Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Barker Adoption Foundation’s signature educational event, its Adoption and Foster Care Conference, is sought out annually by families, adopted persons, birth parents, professionals and students. This year, Barker held its 22nd Annual Conference, titled “Connected Lives: A Complex Privilege for the Family of Adoption, with over 275 attendees.  As expected, it was one of our best conferences to date. 

Keynote speaker, Alison Larkin, (photo at top) who is an internationally acclaimed comedienne, best-selling author of The English American, speaker, audiobook narrator and Barker adoptee captivated the audience with her story. One attendee said “Alison is beyond extraordinary in her generosity of spirit and profound insights into the relationship between parents and children and the feelings of responsibility/burdens of an adopted person. I was greatly affected by her appearance at the Conference.” Alison touched on many of the key topics that adopted persons face with eloquence and, of course, humor. 

As the day went on, we heard from several powerful speakers. The session entitled the Undeniable Power of Family was highly rated among conference attendees. It touched on the personal stories of three panelists who shared their stories of the love, acceptance and support they gave and received as adopted persons and adoptive parents. It was a heartfelt panel that helped participants gain a deeper understanding of the importance of permanency for a child and the power of adoptive and biological connections.  Reflecting upon the session It’s Not Just About the Cuisine, Barker Family Specialist, Lisa Hughes, shared one of her favorite takeaways, stating that “one family shared, how, despite growing up in non-religious families, they joined a local Korean church community for their children and they discussed how they have seen their children’s cultural pride grow through forming close friendships with other Korean families.”

Alex Altman, PWNL’s Placement Coordinator, shared one of her favorite takeaways from the conference. “My favorite session was definitely Debbie Schugg’s (She’s Finally Home, Now What?). I loved the reminders about the importance of addressing the need behind the behaviors we see from our kids, rather than focusing on the behaviors themselves. I also thought it was wonderful that she talked about connecting to what your true goals are as a parent—for example, building strong relationships with your kids and teaching them to be self-sufficient, rather than just getting them to stop doing a certain behavior.”  Debbie Schugg has 30 years of experience working with families of at-risk youth and those with special needs. She is the mother of eight children from culturally diverse backgrounds, seven of whom were adopted in sibling groups from the foster care system. Debbie shared many personal examples which really helped to bring life to the presentation and give Conference attendees practical tools and information to consider. 

And in a day already rich with great insights, advocate, author, and adoptee, Rhonda Roorda enlightened a packed room as she shared her research regarding African Americans' perspectives on transracial adoption. Rhonda provided conference attendees with practical information including how to help adopted children recognize, reject and deal with racism and the types of support networks white parents need to have in place when they adopt black and biracial children. 

Therapeutic Writing for the Adoption Constellation, presented by Sarah Saffian, was highly praised by conference attendees. Betty Betz, International Case Manager, shared that “Sarah presented an emotional session on therapeutic writing. One woman shared what she wrote during a five minute exercise about emotions in adoption coming like waves to the shore. It was so well written and descriptive, it could have been published.”

Darla Henry took the audience on a journey through the eyes of children in foster care to better understand the impact of loss on a child. She used this perspective to launch into her nationally recognized 3-5-7 model to help parents and professionals understand how to create a sense of safety for children who have experienced a history of trauma.

In the final panel presentation of the day, After the Reunion – What Happens Next speakers discussed the unique process of reuniting with birth family and navigating these new relationships. Chauncey Strong (photo above, right), Foster Care Supervisor with Fairfax Count y Department of Family Services, shared his reunion story. Chauncey concluded by saying “it’s hard to find peace when you don’t have all the pieces” which deeply resonated with the audience. 

The conference concluded with closing remarks from Sarah Saffian (photo to left) who shared her adoption journey. She closed her remarks by saying “I hope you all leave today with a sense of wholeness, a sense of openness and a great sense of connection.”  Sarah helped to remind us all that adoption is indeed a story of connected lives.

We would like to thank all of the speakers who came out to share their stories and experiences with conference attendees and most of all we would like to thank everyone who showed up - this conference would not be possible without the support of each and every one of you. If you would like to see more snapshots from the conference, please see our Barker Facebook photo album.  We hope to see you again next year. 

Surina Amin, LGSW - Outreach Coordinator, Project Wait No Longer