AVSI’s proposal to accompany children and expectant couples on the international adoption journey

The speech by Daniela Bertolusso, Desk Manager for international adoptions in Philippines with AVSI at the “Philippine Global Consultation on Child Welfare Services” conference in Manila

Countries Italy
Date 12.10.2023
Author by Daniela Bertolusso, Desk Manager AVSI international adoptions in Philippines

From 10 to 12 October, the 17th Philippine Global Consultation on Child Welfare Services sponsored by the National Authority for Child Care, which also serves as the Central Authority on Intercountry Adoption in the Philippines, took place in Manila.

AVSI, a body authorised by the Intercountry Adoption Commission, was called upon to present an intervention on training preparation of expectant couples, post-adoption accompaniment of families and awareness-raising in civil society on the issue of adoption.

Intervention by Daniela Bertolusso, Desk Manager for international adoption in Philippines with AVSI

A few years ago my son, in front of a group of aspiring adoptive families ready to start a training course, asked aloud: "Mum, do you trust these people?". I do not remember exactly what I answered; I only remember a feeling of terrible embarrassment and the silence that fell in the classroom; I had been forced by circumstances to take him with me to work and I was bitterly regretting it.

Come to think of it, a seven-year-old's naive question was neither naive nor embarrassing. His voice echoed the voice of the children for whom we were looking for a family.

That question, asked by a child on behalf of other children, represents the goal and the challenge for anyone involved in training and accompanying couples preparing to welcome a child through adoption.

What can and must we do so that children can trust and rely on totally unknown people, whom others have chosen as their parents? How can we come to trust these adults to the point of consigning a child's life and future into their hands?

What roads do we have to travel in order to start from maximum foreignness (being born and raised on different continents) to maximum intimacy (becoming a family)?

What tools can help adults rise to the level of a child's expectations, dreams, needs and rights? How can we help them to accompany him/her in his/her growth, with awareness and with respect for the history of which he/she is the bearer?

These are the questions AVSI has tried to answer, professionally but also with a touch of creativity.

The path of intercountry adoption in Italy

I will not go into the process that people wishing to accept a child through adoption face in Italy; I will limit myself to a few remarks. In Italy, prospective adoptive parents must undergo an initial assessment by a team of social workers and psychologists. Before or during this assessment they attend information and preparation days. Only at the end of this phase are they declared suitable - or unsuitable - to receive a child for adoption by a panel of judges and experts in the psychological, social and pedagogical fields. At that point, Italian adoption seekers can turn to the recognised organisation that will accompany them to meet the child in his or her country of birth, an organisation such as AVSI.

The role of authorised institutions for the training of expectant couples in Italy

It is therefore up to us to perform the delicate task of helping would-be parents to gradually detach themselves from the abstract idea of the child for whom they have been recognised as eligible for adoption, to help them make room and welcome, first in their minds and then in their lives, the real child who will call them "mum and dad".

This is the objective of the preparation and training courses that authorised Italian agencies offer from the moment the couple formally entrusts itself to them and throughout the waiting period.
These are paths that lead to the consolidation of existing parenting skills and to the maturation of a wider readiness to accept children arriving in Italy today for intercountry adoption.

I would like to take the opportunity represented by this important international meeting to point out not only to the National Authority for Child Care, but also to all the Central Authorities present, that the Italian Central Authority has been working in these months to draw up the Guidelines for the training provided by authorised Italian agencies to couples waiting to adopt. The aim is to ensure that all aspiring Italian parents, regardless of the agency they are represented by in the country, have received basic training that is homogeneous in terms of content, tools and quality. I am a direct witness to this commitment, as AVSI is also called to sit at that working table representing other Italian accredited agencies.

The commitment to entrusting training to experienced professionals in intercountry adoption, mostly belonging to the psychological area, is already shared. Equally shared is the focus on the real child: life contexts, past history and its reverberations in the present and future (adverse and traumatic experiences, attachment styles, emotional and cognitive effects), special needs, ethnic identity. The couple, with its potential and resources, is activated through individual and group meetings: confrontation in a group dimension and exercises alternating with the conductor's theoretical contributions prove to have greater impact and effectiveness.

At AVSI, these contents and tools represent the "secure base", the fixed roots from which other training and accompaniment projects have sprouted.

Today, adoption asks us to give citizenship and space to different tools, different languages, different points of view. I have purposely avoided the adjective "new": we have not created anything. We have given different values and functions to something that already existed, learning how to apply them to preparing for adoption in a more conscious and appropriate manner.

AVSI's training proposal for expectant couples

Our training proposal has easily identifiable fulcrums:

  • the value of narration: learning to tell and tell oneself in order to make the other feel free to tell and tell oneself
  • the active role of people with an adoptive background not as witnesses, but as subjects in the training and accompaniment of adoptive couples and families
  • attention to the origins and intercultural dimension of intercountry adoption
  • the recognition and care of stories and emotions

And there also lies the essence of our work: we are keepers of stories and weavers of belonging.

All this without a pinch of creativity would not be AVSI's proposal. We have called this collection of paths "the workshop - and not the factory - of ideas" precisely to convey the concept of the "tailor-made" for adoption, perhaps not aesthetically perfect but perfectly effective.

The educational offer

We start from narration as a tool, from words as a vehicle and instrument of personal and cultural transformation. In giving the 'right' words to adoption, we believe it is essential to start by deconstructing the stereotypes and prejudices that accompany it in everyday life ("But do you miss your REAL parents?"). Among the tools we use are illustrated books. Children's books are rarely 'just' readings for children. They are for adults who read them with them. They are for teachers who propose them in the classroom. They are for grandparents who are told "Will you tell me a story?". They are the starting point for new stories, new narratives. They are possibilities for mirroring. They are the way to give words to those words that cannot find their way out on their own.

To complement the more traditional paths, we design initiatives that recognise the value of storytelling as a tool, give an active role to people with an adoptive background, enhance the anthropological approach and the intercultural dimension of intercountry adoption, address the issue of identity and the relationship with origins, contribute to the deconstruction of stereotypes

Let us turn to the narration made by the protagonists of adoption: the adopted people. The aim is to introduce expectant couples and adoptive families to listening to a sincere, constructive, not sweetened but not pessimistic narrative of different adoption stories. As Francisca, one of our adult adoptees of Filipino origin, says, "Growing up, I discovered that adoption means adoption.

How many times have we read in the poster advertising an adoption-related event 'With the testimony of XY, adopted by…'? We believe that people with an adoptive background should have a different and more active role; they are not 'witnesses' to their story, they are the protagonists of it.

We have the good fortune to have at our side a group of adult adoptees who, after working for years internally in a dynamic confrontation between very different stories and experiences in their beginnings and outcomes, have made themselves available to be 'guides' for expectant couples, for families already formed, for operators, for young adoptees. From year to year, we have chosen to develop cycles of meetings in which the reflection of adult adoptees has helped families to work on their strengths and weaknesses to be supported, facilitating the mirroring that young adoptees often struggle to find in the world around them.

An Italian poet I love very much writes 'Do not ask us for the word that squares on every side our formless soul, and in letters of fire declare it'. We believe in the value of narration, but the narration of emotions often requires different languages, such as poetry: prose is not enough. We need to recognise, legitimise, name the emotions that children, adolescents, young adults, but also parents feel. This is how we have tried.

Although I do not have a passion for gardening, I am very clear about the fact that if I move a plant from one garden to another, I have to be careful not to cut off its roots and I have to take some of the original soil with me, to allow the plant to establish itself and grow strong in its new environment. This is not a very original comparison to describe a series of activities that we organise to introduce and nurture the roots of children who arrive for adoption on different levels. When they grow up, many will feel stretched between a double belonging, engaged in the construction of a dynamic balance between past and future.

An Italian jurist has defined the adoptive family as a family that is not substitutive, but CONSECUTIVE: a family that arrives 'after', that welcomes a child with a history, memories, affections, nostalgia for people, sounds, smells and tastes. A family that must be aware that identity cannot be fragmented, that must recompose in unity - even painstakingly - past, present and future.

Among the various initiatives AVSI runs, there is a project aimed at preparing and accompanying the return journey to the country of origin for groups of children and young adults, with or without parents, focused for now on Lithuania. It is an experience that in the future could also involve those born in the Philippines; in this hypothesis we hope to be able to avail ourselves of the valuable advice of the NACC at every stage of the planning and implementation.

When we say that our task is to weave together stories and belonging, we are referring both to cultural belonging and to links between generations. That is why we pay attention both to the intercultural dimension of international adoption and to the preparation of the extended family and especially grandparents, who often play an active role in the daily lives of children in Italy.

Our passion for this service drives us to look for other tools and other languages: that is why we take care of the dissemination of photographic exhibitions; we are fascinated by the possibility of narrating through images, of emphasising the body and differences, of finding useful suggestions in the world of superheroes as well. The data tell us that today it is the slightly older children who are calling on us, and we will use all our energy to ensure that there are parents ready to welcome them.