Event Description

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We are back in person for our 29th Annual Conference 

Let's Get Connected: The Importance of Relationship in Adoption


5.5 CAT 1 CEU's available


Register Now!


This year’s conference, Let's Get Connected: The Importance of Relationship in Adoption, will provide participants the chance to explore the opportunities, responsibilities, and benefits of meaningful adoption-related relationships. Join us and hundreds of adult adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents and grandparents, and adoption professionals from around the country to:

  • Make meaningful connections with others who care about adoption
  • Hear from transracial adoptees about the importance of shared connections in a society in which race and culture still profoundly shape reality
  • Learn about how traumatic experiences can affect one's comfort forming connections and attachments
  • Gain trauma-informed strategies and skills to best parent children who have had challenging early experiences
  • Explore the uniqueness of blended families, with children by birth and children by adoption
  • Hear from adoptees who have navigated search and reunion
  • Learn from birth parents who navigated the path to choosing adoption
  • Understand the value of honoring birth family connections
  • Understand the collective responsibility we have to provide improved care for vulnerable children and youth



Our Speakers: What a line up!


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Keynote speaker Tori Hope Petersen is an author, advocate, former foster youth, and adoptive parent.

Our keynote speaker Tori Hope Petersen is author of the book “Fostered” and a former foster youth who is passionate about foster care reform, adoption advocacy, vulnerable populations, and the power of faith. After so many years of being on one side of foster care as a child, Tori is now on the other side as a foster care advocate, adoptive mom, and biological mom. Tori and her husband Jacob have the three sweetest kids: a biological son and daughter, Leyonder and Ezzeri, and an adopted adult son, Sar.

Tori’s story is “a tale of an unlikely overcomer.” While living through the challenges that come with being a foster youth, Tori became a Track and Field All-American. Today she works in foster care reform and adoption advocacy, with a focus on helping vulnerable populations. 

Tori speaks across the nation to share her powerful story and is excited to do so at Barker’s 2023 Annual Adoption & Foster Care Conference. While Tori’s path is heavily grounded in her personal faith journey, her story is one that can inspire all—regardless of religion, race, or cultural background. It is our hope that attendees will leave inspired and with a greater understanding of the impact that family, stability, and permanency can have in the life of a child. We also hope that everyone in attendance comes away with a greater sense of responsibility that we as a society have to provide improved care for vulnerable youth in the foster care system. 

It is our pleasure to welcome Tori, who will also be selling and signing copies of her book during your lunch break.



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Nabina Liebow, Ph.D., is a transracial international adoptee.

Nabina works at American University as Director of the College of Arts & Sciences’ Leadership and Ethical Development Program. In that role, she seeks to make ethics education accessible to students from all backgrounds. Her academic research is focused on the intersection of ethics and race. She earned her BA from Carleton College in 2011 and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Georgetown University in 2017.

Nabina’s personal history and identity as a transracial international adoptee, experience as an educator, and professional background in race and ethics situate her to provide unique workshops on pressing and important ethical questions brought up by transracial and international adoption. With her workshops, Nabina hopes to provide participants with tools for thinking through the complexities of transracial and international adoption to inspire best practices.



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Debbie Schugg is a nationally known speaker with 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 nationwide. Debbie is a Family Coach and Trainer at Kinship Center in California and a Senior Consultant with the National Center on Adoption and Permanency. She is the mother of eight children.  



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Chauncey Strong, MSW, is a child welfare advocate with 25 years of extensive experience in child welfare administration in the private and public sectors and specializes in foster care and adoption training and consulting.

Most recently he worked for eight years as a foster care supervisor with Fairfax County Department of Family Services in Fairfax, Virginia. He has also worked as an administrator, manager, supervisor, child welfare worker, mentor, and community organizer.

Chauncey is the Executive Director of Strong Training and Consulting, LLC, where he provides training and consulting in child welfare. He is currently consulting with The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Capacity Building Center for States, and The Virginia Department of Social Services.

He is originally from Newark, New Jersey, and earned his BA in Social Work from Elizabeth City State University in 1991 and his MSW from Norfolk State University in 1993.


Barker staff presenters include the following:

Sami Albert, LCSW-C, LICSW, Pregnancy Counselor & Clinical Support Specialist

Beverly Clarke, LCSW-C, LICSW, Senior Director, Clinical & Support Services

Cynthia Cubbage, LCSW-C, LICSW, Director of the Family and Post-Adoption Services Department

Missy Herendeen, LMSW, LGSW, Adoption Therapist

Sue Hollar, LCSW-C, LICSW, Executive Director & CEO

Emily Marshall, LCSW-C, LICSW, Director of International Programs

Saara McEachnie, LCSW-C, LICSW, Director of Domestic Adoption Programs

Elysia Oudemans-Tilley, LCSW-C, Adoption Therapist

Eileen Wharton, LMSW, LGSW, Child Matching & Family Support Specialist

Full staff bios can be found here


Agenda and Session Descriptions: Choose Your Engagement Path


8:15 – 8:50 Registration, Resource Fair, and Breakfast

9:00 – 9:15 Welcome & Introductions, Sue Hollar

9:15 – 10:00 Keynote Address: Tori Hope Petersen, “Fostered: The Tale of an Unlikely Overcomer”

10:00 – 10:30 Networking, Resource Fair, Morning Break

10:30 – 11:45 Breakout Session I

Session 1 Options:

1 A. Let’s Get it Right: What Adoptees Want You to Know About Transracial Adoption

There is no shortage of opinions about transracial adoption. In fact, it is one of the most talked- about topics in the adoption field. Opinions are valuable, but adult transracial adoptees are the real experts when it comes to lived experience. A panel of adult adoptees will share what they would like you to consider when parenting transracially, including how their parents prepared (or did not prepare) them to feel truly secure and connected with their culture, their family, and their sense of self. Moderator: Nabina Liebow with support from Emily Marshall

1 B.  How It Started and How It's Going: A Birth Parent Perspective

No two birth parent stories are the same, and the assumptions made about the “birth parent experience” are often misguided or outright wrong. A panel of birth parents will share how they came to make an adoption plan, what supports they had or didn’t have, how they selected their levels of openness in adoption, how they selected families for their children, how relationships have evolved and changed, and the joys and challenges along the way. Moderator: Sami Albert

1 C. Ask the Author: What to Expect When Adopting an Older Youth

Our keynote speaker Tori Hope Petersen will delve deeper into her story, sharing some of what adoptive parents should expect when adopting older youth. She will discuss some of the behaviors she herself exhibited, talk about what was really behind them, and give advice on what she thinks effective parenting would have looked like during those challenging times. Tori will open the floor to questions, giving the audience the opportunity to learn from a former foster youth and understand the important role adoptive parents can play in creating stability and permanency for a child. Speaker: Tori Hope Petersen with support from Sue Hollar


11:45 – 12:45 Lunch, Networking, and Book Signing


12:45 – 2:00 Breakout Session II

Session II Options: 

2 A. What Adoptees Wish Every Adoptive Parent and Birth Parent Knew

What insights can we gain from the adoptee perspective? How can we as a community best support our adoptees in their growth and formation into adulthood? A panel of brave and thoughtful international and domestically adopted persons graciously share their insights, experiences, and wisdom, based on their own adoption stories, with adoptive and birth parent. Themes will include communication, honesty, grief and loss, joy and hope, and race and culture. Moderator: Missy Herendeen

2 B. Insights into Blended Families: A Dialogue with Siblings by Birth and Adoption

When does sibling rivalry exceed the typical threshold? How do you navigate showing your children you love them individually in a way that speaks to them? A panel of sibling groups from international and domestic adoptive families will share their reflections on how to best navigate the blended family setting and inspire children and their families to strive for a family unit rooted in cohesion, connection, and empathy. Moderator: Saara McEachnie

2 C. Feeling Connected: Exploring Adjustment and Attachment in Older Child Adoption

Children adopted at an older age often face unique adjustment challenges when they join their new family. Learning to trust adults, adjust to new rules, and bond with adults who seem to be “always paying attention” can be overwhelming. In this session you will hear from several parents and their children (who were adopted at an older age). They will bravely share the joys and challenges of their journey to becoming a family. Moderator: Eileen Wharton


2:00 – 2:15 Afternoon Break


2:15 – 3:30 Breakout Session III

Session III Options:

3 A. Navigating the Ongoing Journey of Search and Reunion

Searching for answers in modern society poses unique challenges. Hear from a panel of adoptees who initiated searches and their range of outcomes. During this session, you'll gain understanding of the process of search, the importance this step can have for your adoptee identity, and how to navigate birth family relationships. Moderator: Cynthia Cubbage with support from Elysia Oudemans-Tilley

3 B.  Honoring Our Children’s Connections: How to Do It and Why It Matters

As parents, we want to create the best possible lives for our children so that they may become their best selves. We want to instill our values, surround them with people who are a good influence, and maximize their development in all areas. So how does valuing their connections with birth family fit in? We will explore common concerns around contact, a continuum of options to help you find the right form of openness for your family, and the many benefits of honoring your child’s connections…including strengthening their connection with YOU. Speaker: Debbie Schugg

3 C. Aging Out: Voices of Adults Who Grew Up in Foster Care

22,000 youth “age out” of the foster care system each year. Despite the efforts of the public child welfare system, these young adults were never adopted and ultimately are faced with the reality of transitioning to adulthood without the support of a stable and loving family. A panel of resilient young people who aged out of the foster care system share their reflections on the realities of transitioning to adulthood without the support of a stable and permanent family. Moderator: Chauncey Strong with support from Beverly Clarke


3:45 – 4:20 Closing session/panel, “Let's Get Connected: The Importance of Relationship in Adoption”

A panel of birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees will share their reflections on the day and their recommendations for establishing and maintaining adoption-related connections. Moderator: Cynthia Cubbage

4:20 – 4:30 Closing Raffle


Register Now!

Event Type: 
Annual Conference
Audience Type: 
Prospective Parent Project Wait No Longer-Older Child Adoption from Foster CareProspective Parent International AdoptionProspective Parent Domestic AdoptionAdoptive ParentBirth ParentAdult AdopteeChild or Teen AdopteeProfessional

Date and Location

Event Date: 
Saturday, March 18, 2023 - 8:15am
Time Zone: 
The Universities at Shady Grove
Address 1: 
9630 Gudelsky D
Postal Code: 

Event Contact

Katie Ambush

Registration Information

Registration is required?: 
Registration is Open?: