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By contrast with the behavioural intervention, this approach is more ‘historical’: that is, links are made to what is known of the placed child’s history. The amount and accuracy of the information given to adopters can vary considerably. Even when reliable information is given, many unknowns remain and adopters may need help in grasping the significance of the child’s experiences. The intervention is also more social and environmental as it includes the adoptive parents experience with schools, family and friends. It is more theory-driven in some ways in its concern with broken and distorted attachments, with the child’s adaptive and coping mechanisms in the face of adversity, and with aspects of parenting, like capacity for self-reflection, sensitivity and responsiveness. Some of these topics do have a research base, but less has been established on how to intervene effectively to improve ‘understanding’.
Content of the educational/illuminative approach
This approach bears greater resemblance to methods widely used by British social workers, although such work is rarely so formalised. In this case we wanted the intervention to be selective, sequenced and set out in a more structured format. The specialist adoption advisor, when preparing the manual, discussed with the researchers the content of the programme, the style and language thought to be most suited to adopters and how well founded were the educational aspects of the manual. Publications by adoption specialists like Brodzinsky, Lang, & Smith (1995), Keck and Kupecky (1995), Hughes (1998) and Howe (1997) were especially influential in devising the programme.
It is generally thought that if the child’s behaviour can be better understood, problems can be better tolerated, the child can develop trust and allow expression to their positive as well as negative feelings. Reliable knowledge of the major pre-placement circumstances and events in the child’s life should help in enhancing understanding which, in turn, should reduce the parents’ impatience, bewilderment or dashed expectations. They should not just to be able to ‘read’ the child better but to devise parenting strategies more rationally and to consider new approaches if their own methods are failing.
In this intervention, the parent advisors were required to consult the local authority adoption files prior to meeting the parents, in order to brief themselves on the new family and the child’s history. The BAAF Form E records the number of moves the child has experienced and specific incidences in their history. This can be an invaluable tool in aiding the understanding of adoptive parents as to what genetic and biological risk factors and life experiences have had an impact on the child’s current psycho-social functioning. How, for example, has living in chaotic surroundings, or with inconsistent or rejecting parenting or constantly having to adjust to new carers, influenced current behaviour? (Dance, Rushton, & Quinton, 2002).
The role of the parent advisors involved in delivering the educational/illuminative programme is to discuss and reflect together with the parents on how the difficult behaviour might best be interpreted and how parenting strategies and responses might change accordingly. We wanted the advisors to avoid simple explanations linking single events to certain consequences, and instead to emphasise the coping styles frequently shown by abused and neglected children. We noted that, in most cases, it will be useful to see a pattern of behaviour as adaptive in the previous abusive situation (e.g. withdrawal, hyper-vigilance or distractibility). In the new family such behaviour may well be dysfunctional because the emotional and social context has changed. The parent advisors were informed that they should not carry the burden of thinking that they have to produce definitive answers about the specific origin of problems: this will rarely be possible. Research efforts are ongoing to disentangle the relative contribution of adverse factors and their complex combinations. Some difficulties will require much more specialist advice.
- Rushton, Alan, Monck, Elizabeth; Enhancing Adoptive Parenting: Devising Promising Interventions; Child & Adolescent Mental Health; Feb 2006, Vol. 11, Issue 1
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