From the Desk of April Dinwoodie

Welcome to The Donaldson Adoption Institute’s Winter 2017 Newsletter. As we reflect on Black History Month, we stress the importance of understanding the various ways race, class and culture impact adoption and foster care. DAI has long been active in working to provide resources in this area. In fact, Finding Families for African American Children: The Role of Race and Law in Adoption from Foster Care is one of the most downloaded reports in our history. It was released in 2008 but much of it is still relevant today. There is still so much work to be done first in keeping families together and when that is not possible and differences of race, class and culture are part of the adoption and foster care experience, parents and professionals must be prepared to encourage healthy identity development for children, teens and young adults. We simply can’t talk about adoption without acknowledging that differences of race, class and culture play a very real role.

In this issue, we highlight Phase Two of our groundbreaking options counseling study, the new legislation allowing adopted people in New Jersey to access their original birth certificates, and the impressive 25-plus year in foster care and adoption of Mark Lacava (clinical director of Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center).

Please click the video below for a message from DAI Chief Executive April Dinwoodie.

DAI’s Winter 2017 Newsletter: Message from Chief Executive April Dinwoodie from Donaldson Adoption Institute on Vimeo.



  • Seeing Color: Why It Matters for Transracial Adoptive Families
    In The Chronicle of Social Change, DAI Chief Executive April Dinwoodie encourages the importance of fostering transformative dialogues to ensure the healthy identity development for everyone in transracial families: “The goal is not to achieve a colorblind society but rather one that celebrates, instead of victimizes, differences in color. For families of adoption, particularly those who combine racial and cultural differences, it is essential that they engage in transformational dialogue and behavior surrounding these issues.”
  • Thinking About Black History Month and Transracial Adoption
    In The Huffington Post, DAI Chief Executive April Dinwoodie celebrates her identity as a bi-racial, transracially adopted person and the pain and beauty of differences in race, class and culture: “Agitation plus inspiration means that I keep showing up where I am one of only a few people of color or the only person of color. It also means that when I do show up I have to do so with a delicate balance of force and grace. I can’t just be agitated, I must be inspired to do more, say more and act more on behalf of myself and others like me.”


  • On Nov. 18, 2016, DAI held a special preview screening of Lion at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York City. Based on Saroo Brierley’s memoir “A Long Way Home,” this poignant film follows Saroo’s determination to find his birth mother with the help of Google Earth. Here too, we see how differences of race, class and culture are embedded in so many adoption experiences. After the screening, DAI Chief Executive April Dinwoodie hosted a Q&A with Saroo and his adoptive mother, Sue Brierley.
  • One of our most popular reports, Finding Families for African American Children: The Role of Race and Law in Adoption from Foster Care, focuses on domestic transracial adoption and assesses its use as a policy and practice approach in meeting the needs of African American children in foster care who cannot be safely reunited with their parents or placed with kin. This paper is endorsed by the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the Child Welfare League of America, the Adoption Exchange Association, the National Association of Black Social Workers, Voice for Adoption and the Foster Care Alumni of America.
  • In December 2016, DAI was excited to release our landmark Let’s Adopt Reform report exploring the most critical issues facing our community. This report highlights our many years of research, what we most recently learned from the American public and adoption professionals, policy challenges and opportunities, promising practices, and our recommendations for changes needed on the path to reform. There are five critical themes that emerged in the report and will become the bedrock of our work going forward. Research-based policy and practice recommendations are included in the report which is available on the DAI website. Please help us spread the word about this report by sharing with your networks.
  • Now available for download on the DAI website are key findings from our Adoption Perceptions Study. Our survey of more than 2,000 Americans revealed a broad consensus behind important, current policy issues that impact the adoption and foster care adoption community. From LGBT adoption rights, to openness in adoption, to unregulated child custody transfers also known as “rehoming,” to support for pre- and post-adoption services, our community and the public agree about important changes that can strengthen all families. This critical work will help inform policy and practice recommendations.
  • As part of our Let’s Adopt Reform initiative, DAI also commissioned a qualitative research report that explores the real-world perceptions and experiences of professionals including therapists, caseworkers, attorneys and researchers on a variety of issues within the adoption landscape. The results from both of these reports will be invaluable in informing our work moving forward.
  • DAI was thrilled to release Phase One of our options counseling study this past November, Understanding Options Counseling Experiences in Adoption: A Quantitative Analysis. Phase One of this groundbreaking study has been well received by professionals and the wider adoption community. DAI will be releasing Phase Two of this comprehensive work in March: Understanding Options Counseling Experiences in Adoption: A Qualitative Analysis. In this phase of the study, researchers interviewed birth mothers as well as adoption professionals who provide services to expectant parents to explore in more detail the nature of these experiences. The report includes critical recommendations to better streamline and ensure ethics in practice.
  • When a child is adopted in America, his/her original birth certificate becomes sealed and an amended birth certificate is issued, which lists the adoptive parents as birth parents. Although openness and transparency are hallmarks of adoption today, the practice of sealing an adopted person’s birth certificate remains. DAI created this map to show the current state of laws that impact whether or not an adopted person is able to access his or her original birth certificate. Thanks to the work of committed and tenacious advocates, many states have moved to allow some degree of access for adopted people to request a copy of their original birth certificate upon reaching adulthood. This information is current as of November 2016.
  • DAI was thrilled to release Phase One of our options counseling study this past November, Understanding Options Counseling Experiences in Adoption: A Quantitative Analysis. Phase One of this critical study has been well received by professionals and the wider adoption community. DAI will be releasing Phase Two of this comprehensive work early this March: Understanding Options Counseling Experiences in Adoption: A Qualitative Analysis. In this phase of the study, researchers interviewed birth mothers as well as adoption professionals who provide services to expectant parents to explore in more detail the nature of these experiences. The report concludes with some critical recommendations to better streamline and ensure ethics in practice.




      • On January 1, 2017, New Jersey’s Adoptee’s Birthright Act became effective. The law allows adopted people and certain others to access a copy of their original birth certificate. First/birth mothers can choose to elect their preference for contact from the adopted person and are able to also submit an updated family medical, cultural and social history form. First/birth mothers whose child adoption was finalized before August 1, 2015 had until December 31, 2016 to request their identifying information removed from the birth certificate prior to its release. A special ceremony was held at the New Jersey Statehouse to commemorate the implementation of the new law. For more information about the new law, individuals can visit the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform & Education.
      • In November 2016, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed HB 162 into law which allows adopted people who meet certain criteria to apply for a copy of their original birth certificate. The law allows birth parents, past and future, to redact their names from the original birth certificate if they wish. A birth parent may also express their wishes for contact. The law takes effect one year from the date of signing. It did not have the support of many Pennsylvania advocates who had worked for many years on adoptee rights legislation in their state.


      • In School experiences of young children and their lesbian and gay adoptive parents (Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 3 (4), 442-447), Farr et al. examined school experiences of children who had been adopted by lesbian and gay parents. Overall, results demonstrated that children were reported to have positive adjustment and that families felt well supported. Implications for policy and practice are included in the article.
      • In Discursive Entwinement: How White Transracially Adoptive Parents Navigate Race (Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, October 2016) Goar et al. analyzes how white transracially adoptive families explore and discuss race within their families. Themes of colorblindness and race consciousness were identified, including how these two frameworks are entwined. Discussion includes potential ways for white transracial adoptive families to engage in a more critical discourse about race.


      • Last November, DAI released our “Openness in Adoption: What a Concept!” online curriculum. This education tool is designed to provide a fact-based, practical resource for the many families who have formed through adoption and for families considering adoption. The course remains free of charge for a limited time. Sign up for our curriculum here.
      • The Center for Adoption Support and Education recently released its W.I.S.E. UP! tool to help adoptive families teach their adopted and foster children how to respond to any questions and comments about their personal adoption and foster care narratives. This $10 webinar is led by Ellen Singer (senior adoption-competent therapist and trainer).



        • DAI Chief Executive April Dinwoodie and Richard Heyl de Ortiz (Executive Director of Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York) weigh in with Fostering Families Today about the need to ensure strong families: “The reality is all families experience challenges at varying points throughout their life journey. For families that come together through adoption, these challenges are often related to the experiences that preceded the adoption, including for both parents and children. Effective pre-adoption support, counseling and education must go hand in hand with the creation of robust post-adoption services.”


        • In a Record article, DAI Program Director Kim Paglino and Chief Executive April Dinwoodie weigh in on the new law in NJ allowing adopted people to access their original birth certificates with important messages about the meaning of family, identity and the transformation that follows these vital changes.
        • In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, DAI Board Member and Let’s Adopt Reform Panelist Leslie Pate Mackinnon shared the impact of her loss over relinquishing her sons for adoption and how her experiences have fueled her work as a change agent for birth mothers and the entire adoption community.
        • In a Columbia Dispatch article, DAI Chief Executive @JuneinApril argues that protecting children and families from being set up to fail is always priority. “If you want take care of kids, more oversight and better conditions for success should trump any business objective,” said April Dinwoodie, chief executive of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research and advocacy organization that studies adoption.


Mark Lacava, Clinical Director at Spence-Chapin’s Modern Family Center

What motivates your interest in working in foster care and adoption?

I believe that children only have one childhood and good permanency options need to be provided sooner rather than later when children and their parents need services. This has turned into a personal life mission with my work in foster care and adoption for over 25 years. Working at Spence-Chapin has allowed me to put this mission into action by working with biological, foster and adoptive parents, and their children. I lead a team of experienced mental health professionals who are trauma-informed and adoption-competent to provide robust pre- and post-adoption support.

How do post-adoption services fit into your work to improve the adoption and foster care system?

Despite tremendous efforts, many foster care agencies lack the capacity to effectively intervene, treat and transition children in foster care (ages five and up) with complex behavioral challenges to permanent families. I am, and my team is, committed to helping the children in foster care who have the most complex needs to transition and remain in permanent families. I provide comprehensive, evidence-based therapy and case-management for the most complex cases. My clinical team builds customized interventions and works closely with children, their foster families and siblings, doctors, teachers and schools to build a network of support and consistent, effective care based on the child’s needs. We provide one-on-one counseling and support to children and their foster parents at a critical time as they consider adoption. Through this pilot program, I have developed foster care staff trainings on navigating open adoptions, common mental health diagnoses, the effects of trauma throughout developmental stages, typical childhood development and permanency planning. My team’s work is focused on helping children be adopted into their foster families, ultimately creating a sense of permanency and a foundation for good health and lifelong success. Our clinical team currently helps over 300 children across New York City and is seeking to expand the program to additional agencies to support a greater number of children and families.

Spence-Chapin’s mental health clinic is dedicated to supporting the adoption experience both emotionally and educationally. My work at the Modern Family Center provides numerous programs to support the life cycle of adoption and the adoption constellation. We have adoption-competent therapists to support difficult issues around adoption for all members of the adoption community. We have social and educational post-adoption services to create a connection to the adoption community.

Does your staff have a personal connection to adoption or foster care? 

Although I do not have a personal connection to adoption, the work has become very personal to me and is a part of what defines me as a person.

If you could change one thing about the practice of adoption/people’s attitudes toward adoption, what would it be?

Part of my work is putting adoption out there as a part of the normal human experience. Throughout history and in all cultures around the world, children grow up outside of their biological family and it is a normal fact of life. In this country many generations ago, it became imbedded that adoptions should be secretive. Secrets mean there is something off or something to be kept silent. A part of a person’s life as big as their origin should not be kept secret.

In your opinion, why are post-adoption services important to building strong families?

All families need help at some point or another in the life cycle. We need to better support all families and the adoption community needs support that is unique to their life experiences. Individuals need therapists, support groups and peer communities that understand them and their connection to adoption. It is important for people to have a place to express their family without having to explain the adoption aspect. Post-adoption services provide these wrap-around supports that are unique to the members of the adoption community. We at Spence-Chapin have been part of the adoption community for over 100 years. I work to see more openness in adoption and less secret and shame. Our team works to increase access to post-adoption services by normalizing the experience of seeking help when needed.