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Agencies Help Match Children, Adoptive Parents

Every year, thousands of children spend their lives waiting in the social service system to find a place to call home.

According to a national report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 423,773 children were in foster care last September, and 114,556 children were waiting to be adopted. In Virginia alone, 5,927 children are involved in the social services network, whether it is in foster care or with adoptive services.

Although closed adoptions (in which birth parents and adoptive parents have no contact) still exist, open adoptions have become more frequent since the 1970s.

Open adoptions allow the birth parents and adoptive parents to exchange information or even to meet each other before an adoption goes through. The parents can release as little or as much information as they feel comfortable with.

With the growth of the internet and social media, the adoption process has become more open than ever. Prospective adoptive parents are about to post advertisements online explaining what they are looking for and who they are. Many foster children around the country have done the same, in hopes of finding a family somewhere along the internet.

Adoption services are available through many organizations, including several locally.

Adoptions With Love by JFS (Jewish Family Services) has been an organized adoption agency since the 1950s. The organization itself came about in 1849, with an outgrowth of the Congregation Beth Ahabah located on Franklin Street, and was formed from a group of German immigrant women helping to serve those who needed help in the community. The adoption services component began in the 1950s, when adoption became a more popular means of family establishment.

Jessica Carty, a licensed clinical social worker with JFS, explains that “the adoption process has changed a lot over the past 50 years,” due to social, legislative and cultural changes in society.

“It used to be that all adoptions were closed, and there wasn’t any information exchanged,” Carty said. “It’s become much more open as times have changed and as people have become more vocal about knowing their family of origin or knowing what has happened to the child.”

JFS offers both closed and open adoption services, domestic and overseas, as well as counseling and support for the families, birth parents and adult adoptees. The organization will also help adopted adults to find their birth parents.

Every adoption in the United States is required to have a home study as well, where the adoptive parents are assessed on their stability and suitability for adoption. This assessment must be done by a social worker, and all JFS employees involved with the adoption programs are social workers.

“We did 33 home studies last year, and on average we handle 40 adoption cases a year,” said Sydney Fleischer, the chief operating officer for JFS.

The organization is not just there for the adoption process, but is involved afterwards as well. After placement of a child, JFS makes a series of post-placement visits and offers support groups for families.

The main goal of Adoptions with Love by JFS is to secure homes for children who need them and help people who are deciding whether adoption or another route is best.

“The message we like to have is that there are lot of ways to become a family, and we can help in one way or another,” Fleischer said. “JFS serves the entire community, not just the Jewish community. Our goal is to just help people become a family, and inform them that there are so many options out there.”

Commonwealth Catholic Charities began in 1923, as an organization set up to assist with charitable practices of the church and provide social case work. Marge Savage Thornton is the adoption program manager for Commonwealth Catholic Charities, and describes the organization as a family service agency.

“The main theme is certainly working with families,” Thornton said.

The CCC provides many programs including domestic violence and anger management services, pregnancy counseling, family and individual counseling, child placing, adoption and foster care.

CCC provides several methods of adoptions, including infant adoption, international adoption or foster adoptions; the adoptions can be open or closed. The organization helps women who have an un-intended pregnancy by providing for them several resources and services through which they can decide which option is best for them regarding the child.

“Our services, since we’re a Catholic charity, are designed for women who carry their pregnancy to term,” Thornton said. “So if they are not choosing parenting then we can also offer them adoption services.”

One main program is the pregnancy counseling program, which provides services to women as well as assisting the women if they need help with Medicaid, shelter, or even baby supplies. If the birth mother does choose the route of adoption, the organization takes over custody of the child at birth, and the child is usually placed in the adoptive home immediately.

“Adoptions are more open than they’ve ever been, so it’s not unusual for a child to be born and go directly into the adoptive home in a legal placement if the birth family and the adoptive family choose that option,” Thornton said.

A legal placement occurs when parental rights of the birth mother haven’t been terminated, but the child is placed and is living in the adoptive home. Sometimes infants are also placed in foster care until the birth mothers’ parental rights are terminated.

All adoptions are handled by a team of social workers inside the organization who hold degrees in either social work or counseling. Thornton says the organization set up 55 successful adoptions in 2009 and averages 60 to 65 a year.

CCC also provides search opportunities for adult adoptees looking to find their birth parents, which has become more common in recent years due to the openness of adoption that has evolved over time. The organization will gather information and search for birth parents in order for the adoptee to be able to connect back with their parents and bring closure at the same time.

“It’s such a gift when they can establish a relationship with their birth family, and we help them to achieve that,” Thornton said.

Commonwealth Catholic Charities is a private, non-profit social service agency. The group’s main office can be found in Richmond. This office provides services including adoption, pregnancy counseling, and foster care services.

For details about adoptions or services through Commonwealth Catholic Charities, visit http://www.cccofva.org For d.etails about Adoptions With Love by JFS, or any other service offered by the organization, visit http://www.jfsrichmond.org
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