From the desk of April Dinwoodie

Dear Friends,

Welcome to a special edition of The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) Newsletter.  Our focus this quarter will be on Let’s Adopt Reform, DAI’s exciting new initiative that aims to ignite a national conversation about adoption in the 21st century to encourage change and strengthen all families.

On Wednesday, November 4, we kicked off Let’s Adopt Reform with a Town Hall in New York City. Hundreds of people, in person and online, came together to listen, share and learn. The evening was moderated by the extraordinary Michaela Pereira, best known as an anchor of CNN New Day. Michaela shared her own journey as an adopted person and led the lively and informative discussion. You may view the entire event here.

This was just the first stop in our four-city national tour. These events will reflect the overall Let’s Adopt Reform mission: to move from a transactional to a transformational approach to adoption.  They are designed to help DAI gather deeper understanding of the perceptions of adoption and foster care adoption in the 21st century, and in turn to help us shape policy and practice solutions.  Each stop on the tour will cover all of DAI’s four pillars.

True to our heritage, the other central element in our Let’s Adopt Reform initiative is research.  Over the past several months, DAI commissioned Research in Kind to conduct a comprehensive national survey of public opinion on the landscape of adoption in the 21st century. More specifically, this research has helped us gain an understanding of how the American people, including the adoption community, perceive and respond to adoption, foster care adoption, and the policies surrounding both. We will explore these questions further during the national tour.

I am thrilled to share with you some of the results from that research survey in this Newsletter. As you will see, I have highlighted one finding in each of our pillars.  These are meant to give you a flavor of what we found out, and it will be my pleasure to present more results down the road.

If you haven’t done so yet, I urge you to read and sign the Let’s Adopt Reform open letter. It’s an easy yet vital way for you to become a part of this exciting endeavor. Together, we can build community, change perceptions and strengthen families.

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Adoption Learning Partners offers a variety of online learning tools for pre- and post-adoptive parents. In honor of National Adoption Month, Adoption Learning Partners is offering special discounts for families either exploring adopting an older child or to help them better meet the needs of the child they are already parenting. Visit Adoption Learning Partners for more information.

The ‘Flip The Script: Adult Adoptee Anthology’ has been released! DAI Chief Executive April Dinwoodie was proud and honored to contribute to this important work. A sincere thank you to all fellow contributors and editors, Diane Christian, Rosita González and Amanda Woolston who are all part of the AN-YA Project founded by Diane Christian and Mei-Mei Ellerman. The book is a diverse compilation of literature and art from adopted persons around the world. Get your copy today!

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An organization pushing the state to unseal some 50 years of birth records returns to the Statehouse. It’s a push for the same bill that failed earlier this year. Hoosiers for Equal Access to Records – or HEAR – testified in hopes of resurrecting the failed bill. The bill would give people who were adopted access to more than 50 years of sealed records. The testimony is part of an effort to put the bill in the forefront for the next legislative session when it starts in January.

Responding to charges that it was violating the state’s new adoption-records law, the Ohio Department of Health will re-issue original birth certificates to about three dozen adoptees who received documents with too much information redacted. State Sen. Bill Beagle said that the department’s director, Richard Hodges, called to say that officials had “clarified the legislators’ intent” under the law, which unsealed the birth records of some 400,000 adoptees whose adoptions were finalized in Ohio between 1964 and 1996.

The landscape of American family life is rapidly changing. Nowhere are these changes being felt more strongly and directly than in the areas of adoption, foster care adoption and assisted reproductive technology. DAI encourages the acceptance of diverse families and believes that all families can benefit from quality support.

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SURVEY RESULTS

73% of the General Public agree that prospective adoptive parents should be evaluated on their qualifications, not their sexual orientation or other factors related to their personhood that have no bearing on their parental abilities.

Only 27% of people believe a religious group should be able to deny services to an individual or couple seeking adoption based on their sexual orientation.

This fall, the Donaldson Adoption Institute announced the introduction of an important new data set developed by Dr. David Brodzinsky that will enhance knowledge surrounding the different experiences of Modern Adoptive Families (MAF). The MAF asked respondents to discuss modern day aspects of the adoption experience in some detail, and researchers led by Dr. Brodzinsky are currently examining the data to see how this is currently playing out across different types of adoption for example; private vs. public and adoptions by heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals. One area the MAF study seeks to explore is parenting by lesbians and gay men. Although predominantly completed by heterosexual respondents, the MAF does include participants from the lesbian and gay community, which is important in order to further acknowledge the many types of adoptive families today. In the introduction to the MAF study, Dr. Brodzinsky provides the descriptive data in the report; future studies will include comparative and inferential analyses related to different types of adoptions and other aspects related to adoption in the 21st century.

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Gay Parent magazine is an award winning publication featuring stories of LGBT parents throughout the United States and around the world. Articles feature insights from LGBT parents surrounding their family building journeys and experiences. Learn more about this useful resource by visiting Gay Parents magazine!

Gays with Kids is an online community offering blog posts, education, advice and much more for gay fathers. Check out this vital resource by visiting their website.

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The June 26 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage also provided access to all the same court actions available to opposite-sex spouses. In Franklin County and throughout the nation, same-sex couples are picking up marriage licenses, amending children’s birth certificates, dividing assets, divorcing and, at last, being recognized as the legal parents of the children they’ve been raising. Carol Ann Fey, a Bexley lawyer who has long specialized in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender family law, beamed as Cunningham was granted the same parental rights that his husband, Mark, has had since adopting their sons as infants.

Even in states that require agencies to work with gay couples, there are no guarantees against discrimination in deciding whether to allow them to adopt. “It’s easy to find a way to say no to a couple. It’s easy to prioritize some couples over others,” said April Dinwoodie, chief executive of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, which researches adoption policy. She said if case workers have a bias, “they can find something within a home study that doesn’t suit them or find a reason a child wouldn’t be a good fit for a home.”
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DAI is committed to ensuring the most vulnerable children and families receive the timely attention and quality support they deserve as they navigate the child welfare system. Through our research over the years, DAI has demonstrated that the foster care system is strengthened by widening the pool of potential parents.

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SURVEY RESULTS

Members of the General Public rank Adoption and Foster Care Regulation high on a list of social issues they support, with 75% of consumers indicating that they support greater regulation of the adoption and foster care system. Foster alum ranked regulation of the adoption and foster care system particularly high, with 90% indicating this was an important issue for them.

Only 43% of the General Public believe the Foster Care system in the US is good.

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On November 19th, 2015, the Center for Adoption Support and Education hosted a Webinar entitled “Considering Adoption? Making the Decision to Adopt Older Children/Teens from Foster Care.” A panel of parents and professionals discussed aspects of adopting from foster care, including joys and challenges as well as tips for success. Learn more about this and other educational opportunities by visiting the Center for Adoption Support and Education.

November was National Adoption Month and the theme this year focused on the adoption of older youth in foster care. You can visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway to learn more about National Adoption Month and explore research, information and resources related to adopting older children through the foster care system as well as other topic areas related to the adoption and foster care adoption experience.

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DCFS came under increased state scrutiny this spring after the Arkansas Times broke the news that Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) and his wife had “rehomed” two young girls they’d adopted through DCFS; the Harrises gave the children to a family where one child was then raped. In the wake of that controversy, the legislature made rehoming a felony, and Hutchinson ordered a review of DCFS. The study was performed by Paul Vincent, director of an Alabama-based nonprofit that consults for public child welfare agencies. In July, Vincent delivered his findings to the state.

Spending part of your childhood being raised by strangers will never be normal, but the foster care experience can be better. When reviewing laws and regulations, legislators, child welfare professionals and concerned citizens should ask a simple question: “Would I want this for my child?” We must commit to providing effective, intensive help for struggling biological families to expedite safe reunifications and strengthen adoption efforts if that’s not possible.

DAI strives to increase access to quality pre- and post-adoption services in order to ensure strong and stable families. We recognize family needs do not end when an adoption is nominally “finalized.” Unregulated child custody transfers or “re-homing” as it is colloquially known serves as a particularly disturbing example of what can happen when families are not properly prepared and supported before, during and for many years following an adoption.

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SURVEY RESULTS

52% of the General Public support increased public funding for pre- and post-adoption services.

Qualitative Study of Adoption Professionals Experiences and Perspectives

As part of our Let’s Adopt Reform initiative, DAI has commissioned a qualitative study to explore the experiences and perspectives of adoption professionals in a variety of arenas. These include foster care social workers, professionals who work in adoption agencies, researchers that focus on adoption, adoption attorneys, and therapists who specialize in adoption practice. This qualitative study will seek to explore the viewpoints of these seasoned adoption professionals in a variety of key areas, including openness in adoption, pre- and post-adoption support and education, the service system and other critical elements of the adoption process and experience. This qualitative study will help us gain insight as well into areas of need surrounding pre and post adoption support and education, including what tools are needed among the professional community to best serve children and families. DAI will include the results of this study along with our public opinion research as a means of expanding upon our Let’s Adopt Reform initiative, with an overarching goal of releasing a comprehensive report that seeks to offer recommendations for improvements in adoption practice and policy. This report will be released at the conclusion of our National Tour in 2016.

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The Modern Family Center at Spence Chapin Services provides pre and post adoption support and education to all members of the adoption constellation. Learn more about their workshops, educational programs, community events and other related services by visiting the Modern Family Center website.

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Meeks said it’s good that the problem is drawing attention in the nation’s capital. Arkansas has plenty of work to do, both in providing more services to families that may be struggling with an adoption, and by increasing public education about re-homing. “Now we have the law in place, the focus needs to be on awareness about it,” Meeks said. “Ultimately, you want to keep it from happening in the first place.”

Adoptive parents sometimes feel overlooked or stigmatized by schools, they say. And those actions can threaten to jeopardize efforts to engage parents and to make sure students feel safe and supported in the classroom. And as a growing number of same-sex couples adopt children and enroll them in schools, the needs of adoptive families often overlap with similar concerns of same-sex couples and their children. And many adopted students are from different racial or ethnic groups than their parents, adding another layer for schools to consider.

For a list of all events, see the calendar on our homepage