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Kent program lends warmth, support to adoptive families

by UofL Today last modified Jan 08, 2010 03:07 PM

The Kent School of Social Work is taking a warm and comfy approach to getting its message to state legislators and others this month.

Hanging through January in a display case at the state Capitol building are two quilts made in part by couples who participated in a Kent program that aims to strengthen adoptive families.

Going by its acronym CAMP, the program works with the state Department for Community Based Services to recruit adoptive families to participate from each of the nine (welfare) regions of Kentucky.

Couples, along with adoption workers and resource specialists from the area, attend a free weekend retreat at a state park in their region. This helps to build a support structure, said Tammy Waggoner, who co-facilitates sessions with fellow Kent School research manager Jenny Taylor.

"I really love going and doing the retreats," Waggoner said. "The energy is astounding. (Adoptive parents) are a unique group of people. They're amazing."

The curriculum incorporates components of a national program with that developed by the CAMP team. Participants take part in discussions and skill-building exercises, but they also design quilt blocks to reflect their families. Team members based the activity on the practice of agencies giving blankets or quilts to children when they are adopted and go to their new homes, Waggoner said.

Adoptive parent Sarah Puckett, a quilter from southern Indiana, turns the individual squares into quilts.

While the quilts are attention-getting, there's more to the Frankfort display than fiber arts. A center case contains information and photos about CAMP as well as Puckett. Nearby, the state's Special Needs Adoption Program (SNAP) also has a display.

"We hope legislators will come to look at the quilts and read the material and see that it's a great program and needs support -- and that there is a need for the program," Waggoner said.

Although Kentucky consistently ranks in the top three performing states in the area of adoption, there are "372 kids for whom we have no identified adoptive families. These are our waiting children, children in the Special Needs Adoption Program," said Mike Grimes, adoption services branch manager, Department for Community Based Services (DCBS).

"CAMP is very important for our adoptive families because it helps couples work on building strong and healthy relationships with each other. This is the basis for a strong family and a successful adoption," he said.

"If the adoptive family/couple is struggling in their relationship, then the addition of another child into their family will only complicate and stress matters further. DCBS is proud to partner with the University of Louisville on this very important project that has the potential to reduce the number of adoption disruptions which cause adopted children to re-enter Out Of Home Care."

CAMP stands for Community Resources, Attachment and Family Formation, Marital/Relationship Enhancement, and Prevention of Adoption Disruption, and it is funded by a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Family Services Children's Bureau. The grant ends in 2011.

Educating and training adoptive couples and families is only one component of CAMP. It also is designed to gain insight into the types of services adoptive parents and families need. Participants complete a survey at four points: before they participate in a weekend retreat, immediately after the retreat, one month later and six months later.

The survey, Waggoner said, captures basic demographics as well as behavior of children in the household, the couples' understanding of their children, the state of the marriage and their marital satisfaction.

Grant principal investigator and Kent School professor Bibhuti Sar is analyzing the data to identify the types of post-adoptive services families need.

So far, 522 people have participated in the CAMP program. Follow-up surveys indicate program success in teaching effective problem-solving and conflict resolution skills and also in strengthening the relationships between the couples and between parents and children.

Although the Kent team doesn't know what CAMP's future will be past the initial grant period, it is adding additional services this year, Waggoner said. Among them are refresher sessions for past participants. The team also will test-run a program for children. In the future, it wants to develop past participants as mentors for people just coming into the program.

"State workers want CAMP to be part of the training for adoptive parents," she said.

"It's really a great grant and touches a lot of families," she said. "It would be nice to touch more. So many families could truly benefit."

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