BHM: The founders of Adoptee Futures share their story
Co-Founders of Adoptee Futures
We know racism affects our mental wellbeing. And we also know that sometimes the voices of people from minority groups don’t get the same attention as others. That’s why for Black History Month 2022, Mental Health at Work will raising up Black voices, and asking our readers to listen and learn from these experts by experience.
In this blog, Annalisa S Toccara and Shania Ives share their story of starting a charity, and the challenges they faced as Black founders. They also discuss the important mission of Adoptee Futures, and how employers can support adult adoptees in the workplace.
Adoptee Futures is the first UK adoption organisation made by adopted people with adoptees at the centre. Adoptee Futures aims to help create a better future for adoption by reclaiming the adoption narrative, reframing the world’s view on adoption, and helping adult adoptees heal through their trauma to evolve into the best versions of themselves. Adoptee Futures is a registered mental health CIC and provides various training, workshops, support groups, coaching, and events.
We realised there was a massive lack of support for adopted people in the UK, mainly as adoption isn’t a monolithic experience, but so many adoptees experience many mental health issues that stem from being adopted, which is not spoken about in the societal narratives of adoption.
We chose to specifically centre the adoptee experience and raise awareness of theof adoption. Then in August 2021, the Adoption Barometer 2021 report published by Adoption UK stated that 54 percent of adoptees had sought mental health support between the ages of 16 and 25, with just a third of adoptees, including those aged over 25, receiving support.
After reading the report, we were motivated more to create healing communities and virtual spaces for adopted people to come and talk openly and honestly about what they are experiencing through being adopted. It can be lonely being an adoptee as not everyone understands the dualities of what it means to be adopted and it’s not always a comfortable experience raising questions in our families about our origin stories to avoid hurting them.
We have experienced a lot of racism and racial microgressions
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Being a CEO can be pretty challenging, as we are both Black women. We have experienced a lot of, particularly when setting up Adoptee Futures. And adopted people, even when they are adults, can still be viewed as adopted children – forever expected to be grateful for being adopted or treated as though we are still infants and don’t know anything.
We’ve had experiences of being the only Black women in a room and being treated differently to white colleagues in the sector, or met with skepticism when speaking about our lived experiences as Black adopted people. The microaggressions can be pretty subtle, but we notice it, especially as the transracial and Black adoptee experience vastly differs from being a white adoptee.
Being faced with racial microaggressions anddefiantly takes its toll on our mental wellbeing. As such, we prioritise taking breaks and resting, grounding ourselves with nature and people who care about us. We cope with it by either speaking about the experience with one another or by raising it when confronted with the issue.
If you are from a Black background and are thinking of starting your own organisation, we say go for it – but make sure you practice self-care and give yourself space and time to cope with the challenges you’ll face.
Adoption involves multiple traumas
Let’s talk about our charity, Adoptee Futures, and our mission.
Adoption is extremely complex and involves multiple traumas. The separation of a child from its primary caregiver is called developmental trauma. This can lead to issues with sensory development, dissociation, attachment development, behavioural and emotional regulation, cognition and identity development.
These issues can follow the adoptee into adulthood. Studies have found that adoptees often struggle with mental health more than their non-adopted peers, and that this causes adoptees to be 4x more likely to attempt. This mental distress can often be exacerbated by the dominant narrative that adoption is beautiful. Adoptees are often told that they should be grateful and face adoption microaggressions and stigmatisations as people feel the need to tell adoptees what they believe they should or shouldn’t do. For example many adoptees have been told they shouldn’t look for their birth families, but oh the other hand they are also told that they are not their adoptive families’ ‘real children’.
Adoptee Futures believes that all organisations and workplaces should provide their employees with trauma-informed training. This training allows managers and workers to recognise the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledge the role that it may have in their employee’s life. Without this type of training, adoptees risk being re-traumatized at work.
Many everyday conversations can be triggering for adoptees. For example, conversations about names or birthdays may trigger many adoptees who might not know their birth name or birthday. For transracial adoptees, assumptions about their culture can be triggering. For example, assuming a Black Jamaican woman can cook excellent rice and peas because her mother must have taught her may be triggering for a Black adoptee who grew up in a white household. At the same time, it is the adoptee’s responsibility to heal and work through their triggers.
Providing trauma-informed training may make workplaces more understanding and accept those living with the consequences of developmental trauma.