From the Desk of April Dinwoodie

Welcome to The Donaldson Adoption Institute’s (DAI) Spring 2017 Newsletter. As we on reflect on National Foster Care Month, we stress the importance of improving the lives of children and young people and their extended families experiencing foster care. This year’s theme, “Empowering Caregivers, Strengthening Families,” should inspire all of us to develop solutions to better serve, protect and strengthen all families, especially those that are experiencing unimaginable challenges. Since our inception in 1996, DAI has been on a mission to improve the lives of children and families through research, education and advocacy.

Today, our mission feels more urgent than ever before so I hope you will join us for our 14th annual Taste of Spring Food & Wine Benefit on May 11th. We are honoring two special families who are shining examples of the principle that lies at the core of everything we believe: Strong families build strong communities and strong communities build a better world for all.

In this issue, we highlight our first online curriculum, Openness in Adoption: What a Concept! – a training for parents and professionals interested in ensuring open and authentic relationships in adoption, the introduction of the National Adoption and Foster Care Home Study Act, and Child Welfare Information Gateway’s robust webpage with vital resources and information on National Foster Care Month.



  • Join us on May 11th at the Metropolitan Pavilion for an evening of food, wine, cocktails and celebration of our shared commitment to improve the lives of children and families through research, education and advocacy. Click here to learn more about our 2017 Honorees — The Franklin-Stevens Family and The Kazickas-Altman Family — and please consider making a donation to DAI.


  • In March, DAI Chief Executive April Dinwoodie lead an adoption super session at the Child Welfare of America’s 2017 national conference — “Advancing Excellence in Practice and Policy: Highlighting Successful Strategies to Address the Needs of Children, Youth, and Families” in Washington, D.C. The super session was titled “Transaction to Transformation: A Modern Understanding of Adoption to Strengthen All Families” and was focused on enhancing the understanding and training of professionals who assist families in the post-adoption process and on examining strategies that can facilitate and strengthen adoptions through community partnerships.


  • On March 21st DAI hosted an event in collaboration with the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College to present the research findings of our latest large-scale study on options counseling. Program Director Kim Paglino shared highlights from the work completed by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington. Following the research presentation, DAI Chief Executive April Dinwoodie moderated a panel discussion with Kim Paglino, Leslie Pate Mackinnon, LCSW (birth mother, DAI Board Member and LCSW), Brina Collins (first mother and Reflections of a Birth Mother blogger), and Sheila Anderson (adoptive mother and adoption professional).The conversation provided critical insight into the nuances of the many diverse experiences of women connected to adoption. Click here to view the photo gallery from our “Women, Family and Adoption: Reclaiming Our Narrative” event.


  • In March, DAI released the second phase of our landmark options counseling research, Understanding Options Counseling Experiences in Adoption: A Qualitative Analysis of Birth Parents and Professionals. Building on the work that was released last November, this second phase provides in-depth interviews with birth parents and adoption professionals to better understand their experiences as well as the context in which services are offered to expectant and birth parents. The findings reveal a variety of areas for improvement in both practice and policy. Furthermore, understanding the individual experiences in adoption allows for education of the wider community and will undoubtedly serve to create a healthier and stronger extended family of adoption.DAI deliberately chose to release the second phase of this study in March to celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day in an effort to expand the adoption conversation more specifically into a discussion about women and women’s rights. The adoption experience is a critical aspect of women’s history yet has been largely absent from the wider discourse on experiences that impact women. DAI was excited to partner with the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in late March to hold a special event to discuss this research and hear from three women with personal and professional connections to adoption. DAI is committed to our work in this area to empower expectant parents and ensure family building occurs in a strengths-based, ethical manner. This includes:
    • Developing a best practice manual for options counseling services
    • Addressing gaps in the policy framework to ensure a standardized approach to services
    • The development of web-based resources to expectant parents to have opportunity to explore the full range of available options including parenting resources and access to individuals who considered adoption but chose to parent
    • Training seminars for prospective adoptive parents and professionals that address (among other areas) critical areas such as empathy building, dual roles, boundary setting and relationship-building

    DAI is grateful for the dedicated team of researchers, advisors and supporters that developed this critical research. The research was led by Dr. Elissa Madden, PhD, Assistant Professor at the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University and Dr. Scott Ryan, PhD, Dean and Jenkins Garrett Professor at the School of Social Work at The University of Texas of Arlington. Additional researchers include Dr. Donna Aguiniga, PhD; Olga Verbovaya, MSW; Marcus Crawford, MSW; and Chandler Gobin, BA. This project was underwritten by DAI’s Lynn Franklin Fund with initial funding by James Stevens. Brenda Romanchik (LCSW, ACSW, CTS and author of A Birthparent’s Book of Memories and other publications) served as the Project Lead. The Lynn Franklin Fund Advisory Council provided invaluable insight throughout this project.


  • Last fall, DAI launched our first online curriculum: Openness in Adoption: What a Concept! Adoption has changed dramatically since its formal inception in the mid-20th century. At that time, stigma, stereotypes and misinformed practice modalities led to adoption being conducted in a secretive and closed manner. Thankfully, a combination of research, changing social norms, and the advocacy of those who had suffered under a clandestine adoption system led to an embrace of openness as a fundamental aspect of adoption. According to research conducted by DAI, more than 95% of agencies today offer some form of open adoption and the majority of families have embraced openness as a part of their experience.Although openness is a concept that makes sense to most people, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. DAI’s curriculum carefully breaks down key concepts surrounding the openness experience, provides research-based facts, offers real-life scenarios and provides examples for practice. So far, the curriculum has been very well received by both parents and professionals. On April 18th, DAI began charging a modest fee of $29.95 for Openness in Adoption: What a Concept! This support will allow us to continue to provide dynamic online learning tools for the extended family of adoption.
  • Although the majority of the public supports an adopted person’s right to access his/her original birth certificate upon reaching adulthood, most states disallow access to this vital document or they create cumbersome systems of partial and restricted access. DAI has created a map that clearly outlines the current state of OBC access in the United States. The next phase of this work will be to create an organized advocacy campaign to develop the momentum to drive needed changes in states that still maintain antiquated and discriminatory laws. Although this is a state’s rights issue, creating national momentum, organizing existing efforts, and working in collaboration with committed advocates will allow for greater unity and the necessary momentum to create meaningful change throughout the U.S. A central website (or hub) will act as a resource for each state and will contain an interactive OBC map, advocacy tips and tools, provide the latest national news, social conversations, research and resources for professionals, advocates and the adoption community. Advocates will have the opportunity to virtually connect with advocates in other states as an opportunity to learn, mentor and garner support. DAI will develop an advisory council to help develop this effort and will also create strategic partnerships with other national movements focused on issues of equality and rights. Watch for updates on DAI’s website as this exciting and necessary project unfolds!



  • In March, Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA), Steve Russell (R-OK), Karen Bass (D-CA) and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the “National Adoption and Foster Care Home Study Act,” which among other areas, advances home study practices and creates greater uniformity that ensures children’s safety and needs are at the forefront of decision-making. National standards are needed in adoption in order to better regulate key elements of the adoption process such as the home study evaluation. DAI applauds these efforts as it promotes the need for more consistent and standardized regulations in key areas of the adoption process — a point that the majority of the public supports according to DAI’s 2015 public opinion research. When families are well prepared before an adoption takes place with the right education and supports, children will be healthier and families will be stronger.
  • DAI continues to work in partnership with our fellow child welfare organizations and the Human Rights Campaign to advocate against proposed legislation that discriminates against potentially qualified families based on sexual orientation. Within the past few months, a new spate of legislation has swept through states that seeks to limit opportunities for children to join potentially qualified families and legalize discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. Given the overwhelming number of children awaiting permanency in foster care, as well as the staggering rates of youth who age out of foster care without a permanent family connection, it is imperative that we create more pathways for children to join potentially loving and stable homes. DAI hopes our supporters will stand with us in opposing measures that treat families unequally and harm children.
  • Work continues throughout the United States surrounding efforts to allow adopted people to access their original birth certificates. In Connecticut, efforts are focused on expanding upon an earlier law that became effective in 2015 and allows people born and adopted in Connecticut who are 18 years of age and older and whose adoption was finalized on or after October 1, 1983 to access their original birth certificate. The current reform efforts in Connecticut are directed towards legislation that would expand this same right to all adopted people in Connecticut upon reaching adulthood. In Texas, groups are hard at work to advocate for the right of adopted people to access their original birth certificate. Texas is currently considered a “closed” state with no access for adopted people to access this vital document. Right here in New York (also a “closed” state), advocates are continuing to work hard at creating reform that allows adopted people unrestricted access to their original birth certificate. The effort in New York has spanned more than two decades, yet continues on with greater fervor than ever before. DAI continues to support efforts in every state to allow adopted people the fundamental human right to access a copy of their original birth certificate. According to our 2015 public opinion research, the majority of the public supports an adopted person’s right to his/her original birth certificate and our whitepapers on this area provide further evidence that reform is in the best interest of the entire extended family of adoption.


  • In honor of National Foster Care Month, Child Welfare Information Gateway has created a webpage with multiple resources on improving the lives of children and youth in foster care. With a focus on the theme of “Empowering Caregivers, Strengthening Families,” this website includes the real-life stories of foster parents and kinship caregivers. It also invites people to share their events and stories via its Facebook campaign. Child Welfare Information Gateway also has a special National Foster Care and Adoption Directory mobile app which lets users find and save information on foster care and adoption services.
  • AdoptUSKids provide a wide array of information surrounding adoption from foster care including state specific information and resources. This resource is an excellent starting point for families interested in learning more about adoption from foster care.
  • Did you know that currently there are more than 100,000 children waiting in foster care for a permanent adoptive home? Voice for Adoption is a national organization whose mission is to advocate for children currently waiting in foster care for adoption. Voice for Adoption works in collaboration with a wide array of partners to develop and advocate for improved adoption policies in a variety of areas impacting waiting children and families. Take time during National Foster Care Month to learn more about their work!





        • DAI was thrilled to partner with Dr. Elissa Madden from the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University and Dr. Scott Ryan from the University of Texas at Arlington School of Social Work on phase two of our landmark options counseling research. A Baptist Standard article discusses this vital study that explores the experiences of birth mothers and calls for needed changes in adoption policy and practice.
        • In a Deseret News article, DAI Chief Executive April Dinwoodie discusses how entertainment doesn’t always help us see the issues that make us all look at family differently.


Deb and Joe Hallman, Adoptive Parents

You were very honest and open about your desire to have an open adoption. Why did you decide to share your experience?
We have had an amazing open adoption experience with the birth families of our two children. We felt that sharing our experience with other potential adoptive couples would help others realize that open adoption is a very viable option. Fear of the unknown is something that could potentially keep families from having an open adoption arrangement so we want to let couples in the beginning stages of the adoption process know that it is nothing to fear and can actually be a fantastic way to build a relationship with the birth families. As we were gathering information while we were going through the adoption process, we heard many adopted adult individuals speak out about being in a closed adoption arrangement. We learned from them that having a closed adoption was very difficult on them and we wanted our children to have the knowledge of their birth families available to them.

Is there anything you underestimated in building a relationship with the extended family of adoption?
We were pleasantly surprised that both of our children’s birth families wanted to keep in touch and have an open relationship. They both see the importance in keeping a connection for their children’s best interest.

And how has the relationship changed over time?
As time goes on, our contact with the birth families is less often. Initially, when the kids were infants/babies, we shared a lot of updates and photos. Their birth families were able to follow along with their milestones, and keep up to date as they progressed. Now that they are older and there aren’t as many milestones, we don’t have contact as often as we did in the beginning but the relationships have not changed. We still consider them a part of our extended family.