Holt President and CEO Phil Littleton shares how Holt’s pre- and post-adoption services for adoptees, birth parents and adoptive families have grown and evolved — becoming one of the cornerstones of our organization.
When international adoption began in earnest in the mid-1950s, it was entirely new territory. From the child welfare professionals who placed the first children, to the first families to adopt children from overseas, to the first generation of international adoptees, there truly was no real precedent for this model of building — and blending — family.
Needless to say, the concept — and need — for post-adoption services was not known in 1956. But as the first generation of Korean adoptees began to come of age, they naturally began to ask questions and to show an interest in exploring their past. In the years since, our post-adoption services have grown into one of the cornerstones of our organization — and our robust offerings continue to set us apart today.
Today, Holt continually strives to improve and expand our pre- and post-adoption programs and services — directing substantial resources to our post adoption services (PAS) department and seeking feedback from adoptees and families so as to better understand and respond to their needs. Insights from adoptees and families have also laid the groundwork for developing adoption-specific counseling with licensed clinical social workers, and today we offer individual and group therapy for both adoptees and parents.
With a dedicated team consisting of adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents working in the spectrum of post-adoption, Holt’s PAS department continues to assist more and more adoptees and parents every year — serving nearly 3,000 adoptees, birth parents and families in 2021 alone. Outreach is critical to our efforts, and we take every opportunity to inform adoptees and families about the services we offer — delivering presentations at adoption conferences and seminars across the country. We also strive to have an open dialogue with families and adoptees about how we can strengthen our services, and regularly hold panel discussions as an opportunity for adoptive families and adoption professionals to hear directly from adoptees. We have also extended outreach to college campuses, where Holt adoptee staff members have established a regular group for adoptees to meet, socialize and share their stories.
We recognize that telling their own stories is one of the most effective and meaningful ways adoptees and families can communicate their experience, and we strive to support their efforts. For example, contributing to a 2015 kickstarter campaign for “The Adopted Life,” a documentary produced by adoptee filmmaker Angela Tucker, who continues to amplify adult adoptee voices through short films, podcasts and an upcoming book, You Should Be Grateful. We also regularly invite adoptees, adoptive families and birth parents to share their thoughts and views on our blog and social media pages and in our e-newsletters. Stories written by and for adoptees are often our most popular blogs — a shift that reflects our deliberate efforts to share more of the diverse points of view that adoptees bring to the adoption conversation, as well as a strong and growing interest among our readers in hearing what they have to say.
Holt’s post-adoption services truly began, however, in the mid-1970s, when many early adoptees began to come of age and reach out to Holt for information and resources. Many expressed an interest in traveling to their birth countries, and in response, Holt developed the model for the first adoptee heritage tour. Today, tours are offered for adoptees from China, Korea, Mongolia and beyond — and not just through Holt, but multiple agencies and organizations.
While heritage tours provided an opportunity for adoptees to connect with their culture and past, discussions between our staff and the adoptees on the early tours exposed the need for a formalized outlet for adoptees to share experiences and discuss adoption. In response to this need, Holt pioneered the first summer camps exclusively for youth adoptees in 1983. Organized, implemented and led by adoptees themselves, the camps would provide a safe, supportive atmosphere for adoptees to talk openly about their experiences of growing up adopted. In the early years, the camps also provided an opportunity for adoptees to explore their cultural heritage. But culture became less of a focus in later years as our adoptee counselors and camp directors listened to the needs and wants of campers, many of whom expressed a greater interest in just spending time with fellow adoptees and in exploring issues such as identity and race. In 2005, our then-camp director worked with his team to redesign the focus of Holt’s adoptee camps from heritage and culture to building adoptee community.
Today, Holt Adoptee Camp has grown into a robust program serving hundreds of youth adoptees every summer at four locations across the country. Every year, on the last day of camp, a panel of adoptee counselors provides a forum for adoptive parents to ask questions and listen as the counselors share their thoughts and experiences.
As more adoptees reached adulthood, many also expressed an interest in searching for their birth families. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Holt had an informal process for assisting adoptees in their search, and most requests came from adoptees born in Korea or Vietnam — two countries where Holt developed early adoption programs. In later years, our staff began receiving requests for birth search assistance in other countries — and have assisted where and whenever possible, providing guidance, connections and access to resources that would aid adoptees in their search.
In the late 1990s, Holt developed an official PAS department and hired a licensed social worker to head up the newly formed department. Together, our staff at the time formalized Holt’s search and reunion process, implemented new policies and procedures, and developed support and education for birth parents, adoptees and adoptive parents, throughout their lives.
We also developed a detailed and continuously evolving curriculum for parents in the process of adoption to better prepare them for the complexities of parenting transracial adoptees. Among other things, parents learn how to talk to their children about their adoption, identity and racism, and gain skills to help their adopted child cope with grief and loss.
Today, we’ve expanded our parent education program into a three-phase curriculum that starts broad then focuses in on issues specific to each child and each family. Although the Hague requires a minimum 10 hours of parent education, parents in process with Holt spend about 35-40 hours engaged in the curriculum — with more tools and resources to take advantage of should they choose to go beyond the required course load.
Today, our pre- and post-adoption services are more robust than ever and have grown to include:
- Annual heritage tours for adoptees and adoptive families
- Youth and college groups for adoptees
- Annual summer camps for youth and teen adoptees
- Search and reunion services, free of charge
- File review and copy services
- Counseling services
- Pre-adoption parent education about adoptee identity, racism and the developmental effects of trauma and loss
- Adoption education resources like webinars, blogs and more, exploring topics as diverse as feeding issues common among adopted children to panel interviews with adopted teens
- Birth parent counseling and support, both domestic and international
- Assistance with citizenship and naturalization
- Independent travel assistance
- Background and historical information, whenever possible
- Intermediary correspondence between adoptive parents, birth parents, foster parents and/or adoptees, both domestic and international
- A blog series featuring birth mothers, adult adoptees, child development experts and other voices in adoption
- Family picnics and more
In the coming years, we know our post-adoption services will continue to grow. International adoption and child welfare is constantly changing, and the needs of one generation of adoptive families and adoptees will always look different from the next. The same is true of adoptees from different countries. Adoption is complicated. It will never be easy or perfect, but for many children it will remain the best route to a permanent family. And to families and adoptees, we will be there for you for your entire life — and we will listen and learn from your experiences in hopes of creating a better, stronger system of child welfare for future generations.
Phil Littleton | President & CEO
Mission Statement: Holt International’s Post Adoption Services department stands committed to serving all parties affected by adoption. Recognizing that relinquishment and adoption have lifelong effects, we seek to better understand and address the unique and varied needs of the people we serve, regardless of the role they play in adoption or their agency affiliation.
Holt Post Adoption Services
Holt offers lifelong support to all adoptees, adoptive families, birth parents, caregivers and others whose lives have been touched by adoption.