From the desk of April Dinwoodie
Welcome to The Donaldson Adoption Institute’s (DAI) Fall 2017 Newsletter. It’s National Adoption Month, and what better time than now to make sure you’re fully up to speed on adoption today. In this issue, we highlight our Adoption Perceptions Study, Chronicle of Social Change’s research into foster care numbers, “grandfamilies”, our continued strides for Openness in Adoption, and two members of the adoption community with incredible life stories to tell.
The conversations around foster care and adoption are critical. This National Adoption Month, while there is certainly much to celebrate, we must also reflect and challenge ourselves to consider all aspects of adoption.
- Last year, DAI released our Adoption Perceptions Study, which was a landmark report that provided insight into the perceptions and beliefs about adoption that are held by the public as well as those connected to adoption. Our survey of over 2,000 Americans revealed a broad consensus behind important, current policy issues that impact the adoption and foster care community. From LGBT adoption rights, to openness in adoption, to rehoming, to support for pre- and post-adoption services, the perceptions of our community and the public shed light on important changes in the systems that guide adoption and foster care.The results of this study can aid professionals and policy makers in creating the changes necessary to ensure strong families and the well-being of children. Deeply held perceptions influence the manner in which society interacts with members of the adoption and foster care community, including the services that are provided to this population as well as the rights and benefits they receive, or perhaps, do not receive. The Adoption Perceptions study provides insight into the social belief system surrounding foster care and adoption, and from there it allows us to ensure individuals are educated about the realities of this experience which in turn benefits those most closely connected to this experience. A variety of learning tools can be developed based on the perceptions uncovered in this report, which can have significant positive impact on practitioners who serve families as well as the policies developed to guide services.
You can read some of the key findings from the Adoption Perceptions study here!
- In conjunction with our Adoption Perceptions report, last year DAI also released a qualitative report that explores the real-world perceptions and experiences of professionals such as social workers, lawyers, and clinicians on a variety of issues within the adoption landscape. As part of our broader Let’s Adopt Reform initiative, the qualitative adoption professionals report combined with our public perceptions research sought to better understand the state of adoption in America today and to identify the path to reform.Attitudes and Perceptions Among Adoption Professionals: Qualitative Research Report provides insight into the experiences of a variety of key professionals that work in the adoption and foster care space via a series of focus groups. The information gleaned from these groups helps to create a policy framework that supports best practices and also allows for the development of the tools and training needed to ensure that professionals have the supports and resources needed to best support families.
- THIS is Us DAI and the Adoption and Foster Family Coalition of New York (AFFCNY), are working together to co-host a panel discussion on November 29th, 2017 that expands upon the hit TV show ‘This is Us’ via a panel presentation of those who live the adoption experience. This is Us has captured the attention of millions with its candid portrayal of families today, the intricacies of who and what constitutes family, and how these relationships shape our identities as individuals and as a family unit. Through a moderated panel presentation, we will explore how we construct family today, the meaning this has for us, and how to create a social context in which today’s families are embraced and celebrated for the rich diversity this brings to all of our lives. Television programming such as This is Us allows us to use a culturally relevant and timely media hit to have a deeper discussion about the complexities of families today, the realities of these experiences, and the need to educate our communities in order that all families have access to what they need to be strong.Learn more about this program and register to attend here!
- DAI Chief Executive April Dinwoodie is pleased to participate as the keynote speaker for this year’s Adoptive Parent Committee annual conference in Brooklyn, NY. The keynote presentation will expand upon DAI’s popular and informative educational curriculum ‘Openness in Adoption: What a Concept!”. Today, open adoption is increasingly the norm with research conducted by the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) estimating that over 95% of agencies offer some type of open adoption. Although open adoption is more common, it doesn’t always mean it’s easy. Without preparation and the right supports in place, families may needlessly struggle.Learn more about the Adoptive Parent Committee annual conference here and don’t forget to purchase DAI’s three part curriculum on Openness in Adoption!
AROUND THE COMMUNITY
- A recent piece in the Huffington Post highlights a new report from the Movement Advancement Project that outlines the disturbing and widespread trend of religious exemption laws, which allow or propose to allow businesses, service agencies and others to discriminate in service provision based on religious beliefs. Although a fundamental American value is religious freedom, these laws are twisting a principle that never was intended to allow for discrimination or to create laws and policies that ultimately harm children and families by denying them equality.
- The Chronicle of Social Change reports on recently introduced legislation by Senators Hatch and Wyden that in part focuses on the issue of better monitoring of privatized foster care providers. In addition, this legislation entitled The Child Welfare Oversight and Accountability Act of 2017 reportedly would provide incentives for kinship placements, establish national standards on worker caseloads, and require more advanced assessment of child fatalities.
- DAI continues to ally with advocates surrounding the right of adopted people to access their original birth certificate.In New York, DAI partnered with the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York to issue a statement outlining the harms of A5036 B, a bill that does not restore equality to adopted people in New York. DAI and our partners continue to urge Governor Cuomo to veto A5036 B.DAI additionally joined with a diverse group of adoptees, organizations, birthparents, adoptive parents, professionals, and allies who support equal rights for all adult adoptees to express opposition to Florida HB 357, introduced by Rep. Richard Stark, and its companion, SB 576.
- The Chronicle of Social Change reports on their recent state by state research which sought to uncover whether there are enough homes and care environments to meet the needs of the ever-increasing number of children who are in foster care. Among other notable findings of their research is the fact that at least half of states have not increased their foster care capacity since 2012, although foster care numbers have been on the rise since this time.
- The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released its Kids Count policy report, which provides data on a variety of areas of child well-being throughout the country. The report ranks New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont as the top three states for child well-being while Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi ranked as the bottom three.
- The Dave Thomas Foundation has released their new survey studying attitudes about foster care adoption, a project the organization engages in every five years since 2002. More than 1,400 American adults and more than 1,000 Canadian adults were surveyed to gauge current perceptions of foster care and adoption. Knowledge gained from the survey allows the organization to better address misconceptions about foster care adoption and educate the public more realistically about this experience.
- New research from the Brookings Institution focuses on the need to build relational connections for foster youth, particularly those about to age out of care. The article examines recent programs that have sought to foster relationship building skills for youth transitioning out of care and the publication offers lessons for policymakers as well as thoughts for future research in this area.
- NACAC: While no dates have been announced yet, NACAC plans to host two additional webinars during the fall of 2017. Follow them on Facebook (link to @NACACadoption) or sign up for their periodic newsletter to be notified when dates are scheduled. In the meantime, check out their recorded webinars, here [https://www.nacac.org/get-training/recorded-trainings/]. For more information, find NACAC online at: https://www.nacac.org/get-training/upcoming-trainings/
- V4A:Voice for Adoption will be displaying their 13th annual Adoptive Family Portrait Project on Wednesday, November 15th in Washington, DC. Each year, VFA hosts this project to celebrate the families who have adopted children from foster care. The hope for the project is that members of congress can hear the real experiences and needs of families who have adopted from foster care. For more info, check out Voice for Adoption at http://voice-for-adoption.org/adoptive-family-portrait-project or on Facebook @Voice4Adoption. Check out past Adoptive Family Portrait Projects here [http://voice-for-adoption.org/past-adoptive-family-portrait-projects].
- National Adoption Month:It’s National Adoption Month! This year’s theme is: Teens Need Families, No Matter What. The goal is to highlight the importance of finding an adoptive family for the many teens in foster care. With age playing a role in adoption, many of these young people age out of care without a solid support system in place. The National Adoption Month website offers a slew of resources for more information. Find them online at: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/nam/
- C.A.S.E.:Looking for more information regarding foster care and adoption? The Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) has you covered. Their mission is to ensure that all people in the adoption and foster care communities have access to the support necessary to navigate life. Sign up for the Spring 2018 edition of their monthly webinar series, here [http://adoptionsupport.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Webinar-Schedule-2017-2018-1.pdf] covering a wide variety of topics impacting the foster and adoption communities. Find C.A.S.E. online at: http://adoptionsupport.org/ or on Facebook @caseadopt.
- Coming up with innovative ways to address the complex challenges of foster care has been the thrust of the foster care ‘hackathon’ project, which focused on technological innovations as a way to provide solutions and supports to families and the child welfare system. An article in the Chronicle of Social Change details a variety of notable outcomes from this project, including The Administration for Children Services (ACS) in New York City who is working with New Yorkers for Children, iFoster, and Google to provide laptops for kids in care and also is in the process of developing an online tool that aggregates resources for providers, families, and youth.
- Jezebel and Rise Magazine continue their joint effort to shed light on the experiences of parents involved with the child welfare system. In this article, two mothers share how they were foster youth themselves, and then found themselves as mothers with children involved with foster care. These two women discuss how their own experiences in childhood ultimately helped them became fierce advocates for their children, themselves, and their family.
- A piece in the Huffington post sheds light on advocates who are working with members of congress to extend the commemorative Grandparents Day (the Sunday following Labor Day) by doing more to honor and support an increasingly common family form of today – Grandfamilies. Estimates suggest that more than 2.6 million children are currently being raised by relatives, many of who are grandparents. The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act is a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA) and in essence, the legislation would create “a federal taskforce” which would aid families in navigating the myriad systems their grandchildren come in contact with while also looking to build supportive networks and resources.
- NPR reports on the experiences of families headed by LGBTQ parents who utilize assisted reproduction to build their families, yet also must go through the process of second parent adoption in order to ensure both parents are recognized with legal ties to the children. The article discusses the differences in becoming parents as members of the LGBTQ community and the additional steps families take to ensure their legal relationship to their child.
- New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press videographer Brain Johnston wins his first Emmy award for a short video documenting the experience of one man who learned a pretty big family secret in his mid-60’s: he was adopted. New Jersey resident Marty Frumkin is featured in this short video that powerfully captures the myriad of emotions experienced when you learn that what you thought was true about your life isn’t and how he persevered to fill in the missing pieces to his story. The video concludes with information about a change in New Jersey law that now allows adopted persons to request a copy of their original birth certificate upon reaching the age of 18.
- The Korea Times offers a poignant piece about the unique difficulties faced by persons adopted from South Korea who return to their birth country in the hopes of reconnecting with their family of origin. Adopted persons interviewed for the piece share of the lack of resources in South Korea to aide them in locating information about their extended family and their past. One adopted persons shares how their “identity” was erased when they were “sent out of Korea” and details the struggle to be treated humanely in her quest for critical information about her own life.
- The Today Show focused on the needs of grandparents raising their grandchildren, an increasingly common trend that research shows, in part, has occurred as the opioid crisis continues to rise. Generations United is highlighted in the story as a non -profit that focuses on providing supports to grandfamilies and seeks to break the cycle of addiction in families.
- The Human Rights campaign has developed a webinar that focuses on finding permanent, affirming families for LGBTQ youth in foster care. The webinar occurred on October 25th and highlighted a NY based agency, You Gotta Believe, and how they have developed a model for engaging youth as advocates in helping to find families for LGBTQ youth in foster care. This webinar is just one of many educational tools HRC’s All Children All Families program provides for child welfare professionals.
DAI is excited to profile Marty Frumkin and Melinda Lis in our Fall 2017 Newsletter.
Marty is a resident of New Jersey who learned in his sixties that he had been adopted as an infant. Marty was featured in a short video, The Family Secret, that won an Emmy award earlier this year. The video powerfully captures the myriad of emotions experienced when you learn that what you thought was true about your life isn’t and how he persevered to fill in the missing pieces to his story. In this interview, Marty shares with DAI how he has coped with this experience and how he has sought to put together the puzzle pieces of his past.
Tell us what it was like to learn as an adult that you had been adopted as a child.
Six years ago on Super Bowl Sunday, at the age of 65, I received a phone call from my cousin. She had been sorting through some papers of her deceased father and found my adoption papers. She called me to tell me what she learned and my initial reaction was denial, but then I realized I couldn’t deny it…the proof was there in the papers. As the news sunk in, I cannot describe the empty feeling I had. It was not that I was upset I had been adopted; it was that at the age of 65 I felt as though my whole life was a falsehood. I was raised to believe my heritage was Russian Jewish. The only grandparents I have ever known were Russian Jewish. Growing up as a child I spent time in the synagogue learning the traditions and the hymns, a tradition that continued into my adulthood. My wife is Jewish and her parents are survivors of the Holocaust. All of this is what I believed my roots were, but then I learned they were not. After my cousin disclosed to me that I was adopted, I subsequently learned that by birth I was Irish Catholic. Although I have come to accept this reality, in a way, I often still feel as though I am in limbo. I feel as though I’ve lived a falsehood. I don’t know what it’s like to be Irish Catholic, yet this is what I am by birth. I have lived my life Russian Jewish, yet this is not the full picture. I feel out of place at times between these two realities.
How did you go about learning more about your biological background?
Within a few weeks of learning I was adopted I knew I needed to do whatever I could to find my truth and gain some clarity. I went to visit my cousin in Florida to see the adoption papers for myself. I learned my name at birth was Joseph Murray. That was a numbing moment, to see the adoption paperwork, which said “…from this day forward, Joseph Murray no longer exists”. I literally was written off with the simple stroke of a pen. I was in disbelief, but I could not deny this reality. And it was not just my reality; it was my children’s as well. They too thought they knew their full heritage, and they too had been denied this.
My initial motivation in learning more about my past was that I wanted to know who my birth parents were, as well as if I had any siblings. I was raised as an only child and so I wanted to know this information. I was born in Pennsylvania and adopted in New York, and as you know it is not easy to get information about yourself. Pennsylvania’s law has just recently changed and I have applied for a copy of my original birth certificate. However almost six years ago, our initial calls to see what information I could have yielded little result. In making these calls, I was connected with a man in NJ named Tom McGee, who participated in advocacy work in NJ and also was involved with a support group in North Jersey. I began attending the group with him and through these connections I was able to find the support I needed.
I have done DNA tests through three separate places and it was through the third one I did that I was eventually connected with a first cousin on my birth mother’s side of the family. I messaged her and she responded and was happy to connect with me. She had a feeling that I was out there. That’s one of the reasons she joined Ancestry.com. I subsequently learned that I did have two siblings; a brother who was also placed for adoption, and a sister who was raised by our birth mother. I have developed a good relationship with them and with other family members. Most have been welcoming, although I do have an aunt on my birth mother’s side of the family, a nun, who won’t speak with me. Just recently I have finally gotten connected with a first cousin on my birth father’s side of the family, and I am so glad to be able to learn more about that part of my heritage. I know my birth father was a seaman and had lived in Brooklyn, which is actually where I was raised. My birth mother had worked at a navy yard, which is likely where they had met. My birth father has been deceased for some time.
Some members of my birth family were aware my birth mother had children she placed for adoption and some weren’t. The same is true for my adoptive family, that some knew I had been adopted and some didn’t. I have no animosity towards my birth mother for the decisions she made. Times were different then; there weren’t options for pregnant, unmarried women. I’ve read the book The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler and have learned how so many women were treated back then if they became pregnant and were not wed. It makes me livid that women were treated this way. I’ve learned that my birth mother was a real feminist and very ahead of her times. She passed away in 1979, one year actually before my adoptive mother passed.
I’ve had a hard time though knowing my adoptive mother never told me this, as well as knowing there are other family members who knew and never said anything. Some of my relatives actually knew and thought I knew too! My adoptive father passed away when I was still a child; I would like to believe he would have eventually told me. I know it couldn’t have been easy for my adoptive mother. She had suffered a lot of miscarriages and again, times were different then, and there was a real stigma for women who didn’t have children. There was a lot of shame. Still though, this has been hard for me to learn that the truth I thought was my life isn’t. On both sides of my family, birth and adoptive, there was a lot of lying. That’s been hard to deal with, especially because I wonder if I will ever know the full truth.
My adoptive mother had created a baby book for me and this is what interested Brian who was the videographer that won an Emmy award for the short video about my experience. Brian said, when he saw the book, that it appeared to all have been written at once instead of over time as most baby books are. Here was this whole life created through a lie, just like another whole life had been eliminated with the stroke of a pen when I was adopted. This was powerful, and so Brian created the short video. I was thrilled to hear he had won the Emmy award. I feel like this is what I can do, is share my story and hope people can understand and not make the mistakes made in my family.
Since I learned all of this almost six years ago, I’ve gotten more involved with the support group in New Jersey and I now co-facilitate the group. This has helped me cope tremendously.
What words of wisdom would you have for parents who have adopted children today?
You have to be open with your children. Again, I was never upset that I was adopted; that didn’t bother me. The fact that I was lied to and kept from the truth for 65 years drives me up the wall. It also deprived me of having a relationship with a brother and a sister, who had also been raised as only children, for 68 years.
The truth will ultimately come out. It always does, and it takes a lot of energy and effort to maintain a lie. When your children are curious about their history and want to know more about themselves, you have to be open and supportive. You have to be truthful from the beginning.
What words of wisdom would you have for professionals who work in adoption today?
Pretty much the same thing; be honest and truthful. Make sure parents understand they need to be honest and truthful, and be supportive of them. Openness is the key, and children need and deserve to know the truth.
Melinda Lis has worked in child welfare over the past 20 years. Currently she is the Director of the National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption/Guardianship Support and Preservation at Spaulding for Children, which is a five-year collaborative agreement working with eight sites across the nation. Prior to this, she was the Director for the National Resource Center for Adoption, also at Spaulding for Children. Ms. Lis worked as a Research Specialist at the Children and Family Research Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign where she coordinated a national project with courts and child welfare agencies. Her work at the Center also involved the coordination of a statewide research project on post adoption services. Prior to her work at the Center, Melinda was the Special Assistant to the Chief of Operations at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Melinda was the Co-Founder and Director of a child welfare agency called Human Service Technologies that conducted training and implemented statewide initiatives in Illinois.
What was the motivating drive behind your decision to step into the child welfare arena?
I cannot pinpoint a particular motivating drive; I went to college knowing that I wanted to work in child welfare. After getting my bachelors and masters in social work, I dove right into the direct service side of child welfare in Chicago. I was fortunate to have a lot of great opportunities throughout my 20 plus years in child welfare, allowing me to work in different arenas including direct service, administration, policy, training, and program development. I never questioned my desire to work in child welfare, and I honestly can’t imagine working in any other area.
Do you have a personal connection with adoption or foster care? If so, how has this shaped your career?
Not even one year after getting married, my husband and I got licensed so that we could foster a young man that we had been mentoring through a program at a residential home. Although he ultimately needed a more structured environment than our home could provide, we remained his family throughout his journey in the child welfare system and after he was emancipated. We are in the process of adopting him now. Even at the age of 35, you still desire to have a family to call your own. My husband and I also adopted two brothers from the child welfare system who are now grown. Without a doubt, our experience raising these boys has impacted and shaped my career. Truly understanding the challenges that families who foster and/or adopt can face and the difficulties of raising children who have been impacted by trauma has gravely impacted how I do my job and my passion to ensure that services and supports exist for all families.
What has been the most rewarding experience of your 20+ years in the industry?
I had the opportunity to work in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services at a time when the State was making tremendous changes to their child welfare system, including private agency redesign, home of relative reform, and reduction in residential care. I was surrounded by motivated and bright staff who were energized to change the system. The leaders had a strong vision of where the system needed to go and gave staff the latitude to be creative in system redesign. It was extremely rewarding to be part of a large state system that was making fundamental changes in policy and practice.
What is one thing you and QIC-AG have done or created that you hope everyone can see/hear about?
One of the fundamental messages of the QIC-AG is that families who adopt or obtain guardianship of children need to have access to supports and services after permanence has been achieved. It sounds so simple, but it is still a concept that some systems struggle to implement. Over the past decade, the number of children in foster care has decreased significantly, while the number of children supported outside the formal foster care system through federally funded adoption and guardianship subsidies has increased substantially. With this change, it is critical for systems to adjust to ensure that these children and families have access to supports. To help promote this message, the QIC-AG created a short video that talks about the need for services and supports after permanency. It is a powerful tool that can be shown to families, direct service staff, policy makers etc. The video can be accessed at: https://qic-ag.org/archives/videos/qic-ag-project-video
How does QIC-AG help to improve the adoption and foster care systems?
The QIC-AG is working with eight states/counties and tribes to implement and evaluate evidence-based models of support and intervention that can be replicated or adapted by other child welfare systems across the country. Our work with the eight partner sites is helping to define what pre- and post- services for adoptive and guardianship families looks like and the critical need for all child welfare systems to develop a robust continuum of supports and services for these children and families.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to families that are part of the adoption/foster communities?
During our process to get licensed, a wise woman who had fostered and adopted a long time ago told me, ‘you will need to redefine success and learn how to celebrate even the small achievements’.