Reforming Adoption at the Hyperlocal Level


Left to Right: Lori Holden (Photo by Kim Shokouhi Photography) and Addison Cooper (Photo by Addison Cooper)

This guest blog post was written by Lori Holden and Addison Cooper. Lori Holden, MA, writes at the award-winning site, She’s the author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, written with her daughter’s birth mom and acclaimed by people in all parts of the adoption constellation. She presents around the U.S. about openness in adoption. She’s written for The Huffington Post, Parenting magazine, and Adoptive Families magazine. She lives in Denver with her husband and their two teenagers. Follow her on Twitter @LavLuz and like her Facebook page.

Addison Cooper, LCSW, runs Adoption at the Movies, a film review blog for adoptive families. He’s written for The New Social Worker, Adoptive Families, Adoption Today, Fostering Families Today, Foster Focus, Focus on Adoption and The Huffington Post. His book Adoption at the Movie: a Year of Friendly Movie Nights to Get Your Family Talking will be published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in early 2017. Addison has 10 years’ experience in foster care adoption as a social worker, therapist and clinical supervisor. Follow him on Twitter @AddisonCooper and like his Adoption At The Movies Facebook page

Imagine a glorious time in the future when all desired adoption laws are passed and all adoption arrangements are codified. Won’t it be great to be finished with the hard work of adoption reform?

While changes in adoption laws and policy are necessary, these alone will not make the adoption world all better. If laws were the endpoints, then the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments would have resulted in immediate equality and justice for formerly enslaved and free African Americans – but it didn’t. Now, even 150 years later, our society struggles with these same issues.

Reforming policy and law is one necessary step, but it’s not the last step. Not until ideas of respect, empathy and inherent value of others also take root in people’s hearts can true and enduring change happen.

Imposed vs. Embraced

As an experiment, ask yourself:

  • Why don’t you speed?
  • Why don’t you text while driving?
  • Why don’t you lie, steal or murder?
  • Why do you pay taxes?
  • Why do you give to charity?

Some things you do because it’s a rule, and some things you do because it seems right to you. Sometimes it’s because “somebody told me” and other times it’s because “I told myself.” What is it that makes us feel good about giving money to charity, but resentful about paying our taxes? What is it that makes us resent a speeding ticket for going 7 miles an hour over the speed limit at the bottom of a hill, but not resent a ticket for texting while driving in a school zone?

Perhaps the difference lies in whether we feel motivated by externally imposed rules or internally embraced values. We may resent taxes because they’re required and because we don’t always see direct benefits, and we may not get the same sense of fulfillment from paying our taxes that we do from giving to a chosen charity. They’re both right, they’re both things we should do, but one type we do because an external force makes us do it and the other comes from within.

It’s good to have good laws; it’s even better when those laws are followed naturally, because they’re viewed as the right thing to do anyway.

With the reforms we want to see in adoption, we don’t just want to see compelled behavioral change, we want the spirit of the changes. We want adoption relationships to be healthy, good and welcoming.

In reforming adoption, how can we help people move from “because it’s a requirement” to “because it’s right?” And from “because I have to” to “because it’s in line with who I want to be?”

Attaining the Vibe

To put this in adoption terms, even though we may have a post-adoption contact agreement, that doesn’t always mean the agreement comes from the heart. The law says one thing, but the vibe that an adopted person or a birth family or an adoptive family gets from others involved in the relationships may say something else.

For example, even if the law says an adopted person can get his original birth certificate, if the vibe he senses from his family isn’t an open one, he may not actually feel as though he’s free to get his document. It’s like he’s being told, “Yes you can, but no you may not.”

And how many times have you heard the story of an adoptee waiting until the death of her adoptive parents to begin searching for her original parents? Even though she had always been legally free to start looking, she never really felt free to do so. A law opening up her original birth certificate would be ineffective for her until and unless her adoptive parents had given the vibe that would have allowed her to search. Such closedness and brittleness is sad for all involved.

Resources for Reforming Adoption at the Hyperlocal Level

Ideas start big, at the macro level, but implementation needs to reach all the way to the micro level, to the minds and hearts of individuals. Fortunately, much is already being done in the adoption world to bring about such hyperlocal changes.

In preparing for our presentation at the 2016 American Adoption Congress Conference, we began to compile a list of people already doing the work of bringing heart-based change. Take a look.

We started jotting down frameworks on our radar that move people:

  • From external to internal
  • From separate to connected
  • From closed to open
  • From head to heart
  • From fear to love

Though by no means all-inclusive, on this list you’ll find adoption reform luminaries like Jim Gritter and Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao. You’ll see organizations like Creating a Family, the Family to Family Support Network and, of course, The Donaldson Adoption Institute. You’ll see work from the #flipthescript effort, as well as a variety of voices on Portrait of an Adoption.

And because stories are such effective and wonderful ways for people to connect deeply with another person and to truly “get” a new viewpoint, Addison offers films about Angela Tucker (Closure) and by David Quint (Father Unknown). Lori shares memoirs by Anne Heffron and Lorraine Dusky, as well as anthologies compiled by Lynn Grubb and Laura Dennis. Really, you need to check these out. Each is brilliant for reaching directly into the hearts of the audience.

Feel free to start here and add resources you know of to make this list your own.

A More Hospitious Place

While adoption may appear to be a legal experience, it is also at its essence, as Dr. Randolph Severson says, a spiritual experience. The head is involved and so must the heart be.

No matter what laws are passed and no matter what agreements are signed, the adoption world will become a more hospitious place if we don’t rely solely on rules. Let us — each of us — also open and engage our hearts. Let us offer to others what we most desire for ourselves: respect, empathy and a recognition of inherent value.


 If you’re interested in contributing as a guest blogger for DAI, please email Heather Schultz (Communications and Development Manager) at [email protected] with one writing sample, resume/bio and 2-3 desired topics of interest. For more information on our guest blogging submission process, click here.


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