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Adoption Dynamics

Deena McMahon on Adoption

The process of adoption affects every phase of a child’s developmental life. Successful outcomes in adoption work require a professional with specialized training and experience. I am recognized as a national expert on adoption for both parents and children. I work with domestic and international adoptees and their adoptive families to resolve their unique and often challenging problems. My presentations include a training with Dr. Greg Keck from the Ohio Treatment Center at the North American Council on Adoptable Children's all day pre-conference workshop entitled, "Adoption Competency for Mental Health Professionals."

Every kid deserves a family. And there is no such thing as too late. Emotional and mental health problems are typically best resolved in the context of relationships with other human beings — specifically families. A person’s relationship with self, family and community at large comes into play in the treatment process.

I intervene throughout the continuum of adoption services. I take the deep-end child welfare cases — the really hard cases. I work with the kids while they are still in their birth families, and when and if they end up in foster care. I’m often asked to meet and interview prospective adoptive families. I work with kids in their placements in post-adoption services.

I am hired by social services agencies, birth parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, guardians ad litem, attorneys, and adoption agencies. I've been doing this since 1981.

My adoption work includes:

  • Contested placements:When children become state wards, it is not uncommon to have one or more a distant, unknown relatives come forward and claim rights to the child. I assess the new relative(s) the current foster/adopt placement and the child/children. I render an opinion and am able to support it in court.
  • Disruptions: I am often asked to diagnose and consult on cases where either the social service agency or the placement family is asking for a particular child to be removed from their home. I assess the situation and weigh the harm of moving a child vs. the harm of leaving a child in a negative or ineffective environment.
  • Family Dissolutions: Termination of parental rights in adoption is highly controversial and not a desired outcome. There are times, however, when the child is simply not able to remain in the family home either because of lack of parental capacity, safety reasons or because it's simply a bad fit and no bond or attachment has formed between parent and child.

In these cases, I assess the child and the family, including siblings and all other children in the home. I determine who would be harmed if the child moved or stayed. I look at the history and make recommendations for best possible outcomes for all concerned.

Success in this area is where people are able to achieve a level of functioning consistent with their capacity. Lots of people have the capacity to do well but don’t. For some children, success is stabilization. My goal is to help them achieve their developmental milestones to the extent possible by working with both the child and the parents. It’s the relationship between the parent and the child that is the treatment diad.

That involves working with parents to gain a better understanding of adoption and lifelong grief/loss challenges for entire family.

"I like the idea that by the end of the day I've made some sort of difference." — Deena McMahon, MSW,  ICSW