Open Adoption

Adoption in the Best Interest of the Child

 
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The Adopting Parent Outreach Program

(This article was first written in 1993 when I was Administrator for Catholic Counseling Services in Dallas. It will give you some idea of the principles and methods used in what came to be known as the Adopting Parent Outreach Program. Currently, while a majority of Catholic agencies are offering open adoption services, only a minority of them are using the outreach components described in this article. The Cadre Study quoted below was an internal Catholic Charities U.S.A.[the national organization] document written in 1972 to guide the development of Catholic Charities in the U.S..
Bill Betzen, 4/15/96)

Programs benefit people only when they contribute to the individual's freedom and independence. Catholic Charities must commit itself boldly to the complete liberation of persons so they can be the real artisans of their destiny, the shapers of history, the free, active builders of their futures.
- Preamble to the Cadre Study - 1972

A growing number of Catholic Charities agencies are applying these Cadre principals in their maternity and adoption counseling services. These agencies are working to empower not only the birth mother, as is done in most open adoption practice, but also the adopting family. Such an empowering of all participants in the adoption process is in keeping with the principle set forth in the Cadre Study "to contribute to the individuals freedom and independence." Such an empowering can allow agencies to reach a growing number of clients and participate in an increasing number of adoptions.

The pioneering step in the empowering of birth parents in the adoption process was taken by Catholic Charities of Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1974 they initiated the adoption practices now known as open adoption. By the 1980's the Catholic Charities agencies in Traverse City, Michigan and Helena, Montana joined other Catholic agencies in taking leadership positions in the provision of such open adoption services.

These pioneering agencies showed that it is good for an adoptee to know his/her biological roots. Birth parents and adoptive parents can know each other and work together for the sake of the child they all love. A birth mother can choose and know the family she gives to her birth child. In open adoption a child is not given, a family is. It is crucial for a birth mother to be able to know she made a decision she can be proud of. This is not "co-parenting" because the child knows who "Mom" and "Dad" are. There is only one set of "real parents." They are the adoptive parents. The birth parents are other relatives, very important relatives, but not "Mom" nor "Dad."

Open adoption agencies gave up some of the power they had traditionally exercised in the adoption process. Birth parents were counseled and encouraged to make many of the decisions that agencies had been making in the past. These pioneering agencies let it be known that adoptive parents have this child not from the agency but from the birth mother. While legally these are agency adoptions, it is the birth mother, not the agency, who selects the family and ultimately hands her child to his/her new parents. This is in keeping with the Cadre Study recommendation that our agencies work boldly for, "the complete liberation of persons so they can be the real artisans of their destiny, the shapers of history, the free, active builders of their future."

In spite of this empowerment of one side of the adoption triad, the numbers of adoptions through Catholic agencies continued to decline throughout the 70's and the 80's. Adopting parents remained relatively passive participants in their adoption process. The decline in maternity and adoption services happened even with a growing number of unplanned pregnancies being recorded. The number of adoptive placements through Catholic Charities agencies in the U.S. fell from 9,197 children in 1973 to only 3,167 in 1991. Even solid, ethical, open adoption agencies closed their adoption practices due to a lack of clients.

Then, in 1990, a project to fully empower the remaining side of the adoption triad, the adopting family, was started by Catholic Counseling Services in Dallas. This project, the Adopting Parent Outreach Project (APOP), encouraged families to be very public about their plans to adopt. Families were trained to work actively to spread the news of their availability for adoption. The families were able to give a very different message than the one given in normal agency managed outreach. They said something about themselves the agency could not say in the same way.

Adopting families meet every other week in each others' homes with agency staff present. They are trained in the use of outreach methods normally used by families going through private or independent adoptions with one crucial difference. They are trained to discourage the dependence of the birth mother. She must know that she never "owes" her baby to anyone due to any help she may receive. Guidance is available in parenting planning as well as adoption planning. Adopting families are trained in the handling of phone calls from women, or their families, in a crisis pregnancy situation. While doing such outreach work is not required, attendance at adopting parent group meetings every other week is. Quickly families overcome their fears as they see the success and excitement of other families doing outreach. The group process is crucial.

The adoption waiting list at Catholic Counseling Services was eliminated immediately. Of the first 30 families to enter this new project 26 (85%) were placed with their baby within a year of the completion of their home study. In the process the agency services expanded and by 1992 reached and served more maternity clients (168) than at any time in the 100 year history of the agency! In 1992 there were more adoptions (33) than at any time since 1970!

The mandate of the Cadre and the success of this project indicate that we can empower adopting families as well as birth families to be active artisans of their own adoption plans. The success of this project indicates that we can eliminate our adoption waiting lists and train adopting families to become our partners in reaching and serving families in need of maternity counseling services. While adoption is their ultimate goal, in the process each adopting family will help dozens of women to secure professional counseling services and other needed assistance.

Bill Betzen, ACSW, LMSW
Dallas, Texas 1/7/93


I welcome your comments and questions on this article. My E-mail is bbetzen@openadoption.org.

In the past three years since it was written, the truth of it has been reinforced in research and in adoption practice. We need to get this message out to families wanting to adopt. We need their help to spread the word about authentic open adoption alternatives as well as to spread the word that help is available for parents with untimely pregnancies to prepare their own homes for their child. It is their choice! We must give parents a positive choice to an untimely pregnancy. More dedicated and caring adopting parents will always be needed to better achieve these public education goals while at the same time they are working toward their own adoption plans.

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