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  • Jeanette Yoffe, M.F.T.

What is the Adopt Salon Constellation Support Group?

Updated: Mar 26

"If you look at a tree from one angle, that's the only angle you are going to get!"

I say this many times in the Adopt Salon Constellation support group I formed 11 years ago and continue to facilitate today in Los Angeles, supported by Celia Center a non-profit organization I founded to support all members of the adoption constellation. The Adoption Constellation was a term coined by a psychologist, Michael Grand, which defined "anyone whose life is entwined with adoption is a member of the constellation." This includes first mothers, first fathers, adult adoptees, adoptive parents, siblings, relatives, and significant others in one room. I also add foster youth alumni, foster parents, kinship caregivers, and legal guardians, and those thinking about fostering and adopting a child. Yes, in one room!

Micheal Grand says in his book, The Adoption Constellation...
"Openness helps everyone in the adoption constellation. It heals relationships and helps to guide how the birth family is part of the adoptive family, and how the adoptive family is part of the birth family. We have to think of that relationship in both directions, which is different than a totally closed adoption where we pretend that the birth family never existed. This is why we need to think about the adoption constellation. The constellation includes all the people involved in the adoption experience: siblings, both birth and adopted, extended families, social workers, teachers, religious leaders and legislators. A constellation model allows for them all to influence the experience, and recognizes changes in relationships over time. Some may drift away, some may become closer."

So it all started in 2009, when I called a local adoption agency, Vista Del Mar, and asked if they would host a support group I named Adopt Salon Constellation. I wanted all who were involved in the system to be in a room together, with one another, hear each other’s story’s in an emotionally safe environment, with a non-biased facilitator, who could hold each different voice and point of view with respect and regard. This group was just as important for others, as it was for me. Because I also needed to see who was out there like me, a grown woman still managing the lifelong process of early trauma, loss, and separation as a former foster youth and adoptee.

And 60 people showed up! To the first group, it was shocking! I finally felt that I had found a “ real solution” to a “ real problem”. Adopt Salon. I could finally breathe. The support group was a success and became couples “date night” on the first Wednesday of every month. And still holds true today!

Goals of Adopt Salon:

#1: Bring everyone together- first mothers, first fathers, foster youth alumni, foster parents, kinship caregivers, legal guardians, adult adoptees, adoptive parents, siblings, relatives, and significant others in one room. Yes, I repeat, in one room!

#2: Provide a safe space to share each other’s story’s in an emotionally stable environment, with a non-biased facilitator, who could hold each different voice and point of view with respect and regard. Which was me, and could be any experienced child welfare professional who holds high regard for every star in the birth, foster, adoption constellation and who wants to help navigate the child welfare system.

#3: Create a list of safe and healthy boundaries. "We are here to share stories, thoughts, feelings, and ideas, receive psycho-education, process grief, and loss, build strong bonds and connections. There is no criticizing, judgment, or unsolicited advice given unless requested, when sharing all shares must be expressed in an "I message." If you have a question, that person has a right to respond or say "no thank you. You can also be an OWL - observe, watch, and listen so that your feelings can inform a proactive response, rather than a reactive response. And most importantly, understand there are many voices in child welfare, and many different points of view because..."

"If you look at a tree from one angle, that's the only angle you are going to get!"

How the group works:

We start by going around the group, each person states their name, their connection to adoption or foster care, say if they have any questions, pressing issues, or shares, so the facilitator can return back to them to open up a group discussion.

Common themes that come up are the struggles with parenting a child with early childhood trauma, helping them change the paradigm from "what's wrong with him to what happened to him?", understanding grief and loss for the adoptee and foster youth and first-birth mother or father, shifting the way first-birth mothers and fathers are perceived as people with their "own unmet mental health needs", and having the courage to acknowledge that we can and are grieving these losses together. And lastly, acknowledging this commonality will help us see the connection of what's truly "in the best interest for the child".

There are stories shared about mothers who were forced to surrender their children due to no fault of their own, and their families did not support them in keeping their child. There are stories of mothers, who genuinely wanted their children, who were not ready to be mothers, were also products of the foster care system and yet still wanted to be a part of their children's lives but not knowing how. Then we discuss open adoption and how that works. And teaching foster parents, how to convey their child's stories to them in an "age-appropriate way" and helping families who have not, still to this day, told their children they were adopted as infants. There are stories of foster youth alumni who ran away from home due to the abuse they endured and needed their foster families to understand how badly they were hurting and what they truly needed during those times.

There have also been special guests at Adopt Salon, representing different points of view, i.e. professionals who are also part of the constellation such as Marcy Axness, Marlou Russell, foster youth alumni, adult adoptees, and first mother Kelsey Stewart. These guests help to humanize and universalize these stories and make everyone understand they are not alone and there is help.

Where we are today:

The support group is held four times a year, on the first Wednesday of March, June, September, and December from 7-9 pm at Vista Del Mar Adoption Agency.

Starting in October and November, we will be hosting a new system of support, called Adopt Salon Open House, which is a bi-annual open house bringing together people in the foster care and adoption constellation with those outside the constellation who have an interest in the community including social workers, therapists, prospective adoptive or foster parents, among others. The mission of the open house is to increase awareness, facilitate community, and encourage dialogue in a minimally-structured, non-clinical environment. This format allows people to have private conversations with any member of the constellation, ask questions that they always thought about asking and never had the opportunity to do before breaking down the walls. Adopt Salon Open House was developed by our board member, Carra Greenberg, lawyer, and adult adoptee.

For 10 years now we have been learning, via Adopt Salon Constellation, how to break down the walls of the negative stigma, how to support one another with respect and compassion, and start saying “we and us” together, so we can be the constellation of change together, as a community.

In 2014, a study was conducted HERE on the efficacy of this group.

93% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that:

  • The support group increased their knowledge

  • 94% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that

  • The support group provided a safe place for them to share stories, thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

87% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that:

  • The support group provided opportunities for them to process grief and loss.

  • The support group provided them with opportunities to build strong bonds and connections with others.

91% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that:

  • They are able to understand themselves better because of this group.

96% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that:

  • They will recommend this group to others

Participants reported:

1. I understand my adopted daughter much more since coming to this group.

2. Priceless information regarding the emotional well-being of the adoption and foster community.

3. Being able to understand, relate, and talk to an adoptee and foster youth.

4. Learning how to approach upcoming reunion.

5. Developing better relationships and intimacy with family.

6. Gaining priceless and useful information regarding the emotional well-being of the adoption and foster care community.

7. I recommend the group to anyone in the adoption triad!

Jeanette founded the non-profit she named, Celia Center, after her first mother, Celia. Celia Center is a mental health center that meets the critical needs of all those connected by Foster Care and Adoption and all those who serve the community of Foster Care and Adoption in Los Angeles and beyond. Year-round, they host mental health conferences, trainings, workshops, support groups, arts festivals, family outings, and wolf healings.

For more information please visit Celia Center's website at www.CeliaCenter.org

Watch HERE what people say about Celia Center and Adopt Salon Constellation Support Groups
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