March 23, 2017

Adoptee Mentorship: Why Is It So Important?

A Child’s Song is passionate about providing mentorship opportunities to adoptees. This passion evolved through our countless discussions with teenage, young adult and adult adoptees who describe with intensity their longing to be around others who ‘get it.’ They shared with us their stories of the profound emotional connection they discovered the first time they really talked with another adoptee and how rare these experiences were for them. This makes a lot of sense.

A child’s social world is limited by geography, socioeconomic status and immediate (or in some cases larger extended) families. In a perfect world, these contexts would naturally offer our children opportunities to be with others that share similar experiences; however, the reality is that for many adoptees, these contexts do not. So when that first experience of connection with someone “like me” happens for an adoptee, it is memorable! Both research and our experiences in working with adoptees have informed us that these kinds of experiences promote healthy identity development and positive mental health for adoptees. We wanted to facilitate more opportunities for these kinds of connections with both peer and older adoptees who “get it.”

One of the programs we have designed for adoptees is our Girls Mentorship Group which is specifically created for female adoptees ages 9 to 12.  This unique opportunity allows young female adoptees to explore their own adoption story as well as hear adoption stories from both peers and mentors. There is a therapeutic component to the group that provides a safe environment for participants who might decide to delve into tricky emotional terrain. Girls will receive insightful feedback from an adoption-trained therapist throughout the sessions.  

Initial screening of registrants ensures that participants have a reasonably secure attachment with their parents, are able to manage the emotional content with group support and have expressed an interest in their adoption story. Mentors are chosen for each group cohort to reflect the diversity of current registrants on relevant factors such as international versus local adoption, infant versus older child adoption and degree of openness with the birth family. We have had the pleasure of working with some amazing young women who bring incredible diversity and personal insight to the process. Parents of participants are provided with information about the different ways children may respond to the group process and how to be supportive. Parents are also given the option of connecting with the therapist between group sessions if they are concerned about their child.

The structure of the first session of the group experience allows the girls to get to know each other and also allows the therapist to establish safety and connection between participants. Each subsequent week, the girls meet a new mentor who engages them in a fun activity that is interesting and meaningful to the mentor. We have had some amazingly creative mentors introducing the girls to creative story-telling, yoga, fitness, music making and other creative arts. We use two spaces for the group experience: an activity space that allows for movement, creativity and opportunity to do things that might get a little messy and a comfy area with couches and chairs for discussion.

After the initial introductions and activity time with the mentor, the therapist transitions the girls into listening to the mentor’s story. The girls are invited to ask the mentor questions about her experiences. Participants then have an opportunity to talk about how the mentor’s story relates to their own. For example, during one session, participants asked a mentor, “What was the hardest part of being adopted for you?” When the mentor discussed what was hard for her, there was an opportunity for the girls to find validation and identification in the common struggles. It inspired a deeper level of sharing about what was “hard.”

During the sessions, there are opportunities to find both similarities and differences in the stories shared. Adoptees came to realize they are not alone in their complex emotional experiences.  The therapist noticed after several sessions that participants incorporated the empathy they had been provided while sharing their own story or concerns into the questions and comments they offered to mentors and peers. This lead to a deeper level of connection between the girls.

The feedback we have received from mentors, participants and parents has been both encouraging and heart-warming. We were most honoured by the responses from our mentors. These young women gave of their time and allowed themselves to be vulnerable with a group of children they had never met before and then thanked us for giving them the opportunity.

Parents reported that their children appeared more confident in discussing their adoption story.

“As a parent, my daughter loved this group! It was so great for her to feel “safe” in sharing her story, and it brought so many questions to her mind about her own story. She finally felt she had the ability to ask these questions”(comment from the parent of participant).

 “My daughter never felt open to share with us the questions nagging at her heart about her adoption story.  This group helped her see and understand that it was safe to ask questions.  She no longer felt alone in being adopted” (comment from the parent of a participant).

Girls reported to the group therapist directly that “it felt good to be with other kids like me.” They also reported that our snacks were on point. We consider that a big win! When parents were asked in a survey how their daughters felt about their group experience, we received the following feedback:

“She liked meeting girls that were ‘just like her.”
“She loved everything about it: the discussions, the crafts, and sharing stories!” 
“She said the people were so welcoming and friendly.” 
“She asked ‘Can I go next time too, Mom?“  

There are many different ways to encourage mentorship, and not all mentorship programs require a therapeutic component. Each program can be specifically designed to meet the needs of a small group of children or youth. Last year, A Child’s Song offered a Boys Mentorship group that operated from a completely different model. This program focused on a few key mentors who attended each group session, and over six weeks provided skills training in several different sporting activities followed by a less formal discussion component. There are also thriving community groups such as Akoma that incorporate a valuable mentorship component for children in transracial families.

Adoptees are telling us that mentorship and connection with others who have had similar experiences are healing. It’s important that we come together as an adoption community and meet these needs in whatever ways we can. If you have adoption mentorship ideas or requests, we would love to hear from YOU.

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