosis.

Conclusions: The intervention was designed to provide flexible support to families when they needed it, but due to the lack of prior availability and poor infrastructure of post-permanency services, many families had been struggling awhile. Findings highlight the need for an approach such as AGES and caregivers offered the following recommendations for service providers: 1) provide services and resources earlier in the adoption and guardianship process so that they might minimize the issues they were struggling with; 2) provide in-home support; and 3) ensure assistance is readily available; families should not have to spend years searching for appropriate help.