As a transracially adopted person, the back-to-school season meant I was leaving the comfort of my family where I did not have to answer questions about why we looked different, where my “real parents” were, or worry about a lesson about family that made me uncomfortable. These questions and lesson plans created anxiety and a sense that I did not belong because I was adopted and my family was different. At home, I was simply April, a daughter and a sister. I did not match my family, but it was the only one I knew.
At home, there was very little talk of adoption, and in school, there was even less. Knowing I was adopted was like knowing my birthday or that my parents were married. They were important facts but were never really discussed in meaningful ways. The lack of discussion about adoption created an environment where my questions, thoughts, and feelings often went unrecognized and unspoken.
I wondered where my birth family was and why I was brown and my adoptive family was white. I was often sad and confused. My parents were encouraged by the professionals to “use the word adoption” but that was about it. At that point, the conventional wisdom was that once a child was adopted all you needed to do was love them, there was nothing more to discuss. Not having an open dialogue about what I was feeling created a complicated reality at home that followed me to school. When classmates would say things like: “at least my parents wanted me” or when I felt confused and anxious about an assignment like creating a family tree, I did not have the words or the confidence to share these things when I got home.
Today, with more openness and commitment to creating space for meaningful and healthy dialogue about adoption within families, the hope is that the same commitment is found in school systems with teachers and faculty members and ultimately, that children and young people who are experiencing adoption and foster care will feel supported and set up for success in the classroom.
While much progress has been made with regard to openness, parents and practitioners don’t always have the tools they need. This is why I am always so inspired when I find practical tools to encourage conversations about adoption, especially between parents and teachers. The Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation (QIC-AG) developed a fact sheet called “What Teachers Should Know About Adoption.” It is designed to raise awareness about the unique needs of children who have been adopted and to provide concrete tips on how teachers can create more “adoption-friendly” classrooms.
The fact sheet includes basic statistics and information about adoption, as well as sections that offer insight related to:
– The difficulty of some holidays for adopted children like birthdays, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day
– Lessons and assignments that may be triggering (like the family tree)
– The importance of not making assumptions about adoption and protecting a child’s privacy.
There is also a video entitled Developing an Adoption Competent Network of Providers – Partnering with Schools and Teachers, “where Heather Forbes, LCSW discusses the importance of creating trauma informed schools. She also shares strategies that educators can employ to create a classroom culture that promotes a physically and psychologically safe environment that helps all children [especially those who have been adopted] achieve academic success.”
It’s back to school but the education isn’t just about children learning; it is also about education for professionals, especially surrounding social-emotional learning, healthy identity development, and family structure. As parents expand the conversation about adoption at home, they can also utilize these tools to expand conversations with teachers and educational professionals.
April Dinwoodie is a transracially adopted person and a nationally recognized thought leader in foster care and adoption. Dinwoodie’s podcast “Born in June, Raised in April: What Adoption Can Teach the World!” helps facilitate an open dialogue about adoption, foster care and family today. She is the former Chief Executive of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, founder of Adoptment, a mentoring program that matches foster youth with adopted adults, a keynote speaker and trainer, and is retained by clients to help raise awareness about important work in support of children and families. Clients include the QIC-AG, NTDC, and several private schools in Manhattan where she facilitates student affinity groups and parent support groups.