2017 Schedule Coming Soon!


Friday, November 4th

9:45 – 10am     Welcome

10am – 12pm     2 hours CEU    

Keynote: Finding Each Other Right Where We Are, Robyn Gobbel, LCSW 

At the heart of adoption is relationship. Relationship is the cornerstone of the human condition.  When we are brave enough to honor our stories and acknowledge each of our unique paths, then our human drive for connection allows relationships to flourish- the relationships between us and the relationship within us.  I’m honored to share with my AKA family how I’ve come to see, through my experiences within AKA, my work as a therapist, and my journey as a person, how together we can hold space for connection and relationship only when we also hold a connected space together for the grief and loss that weaves a common thread in our adoption journeys.

12-1:15pm     Lunch (on own)

1:15-2:45pm     1.5 hours CEU

(A)     Judges Panel: Hot Topics in Adoption Cases and Legislation, Moderated by Jennifer Cochran, Adoption and Family Attorney

A panel discussion with judges who preside over adoption and termination cases in Texas; some are triad members.  Topics included: post adoption contact, birth fathers/ paternity registry, best interest of the child factors, sibling access, allowing adoptees access to records, open v. closed adoptions, and more.

(B)     Adoptee Narrative, Identity and the Autonomic Nervous System: How to Develop A Sense of Identity No Matter How Much (Or How Little) You Know About Your History, Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD

Having a coherent personal narrative – the “story of your life” – is a positive indicator of mental health, yet many adoptees are missing information about their history. We will explore how our sense of self has its deepest foundation in our bodies, particularly in a resilient and regulated autonomic nervous system (ANS). A life story told from a regulated nervous system feels coherent and like “home” even if our life feels like it “started in chapter two.” Brief, optional exercises will be offered for those who wish to become acquainted with their ANS.

2:45 – 3:00pm     Networking Break (visit exhibit booths and book store)

3:00 – 4:30pm     1.5 hours CEU
(A)     Rehoming in Adoption: Exploring the Darker Side of Adoption,  Melanie Chung-Sherman, LCSW-S & Amy L. Curtis, LSW, LPC-S

With over 12,290 international adoptions in Texas, rehoming remains in practice across our state, despite the fact that legal, ethical, and clinical oversight are not implemented. Rehoming opens vulnerable children to exploitation, abuse, attachment compromise, and trafficking. Thorough assessment regarding family dynamics, legal standing, and an adoptee’s current well-being, both mentally and physically within their family are all important factors to assess when concerned about possible rehoming.  We will explore the clinical implications, as well as applications to consider when working with adoptees and families impacted by rehoming.

(B)     Open Adoption: Redefining Family without Fear, Traci W. Pirri, LCSW

Open adoption challenges the traditional definition of family and forces those within the triad to restructure the family system.  Fears and misconceptions often cause adoptive and birth parents to react proactively, causing misunderstandings. This impacts the adoptee’s ability to develop a stable sense of self and can threaten the family’s stability.  Overcoming these fears and building healthy family roles, fosters an adoption bond that extends beyond the adoptee-adoptive parent relationship, into both extended families.  This presentation will incorporate examples from my own family’s experience with open adoption.

(C)     Child Centered Placement and Lifetime Considerations, Patricia Dorner, MA, LPC

Adoption embodies lifetime complexities.  Building a foundation of understanding is critical to long term outcomes.  Central to this is the educational process over time for all adults and the learning of the issues that manifest for all involved.  Child centered placement and lifetime considerations requires responsive adults, healthily meeting the needs of children at all developmental stages, including adulthood.  This often requires challenging existing beliefs and fears.


Saturday,  November 5th

9-9:15am     Welcome

9:15 – 11:00 am      1.75 hour CEU

Keynote: From Secrecy to the Statehouse; Ohio’s long road to restoring adoptees access to their Original Birth Certificates , Betsie Norris

As Texas continues the campaign to restore OBC access next legislative session, this keynote presentation will highlight how Ohio successfully restored OBC access. As a result, triad members have greater access to information in Ohio than they otherwise would, and 400,000 adoptees now have access to their original birth certificates. The challenges and victories of the decades’ long journey will be discussed and practical questions answered.  Betsie has worked tirelessly on legislation to reform Ohio’s adoption laws since founding Adoption Network Cleveland.

11:00 – 12:00        1.5 hour CEU     The Ice Cream Gene – Susan Ito’s One Woman Show About Adoption

As a young adult, Susan follows an obstacle-filled trail to her birth mother.  When she finally meets her, she discovers that some things simply just are genetic.  Susan’s one-woman show, with no set and no props, brings to life her compelling search for the details of her origins and her emotional roller coaster ride in defining love, family, and belonging.  A short Q&A with Susan Ito will follow.

12-1:15     Lunch (on own)

1:15 – 2:45     1.5 hour CEU
(A)     Advocacy: A Pathway for Healing, Kathryn Shelley and Penny Partridge

Finding your own voice in spite of a silent or unjust system can serve as a vehicle for self-realization and empowerment. Kathryn and Penny will provide brief individual histories of “finding their own voices” as founders of adoption services that were revolutionary for their time. They will discuss their ease (or dis-ease) with advocacy then to the long view now, both within their own family systems, community of friends, and larger society. Their personal stories will serve as an example of the risks and rewards of living within a time of social and cultural changes in adoption practice and law.

(B)     In Search of Openness: Stories of Reconnection, Anne Bingham & Victoria DeJacomo (& Panel)

Anne gave birth to Victoria when she was 15 years old at the Edna Gladney Center in Fort Worth.  Victoria was adopted four days later.  The two reconnected after 25 years in January, 2015.  Anne has been a professional writer for nearly two decades and is currently at work on a memoir focused on her experience as a birth mother.  Victoria recently completed her M.S. in Applied Psychology and currently works in the legal field.  For much of Victoria’s life, the two unknowingly resided within 30 minutes of each other. Anne & Victoria have created a panel to discuss stories of birth parent/birth child reconnection across several decades, highlighting the way adoption has evolved over the years.  This panel will explore the history of “openness” in closed and open adoption through personal experiences; present an array of experiences of reconnection between birth parents and adopted persons; and discuss topics related to identity and disclosure and the ramifications of how these are handled in adoption.

(C)     Liberation Among Landmines: Race and Culture in Adoption & Foster Care, Katy Perkins, LMSW-AP

Participants will learn how race and culture are crucial to human development and emotional well-being, especially in foster care and adoption systems. Discrimination, institutionalized racism, and white privilege will be discussed, along with ways that professionals can help promote, advocate, and celebrate racial diversity while supporting clients and families in the healing process, due to trauma.

2:45 – 3:00     Break & Networking

3:00 – 4:30     1.5 hour CEU
(A)     DNA and Genetic Genealogy: Testing & Interpreting the Data, Randy Whited

This presentation will highlight the types of DNA tests available, how to select which test or tests to address specific genealogical questions, and how to interpret the results.  The presentation allows ample Q&A during and after the session.

(B)     One Person, Two Birth Certificates; The History of Adoption in Texas, Connie Lynn Gray

An historical overview of adoption practices and amended birth certificates in Texas.  Attendees will learn about the historical movement and rationale to alter birth certificates, discover the problems adult adoptees have with “government sanctioned falsified documents”, learn why national organizations support equal access to original birth certificates, and hear the facts about restoring access to original birth certificates for those who were adopted as minors.  Of particular interest will be how to search the Texas birth books and code names for adoptees. Also included, a discussion of why, with the advent of DNA testing, the OBC still remains a coveted document for adoptees.

(C)     Thinking Differently About Foster Care, Julie Kouri

This session will discuss the emerging trends and new approaches around trauma informed care that are helping to reshape policies, practices, and collaborations in the foster care system.


Kristin Neff, Associate Professor Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department, University of Texas at Austin, studied communications as an undergraduate at the University of California at Los Angeles. She did her graduate work at University of California at Berkeley, studying moral development with Dr. Elliot Turiel. Her dissertation research was conducted in Mysore, India, where she examined children’s moral reasoning. She then spent two years of post-doctoral study with Dr. Susan Harter at Denver University, studying issues of authenticity and self-concept development. She is currently and Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

During Kristin’s last year of graduate school she became interested in Buddhism, and has been practicing meditation in the Insight Meditation tradition ever since. While doing her post-doctoral work she decided to conduct research on self-compassion – a central construct in Buddhist psychology and one that had not yet been examined empirically.

In addition to her pioneering research into self-compassion, she has developed an 8-week program to teach self-compassion skills. The program, co-created with her colleague Chris Germer, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, is called Mindful Self-Compassion. Her book, Self-Compassion, was published by William Morrow in April, 2011.

Bennett Greenspan, President & CEO, Family Tree DNA. An entrepreneur and life-long genealogy enthusiast, Mr. Greenspan founded Family Tree DNA in 1999, a Houston based company and one of the largest comercial DNA Testing companies in the country. Mr Greenspan was on the forefront of the now exploding field of genetic genealogy. He is also a known supporter of the fight for original birth certificate access for adult adoptees in Texas.  He believes, “It is the right of all human beings to know their origins, and while many are curious about their distant ancestors, adoptees’ quest for their immediate parentage is even more compelling and should not be legally denied.”

Nikki Carroll, M.A., LPC-Intern & Torrey E. Carroll, M.A., LPC-Intern. Torrey and Nikki Carroll believe in the redemptive power of relationships. They have championed the cause for more than a decade by walking alongside marriages and families as they heal and grow. The Carrolls are the proud parents of two [multiracial] children, each of whom were adopted; and are sensitive to the unique dynamics that adoption brings. As adoptive parents and therapists, they understand and respect both the pressures involved in building a family, coupled with the unique gifts and learning experiences that the adoption dynamic brings.

The Carrolls’ clinical experience includes adoption-sensitive therapy, foster care, chemical dependency, marriage and family therapy, individual psychotherapy and crisis intervention. Their most recent areas of specialization include trauma and transracial adoptions. The Carrolls have a heart for supporting the adoption community and understand the clinical issues that are associated with separation, loss and grief, and attachment; the common developmental challenges in the life-long experience of adoption; as well as the characteristics and skills that make adoptive families successful. As adoption-competent therapist, they are skilled in using a range of therapies and are culturally competent and sensitive to the racial, cultural, and identification issues that can impact children and their families.

Nikki and Torry have been featured in a number of publications and news media including Success magazine, WFAA’s Daybreak, CBS’s Plugged in to DFW, In the Know with Brian Glenn on 620AM, Mocha MOB radio on DFW Iradio, and recently co-hosted the Safe Conversations® Practice and Share DVD alongside Imago relationship therapy co-creators, Harville Hendrix, Ph,D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D.

Melanie Chung-Sherman, LCSW-S, CTS, LCPAA, is the Clinical Director of Post Adoption Services, specializing in adoption-sensitive therapy and assessment at Christian Works for Children in Dallas. She is a TSBSWE Board-certified clinical supervisor and licensed clinical social worker as well as a licensed child placing administrator through the State of Texas.  She trained at the University of California at Berkeley for the Adult Attachment Interview Institute and is currently seeking her AAI Certification.  She is a Level-One Theraplay® Practitioner and practicum student.  She is trained under EMDRIA as an EMDR trained practitioner. She is a Certified Trauma Specialist through The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children™ (TLC), as well as an adjunct professor of Social Work at Collin College in Plano. She is trained in TBRI® and the Empowered to Connect Parent Training.  Featured in the Washington Post, Reuters, Dallas Child, Land of Gazillion Adoptees, and Dan Rather’s documentary on rehoming, “Unwanted in America,” and a contributing columnist for Adoption Today.  She graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with her Master of Science in Social Work. She was adopted from South Korea and raised in the United States.  Her greatest joy is life with her hubby and their two rambunctious boys.

Patricia Martinez Dorner, MA, LPC, is a pioneer in open adoption and search practices and has been a relentless advocate of adoption reform since the late 70’s. She has authored several books including How to Open an Adoption: a guide for parents and birthparents of minors. Her adoption focused practice includes: counseling, search assistance and support & the opening of adoptions involving minors. She is an adoptive mom of two adult daughters in open adoptions.

Pam Greenstone, M.A., LPC, has been a counselor in private practice since 2002. She has worked for Waterloo Counseling Center and the University of Texas Counseling Center. Pam has extensive experience and training in Group Psychotherapy and served as the President of the Austin Group Psychotherapy Society.

Lesli Johnson, LMFT, EMDR Trained and Certified, CAMFT Supervisor, Adjunct Professor: Pepperdine University, is an adult adoptee, works as a therapist specializing in adoption. Lesli provides Adoptive Parent Coaching in office and virtually. She facilitates on-going adoption support groups and conducts adoption awareness and education workshops in schools, universities and mental health settings to help professionals better understand issues related to adoption. Leslie is the contributor to Huffington Post, Adoption Today, and GoodTherapy.

Leslie Pate Mackinnon, LCSW, has maintained a private psychotherapy practice for over 40 years. She resides in Atlanta and presents both nationally and internationally on issues that impact families conceived through adoption and third-party reproduction. She’s been on GOOD MORNING AMERICA with Robin Roberts, and on CNN discussing the impact of the internet on adoption. She was featured in Dan Rather’s investigative report Adoption or Abduction and was also on the Katie Couric show along with her oldest son Pete. Leslie’s story is included in the book The Girls Who Went Away, and the documentary A Girl Like Her. Drawn to the field by placing her two firstborn sons for adoption when she was a teenager, her passion today is educating as many therapists as possible before she drops! She currently serves on the Donaldson Adoption Institute’s Board of Directors. For more information on Leslie, please visit: www.lesliepatemackinnon.com.

Andrew Nash, JD – Law, is a Birth father, Late Discovery Adoptee, and father of 5 who splits time between teaching and producing media.

Katy Perkins, LMSW-AP,  is a founding board member with STAR (Support TX Adoptee Rights), and President of Kingsman Consulting, LLC, connecting people separated from their families of origin with community resources and support. Katy has provided training and educational sessions about adoption, cultural competency, and intimate partner violence for fifteen years.

Traci Pirri, LCSW, is an adoptive mother of two, psychotherapist, and adoption coach.  After 18 years in Raleigh, NC, she recently moved back home to Texas.  Adoption has been a huge part of her life even before adopting her two children, ages 8 and 6.  She started out her career in the child welfare system, working with families suffering from mental health and/or sexual abuse issues.  She moved into psychotherapy treating victims of sexual abuse, as well as adolescent sex offenders.  She continued with this while also contracting with community agencies to provide in-home therapy, as well as leading several clinical supervision groups focused on treating trauma.  Eventually, she moved into private practice, continuing to focus on trauma and adoption issues, clinical supervision, and training both locally and nationally.  She is excited to be in Austin now and focusing her coaching services on helping people maneuver better open adoption experiences.

Raya Shelashska holds a Specialist in Psychology and Management degree in the Ukraine.  She is married with four children and started serving kids in 2006 when they became a foster family. She is a certified trainer for foster and adoptive parents, is TBRI trained, and has provide post-placement support since 2008. She has presented at conferences at the national and international levels.

Randy Whited has been an avid genealogist for 30+ years. He’s an active member of several genealogical organizations, including serving as President of the Texas State Genealogical Society, and Federation of Genealogical Societies Board member.

Krista Woods, LCSW, is the founder and President of Integrity Clinical Consulting & Training; which provides therapy and clinical services in Illinois, and case consultation and training across the country. She has been providing training on topics such as adoption, cultural competency chronic mental illness and crisis intervention since 1993.