2022 marks the launch of the Birthparent support Alliance and we could not be more excited!
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Linda Fiore, Executive Director of Adoption Center for Family Building, to learn more about her work, discuss common misconceptions about adoption, and discuss ACFB’s decision to join the Birthparent Support Alliance, a program designed to help agencies provide the post-placement support birthparents need to heal and thrive.
Tell us a little bit about Adoption Center for Family Building.
ACFB was founded by Tobi Ehrenpreis and Maggie Gill Benz, both adoptive parents. Tobi was one of the founders of On Your Feet Foundation, twenty years ago, and I love the ‘full circle’ connection between ACFB and OYFF. I think it is a unique connection for our two organizations. Tobi and Maggie decided to retire after a long successful career in the adoption field, and I interviewed to be the executive director. I wouldn't take an executive director position just anywhere, but they had built such a solid agency. The way that they worked, what their beliefs were, their home study process, and their birthparent counseling really aligned with my beliefs. I started my role as the executive director of ACFB in February of 2020. What perfect timing, right?! Not only was the agency going through a transition of leadership, but the field of adoption was impacted once COVID started. Luckily, Maggie and Tobi built a strong foundation, and that helped get us through Covid; through things that I could never have anticipated.
That transparency is so important! It’s one of the things we admire so much about how ACFB works in the adoption landscape. Publishing your exact statistics and giving expectant parents a truly ethical guide to how to evaluate adoption agencies? That kind of radical transparency is rare.
I think putting things in writing, and on our website, gives more credibility to what we do. You can call and talk to someone in the office, and they can give you the same information, but we feel it's so important to have everything written out for people so there is no miscommunication. ACFB gets a lot of great feedback about how transparent the agency is, and people express how much they appreciate that everything is laid out for them so clearly.
On your website, your core values are clearly rooted in transparency, communication, and being welcoming of families regardless of religion, ethnic background, race, sexual orientation, and ethnic heritage. How does that play out when working with clients?
For ACFB, open and honest communication with anyone we're working with is extremely important. We are open to working with families of any religion, ethnic background, race, and sexual orientation. As a society, things are changing, and people are becoming more open with who they are as well, and to that end, ACFB believes the agency must keep up with that in terms of what our education looks like for prospective adoptive parents. It’s our responsibility to make sure we're giving the right types of educational trainings and to be open and honest with prospective adoptive families when talking about possible challenges. We want to make sure that those we work with feel empowered in the process, whether that's an expectant mother or an adoptive parent.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about adoption?
There are so many that it’s hard to narrow them down. I do understand people outside of the adoption community might easily misunderstand adoption, and that is why it is important that adoption professionals do all that they can to educate on the topic.
I think one misconception is what the typical profile of an expectant mother is. A pregnant woman making an adoption plan in the 1950’s looked very different than it does today. I spent most of my career as the program manager of the Confidential Intermediary Service of Illinois. The state of Illinois has a CI program that allows sealed adoption records from the closed adoption era to be opened by a CI to help in the search process. Adult adoptees and birth parents can use this program. The narrative that I read in so many of the reports I received from adoption agencies was a pregnant woman, who shall be called Mary, is 19 years old. She's a freshman in college, the birth father's the captain of the football team, they want to pursue college, and that's why they're making this adoption.
Today, part of ACFB’s initial consultation with adoptive families is talking about the profile of an expectant mother. I love asking the question, what do you think the age range is? So many families say that they think an expectant mother is a teenager around the age of 17, and while of course there are expectant mothers that age, we inform them that our agency has worked with someone as young as 13 and the oldest has been 47. However, our typical profile of an expectant mother is between the ages of 21 to 35, often parenting at least one child, and experiencing a financial hardship.
Another misconception is the reason a woman is making an adoption plan. Sadly, I have heard some people think it is because she “doesn't care” about her unborn child or that she doesn't love her unborn child. ACFB educates people about all the reasons why it's such a selfless loving act. We also inform our families about the trauma and the grief that a woman experiences when placing a child for adoption. An adoptive family is holding their joy next to a birth mother’s grief and that is not something that all families understand when they first start the adoption process.
We don’t often hear people talking so openly about grief and trauma for birthparents.
You are right. We really do not. Not at all. ACFB makes sure that families are educated so that they can empathize with birth mothers, and so that they can also educate their own families around the importance of open adoption.
Along with the misconception about who birthparents are, there's also a misconception about what the agency or an adoptive parent can do. I can't tell you how many times — and it comes from a good place — that an adoptive parent asks us, well, can you make her go get prenatal care? We explain that this is a voluntary placement. We want them to know that we are working with our expectant mothers to support them and provide them with all the resources that they need, but we can't force someone to do something.
With one of our recent expectant mothers, now birthmother, the adoptive family could not wrap their brain around the idea that she didn’t have prenatal care, and that her plan was to go to the emergency room when she went into labor. We explained, she has six children, who's going to watch her children as she's going to prenatal appointments and, how she has to prioritize taking care of six kids, and a lot of times our own self-care does drop to the bottom. It is not because she doesn't want the best for that baby. It's just that she’s in a survival mode and that looks very different than how the adoptive parents would operate.
One of the big misconceptions in adoption is that it starts and ends with a baby.
Exactly. A lot of people believe that the adoption journey ends when the adoption is finalized. And when working with families we explain that it's an ongoing process. We had an adoptive parent reach out to ACFB because her eight year old daughter was starting to ask questions about her adoption. This adoptive parent took her to the hospital where she was born and then brought her to ACFB to show her where she met with an adoption counselor to start the adoption process. They also met with a birth parent counselor to talk about adoption, in an age-appropriate way, and about how the agency helped her birth mother make the adoption plan. It’s like an onion, there are so many layers that you keep peeling. It doesn't end once the court order is entered into the system.
We are really excited to have your agency on board with our Birthparent Support Alliance. What made you decide to join?
There are so many reasons! As an agency, we provide post-adoption support to our birth mothers for about eight weeks after placement. We know the level of support that is needed throughout their journey, and we're not able to provide that at a level in which On Your Feet can. We had a birth mother and a birth father reach out to us – they placed not that long ago – just amazed that we have this alliance with you, because to them it really speaks to how much we value the needs of birth parents post- placement. I can't say enough how much we, as an agency, appreciate that there is an organization like On Your Feet that can provide that level of support.
I remember meeting with [OYFF Executive Director] Alexis, and her saying that it can be an average of six years before a birth mother reaches out for support. We see our birth mothers really struggling post placement and again, our counselors are phenomenal at doing what they can do, but they are limited. So, we were excited to become part of the Alliance. Also, ACFB is excited about The Activism in Adoption series that you have. That education piece is so important to us, and access to that is helpful because topics in adoption change over time, and to be able to offer that to families has been really amazing.
We are so grateful to Linda for her time, and for her commitment to birthparents. The Birthparent Support Alliance is a membership offered to adoption professionals committed to best practices in post-placement care. We invite you to contact us directly if you are an adoption professional looking to build out your post-placement birthparent support. Our next on-boarding deadline is October 1st, 2022.