Together by AGCI is a brand new podcast from the creative team at All God’s Children International.


Subscribe on your favorite platform!

Episode 73

How To Create Connected Foster and Adoptive Families

Dr. Jana Hunsley, Assistant Professor of Instruction at University of Texas Dallas and Executive Director of Project 1025

You are listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Melissa Rush. Today, we’re chatting with Dr. Jana Hunsley about how to create connected foster and adoptive families. Dr. Hunsley is an Assistant Professor of Instruction at University of Texas Dallas and studies family trauma, adoptive sibling support, and adoption therapeutic interventions. She’s also the Executive Director of Project 1025, which offers effective resources to create connected foster and adoptive families. Dr. Hunsley has a unique perspective. She studies family systems and experiences the effects of adoption firsthand when her parents adopted her seven youngest siblings. Let’s get into our conversation.

Well, we are so excited to welcome Dr. Jana Hunsley to the podcast. Thank you so much for being here, Jana. Thanks. I’m happy to be here. Can you just start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your story? Sure, yeah. I’d probably go back to like when I was a teenager, to really make sense of why I’m doing what I’m doing. So I, my family adopted when I was the first, for the first time when I was 16 years old. And so that really brought me into the space of the adoption foster care community. And so I, yeah, that experience as a 16-year-old completely changed my life. We, it was, I was 16, and we brought home three little boys from Taiwan who were six-year-old twins and a five-year-old.

And I was on a very different path in my life before they came home. And then it just completely shifted because I was just exposed to all of the realities and complexities of adoption and foster care. And so from there I really decided I wanted to become a post-adoption therapist. I wanna help families after adoption. I remember as a teenager with my siblings thinking so often, like I don’t know why I deserve the life that I got, and they deserve the life they got. You know, like neither one of us did anything to deserve the stories that were written for us. And I think it just made me so passionate about children who are involved in these systems and who are adopted or in foster care or in institutions. And so, yeah, really just wanted to devote my career, my work to that. So I have, I’ve done a lot of, been in a lot of different settings and a lot of different work. I became a post-adoption therapist. That’s what I did from the very beginning. So I worked with families who were struggling after adoption. Yeah. And then from there did research, training, teaching, writing, all sorts of things. All in the realm of adoption and foster care. Wow, that’s amazing. Just how you took that kind of really pivotal moment in your life, and then, it has kind of informed everything going forward.

I think you can kind of, you know, some people maybe would have a difficult experience and like turn away from that that, and it sounds like you just really turned towards, why specifically did you decide to study the siblings of adopted children? I mean, obviously you identified with that group, but I’d love to hear more about that. Yeah, so as I said, I started, I mean, my career was, I planned to be fully focused on the adopted or foster child. Like that was where my heart was. That’s where my focus was because of what I experienced in my family. And then I became a post-adoption therapist and one of the first families that I did an intake assessment for, they, I, I was in their, I still remember, like I was in their home chatting with the family, chatting with the caregivers about what their needs were, how to best support them in this process. And they had several children who were adopted or who were in foster care. And they had one child that was biologically theirs. And I remember they sat there looking around the room, watching them interact. And I thought, there is something so familiar about this son, their biological son. And I couldn’t figure out what, because I had never met them before. Yeah.

And I sat there and I real, and it wasn’t until I left their home and realized what felt so familiar about him was that he was me in so many ways. Wow. And that really started the process for me of, as I kept working with so many of these families post adoption, realizing that like what I thought was a very unique experience for me, my struggles, my like grief and loss and frustrations and just like the heartache of my role in my family, I thought was because I have seven adopted siblings who all came home within four years. There’s a big age gap. There’s a lot of trauma. So like, there’s a lot of things like, this is why my experience was so hard. And then I started working with these families and being in their homes, watching these families interact and realizing this, my story’s not unique to me and this is something that is pervasive no matter the structure of the family, and yet no one’s talking about it and there’s not any resources for them. And so over time I eventually kind of like families would come saying, I know how to help my adopted child, but I’m really struggling with my biological child. Like they’re not doing well, but I don’t know how to support them. And really through that, realizing there are no resources and no one’s talking about this. And so I seen that.

I really wanted to kind of research it more because I didn’t wanna just take my experience and say, Hey, this is the experience of all siblings. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And generalize my story. And so yeah, really just wanted to study that experience more. And so I decided to go back to school and get my doctorate degree in experimental psychology and really hoping to just start the dialogue and the conversation about the sibling experience in foster and adoptive families. Yeah. And this, there’s such a gap there because, and I mean, understandably when most people are thinking about adoption, they’re focused on adoptive parents and they’re focused on the child that’s coming home. The siblings, you know, unfortunately seem to be kind of an afterthought of ki you know, the kids that are already in the home. So I mean, it sounds like you kind of realized pretty quickly that there was a big gap in resources there. And then how did you decide that okay, like that’s that’s where I need to be focused. Like that’s the, this is a spot I need to fill. Yeah, I think, I mean, when I first realized the gap, I still remember this experience because I meanly like living it as a sibling. I, you know, knew that like, why is nobody asking me how I’m doing? Like why was nobody recognized that this is affecting me? I live in this home, I’m part of this family.

But it actually was in, when I was in TBRI training to become a practitioner. Yeah. I remember sitting there throughout the week and hearing, like getting all the training and realizing like everything was so focused on the child. And I remember thinking about in my family, like, there are 12 children, I’m one of 12, there’s seven adopted. And I thought, like, what about the rest of the family? Like what about how this is affecting the whole family system? And just realizing like, nobody’s talking about this, this isn’t something that we are like, no one’s addressing the actual like whole system. It’s still is so much on the parent and that child, which was then just like such a, a gift to be able to go and study at the Care and Purpose Institute and really add on that like whole family system piece to what is TBRI. And so I think for me it really like that wanting to really focus on addressing that gap at first was I, I was really just like, I wanna start the dialogue around siblings. And I didn’t really anticipate anything beyond that.

But what I found when I started my, the sibling research was that the siblings were kind of like the missing puzzle piece because we so often focus on that the child and then the parent-child relationship, but really just for the parent relationship to heal the child, not necessarily on like how the parents affected. Yeah. And when I studied the siblings, I realized, and I think a lot of it had to do with like me having to write a lot of research papers on this. And so I had to think about like, what theories are informing my work and what am, how am I looking at this? And I realized they were really this missing puzzle piece. And when I put that sibling experience into the realm of what was happening in the family, I realized that there’s this whole family experience and that I don’t wanna address address the siblings because that’s not necessarily helpful because then these parents who are already overwhelmed and unsupported and feeling so hopeless are now like, okay, well now I have to do this for my biological child, this for my adopted child. And so I really took on like a family lens in terms of how do we help the entire family system.

And so yeah, really just like, I think that like the siblings where I just anticipated, I’m just gonna focus here and this is gonna be my work really expanded to be actually let’s look at the entire family and how do we support every single member of this family system. And I got to help at the institute co-create Hope Connection 2.0, which is a therapeutic family camp. So it’s from Dr. Karen Purvis’s original Hope Connection. And we made it a family version. And so I think as I was doing all this research, I also was having so much hands-on experience doing caregiver training and sibling trainings and family trainings at these camps, and just seeing how much of a change can happen for these families when we’re addressing the entire family and not just the child. It intuitively makes so much sense to look at to each, to look at each member of the family. But you know, I think it’s kind of almost like when there’s an emergency, you’re looking at like, what, you know, where are we lose, where are we losing blood? Like where, where do we need to like stop the, the problem immediately? And I think, or not problem, but you know, the, the person how, how, how can we help the person who’s struggling the most? And so I think that’s why we tend to focus on, you know, the adopted child who’s coming home.

But then it’s like, okay, once the things are stabilized, like how do we look at everybody else who, you know, is affected by this huge life change? So can you tell us a little bit about Project 1025 and and how you support families through that? Yeah, so Project 1025 actually came out of my research. So I actually, for my dissertation study, I created an online intervention for fam like post-adoption, therapeutic family intervention that families could do from their homes. They didn’t need to involve a professional. And I had done that really because of the, the research that I had been doing just in terms of seeing families need these accessible supports. And there’s so little out there and there’s not a lot of adoption competent professionals who are trauma informed and really understand the complexity of what these families are facing. And so I wanted to create something that was accessible knowing like how chaotic and stressful family life can be an adoptive family because I lived it. And so creating something that was easy and could really lead to some lasting change in a family system. And so yeah, decided like, I wanna make this online intervention. And then I studied like throughout the, it was just an like late 2019 really developing this intervention and then 2020 hit and oh gosh. And I actually did this study in summer of 2020.

And so it was at a, like the height of when families couldn’t access resources. And then I have this online intervention that I’m using with families and it’s a, it was a four week series that I, so it was like every week there’s a couple hours of, or really like about one hour, one or two hours of work for families to do was self-paced. And by the end of it, I was shocked at the results of my study because it was at a time where as a society, families were struggling so much, there was so much mental health issues, relationship conflict, so much stress. And somehow my families that participate in this study had reductions in conflict and stress and improved wellbeing and improved relationship quality. And I think it really, for me, again, as I was digging into all the literature about family, but then also seeing the results of my study, recognizing that like if we actually address the whole family system and provide accessible, practical supports to families, then everyone in the family can have improvements. So it’s not like, oh, we have to just focus on the adopted child to help them, but actually if we help the whole family, it will help the adopted child. Yeah. And everyone else. And the whole family system build connection. And I was just shocked at how quickly, and within four weeks these families just experienced such change in their systems.

And so really from that and realizing, like knowing the gaps in just resources and supports for families, I really took that intervention and then created product 1025, which really the name comes from October 25th, which is the day that my siblings came home from a through adoption. And so really just like wanting to provide those supports and resources to families in a way that my family didn’t have back then. And so we offer, mainly offer individualized coaching and counseling. So a lot of caregiver coaching, also like sibling support. So coaching sessions for siblings who are struggling, whether they’re still in the home or later in life struggling just with what their, what their experience was, trauma counseling, and then just a lot of free resources. And the connected family series, the intervention I did for my dissertations also, I’m part of Project 1025. And so really the whole focus of it was really, okay. I, I’ve lived this, like I know how difficult life can be within adoptive families and I’ve counseled families for years. I’ve studied this, I’ve developed these therapeutic interventions, and I really wanna provide accessible supports to families that are actually effective and are actually actually going to produce lifelong change for this family system. Wow. I mean, that is amazing work and also just crazy that in just, you know, what, four weeks a month, you’re seeing just complete transformation and people are in a better place.

Especially, I mean, you couldn’t have had a crazier time for this to kind of roll out into the world, like given just all the, you know, extra stress on top of regular life. That’s incredible. Thank you for doing, doing that. I mean, it’s just, I’m excited to see how, you know, like the ripple effect of that over the years. And you know, I think when other people, when you find healing yourself and like are able to, like, it doesn’t just affect the family, it affects everyone you’re interacting with in your life. Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Which is really cool. So for someone listening to this right now who maybe they are in the adoption process preparing to bring a child home, do you have any advice, like what can they do to prepare before they bring their child home to kind of set themselves up for, you know, a healthy transition? Yeah. Oh, so many things. I think the biggest thing is education. I think there, I do a lot of trainings for organizations or for like caregiver support groups. And one of the things that they always say is, I wish I would’ve had this information before we adopted or before we fostered. Like, this is fantastic, but I just wish I would’ve been prepared more.

And in one of my research studies that I did, looking at like really looking at having sibling voices be raised in it and really looking at what could have made your experience better. And hundreds of adults that were adoptive siblings, our adoptive siblings participate in this study. And one of the things they said was that they also wish they would’ve had some type of support or preparation before. And so I think that it, that education really just starts with the acknowledgement that this is going to affect everyone in the family and in both positive and negative ways. This is just the reality of it because you’re bringing trauma into your system and so it’s going to shake out all of the dysfunction within the family system that maybe isn’t as apparent, but it’s gonna become apparent when you bring trauma in. And so part of it is just that awareness around this is going to affect everyone, so let’s talk about it and let’s acknowledge that it’s gonna affect everyone. Let’s prepare for how this might affect us. So I think that education piece is key. Just the awareness around, it’s not just about, like, I remember when I, I mean I was 16 years old, we were bringing home my first siblings and I thought, oh, we’re just adding three children into the family. Like it’s, nothing’s really gonna change. We’re just have three more people.

I didn’t realize that absolutely everything about my family and about my life changed. And, and so I think it’s just the acknowledgement of like, you’re not just adding in a person or a couple people into your family. Like your whole system is shifting and acknowledging how that, that system shift is also gonna affect you. It’s gonna affect your relationships, it’s gonna affect your perspective on so many things. And so I think just that education is key. There’s, there’s several things that families can do just to establish anchors early on that are really gonna help them through any difficulties or challenges that come. And one of the biggest one is establishing family rituals. And so having these really kind of opportunities for connection as a family system that are part of your regular routine. And so things like having like, like, and and rituals can look really different. So things like having like once a week where we have a family game night or we, you know, like Saturday morning pancake breakfast or like a bike ride, you know, things like that that are just like, this is like when we connect as a family every week and it’s part of our routine where we play together, laugh together, have fun. And that anchor really serves as that.

I mean, family rituals do so much for a family like it, the amount of research on just how positive of a addition to a family system, it’s, it’s crazy like how much they do. And one of the biggest things is that anchor and offers this opportunity for resilience in the face of so much change and thinking about that foster adoptive process. Yeah. And all the change and transition that’s happening for a family, having those anchors already established is so beneficial for a family. And one of those with family rituals too is just around starting to establish open communication and communication’s a big thing that I talk about in my work. And I think cuz we just found like so much about the power of open communication and family and how much it helps every person. And so having rituals around open communication, whether it’s around the dinner table at night and you talk about your days, you talk about like what went well, what didn’t, what was, you know, what was a really good part of your day, what was kind of hard, like just having these opportunities to just talk about things and have that openness is really important because that openness and communication, it’s going to help your children feel comfortable coming to you and talking about the hard things once the child’s in the home because that communication channel has already been opened. Yeah. So I, I love what you said about rituals.

Do they need to be, i, is is it enough to have it be like every night at dinner? Are you, you know, check in about your day or like do high low buffalo or something like that? Or does it need to be kind of a, a bigger thing? Is it, is it, I think, yeah, so it really doesn’t, I, I always tell families it really depends on the season of life that you’re in. Okay. Because sometimes it’s just not realistic. And one of the things that I am so careful to do with families, especially working with caregivers is that to not add any like pressures, shame or guilt onto them. If like something’s not gonna work for the season of life you’re in, then like, that’s ok. Yeah. So putting restrictions around things, I’m just very careful because I wanna make this needs to be individualized for where you are in life. Having like a time where the whole family gets together and it’s playful and fun is important because that helps to establish that whole family connection. One of the, the things that we find adoptive or foster families is that there tends to be disconnect within that whole system sometimes because there was a family before adoption or before foster care and now after, which looks so different.

And so it can kind of almost be like, there’s like subunits of the family system and so establishing some opportunity for that play and fun for the whole family is really important. Now whether that’s once a week or once a month doesn’t necessarily matter. It’s more so having the consistency and predictability of it within the family schedule. Yeah. Okay. Well that’s like a great thing and you, it’s not something you have to spend any money on, right? Like whatever you can make work for the season of life that you’re in big, small, it sounds like the most important thing is that it’s an opportunity for everybody to connect, to have fun and that it’s like becomes part of a, a routine and something that kids and parents can expect and count on. Right? So for a family that is already united and maybe listening to this and they’re like, oh, I didn’t know about any of these things and maybe kind of freaking out a little bit, what’s something that they can do to build a more connected family like today? I think it starts with actually one-on-one time with your children. So one of the things that we found, and this actually came from our therapeutic camps, hope Connection 2.0, when I would ask siblings like, what would make your experience better in the family?

The thing every child said over and over again was having one-on-one time with my parents because so much of that relationship kind of disconnects when there’s so much stress and chaos being brought into the family system. And so that establishing that parent-child relationship is really important. And so helping to really find a time to have where the caregiver can spend one-on-one time with a child. And even around this, I, I don’t put parameters because again, it’s the season of life that they’re in. So whether it’s every day you take 5, 10, 15 minutes or where you just play and engage and just, you know, just enjoy the child or it becomes a once a week, an hour and you go and do something fun, go get ice cream or something like that. Or even, you know, whatever that looks like. I think establishing time in your schedule where you can do one-on-one time, and again, that’s gonna look different for every season of life you’re in when you have littles versus when you have older like teenagers. Like that’s just gonna look different in terms of what you have capacity for in your schedule. But establishing that is really important. And I’d also say too, I think a helpful thing to look, look at is the connected family series, like that is an available resource for families and it really goes, helps walk a family through building that whole family connection.

And so really just to help, like, here’s the education around this, here’s the strategies as as caregivers to use, and then also like, here’s how you actually like activities around actually establishing this type of, like these family rituals, this open communication, this one-on-one time problem solving, all of these really important skills as a family. It walks you through really how to establish those skills and strategies and, and make all of these things habits in your family. Because that’s really what we wanna get to is really building new habits, healthy habits, yeah. That don’t really take a lot of time out of your schedule or really a lot of thought, but are more so like really simple practical things that you can just shift a little bit in your, in your daily interactions that can drastically change the way that your family functions together. I love that. That’s great. Just like little shifts. So if there’s a family listening to this that is, you know, they’re in crisis mode, they’re struggling, they’re like just having a hard time just honestly getting through the day. Like what, what’s something that they can do? What’s the first thing you recommend they do to kind of get to a place of stability? Yeah. Well first I say welcome, I get it. And you’re not alone. There’s so many families experiences. Absolutely not. Yeah.

I think one of the, one of the biggest things, and this is not gonna be a popular response, but it’s to bring somebody else into it. What I find all the time is families, and I think this is one of like the biggest challenges when it comes to adoptive and foster families is that as a family system, I’m trying, gonna try not to get really nerdy in research, research in theory, but like as families, when there is more stress and chaos, what we do is we fuse more closely together. We kind of just like, hi, isolate, hibernate together and we all just like take on the stress and, and the work to try to like just survive as a family system. Yeah. And so as we naturally just like fuse more closely together, we really kind of isolate other supports and I get it. Like I, I’ve heard everything. I experience this myself and my family. Like I yeah, working with caregivers, they always say like, other people don’t get it. And like it does open you up vulnerability to other opinions and views and perspectives and it can be really hard to reach out for support where when people don’t actually give effective support. But the issue becomes that when you, when you’re in crisis and you just kind of like go like jump into the trenches and you’re all just trying to survive. Yeah.

It, it just adds more stress and anxiety to every member of the family. And this is part of like, this is where I’m gonna try not to get nerdy, but this is just like where as a family, as you fuse together, you actually like give up more of your own needs. And so that fusion really creates more anxiety and stress for every member of the family. And that just kind of like that emotional anxiety and stress just kind of becomes pervasive in the family system and just continues to build up more and more stress and anxiety as a family. And so needing to really bring somebody else in, whether it’s somebody who can babysit a couple kids or even like a neighbor who can take some of your children just for a couple hours so you can get it some relief, like whatever that looks like. Or if you can find like code caregiver coaching or counseling, like support for you or for your family, whatever that looks like. I think just bringing somebody else in to relieve some of the burden. And I know it’s so much easier said than done because I am, again, like I often coach caregivers so much through like, what does this actually look like for you to get that extra support?

But that is the first thing it is like, how can I bring somebody else in to just alleviate some of this and help carry this with us because we’re not meant to do this alone. Like what families are doing is so hard. Yeah. And so overwhelming and can be so isolating and to bring somebody else in is, I mean, developmentally it’s how we’re wired. Like we are, we’re, you know, we’re meant for that. And so bringing other people in to support us in that is, is not a, is not a failure, is not a point of pride, but rather is just like, this is how we’re created and developed and bringing somebody else in is is only gonna help to alleviate some of that. Yeah. No, and I think it’s so hard for, I feel like we’re all kind of trained to like, I can do it on my own, it’s fine, I don’t, but like we all need help sometimes. Yes. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And I think you’ll find that, I don’t know, like we all wanna help other people. When you see, you know, a friend or family member who’s, you know, is struggling, like sometimes it’s like, oh, I just, I don’t know how to help. So do that person a favor and ask for help and let them help you and get some relief.

Just, I mean, you obviously have such a, a unique perspective because you have lived this just in your personal life and then you’ve studied it. What do you think is the biggest misconception that families have about, about adoption? I think there’s so many misconceptions. I think the more that I did research and work in this field, the more I was like, there are so many misconceptions when we look at this. Honestly, when it comes to like, support for like in adoption, I think the biggest misconception is that trauma therapy for the child’s going to be what your family like the the, it’s like the support and the resource and what you need to do as a family. Because most of these children that are coming into your home are, they have like developmental trauma they’ve experienced, and so they don’t necessarily have trauma that is like, it’s not p it’s not always P T S D, you know, where they have like, I have triggers and flashbacks and things and like nightmares and things like that that I have to work through. And that’s where a lot of trauma therapy is helpful. But often a lot of these children come in with developmental trauma. So they have developmental needs and delays because of how trauma affected their early life without actual memories and things attached.

And so putting the child into trauma therapy isn’t always the right solution, but often in the adoption foster care community, it’s like, oh, you’re struggling. Here’s a trauma therapist or here’s, you know, like put and, and put the child in play therapy or put the child in, in trauma therapy to work through what they’ve experienced when in reality so much of the, of the support really needs to go to the caregivers and helping them equip them with really practical strategies. And honestly, I think one of the biggest things is helping caregivers just feel understood and seen. Yeah. Like what you’re going through is normal. Here’s why you’re experiencing this help. Let me help you understand and let me walk you through how to give you actual support and guidance that’s going to actually help your family. Not like, let me train you and give you like this general information about what can help, but like, let me get into the dirty nitty gritty of it with you and figure out what’s gonna actually help your family. And so I think that that tends to be, and and I have families come to me all the time through project 10 25 who there’s so, so many people in their lives just pressuring them to get trauma therapy for their child because of their child’s story. It doesn’t make sense for them.

And so even that can become this like frustrating thing where families feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing, but it doesn’t feel right for my family, but everyone’s telling me I should do this. And so, and that only just adds to the increased isolation for the families and, and the confusion over what is what’s actually gonna be helpful for me and my family. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, well that makes a lot of se that makes a lot of sense. Thank you for sharing that. Can you, you’ve already shared a few great ideas and tips, but can you provide a few more tangible strategies that families can just implement right now to to become connected? More connected? Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mentioned, I mean I already mentioned like family virtual one-on-one time. The other thing is really just establishing open communication. And the reason I said said earlier that that’s such a big piece of, of my work is because when I did research studies on what was helpful for families, what really helped with outcomes in terms of like more positive experiences or more negative experiences, what I found is that the, the game changer for families is the type of communication the family has as a whole system.

And so when families have established communication that is open and honest, where family members are able to talk freely and honestly about their thoughts and feelings without shame or guilt based on like what your feelings or thoughts are, those are the families that have the most positive outcomes all around for the individuals and for the overall family functioning. And so really working to establish that open communication in the family, which again looks like really practical little changes in the family system. So even things that are just like, as for the caregivers to model openness, this is where I start a lot of times with families is just starting to, as a caregiver, we, you can tend to like bottle things in or not necessarily like be very verbal about what you’re experiencing, but even just to start being like, Hey, mom’s feeling really overwhelmed right now. I’m gonna go take five minutes and in my room alone and I’m gonna come back out. Or like, mom’s kind of upset today and it has nothing to do with you. It’s just, it’s something I’m going through and I’m sorry. Like things like that that are just like modeling. Here’s what I’m feeling, here’s, and maybe sometimes here’s why I’m feeling it or here’s what I’m gonna do about it. Here’s what I’m gonna do with that feeling. And that modeling really helps because children learn through observational learning.

Like that’s the primary way of learning is through watching our caregivers, watching our family members in terms of how they function. And so yeah, that modeling of the caregiver really teaches the child how to do that as well. Yeah. And normalizes it like, I can have these different feelings. Here’s what these feelings are to name them and that I also have some control over them that I can, I can figure out how to regulate myself and do these things. So I think that’s the first place that I always start with families is modeling that. And then the other thing that I would say too, I think is just constantly affirming the preciousness of all members of your family. Think we talk about it a lot of times when it comes to work with adopted children or foster children, the need to provide character praise and because of their beliefs and how the trauma they experience their attachment relationships affects the beliefs that their self-beliefs. And so affects like things like, I feel like I’m not good enough, I’m not lovable, I’m not worthy. Yeah. You don’t really want me as a child. And so we talk a lot about how like the need to just daily affirm them and to show, like, to tell them how much you love them and how much they matter to you just for who they are. Yeah.

But also what I found in my work is that siblings have these same experiences because often in a family they can really shift from, I was, you know, I had this certain relationship with my parents and then all of a sudden it’s changed. Yeah. And when there’s not open communication about that, they can make that shift in their relationship with their parent means something about them when it has nothing to do with them. And so feeling like, I’m not lovable, I’m not good enough, I’m not a good enough son or daughter, I’m not a good enough child, I’m not doing enough. And they can start to feel really invisible. And those that can over time can really start to, for them to mirror those same exact negative self-beliefs that children who’ve experienced early trauma also have. And so really just establishing that space in the family where I am always telling my people how much I love them, how much I care about them, how thankful I like how amazing of a daughter or son they are, how thankful I’m in their life. That’s such an important thing to just add into your daily life of that kind of whatever makes sense for you and it’s authentic to who you are as a person. But really just that kind of affirmation for each person in the family really helps to establish that connection. Wow. I love that. Thank you. That’s a great, yeah.

Great thing people can implement. Right now I’m just, for people who are really in it right now and are struggling, can you just offer some hope or encouragement? Yeah. I always think back to this was an experience that I think really like changed the way I worked with families. I had a, i I was going through this training with a, with with families at a, at a camp and one of the dads halfway through the training what just kind of stopped me. And, and he had tears in his eyes and he said, did, I’m like, were they gonna get choked up to saying this right now? Because I like, I understand it so much. But like he said, like, did I ruin my family? Like did I, did I mess up my family system? Because they had multiple adopted children, they had a really big family and they adopted their last child they adopted, had really severe medical needs that drastically affected the family system’s functioning. And he just felt like I messed up all of my kids. I messed up my family. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. And what I was able to offer him was just this kind of like of true and resounding “No, you didn’t.”

And I know that because of the research, because of the research that I did, what I found in my work was that we’re not looking at like what makes families have more positive or negative experiences, what contributes to that for a family? How do some adoptive families like function so well and do so well? And how are some really struggling? Yeah. And so I looked at like what factors affect a family? And when I found is that it doesn’t matter how many kids you adopted, it doesn’t matter. Birth order changes. That’s another common misconception. Families, it doesn’t matter if you change birth order, it doesn’t matter how many children you have. The age differences, the age of adoption, the amount of trauma, none of those things were significant predictors of outcomes for families. What was Wow was the type of communication you had. And that can change. And I think seeing that in families of like, I know like based off of this, like we have evidence of this that like it’s yeah, from hundreds of families that this doesn’t matter. What does matter is how you communicate and connect as a family. And we can change that. We can’t change how many kids you have, the trauma histories your children come in with whether or or not you change birth order. But we can change the way that we communicate together.

And so I think that that like, to me always just gives such hope to families of it is absolutely possible to experience change and to experience growth for the family and to come out of this place where things feel so hopeless because there are, there is support out there, there are people who understand this, who are professionals who have education in this and experienced this and that can come alongside you and support you in this. And so I think that just opportunity of like, you didn’t ruin your family. You haven’t destroyed, like, you know, there’s so many po like there’s so much opportunity for growth. And I think even as well another op like another hope for families too is that in my research of siblings, like the adoptive sibling role, while there are, there can be a lot of difficult experiences for siblings in their, in their role in the family. What I also found though is that overwhelmingly siblings who grew up with adopted or foster children and their family, they have more empathy, compassion, have, are more, have a more like wider, more accurate worldview, have more emotional maturity, have like, there’s all of these positive thing outcomes for children who are in this role in families. And so I think also holding both of those things, there are really hard things, but there’s also really good things too. And we have to keep both of those in perspective. Wow.

That is so encouraging and just so wonderful to know that the research shows the, something that you do have control over that you can change. That’s what’s gonna predict the outcomes for your family and your kids, which is like, wow, what a great message of hope. Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. So where can people find you in your work? The easiest place is project 10 That has really, I mean, that’s where you can, there’s, you can sign up for coaching, counseling. The Connected Family series is there, there’s a lot of connections to other trainings I’ve done re like handouts, blog posts, things like that, that are all available there. So it’s kind of the hub of all of this information. Awesome. Well, thank you so much Jan. It has been so wonderful to talk with you and I know this is gonna be so helpful and encouraging for so many families. Yeah. It was my pleasure. I’m, I’m always happy to talk about this work. Thank you for having me. Yeah, thank you.

That was Dr. Jana Hunsley. Thanks for listening to Together by AGCI. As always, if you liked what you heard, please rate or review us wherever you listen to podcasts. If you’d like to read or watch even more stories, check out our website,

Reach out to us and let us know what you think on Instagram at allgodschildreninternational or email us at We look forward to sharing another story of hope the next time we’re together. We’ll talk to you soon.