Adoption Triad: Practicing Adoption Competence by Examining the Impact of Race, Culture, and Diversity

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December 2023   |   Archive   |   National Adoption Month   

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Practicing Adoption Competence by Examining the Impact of Race, Culture, and Diversity

Children and youth who are adopted often have experienced trauma and need help sorting through complicated feelings stemming from their adoption and past experiences. Rather than being a one-time event, adoption is an ongoing process that requires continuous support long after papers are signed. To provide that support, child welfare professionals and other service providers should have adoption competence—the specific knowledge, skills, and values required to meet the complex, unique needs of adopted children and youth and their families.

According to the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative (NTI), two key principles of adoption competence are evaluating the impact of race, culture, and diversity and promoting positive identity development. Young people adopted by a family of a different racial, ethnic, or cultural background may face challenges understanding their roots, healing from past trauma, staying connected to their cultural communities, and developing within the context of a new family. These challenges impact many adoptive families, since even families who share certain backgrounds and characteristics with their adopted children, such as race, likely experience other cultural differences, such as religion, language, geographic location, socioeconomic status, and more. Adoption-competent support, such as culturally responsive postadoption services, family therapy, or other mental health services, can help ease a young person’s transition to their adoptive family, provide stability, and strengthen the family overall.

Adoption competency goes hand in hand with cultural humility since culture, race, and ethnicity are such an essential part of an individual’s and family’s identities. Practicing cultural humility is an ongoing process that involves recognizing one’s inherent biases, committing to learning about other cultures, and regularly reflecting on and critiquing one’s embedded perceptions. Young people who are adopted are still developing their identities and may need help understanding or staying connected to their racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds as they join an adoptive family. Professionals who work with adopted children and youth and their families should practice cultural humility and make every effort to ask questions, listen, and learn so they can meet the cultural needs of individuals and families. This may include asking a young person what traditions are important to them—and creating an open dialogue with their adoptive family about incorporating those traditions—or connecting a young person with an adoption-competent therapist who shares their race or ethnicity and can help the young person develop their racial or ethnic identity. Every family is different, so support will need to be tailored for each family. Professionals should keep an open mind and hone both their adoption competence and cultural humility skillsets. There are several adoption competency trainings available for professionals of various backgrounds, including the NTI and the C.A.S.E. Training for Adoption Competency.

Use the following resources to explore more in-depth information on adoption competence and diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Building an Adoption Competent Workforce: A Review of the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative


By University of Massachusetts Amherst,
Rudd Adoption Research Program



Assessing the Racial and Ethnic Cultural Competence of Your Support Services



By AdoptUSKids


Finding and Working With Adoption Competent Therapists


   By Child Welfare
Information Gateway


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