As in nearly every other aspect of family life, the past 20 years has delivered major changes for the adoption community, from the double-edged sword of technology to identifying new communities of potential adoptive parents, to better understanding the support needs of children seeking forever homes and adoptive families.
Lisa Funaro is executive director of the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE), a 58-year-old private nonprofit that serves as the central link between families interested in adoption, the state Department of Children and Families, and its contracted adoption agencies.
In the mid-’90s, Funaro says the organization’s main focus was targeting different demographic groups as potential adoptive families, seeking greater racial and ethnic diversity.
“We were working very hard trying to recruit adoptive families in the African-American and Latino communities. We began to focus on those groups we weren’t reaching successfully,” she notes. “What was striking is there was no talk at all about the LGBT community; it was like this group didn’t exist. It’s remarkable 20 years ago we weren’t talking about this at all, and now it’s so much in the forefront of the adoption world.”
Today, she says, LGBT families account for more than 20% of their client families.
“There’s such synergy between how our adopted kids feel and how many of our LGBT families have felt in their own awakenings,” she adds. “That has been such a natural connection. They’re great advocates [for adoption] because they’ve been advocating for themselves.”
Technology: The Positives
While technology has brought improvements and ensuing challenges to the world, so has it to the adoption community.
“There are many wonderful things about technology. It has absolutely forever changed the matching process,” says Karen Cheyney, co-founder and director of Bright Futures Adoption Center, a licensed, nonprofit, domestic Massachusetts agency specializing in open adoption. “The world is much smaller. A woman in Massachusetts can see online a waiting family from Ohio and say, ‘Hey, I want to work with that family in Ohio.’ People can view a much broader selection of potential adoptive families.”
Funaro echoes the sentiment, noting its Website is “the No. 1 way we create matches.” Website and online access to information have allowed MARE to meet information seekers 24-7, an ability impossible before the Web.
“Technology has been absolutely huge,” she says. “Now people’s expectations are that they’re going to be able to find information at all hours of the night and it’s going to be accurate. They’re going to be able to respond and get a response. It made us incredibly more accountable moment by moment.”
Cheyney notes that the Internet has also provided additional support and resources for adoptive families.
“Technology has been wonderful in terms of connecting people,” she adds. “If you’re struggling with an issue with your foster child and there’s a great supportive listserv or chat, [there are] great resources online.”
The Internet also provides a medium for adoptive parents and birth parents to stay in touch.
“For a lot of our families, the way they maintain their ongoing contact is by posting information, photos, and updates on a password-protected Website,” she says.
Technology: The Challenges
However, technology also has its downside.
“Technology has blown adoption open in every way because children and families can find one another without the assistance of an agency. A name and a picture, and you can go online and find anybody,” Cheyney notes.
And that is not always positive or safe, she adds. Technology gives adopted children, even those as young as pre-teens, the ability to find and potentially meet up with birth family members without parental permission or knowledge.
“A 10-year-old can go online and maybe find her big sister living a couple of communities away, and big sister says, ‘I’ll meet you at the mall.’ And all of a sudden, our 10-year-old is off on what could be a very dangerous jaunt,” she notes. “[Adopted children] could meet someone that may not be safe or nurturing for them. Even though the person may be a relative and someone the child feels an attachment to, it may not be safe.”
The Internet and connectivity of today’s world has also created real opportunity for unethical practices, Cheyney says.
“In Massachusetts, we’re heavily regulated as adoption agencies,” she notes. “We have to be licensed nonprofit organizations. We have to provide counseling to women. We have to engage in the process all through a licensed agency. There’s no such thing as a private adoption here. But in lots of other states, a private adoption is allowed. An attorney can match a woman with a family and there’s not necessarily an opportunity for counseling for that woman.”
Key to Bright Futures’ mission is providing education, counseling, resources, and services to pregnant women considering adoption, ensuring they feel respected and supported. These are critical to a healthy adoption process for all stakeholders, Cheyney says: birth parents, adoptive parents, and the child.
“In many states, an adoption agency can be for-profit. So what we’re seeing oftentimes now with technology is that there are women here in Massachusetts who are not getting the support that they need because they’re doing it all online,” she adds. “For-profit organizations are advertising here in Massachusetts even though it’s against our law for them to advertise here when they are not licensed here. If you’re an expectant parent who’s looking at adoption for the first time, you can quickly get into a working relationship with someone who isn’t going to provide you with the support that you need.”
Bright Futures is working to address this troubling trend via the attorney general’s office “because it’s hurting women and children,” Cheyney says. “It’s changing the flavor of the business for all adoption agencies here. We don’t have the cash or ability to compete with a for-profit agency that’s licensed in 16 states.”
Better understanding adopted families
Another key development over the past two decades is the fact that those serving the community better understand the needs of adopted children and families.
“[The kids] really have not changed,” Funaro says. “The biggest difference is what we know about them and how to parent them. We’ve come very far in our expectations of adoptive families. We’ve moved from assuming that a family will solve all the problems these kids have experienced, all the trauma they’ve experienced, to realizing, ‘What are we, nuts?’ These families need support, these kids have issues. We can’t just leave them at the courthouse and say, ‘Great job! Have a good life!’ Twenty years ago, we didn’t have that emphasis. We didn’t have that acknowledgement that adoption is a lifelong process, it is not something that happens once, on a day, and you just move on.”
Adds Cheyney: “We had much less knowledge in the ’90s of the effect of trauma. We had a much poorer understanding about the importance of attachment and how kids form attachments.”
“We’ve changed our attitudes and our knowledge,” Funaro notes. “There’s much more informed research on how kids are doing in adopted families. There’s much more money put out by federal and state governments to try to identify the barriers to finding families and keeping families intact afterward.”
Veronica is an adorable 16-year-old Latina girl diagnosed with mild global delays and presents younger than her age. She loves American Girl dolls, SpongeBob, music, and arts and crafts. Veronica is a real “girlie girl” and loves matching headbands to her outfits, getting her nails done, and fashion. She has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and does well in a separate classroom in school.
Veronica is legally free for adoption and would do best with an experienced single mother or in a two-female household. Her social worker feels there should be no other children in the home or only older female children in the home for Veronica to thrive in the placement.
For more information regarding Veronica, please contact Department of Children and Families (DCF) Adoption Supervisor Eileen Griffin at 978-353-3629. The Worcester DCF Office hosts monthly informational meetings on the second Wednesday of each month for those wishing to learn more about the adoption process in general. The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 13th from 6 – 7 p.m. The DCF Adoption Development & Licensing Unit’s Office is located at 13 Sudbury St. in Worcester. Please call (508) 929-2143 to register and for specifics about parking.
CIRCLE OF FRIENDS
Wednesday, May 11 — Central Region Adoption Info Meetings — ADLU Worcester, 13 Sudbury St., Worcester. 6 p.m.-7 p.m. (508) 929-2413.
Wednesday, May 11 — Northern Region Adoption Info Meetings — ADLU Lawrence, Jordan’s Furniture Reading: IMAX Conference Room - 50 Walker’s Brook Dr., Reading. 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Monday, May 16 — Southern Region Adoption Info Meetings, Mass. Department of Children and Families, Police Station, 1492 Washington Street, Canton. 6 p.m.-8 p.m. RSVP to 508-894-3830.
Wednesday, May 18 — Post-Adoption Support Group. First Connections, 179 Great Road, Room 104A, Acton. This month’s topic: “Handling Transitions in Your Child’s Life.” For parents of children birth through age 8. 978-429-8284, ext. 206.
Wednesday, May 18 — Boston Region Adoption Info Meeting, DCF Boston, 451 Blue Hill Avenue, Dorchester. 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. 617-989-9209.
Thursday, May 19— Southern Region Adoption Info Meetings, Morton Hospital, 88 Washington Street, Taunton, Margaret Stone Conference Room, first floor. 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. RSVP: 508-894-3830.
Sunday, May 22 — Jordan’s Walk/Run for Adoption 5K. Jordan’s Furniture, 450 Revolutionary Drive, East Taunton. 10 a.m. Walkers, runners and all adoptive families welcome. Face painting, raffles, refreshments, prizes, and more. jordanswalkforadoption.org.
Ongoing — Federation for Children with Special Needs Parent Trainings. Free and open to the public, these trainings cover a range of topics: Effective Communication and the IEP, Basic Rights in Special Education, Understanding My Child’s Learning Style, and more. Visit fcsn.org/ptic/workshops/schedule for a schedule and descriptions.
Ongoing — Group for Adoptive Parents. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. For parents of children in elementary or middle school, this monthly group focuses on understanding the impact of loss and trauma; learning to manage difficult and challenging behaviors; strengthening the family bond while preserving identity; and more. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or email@example.com.
Ongoing — Group for Adopted Teens. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. For adopted children ages 14-19, this group focuses on identity development, self-esteem improvement, confidence building and communication skills. Participants will use conversation to reflect upon the experience of adoption and belonging. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ongoing — Group for Adoptive Parents of Teens. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. This monthly group focuses on understanding the impact of loss and trauma on children ages 14-19; learning to manage difficult and challenging behaviors; strengthening the family bond while preserving identity; and more. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or email@example.com.
Ongoing — The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children offers an after-hours telephone hotline that provides emergency assistance to foster kinship and pre-adoptive families when the DCF offices are closed. The helpline is available 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. The number is 800-486-3730.
If your group or organization is holding an adoption information or support group and would like to have information posted for readers of baystateparent, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.