Designed for Adoptees, by Adoptees, Holt’s Circle Back program strives to help youth Adoptees build a positive identity. Co-creator Caitlin Howe explains how.
“Hey, what are you doing right now?” I said, laughing.
“Oh, I’m just making a sandwich real quick — but don’t worry, I’m still listening!”
I watched with amusement as Aya set the phone down and went from fridge to kitchen counter gathering ingredients. My fascination grew as she threw a sandwich together in 10 seconds. We had started our video chat just as she had arrived home from school, and before I knew it, she was settling into her living room couch and eating as we talked. She shared about her current classes and also her hopes to be a camp counselor next summer. And we traded stories about being in high school and getting ready for whatever comes next. As we chatted, early evening light spilled into her apartment in Chicago as the sun broke through the clouds here in Oregon.
When Holt’s post-adoption team first began constructing the Circle Back program, we knew that we wanted to do something different. Every summer at Holt Adoptee Camp, the campers share how much they love being at camp, but at the end of the week — when they go back home to their regular routine — they miss the conversations they have at camp with the older Adoptee counselors. So many of them share with us how much they wish they could continue talking with older Adoptees about different parts of their identity. So last summer, when camp season ended, I sat down with Steve Kalb, Holt’s director of post adoption services, to set about the task of trying to respond to this expressed need.
That’s when we came up with Circle Back.
Circle Back is a new post-adoption program at Holt that encourages and empowers Adoptees to return to their adoption story. Through this new program, led by Holt’s expert post-adoption team of Adoptees, we help youth Adoptees lay the foundation for healthy identify development, acknowledge and process different facets of their Adoptee and racial identities, and connect with older Adoptees in a way that is uniquely tailored to each Adoptee and family.
“Through Circle Back, we strive to help them talk about the complexity of their adoption stories and process through the deeper elements — helping them learn how to swim instead of tread water.”
Part of what makes Circle Back different from other post-adoption services for Adoptees is that it’s proactive in approach. Within the post-adoption services world, Steve and I find that many of the programs focus on meeting families when they are in or close to crisis. They are reactive. But through Circle Back, we aim to walk alongside Adoptees as they face challenges and questions at different points of their identity formation — addressing any issues head on, and providing support and guidance whenever, and wherever, they need it.
Using our experience with campers as a launching point, we combined our personal and professional expertise as adult Adoptees. It was almost immediately clear, even within the first few weeks of development, that this program would help Adoptees all over the country. Because we can all benefit from connection. And it was amazingly exciting to think and dream and start to put together a program that would serve so many.
Parents invest a lot into their children to help them become well-rounded. And as part of that investment, they regularly engage the mastery of others. I very clearly remember my mom endlessly shuttling me from soccer practice to youth group to swimming lessons to oboe lessons growing up. These were all things that my mom had some knowledge of, but had not mastered herself and therefore could not pass the skills on to me. In Post Adoption Services at Holt, we have developed a unique expertise of our own from working with Adoptees of all ages on a daily basis.
We are also Adoptees ourselves, and in that way, have lived a similar experience and grappled with the same issues of racial and Adoptee identity that many of the youth Adoptees we support have lived and grappled with themselves. We draw on this experience when we meet one on one with youth Adoptees. Through Circle Back, we strive to help them talk about the complexity of their adoption stories and process through the deeper elements — helping them learn how to swim instead of tread water.
For example, at the end of each session we give the Adoptees and their parents homework. They are responsible for sitting down together and answering questions that may be a little bit out of their comfort zones. All of the questions we have created stem from themes that we know that Adoptees are curious about — such as “when was the last time you thought about your birth/first family?” or, for their parents, “what kind of challenges have you had as an adoptive parent”? Giving them guided questions allows for Adoptees and families to try their hand at digging a little bit deeper into their adoption story. And when we give these homework questions, we also model how we ourselves as Adoptees would answer them. By modeling how we talk about more difficult topics like birth parents and racial identity, we help youth Adoptees see that these topics, although uncomfortable, can be talked about with confidence and they can begin to develop their own language to talk about how they feel.
Circle Back is meant to be a skill-building program for youth Adoptees — to help prepare and model communication skills around Adoptee identity. Facilitators spend time sharing adoption stories, use empowering language and model asking questions and giving space to topics that may be heavy. All of this is done in a flexible environment that is meant to meet Adoptees where they are. We play games, do adoption-themed mad libs, use multimedia clips and are present in our conversations in purposeful ways. It’s the next best thing to getting to work with Adoptees in person.
Being able to connect with Adoptees in this way is really awesome and the happy interruptions — like Aya making a sandwich during our call — are all joyful reminders of how Adoptee lives are always in motion. I’m very grateful that families and Adoptees choose to share and invest in their adoption identity through this program.
Caitlin Howe | Adoptee Programs Coordinator
Register today for the Circle Back program at holtinternational.org/pas/circle-back! We are so excited to be able to offer this program to Adoptees ages 5-18, who are all at different places in processing their Adoptee identity.