Last week, we published part one of our interview with Meshan Lehmann, LCSW-C, of Adoptions Together, one of our Birthparent Support Alliance members, to learn more about the work they do, talk about common adoption misconceptions, and have a serious talk about ethics and equity in the adoption landscape. The interview was so good it ended up becoming two parts: last week, we started with what sets Adoptions Together apart in terms of how they approach adoption, and discuss some of the misconceptions they see in adoption, and this week we conclude this interview by doing a deep dive into adoption ethics, and discuss Adoptions Together'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.
Your website devotes a whole section to ethics and equity. And, we’ve seen equity statements start to pop up everywhere in the adoption industry, but you all do it differently, in that you have equity statements, and then you have the follow up of the action taken in the next year: here's where we started. Here's the actionable things we did. Here's where we are now. Here's what we're like. Your website also discusses ethics and race in placement, and we wanted to know if you could talk a little bit about that, because it is a very hot topic, obviously in the adoption community and with transracial adoptees.
One of our strengths as an agency is consistently evaluating our efforts and determining how we can better serve this community. As a staff we have a culture of learning and self reflection. For example, we have a diversity, equity and inclusion committee that meets once a month to discuss and share ideas, learn, and grow together. It was important to Adoptions Together that we don’t just slap on a black square on our Facebook profile picture as our fight for the Black Lives Matter movement. We wanted to evaluate our practices and identify unintentional biases. Then make appropriate changes from the inside out.
One of these challenges we’ve evaluated for several years is race and placement. This is one example of how we’ve listened to adoptees, learned new perspectives, and made policy changes. We’ve always encouraged birthparents to choose the adoptive family; however, occasionally some birthparents are emotionally unable to choose a family. Some women need to distance themselves with the process, and for those situations, rather than placing the baby with the longest waiting family, we now give priority the adoptive family that best mirrors the child’s race. Having these discussions is difficult but imperative to keep striving to be as ethical as we can be.
It speaks to your core values as an agency to work so hard to make sure a woman is getting what she is going to need to make decisions that work best for her.
Something that I think our agency is doing really well is advocating for client self determination; giving the client information and resources and trusting them to make the best decision for themselves and their family.
Our agency believes that the first step toward a more equitable society is one that understands trauma informed care. We provide a robust training across the region and nationally to impact social change on this level. Examples of groups we have trained include behavioral health centers, the police, advocacy centers, hospitals, departments of social services, homeless shelters and domestic violence programs. Helping staff to move from “what is wrong with you” to “what happened to you” helps humanize the clients in the minds of those providing services. Our trainings all share the goal of strengthening human connection by better understanding what may be behind behavior.
One training I particularly enjoy doing myself is to hospital staff and social workers on handling adoption cases as well as ethics of adoption. Nurses and social workers often connect the expectant parent to adoption agencies, and they do not usually have preparation or training for how to work with these patients. Our trainings offer psychoeducation about adoption, the legal process, and covers personal biases and ethics. We have observed the critical importance of having hospital staff understand the complexity of adoption to provide the best services possible to parents considering making an adoption plan for their child while in their care. Without this skill set we have seen many parents have a difficult time in the hospital.
I think another unique thing about our agency is that we do macro level advocacy. Acknowledgement that policies and laws we have today aren’t successful in pulling families out of poverty, which is a major reason a family makes an adoption plan to begin with. So it’s best practice for an agency to advocate for new laws that can better support families experiencing homelessness, mental health crises, substance dependence, domestic violence, and poverty.
In 2018, I had the opportunity to speak to the House about passing a House Bill 1: Rape Survivor Family Protection Act, which supports terminating a biological father’s rights to his child, after he sexually assaulted and impregnated his victim. It both affected women making adoption plans as well as women who were forced to co-parent with their attacker. This is one example of how important it is to advocate for change on the micro and macro levels of adoption and social work.
What made you decide to join the Birthparent Support Alliance?
To zoom out, I think it is important to fund and pour resources into organizations that are caring for birth parents. Especially when looking through a historical perspective and how our society, agencies, adoptive families viewed birth parents, it’s even more necessary to correct it today. Birthparents cannot be the disposable party. Our agency was already providing counseling to birth parents post placement, but as we have seen, some birthparents need time to distance themselves and process this loss before seeking out counseling. So whenever a birth parent reaches out in the life of her child we want to be there for her/them. Partnering with On Your Feet broadens the community and scope of support available to parents. And for this, we are grateful agencies like yours exist- to help with counseling as well as case management resources that she might need years after engaging with the adoption agency. This service broadens our commitment to support our clients “every step of the way” to a birthparent when she/he is ready. Finally, one aspect I was really drawn to with OYFF, are the weekly support groups as well as the retreats. When it comes to healing from ambiguous loss, connecting with other birthparents who have experienced the same loss is a critical aspect in the healing journey.
Since the pandemic, we've learned so much about the power of meeting virtually. Geography is no longer a barrier, in the way it was in 2019. This is a silver lining for connecting birthmothers to other birthmothers to share and lean on one another.
One thing that really caught my attention was when attended an adoption conference a couple of years ago. Since I work exclusively with birth parents and expectant parents, so I was really excited to learn more about what resources are available for this population. There was a table dedicated to “all books adoption.” I asked, hey where's the section on expectant parents or birth parents? And he was like, let me check. And he comes back to me and says, I don't have a single book. And I thought, but isn’t this an adoption conference? That was the first time I realized that the great majority of research and academic studies have focused on adoptees and adoptive families. Even now, most of the books we have on birthparent experiences are memoires.
I was really excited to learn about on Your Feet Foundation, because I was it was like, hey, someone's doing it, and this [birthparents] is their only thing. We have a responsibility to care for the birthparents, just like we do for the children and the adoptive families.
We are onboarding Birthparent Alliance Members now in advance of the start of 2023. Want to learn more about how your agency can connect your birthparents to the support and resources they need to heal? We are here to help.