Bonni Goodwin, a recent recipient of the Oklahoma NASW’s Emerging Leader in Social Work award, stumbled upon a passion she is now pursuing in the form of a PhD through the Garland School of Social Work (GSSW).
Goodwin studied Family and Human Services at John Brown University, received her MSW at Washburn University and now holds a position in the Center for Child Welfare Training and Simulation at the University of Oklahoma while she completes her PhD in social work.
While working with an adoption agency in Kansas for her MSW generalist practicum, Goodwin’s eyes were opened to the world of adoption and foster care. She spent extensive time with expecting mothers during the child placement process, and it shaped her trajectory from that moment forward.
Even when adoption placements are a success, Goodwin says there is often still a deep sense of lingering rejection.
“I learned how this lack of knowing one’s background can affect a person, and especially how to help a child and family navigate these feelings, and find healing and stability,” she said. “There is so much to the experience of adoption that is either unknown or misunderstood, especially by professionals who desire to help children and families find wholeness and stability – I know this because I was one.”
This realization prompted her move to Oklahoma after graduation, where she found a job as the counseling supervisor of an adoption-specialized counseling center.
As counseling supervisor and a certified foundational practitioner in Theraplay, a play therapy that focuses on attachment and regulation, Goodwin had the chance to work one-on-one with children, youth and families.
There is so much to the experience of adoption that is either unknown or misunderstood, especially by professionals who desire to help children and families find wholeness and stability.
“It was powerful to be in the midst of an activity you hope will be beneficial, then something emotional and even spiritual shifts in the connection between the child and the parent and you know the goal was achieved,” she said. “The smiles, laughter, snuggles and singing on the way out the door of the counseling center made it all worth it.”
Though this experience as a clinical social worker broadened her skill set for intervention methods, it left her craving more answers for the many hopeless situations that still existed.
The pathway to these answers began with returning to school to pursue adoption-focused research, and the final move to the Center for Child Welfare Training and Simulation at the University of Oklahoma.
In an upcoming partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (ODHS), Goodwin will focus on assessing and enriching the entire post-adoption response across the state while contributing her own research to benefit the children, families and professionals involved.
“I will remain an employee of the University of Oklahoma’s School of Social Work, but be working with ODHS leadership to explore needs, lead research and evaluation efforts to find possible solutions and change the face of how post-adoption is done at all levels,” she said.
One of her goals for the partnership is to develop a network of adoption-competent resources statewide who are identified as knowledgeable and effective in responding to the needs of children and families.
Goodwin is fortunate to be involved in work that fits seamlessly with her dissertation research on the experience of adoption breakdown from the adoptive parent perspective, and finding gaps in support.
The anxiety has turned into a healthy dose of imposter syndrome that I continually have to take hold of and coach myself into remembering that I will never fully ‘arrive,’ and that’s the best part of research: there’s always more to discover.
She says one of the the main challenges of post-adoption is helping parents find out when and why difficulties arise for their child, and how to navigate the process of bonding and healing.
“My current work on my dissertation is not only supported, but requested as it is being used to inform a lot of the direction in this new contract. I am overwhelmed and thankful as this is truly the entire reason why I began to pray about returning to school to get my PhD in the first place,” she said.
Goodwin was hesitant to make the decision to begin in the PhD world, but she knew it was a critical step for her interests to become reality.
“I would say the anxiety has turned into a healthy dose of imposter syndrome that I continually have to take hold of and coach myself into remembering that I will never fully ‘arrive,’ and that’s the best part of research: there’s always more to discover,” she said.
With an eye seeing a need, and a mind constantly wrestling toward change, it’s no surprise Bonni Goodwin won the Emerging Leader in Social Work award. The award is given to encourage and empower a social worker making a difference in their community.
“It has given me a sense of belonging and camaraderie with my fellow social workers in my state, being so thankful for their belief in what I am doing and what I hope to accomplish,” Goodwin added.