2015 Student Grant Award Recipient


Caroline Harkins McCarty, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2015 recipient)

Statement of Purpose: This qualitative research study examines the occupations of families who 30. have adopted older children (ages 5-17) with special needs from foster care. The study was undertaken to explore and describe: 1. How do adoptive families develop and enact occupations together? 2. Which family occupations are meaningful, and facilitate family well-being? 3. What social and environmental supports and barriers are important to adoptive families’ enactment of occupation? The study aims to address a critical gap in the (overwhelmingly quantitative) body of adoption scholarship. Limited qualitative adoption research has addressed child or family experiences, and few studies have focused on the whole family, incorporating the perspectives of adopted children and their siblings (Finet). Finally, this study aims to contribute understandings of the development and importance of family occupations, from an occupational science perspective, to help adoption professionals support families and achieve stable, permanent homes for children in foster care. Permanent placement, including adoption, is currently a key United States goal for children in foster care. Although permanency outcomes show a general trend of improvement over time, this is less true for children with disabilities and those over age twelve. Improving adoption outcomes for older children with disabilities will require improved understanding of the supports, barriers, and family occupations that promote positive outcomes.

Description of Methods: Participants: 3 American families who have adopted older children (5- 17) with special needs from foster care. Data Collection: Collaborative ethnography (interviews, observations, thick description); supplementary photovoice to facilitate child participation. Data analysis will be conducted using Narrative Analysis methods.

Report of Results: Pilot study findings: 1) photovoice methods were a useful way to help children with special needs talk about family occupations and adoption; 2) finding mutually enjoyable occupations was an important part of bonding, and sense of well-being, after adoption. Preliminary results from the larger dissertation study (in progress at the time of abstract submission) will be discussed at the conference.

Implications Related to Occupational Science: Results may identify important family occupations, supports and barriers in special needs adoptive families; enrich scholarly understandings of how occupations develop within families; expand OS perspectives and research beyond biological notions of family; and inform occupational therapy practice with adoptive families. These aims are relevant to SSO objectives of exploring and expanding knowledge of occupation, and studying the interrelationship of OS and OT.

Key Words: Families, Adoption, Photovoice

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