Considering the rapid and ongoing development of the field of post-adoption services, none of the inquiries conducted within this study can be considered definitive. Many promising programs have yet to be documented in the literature, and our case studies included only a few of the well-regarded programs currently in operation. Much work remains to be done before program and administrative data achieve their potential for describing the experience of adoptive families.
Based on this incomplete evidence, we can nevertheless make some early observations on what is known with respect to the studys research questions:
- What is the extent of need for PAS?
- What are the characteristics of existing PAS programs?
- How are PAS programs assessing their effectiveness?
From this base, we suggest a framework of strategies to move the field forward. These represent research, policy, and practice directions for consideration at the federal, state, and program levels.
A general caveat to these observations is that available data have rarely addressed the experiences of families with subsidized guardianship arrangements. As states expand their use of subsidized guardianship, these families will become an important part of the population of adoptive families. To the extent that their needs differ from other adoptive families, PAS programs may need to develop new approaches to reaching and serving these families.
6.3 How Are PAS Programs Assessing Their Effectiveness?
Evaluations of PAS programs are fairly rare in the published literature, and many well-regarded programs are strikingly limited in their evaluation activities. Among the reasons for this deficit are the relative newness of the field, the ongoing evolution of treatment models and service classifications, program models that tailor services to family needs rather than following predefined protocols, and a lack of evaluation experience among program staff. Three basic strategies could substantially advance evaluation development.
6.4 Research Agenda for PAS
PAS has been something of a handcrafted field, in which dedicated advocates and managers developed creative approaches to families needs. Sustaining these programs over the long term, however, would require a solid knowledge base that complements the dedication and creativity that have fueled it to date. The questions and tasks outlined in the previous sections, while ambitious and broad-ranging, could be addressed with a fairly modest set of interrelated research and evaluation activities:
- Conduct a population-based survey of adoptive families. Such a survey would include information on adoption history, family and child functioning, service and subsidy experience, and current needs. It should include kinship adoptive families, and ideally would include families formed by private and international adoptions.
- Create an evaluation tool kit. An expert committee working with experienced evaluators could identify standardized service classifications, a model data set for compilation of data on families served and services provided, and a recommended set of measures for assessment and outcome evaluations. This would reduce the burden of program evaluation and create a common language allowing programs and jurisdictions to share and compare experience.
- Develop evidence-based models. Models for clinical interventions with adoptive families could build on approaches that have proved effective with similar populations. Use of a systematic approach to research and development would ensure both credibility of the field and wise investment of future program resources.
- Sponsor in-depth evaluations. Evaluations of well-regarded PAS programs should include qualitative and quantitative approaches and analysis of program organization, cost, and effectiveness. Intensive study of a developed program will build understanding of interactions between program and context and will identify lessons for development and implementation in other jurisdictions.
- Provide evaluation incentives and technical assistance. Managers and providers dedicated to serving families are unlikely to engage in evaluation without funds earmarked for that purpose. Use the standardized measures and data set described above to reduce the burden of evaluation while building staff capacity to collect, analyze, and use data for program improvement.
- Established a web-based compendium of PAS activities. A simple interface could facilitate compilation of information on activities across states and jurisdictions, tracking services provided, program models, funding streams used, and promising developments. This will facilitate rapid sharing of knowledge among programs with common goals and challenges.