Save -the-date:

2024 California Adoption Conference

March 22-23, 2024

Check back in fall 2023 for CAC 2024 keynote topics and speakers 

March 24, 2023


8:45-10:30 am           

 Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Through a Critical Race Lens

CE Eligible

Zea Malawa, MD

Dr. Malawa will explore the history and value of recognizing the impact of ACEs on parent’s and children’s well-being. She will explore the way systemic racism impacts these factors in a call to all of us to change the systems that relegate Black and Brown children, their families and communities to be pathologized instead of being seen as strong resources worthy of support. Learn what we know about the resilience features that can be encouraged in children in order to support their long term health, particularly those who may be subject to child welfare interventions and the family disruption that occurs in adoption.

Late Morning Sessions

11am-12:30 pm      

 Adoption after Dobbs: Understanding Adoption within Reproductive Choice and Justice

CE Eligible

Gretchen Sisson, PhD

This talk examines the context of adoption in a world of increasingly constrained abortion access: how many abortions we expect will be denied, what increase in adoptions we can expect based on previous data, and what individual circumstances and social conditions lead to adoption relinquishment as reproductive autonomy becomes more and more limited. How do women and pregnant people make decisions about adoption, and how do relinquishing/birth mothers feel about their adoptions over time? This conversation will be guided by reproductive justice values and take a wide social perspective of how we can best support families post-Dobbs.

Ten Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Starting Out as a Social Worker

JaeRan Kim, PhD

People enter child welfare work for many reasons and despite our education and personal experiences, much of our knowledge is gained “on the job.” As Maya Angelou said, “when you know better, you do better.” In this presentation, I will share what I learned in my journey as a child welfare/adoption worker and invite you to reflect with me on ways to better serve individuals connected to adoption. 

Supporting Adoptive and Foster Families Headed by People of Color

Malaika Parker

This workshop will discuss the landscape of support for adoptive parents. Malaika will highlight the consistent centering of  white adoptive parents while systematically undeserving  BIPOC adoptive parents. Additionally this workshop will cover some supports that help to build community and serve BIPOC adoptive parents.

Best Practices in Creating and Upholding Post Adoption Contact Agreements (PACA)

Michelle Nobriga

Are you a professional that would like to have a best practices guide to creating a PACA so that it is legally sound, but also takes into the proper considerations so that all parties are given a greater opportunity to uphold their PACA terms? Are you an adoptive family or first/birth parent that has a written agreement for contact, but with each passing year, its getting more complicated to uphold it? This presentation walks though the best practices of creating and upholding PACAs and things to consider during the negotiation of the terms.

Early Afternoon Sessions


Decreasing Racial Disparities in the Foster Care System

CE Eligible

Tatenda Perry, LCSW

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that African American children make up 33% of the foster care system yet they are only 15% of the overall population (National Conference of State Legislatures 2020).After witnessing this pattern in my own organization and researching the issue further, I discovered that the numbers were similar across the country, I have embarked on an action research project to decrease racial disparities of children in foster care within my social service agency. This presentation is an overview of a research project based in a social services agency, the implementation of interventions based on research outcomes, and recommendations to address racial disparities within the foster care system.

Voices of Lived Experience: Foster Alumni

Panel of Foster Alums, Facilitator TBA

Too often in the child welfare field, the voice and perspective of the youth in care is subordinated to that of the professionals and foster parents. The voices of former foster youth (aged out, not adopted) will be the focus of this panel as they are the truest experts on the experience of growing up in foster care. This workshop will be appropriate for foster parents, professionals, and families interested in fostering youth.

The School Belonging Theory: Understanding Elementary School Conditions and Practices to Support Adoptees

Max Weinberg

The trauma and loss adoptees experience throughout their life is rarely acknowledged in traditional school settings. Too often, children’s identities as adoptees are ignored, erased, or trivialized. This research shines a light on how educators, particularly educators who are adopted, work with finesse to create a sense of belonging for children. Creating an adoption-friendly learning space goes beyond a singular approach and has implications for school climate, academics, home-school partnerships, and more. Using School Belonging Theory, the experiences of adoptees are analyzed in an attempt to shift the burden from adoptees and adoptive parents to advocate onto schools as learning institutions to best support adoptees. 

Adoption-Sensitive Language and Rituals

Katie Wynen, MSW

Words and rituals are important methods of human communication through which we tell our stories and underscore our values. Words not only convey facts; they evoke feelings. Rituals send powerful messages of validation to children and adults and all of those around us. Participants will learn about and understand the importance of adoption sensitive language and rituals.

Late Afternoon Sessions


Trying Differently Rather than Harder

CE Eligible

Barb Clark

Children and adolescents who have experienced trauma have unique brain wiring and are often at a mixture of developmental ages. Typical consequence-based behavioral strategies are often not effective and can lead to further trauma as well as impacting the relationship between the adults and children/adolescents. Participants will learn new approaches to use with children and adolescents who have trauma histories which will help to understand the youth and improve communication and relationships. The strategies we will cover are recommended for in-utero trauma such as FASD and also for trauma children may have experienced after birth. We will specifically cover the Big 3; lying, stealing and raging.

The Unrecognized Developmental Trauma of Early Relinquishment in Adoption

Meggin Nam Holtz, LMSW

Permanent physical separation between birthing mothers from their babies is commonly referred to as “relinquishment” in the context of adoption. This presentation will explore developmental effects of relinquishment occurring at birth and in the early days of an infant’s life. Examination of neurological, attachment, and developmentally positive outcomes attained through maintaining physical interactions between mothers and their infants during the first hours and days of infant life sheds light on what is missed if a separation occurs. Contrary to conventional beliefs and attitudes that a baby will not remember or be affected by early life experiences, the neurological impacts of stress in very early life such as relinquishment should be re-framed, acknowledged, and understood as a form of developmental trauma exposure.

Gender Inclusion:​ ​ What is Gender Expansiveness and How Do I Reduce Gender Bias?

Rick Oculto

We operate under the assumption that our understanding of gender is uniform across region, language, and culture without questioning the origins or validity of this assumption. In this workshop we will explore the different facets of gender, societal and individual contributions to its understanding, and how to better communicate gender diversity. Practical guidance will include inclusive and welcoming language and approached for professionals working with adults and youth.

All Of Me: Connecting Your Child to Their Roots for Strong Attachments and Healthy Adulthoods

Holly van Gulden & Sarah Cole

This workshop will help adoptive parents understand the crucial importance of connecting our children to their roots (family of origin, genetics, race, ethnicity to name a few) as part of helping them develop permanence and constancy, the building blocks of attachment and health self- identity. Parents will learn clinically honed tools that support attunement, validation, attachment, and positive parenting. We will talk about why connecting our kids to their roots is foundational to the formation of their identity and healthy sense of self as well as a strong attachment to us their adoptive parents and what our job as adoptive parents is in connecting them to their roots – taking into account challenging circumstances and adolescence.

March 25, 2023


8:45-10:30 am   

Adoption is More than an Event: Supporting Adoptees Throughout their Lives

CE Eligible

JaeRan Kim and Susan Branco

Adoption is seen as an intervention for children, but what happens when the adoptee becomes an adult and embarks on a process of personal reflection and identity development? Many adoptees describe the process of becoming more aware of the complexities of adoption as “coming out of the fog.” In this keynote, Drs. Susan Branco and JaeRan Kim will discuss adoption-related issues and concerns many adoptees have as adults. Their framework, the Adoptee Consciousness Model, advocates for a long-term lens on adoption and presents adoptee-centric considerations for those working with, or connected to, adoptees.

Late Morning Sessions

11am-12:30 pm      

Intercultural Development and Humility for Adoptive Parents

CE Eligible

Kirstin Nelson

This session will introduce the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI), an assessment tool of intercultural competence – the capability to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt behavior to cultural differences and commonalities in our personal and professional lives. The assessment places an individual on the Intercultural Development Continuum, which measures a set of knowledge, attitude and skill sets toward cultural difference and commonality. Most people overestimate their cultural competence level, and an accurate measure is essential to understand what additional growth is needed. This session will examine the IDI orientations (denial, polarization, minimization, acceptance, adaption) and what that can mean in both the workplace as well as in the context of transracial placements at home, with family, and how we interact – or not – with others.

Covering Up Mental Illness Won’t Make It Go Away

Breana Frazier

There are approximately 400,000 kids in foster care in the United States alone with many of them struggling with their mental health. Instead of avoiding their struggles in the hopes that they will go away, Breana addresses what it means to not only confront but embrace and therefore address a child’s mental health concerns and needs. With Breana’s personal experience and current research in this area, she will dive deep into the world of pediatric mental health and ways to help properly address and advocate for a child’s well-being.

Black Adoption in Pop Culture

Sandria Washington & Samantha Coleman

The idea of family is at the heart of the stories we tell in pop culture. From the creation of new families through romance to the tales told about established traditions through generations, human connection is everything. However, we know that family isn’t solely about blood ties. Adoption continues to play an integral part in the construction of modern families. Unfortunately, negative attitudes towards adoption are ingrained in pop culture. Many shows and movies make light of it, go for casual “he/she is adopted” jokes, and even use adoption as a plot point to perpetuate stereotypes. This discussion will explore the role of pop culture in changing how the world sees Black adoption, and how it has both empowered and disempowered Black adoptees.

How to Adopt

Lisa Clark, Adopt International; Katie Wynen, Pact, An Adoption Alliance; Alfonso Silva, Family Builders

Learn the basics about domestic (both private and foster) adoption and international adoption, as well as infant vs. older child placement, special needs parenting and other options including gender and/or race selection and open adoption. This workshop will guide you in finding the right placement path for your family if you are considering adoption. Panelists will address the following: How to choose an agency and what questions to ask; What goes into a home study and what (if anything) you need to be nervous about; How to choose a country to adopt from and what questions to ask; How to choose which adoption professional(s) to work with and more.

Early Afternoon Sessions


Healthy Relationships in Adoption: Empathy, Honesty and Responsiveness

CE Eligible

Susan Dusza Guerra Leksander

In 2023 almost everyone knows the term “open adoption,” an exchange of information, potentially including direct contact and relationships between adopted people and their first/birth families. But openness in adoption does not “solve” all the challenges of being adopted. Rather, it presents both opportunities and challenges for the adoptee and requires both sets of parents to develop specific attitudes and skills as they navigate information about and relationships with one another. We will discuss how to walk this path, keeping the adoptee at the center, supporting them in deciding who their people are and what kind of closeness or distance they want or need.

Talking with (not to) Children about Adoption

Beth Hall

Participants will learn how to start and continue developmentally appropriate conversations about adoption, first families and loss. Topics will include understanding how children experience adoption; why the words we use matter, strategies that match children’s developmental stages, why beginning with a child’s birth makes sense and how to talk about first/birth parents depending on the information available as well as how to answer and anticipate children’s questions whether they ask them or not. We will discuss how to coordinate these conversations when birth parents are available to be part of them and when they are not.

Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About

Jill Jacobs & Sydney Jacobs Allen

It is so easy to feel like you’re doing everything wrong in a field that so often speaks about interracial adoption in a negative light. Training after training; Internet websites and chat rooms can be all about what parents do wrong; foster and adoptive parents can often be left feeling like an enemy instead of a support and guide for their children.  Sydney and Jill hope to change this narrative to one of hope by engaging participants in a conversation about what families CAN do as opposed to what they shouldn’t do. Inside the home, out in the community – how do you make sure your child feels seen, respected, acknowledged for who they are, loved and supportive? Sydney and Jill will share experiences, stories, and lessons learned in their family.

Voices of Adopted Adults

Panel Moderated by Katie Wynen

Hear from adopted adults about their adoption journey including the role their first/birth parents/families have had in their lives and understanding of their own identity. Too often in the adoption field, the adoptee perspective is subordinated to that of the adoptive parent. We believe that adults with first-hand experience are the truest experts on that experience. The voices of adopted adults born both domestically and internationally, adopted transracially and in same race placements, will be featured.

Late Afternoon Sessions


Adopting Teens: The Real Deal

Debbie Schugg

Parenting teenagers can be a bit daunting, and the idea of having someone join your family as a teen can feel awkward, even overwhelming, to many parents. In this workshop we’ll take a look at common concerns and misconceptions around adopting teens and the underlying fears that often drive them. We’ll explore the realities of offering permanency to an adolescent, including both the challenges and the bountiful benefits to the family, as well as to the teen. Deb will share practical tips for welcoming a teenager into your family, as well as pitfalls to avoid, and will challenge you to think differently about the loving, lasting gifts of adopting a teen.

Teaching & Learning: Creating and Supporting Adoptee Centered Spaces in the Classroom

Elena Pereira, Tina Fox, Carly Ellis

Listen in on a discussion among three adult adoptees who are working across grade levels Pre K-8 in school settings. They will share both their ownexperiences and research to inform educational practice when working with children and suggest best practices when working with adoptees. They will answer questions about what resources are available to teachers and parents, explore the kind of emotional support needed to support adoptees in a classroom setting and learn how to identify and address possible pitfalls in education for adopted children/families. We will also review research about brain development of adopted children and how that can show up for students.

Birth/First Parent Voices

Panel moderated by Susan Dusza Guerra Leksander

Nationwide, the adoption discussion is too often missing the perspective of first/birth parent voices and instead dominated by the voices of adoptive parents. When first/birth voices are missing, the message is sent to adoptees that their origin, the beginning of their life story and the connection to their first heritage and family is not important, not worthy, or perhaps is even something to be ashamed of, or overcome. Hear from several birth/first parents about how they are processing and managing their own adoption experiences, and doing their best to keep their child at the center. You will hear about different adoption scenarios including open adoptions with ongoing contact and adoptions where contact is challenging.

Holistic Family Healing: Healing through a Mirror, Self-Exploration Parenting

Carol Passmore

This workshop will explore the relationship between adopted children’s abandonment wounds and adoptive parents unresolved relationship traumas. As an adoptive parent and a family therapist, Carol has explored the “mirror” behaviors among adoptive family members and will encourage attendees to take a deeper look at healing their own wounds in order to create a healthier environment and model the path to healing for their children.


Dr.-Zea-Malawa-smZea Malawa, MD, is a Black mother, pediatrician and public health professional committed to improving health outcomes for children of color.  Upon completing her undergraduate degree at Columbia University, she earned a medical doctorate from UCLA and a master’s degree in public health from UC Berkeley. Currently, Dr. Malawa is the director of Expecting Justice, a public health program that uses systems change and justice-oriented approaches to close the racial gap in birth outcomes; she also sees patients at Mission Neighborhood Health Center in San Francisco, teaches anti-racism at UC Berkeley, and is the Vice Chair of San Francisco’s First 5 Commission.

JaeRan_Kim-smJaeRan Kim, PhD, is an Associate Professor at University of Washington Tacoma. She has over 15 years of experience working with foster and adopted children and families and has developed numerous training curricula for child welfare professionals. Dr. Kim’s research is focused on adoption, particularly looking at issues of disabilities, race, and transnational experiences on post-adoption stability and adoptee well-being. Dr. Kim also researches the intersection of disability and social work, and explores the preparation and training of professional social workers. Dr. Kim was adopted from South Korea and is the author of the blog Harlow’s Monkey which explores transracial and transnational adoption from the adoptee perspective

Susan-Branco-smSusan Branco, PhD, LPC (VA), LCPC (MD), NCC, ACS, BC-TMH, (she/her/ella), is a transracial and transnational adoptee from Colombia, South America. She is an advocate for increased adoption related research and training within counselor education and is passionate about improving mental health outcomes for transracially adopted persons. For fourteen years she maintained an independent clinical practice specializing in working with persons connected to adoption and foster care. Dr. Branco is a practicing counselor, clinical supervisor, and a tenure track Assistant Professor in the Counselor Education program at St. Bonaventure University. She has multiple peer-reviewed publications related to transracial adoption and clinical training and supervision practices for BIPOC counselors.

bclarkBarb Clark works at NACAC as a Training Specialist. She is a parent to children through adoption and is passionate about helping professionals and parents avoid the making the many mistakes she made before she understood the impact trauma has on the brain. She is committed to improving the education and lives of individuals who were prenatally exposed to drugs and alcohol and other forms of trauma. She uses humor and real life experiences to help professionals and parents challenge the use of traditional strategies and to push them to think outside of the box.

lclarkLisa Clark is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Executive Director of Adopt International, a domestic and international adoption agency. She has worked in the field of adoption for over 20 years, primarily working with expectant parents assisting them in making decisions that are based in empowerment and choice. Lisa loves working with families years after placement providing support to normalize the unique experiences that adoptive and birth families face. Lisa grew up in an adoptive family and is also an adoptive parent.

coleAs an adoptive parent herself, Sara Cole helps adoptive parents create more cooperation and ease in their homes, while growing deeper, stronger relationships with their kids. Over the long-term, this builds the foundations and skills for maturity that their kids need to grow to a healthy, (mostly) happy, independent adulthood. Over her 20 years supporting families, she has trained with The Neufeld Institute, Holly van Gulden, and Siegel’s Mindsight Institute to name a few. At home Sara uses her skills to laugh and connect deeply with her husband, two young adults, 5 ducks, one small dog, and a Betta fish.

colemanDr. Samantha Coleman began her career working in behavioral health, psychiatric hospitals, crisis programs, and private practices, empathetically engaging with people and their stories. As a late-discovery adoptee, little did she know that her own story was far from what she had been conditioned to believe. In her own path to healing, she co-founded Black to the Beginning, in 2019 with one of her best friends of 15+ years, Sandria Washington. Black to the Beginning has one goal – to amplify the voices of Black adoptees and to empower the Black family to embrace truth and transparency for generational well-being.

dglSusan Dusza Guerra Leksander,  (she/her), LMFT, is a Latina first mother, transracial domestic adoptee, and licensed psychotherapist who specializes in the adoption and foster care triads, providing treatment and consultations since 2009. She is the Agency & Clinical Director and First/Birth Family Advocate at Pact. When Pact became a licensed full-service adoption agency in 2017, Susan was appointed its founding Agency & Clinical Director, launching Pact’s Center for Race and Adoption Focused Therapy in 2021. She is on the ongoing complex journey of reunion with her first families and the daughter she placed for adoption.

ellisCarly Ellis was born in Medellín Colombia and was adopted by a white family in Boston.  Carly’s lived experience as a minority in predominantly white independent schools and colleges has fueled her to be an educator, to reach out to children who might be feeling “othered”. Carly earned her B.A from Washington College and M.Ed from Lesley University.  Carly has been a lead teacher for Kindergarten, First and 2nd grade for the past 16 years, in public, private and schools abroad. Carly combine’s her personal experience along with data and research to support best practices when working with adopted children and families in her classroom and library.

frazierBreana Frazier is a graduate student studying Criminology and Criminal Justice. As a graduate student, Breana’s main focus is the foster care system and the need for more mental health services and resources. After being adopted by her foster mom and becoming a kinship caregiver of her two nieces as an adult, she knows firsthand, how important it is to advocate for the rights of a child. She is the author of “Navigating Graduate School, Parenthood, and a Mentally Ill Child” which has been published in The Criminologist. When she is not studying, she enjoys traveling and playing sports.

hallBeth Hall, Executive Director of Pact, an Adoption Alliance, is the white adoptive mother of a Latina daughter and an African American son (both now adults), and grew up with an adopted sister. She co-founded Pact in 1991 to combat the discrimination she witnessed against adopted children of color and their birth families. She is the co-author, with Gail Steinberg, of the book Inside Transracial Adoption (Jessica Kingsley Press), as well as numerous articles on adoption and race. She is a nationally known advocate for adopted children of color who regularly lectures and leads workshops on ethical, non-racist adoption practices.

holtzMeggin (Nam) Holtz, LMSW, is a Korean adoptee. Nam has been involved in adoption advocacy, awareness, and support for over a decade. Her award-winning documentary film, “Found in Korea,” about birth search, country of origin travel, identity, and adoption was created to serve as a catalyst for conversations about adoption among youth and adults. She served as the Teen Mentor facilitator at “All Together Now,” a support group for adoptees and their families, and holds an MSW with a focus in Child and Adolescent Trauma. Nam currently provides psychotherapy to TRA’s, and continues macro work towards adoption reform and education.

allenSydney Jacobs Allen was born in Oakland, CA and was raised primarily by a white woman in a black community. Sydney grew up with a community that reflected herself, and she learned from her multiracial family what it meant to have a strong awareness of black/queer identity and sense of self. She graduated from Mount Holyoke college in May of 2018 with a degree in Anthropology & Africana studies, and a minor in Non-Profit Organizations. Sydney is a Research Assistant with Ceres Policy Research working to end youth incarceration, crimmigration, and expanding LGBTQIA+ youth advocacy.

jacobsJill Jacobs brings over 35 years of experience in multi-cultural community based health and social services organizations. She has a Master’s degree in Health Services Administration, and has been the Executive Director of Family Builders since 1996. She has developed a program model that is responsive to the needs of children and youth needing permanent families. Jill is a national leader and advocate on issues affecting adoptive families and has created innovative programs to meet the needs of underserved. Jill is the mother of two daughters via transracial adoption.

nelsonKirstin Nelson has over 20 years of experience as a law librarian in law firms, corporations, and federal government libraries and as an adjunct law professor. She coordinates the Agricultural Law Information Partnership and is the Diversity and Inclusion Executive Director at the USDA National Agricultural Library. She is a Qualified Administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) and an Associate Diversity Coach. Kirstin is a transracial adoptee and an adoptive parent. She recently began coaching parents using the IDI to increase cultural competence and humility related to transracial adoption.

nobrigaMichelle Nobriga has worked in the field of open adoption for over 20 years, helping many adoptive and birth families find each other with a focus on navigating the legal and emotional complexities of creating and upholding post adoption contact agreements. She also has experience as an independent adoption consultant working with attorneys, adoption professionals and adoptive families nationwide, and guiding adult adoptees who grew up in closed adoptions with their search and reunions with biological family members. Michelle earned her JD and MBA from Golden Gate University and is the current Director of Adoption Connection of Jewish Family Children’s Services.

ocultoRick Oculto collaborates with educators and school administrators to create safe and LGBTQ-inclusive schools as the Education Manager at Our Family Coalition. OFC fosters community-building and resilience among LGBTQ+ parents and caregivers and provides education about family diversity and anti-bias work to educators and child-serving professionals.

foxTina Ormrod Fox earned her M.A. in Early Childhood Education from Boston University. Tina brings her 20 plus years of classroom teaching experience and school leadership work to her position of Lower Division Head. Tina works closely with the administrative team and faculty to ensure that students’ social emotional learning and growth are weaved into the students’ daily school experience. Tina has presented at regional and national conferences on Transracial Adoption. Tina also sits on the board of People of Color Independent Schools New England.  Tina finds joy in supporting students and adults working through conflict, finding their voice, and celebrating their unique identities.

parkerMalaika Parker and her husband Saul are Black parents of four children, two who joined their family via same-race adoption and two born to them. Malaika served as the founding director of Pact’s Adoptive Parents of Color Collaborative and now serves as the Executive Director of the Black Organizing Project; her long career in non-profits includes working on issues of racial justice in farming, policing and education. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Justice and Equity in Education. Malaika is passionate about providing resources and community for adoptive families headed by people of color.

passmoreCarol Passmore is a Holistic, Trauma Informed Psychotherapist, Adoptive Parent/Family Coach, and Children’s Behavioral Specialist. Carol is passionate about helping parents and professionals who work with children, teens and young adults to understand how children communicate to us through their behaviors. Using a developmental, trauma informed, holistic and spiritual model, she is determined and excited to create a new perspective to those who are wanting to bring their children to their true and unique potential. As an adoptive mother, Carol believes that all persons of the triad of adoption can heal and transform into our best selves.

perieraElena Pereira has worked in education spaces for over a decade. Identity work with students is foundational to her practice. After working as a classroom teacher with students of all grade levels, Elena is currently the Upper Division Librarian at Park School, working with grades 5-8 and providing resources to the greater community. Outside of school, Elena volunteers with the non-profit organization Adoptees with Guatemalan Roots. As a Guatemalan adoptee she has presented on panels about the Transracial Adoptee experience and Adoptees in schools at Cambridge Friends School and at the National People of Color Conference.

perryTatenda Perry is the State Foster Care Director for Access Family Services of North Carolina. Tatenda started her career as a therapist in the child welfare system, and over the last seven years, has worked in social services administration and leadership advocating for children and families involved in the child welfare system. As a leader, Tatenda is interested in developing generative social service systems through engaging in strategic planning, and developing procedures & quality improvement plans that enhance effectiveness of social service programs.

schuggDeb Schugg has more than 30 years of experience working with families of vulnerable youth. She has extensive experience offering individualized, trauma-informed coaching to adoptive families in crisis and training professionals who work with adoptive families throughout the nation. Deb is a Family Coach and Trainer at Kinship Center, as well as a Senior Consultant with the National Center on Adoption and Permanency.   Deb is the mother of 8 children from culturally diverse backgrounds, 7 of whom were adopted as sibling groups from the foster care system.

sissonGretchen Sisson, PhD, is a sociologist with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, where she studies abortion and adoption in the United States. Her work was cited in the Supreme Court dissent in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, and her research has received widespread media coverage in the Washington Post, New York Times, and NPR. She is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Relinquished: The American Mothers Behind Infant Adoption.’

vanguldenHolly van Gulden is an internationally acclaimed expert on trauma and attachment, focusing on helping parents and professionals who have trauma and loss in their history. Holly has worked with families and children in adoption and fostering for over three decades, specializing in attachment and trauma, with the emphasis on how to help parents form and maintain healthy attachments with their children. She is the lead author of 4 books, all about helping children and adults touched by trauma, parental loss, and more, form healthy attachments and a healthy sense of self.

washingtonSandria Washington is a proud Chicago born and raised writer, wellnesspreneur, speaker and media professional with a passion for personal development and collective healing. Sandria partnered with long-time friend and fellow late discovery adoptee (LDA) Dr. Samantha Coleman in 2019 to create Black to the Beginning, a multi-platform initiative to amplify the Black Adoption Experience, centering adult Black adoptee voices and sharing the untold and nuanced stories of Black families generationally impacted by adoption. Together, they co-host The Black Adoption Podcast, the first podcast focused exclusively on the Black Adoption Experience comprehensively, now in its third season.

weinbergMax Weinberg has served as teacher and administrator in New York and Illinois schools and currently consults school leadership teams in Chicago and Milwaukee to maximize outcomes. He appreciates the complexity of schoolhouses and the varied learning that happens in classrooms and beyond. Max is an adoptive parent with his partner to two wonderful children. His family is a transracial adoptive family living outside of Chicago. Max’s personal and professional life intersect through research on understanding optimal conditions and practices for supporting adoptees in school. He is a Ph.D. Candidate in Educational Leadership at Concordia University Chicago.

wynenKatie Wynen, (she/her), MSW, is a transracial, international Colombian adoptee, with a Masters in Social Work. Katie has worked with members of the adoption triad since 2006. She studied under Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao in Boston before moving to California and joining the Pact staff where she works in adoption placement, leads the adoptees of color support group, and provides adoption education nationwide. Katie is an Angels in Adoption 2019 Recipient from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.