An Interview with Adoptions Together’s 2016 Heart Gallery Ambassadors!

This post is an interview with our 2016 Heart Gallery Ambassadors.  Adoptions Together’s Heart Gallery is a traveling and online portrait exhibit of adoptable children in foster care living in the Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virginia region.  As Heart Gallery Ambassadors, Joe, Wes, and Jake are advocates for foster care adoption in our community and do everything in their power to support the mission of older child adoption.  Read about how they’ve grown the Heart Gallery here!

 

Jake and the Heart Gallery, 2016.

 

Liberty:  As 2016 comes to an end, it’s time to check in with our Heart Gallery Ambassadors Joe, Wes, and their 11 year old son, Jake.  Hi guys, and Happy New Year!

 

Joe, Wes, & Jake:  Happy New Year, Libby.

 

Liberty:  So, Jake.  You have participated in a lot of Heart Gallery events this past year.  Which one was your favorite and what did you like most about being a Heart Gallery Ambassador?

 

Jake:  I would have to say that my favorite part was welcoming people at the Taste in Potomac event.  I shook almost everyone’s hand.  Since they were coming to support the Heart Gallery and Adoptions Together, I wanted to let them know how much I appreciated them coming.

 

Liberty:  That was a fun night, and you did a great job greeting folks.

 

Jake:  I think that my second favorite part was riding the Zamboni at a Washington Capitals game as the Heart Gallery Ambassador.  People waved at me and cheered, and I waved back.

 

Liberty:  That sound cool.  Do you like hockey?

 

Jake:  I like hockey and my favorite player is Alex Ovechkin – I have a home team bias.  But, I really like soccer and American football.  My favorite soccer player in Lionel Messi; and my favorite American football player is Bronco’s Von Miller – by birthfather lives in Denver.

 

Liberty:  Have you met your birthfather?

 

Jake:  Yes, we have an open adoption so I know both my birthfather and birthmother.  I even know my birth-grandfather and cousins.  They recently came to visit me, and I showed them around the city.  Between my birthparents and my adopted parents, I have the largest family tree of any one of my friends!

 

Liberty:  Wow!  Do you ever talk to your friends about being adopted?

 

Jake:   Yes, at the end of our school soccer season, we played a kids vs. parents match.  The kids wore t-shirts with the Heart Gallery logo, and we handed out Heart Gallery knapsacks and water bottles.

 

Liberty:  Did your friends ask you about the Heart Gallery?  And what did you say?

 

Jake:  I told them that it is a special place where children who don’t yet have forever families still have a chance to go all out and hopefully get adopted.

 

Liberty:  That sounds great!  Other than riding the Zamboni and hosting a soccer game, what are some ways that people can follow your lead and bring awareness to the Heart Gallery?

 

Jake:  For me, whenever I get into a conversation with a friend or their parents or my teachers about families, I always talk about the Heart Gallery.  My advice is to keep talking about it.   Because every kid needs someone to love you; to take care of you; to look out for you; and to have fun with you.

 

Liberty:  Joe and Wes, your family decided to start sponsoring the Heart Gallery in 2015. Why are you choosing to continue your support in 2017?

 

Joe:  We are really inspired by the number of children that were placed in forever families this past year because of the Heart Gallery.  A total of fourteen children were placed in homes, and an additional twenty-one new children were placed onto the gallery.  To answer your question, we support the Heart Gallery because we know how important it is to have a family.

 

Liberty: Can you share with us some of the exciting things that will be happening with the gallery in 2017?

 

Joe:  Absolutely.  In 2017, the Heart Gallery will begin using new mediums to reach the public.  For example, we will be introducing two digital displays in DC which will show the photos of Heart Gallery children – and provide information about how to adopt them.  We are hoping these displays can be located in high foot traffic areas, such as a children’s hospital or outside a family court.  Later in the year, we are hoping to install similar displays in Baltimore and Northern Virginia.

 

Wes:  Folks can also still see the actual gallery, in person, next year.  It will be at several locations, including the Metropolitan Council of Governments in January and at the Annapolis Public Library in February, as well as the Crofton Public Library in April, with more locations to be announced.

 

Liberty:  What is your hope for the Heart Gallery going forward into 2017?

 

Wes:  We’d love to see an increase in the number of Heart Gallery children placed with families.  In 2016, the Heart Gallery prompted ninety-nine inquiries from potential families, up from fifty-three in 2015.  For us, the sad part is when a child is removed from the gallery but doesn’t end up in a home.  Some of these children are removed because they have aged out of foster care.  This is heartbreaking because they still need a family.

 

Liberty: What is everyone’s New Year Wish?

 

Joe:  I wish for a record number of children adopted from the Heart Gallery.

 

Jake:  I’d like to see the Broncos or the Ravens make it to the Super Bowl!

 

Joe, Wes, & Jake:  Happy New Year to everyone, and thank you for supporting the Heart Gallery in 2016.

 

Just a few of the children who’ve found permanent, loving homes with the help of the Gallery this year.

 


Reflecting on this Election Cycle through Community and Connectedness

This post was written by Adoptions Together Founder and Executive Director, Janice Goldwater.  Janice founded Adoptions Together in September of 1990 in response to what she identified as serious gaps in the child welfare system.  She is a licensed clinical social worker and mother of 4 children.  She and her husband adopted her youngest daughter at the age of 11.  

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Adoptions Together was founded upon the principles of inclusion, human connection and respect for the inherent value of each and every human being. Because we are social animals who survive through relationships with one another, human connection is the fuel that sustains us as a species.  Babies with no human contact will not survive. In fact, this lack of human contact results in a medical diagnoses called failure to thrive. Children raised in strong families and connected communities have a significantly stronger potential and much better outcomes in life. As a society we are so much healthier and more effective when we work together. 

This past election cycle has been a most painful political experience for many. Using principles of divisiveness to motivate change, specifically the blatant messaging of hate and disrespect for targeted groups is horrific. We have not had a public discourse based on this level of disconnection in many years.  The outcome of our election confirmed that there are many within our country who are not feeling connected and we must all take note of this.

Many of us experience persecution daily. Many of us carry the scars of our history of persecution in our DNA. The negative rhetoric that targets individuals based on single variables, such as religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or lifestyle is both terrifying and dangerous. We see the devastating effects of targeting all over the world. As a species who survives through connection, it is one of the most effective ways to undermine, dominate and control a diverse society.

So how do we support ourselves and our family during this difficult time? Brain science teaches us that the best thing we can do when we feel scared is to create a dialogue and the language to help make sense of what is going on around us. Slowing our bodies down, turning off the media, taking this moment to connect with our children and families in an attuned way can be really healing. Focusing on our love, deep connection and strength together enriches the connection that our brain craves. Through our empathy for their feelings and attunement to them, our children will learn that they are strong, we are strong and no one can take away our dignity. We can pull together with even more awareness and focus on our connection and value as precious human beings.  We can connect with our neighbors who understand our feelings, make the unspeakable speakable and give our children (and ourselves) the tools to stay strong and connected.

This divisive rhetoric stresses the ties that bind us together, but compassion and connection reinforce them. When we sit together, listen to one another, and see ourselves in others, connections are formed and strengthened. As always, our Adoptions Together team is here to support you in any way we can.

 With love and gratitude,

Janice


The Son with Two Moms: A Guest Post by Tony Hynes

This post was written by Tony Hynes, an author and adoptee.  His life story includes his birth mother’s mental illness, a tumultuous battle in the court system when his adoption was challenged by his birth family, and the unique perspective of being raised by two moms in a transracial household.  His book “The Son with Two Moms” is available on Amazon in print and electronic editions.  Check out Tony on Facebook.

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I’ve been asked about my family before. I understand why. People want to know about a family that isn’t like theirs (or is like theirs). They want to know what it’s like to grow up with two white moms. They want to know how I, a black man, see the world today after being raised by two white women. They want to know why I speak the way I do, why I am careful with my words, and why I decided to write a book. I never know exactly what to say, or exactly how to address every question they ask me. No answer seems full enough to address every point they raise. I try to search for the right balance. The answer has to be truthful, but educational, respectful, but confident.  It’s a line I straddle every time I tell my story and a line that many individuals from transracial families are familiar with.

I am college educated and am currently pursuing my PhD. I love to read. I love to play soccer and listen to music. I went camping almost every summer as a kid. I share much in common with some of the families who ask me questions about my upbringing. However, sometimes I sense they don’t feel the same connection. After a panel discussion a few months ago, for instance, a white father said to me “I have two adopted black sons. If they grow up to be like you that would be incredible.” Nothing about his statement was particularly alarming. However, the way in which he said it, with wonderment and an air of impossibility, was. It was as if he didn’t believe he could be a good enough parent to raise a black child as “healthy” as me. It was as if he thought I was an anomaly, a glitch in an otherwise flawed system that didn’t allow black boys to achieve greatness. One week later, a woman asked me if I had had any help writing “The Son With Two Moms.” When I replied that I did not her puzzled expression turned into a toothy grin. “Wooooow!” She said. “That’s so amazing.” I thanked her as she continued to glow. “So no one helped you write any part of it?” She said. “Nope.” I said. “Just me.” “Wow,” she said.

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Kind Words from an AT Grandfather

At 95 years, I must confess, that I have a sentimental side and an analytical side, both of which influence the decisions I make in my daily life. Keeping these two variables in balance is, for me, truly the key to contentment. Happily, supporting Adoptions Together satisfies both realms.

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Richard Feffer with his grandchildren.

My sentimental side thanks Adoption Together for giving my daughter and her husband the chance to have a complete and beautiful family and, by extension, giving me and my wife the happiness of loving and enjoying the love of two exceptional grandchildren. Matthew and Elena have brought me much joy and fulfillment.  I cherish the memories of summer vacations on Cape Cod, birthday parties, visiting days at summer camp, high school and college graduations, horse shows, holiday celebrations, and family travels abroad.  One of the highlights was a weekend college visit with my grandson. Just the two of us; college basketball, student opera and dorm fare!

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My analytical side demands that I only donate to efforts where the need is great and the issues are difficult to solve.  Adoptions Together more than meets these criteria. They don’t just create a “win/win” solution; but a “win/win/win” solution.  They help resolve the pain and difficulty suffered by a birthmother who places her child for adoption. They provide counseling services for families in need of specialized support services. They provide assistance for all children, whether in foster care, or on the verge of aging out of the foster care system. ATI’s mission is to provide every child with an opportunity for a loving and nurturing environment.  They are the answer to those seeking the joy and fulfillment of a family life.

When I celebrated my birthday in March, I admit that I did not want or expect lavish gifts but I was delighted to learn that so many of my close friends and family chose to make donations to Adoptions Together in my honor.   For this I am truly grateful.

Bravo Adoptions Together. You will always have my support!


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Introducing our first Youth Ambassador, Jake!

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Jake points to his photo on the wall at the Adoptions Together office in Calverton.

Adoptions Together is very excited to announce our very first Youth Ambassador! Jake is ten years old, loves soccer, and was adopted as a baby. Now, he and his family have decided to sponsor the Heart Gallery to make sure that every child gets a chance at a loving forever family.

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Books on Adoption and Interview with Maggie Mei Lewis

AdoptionBooks

As a topic, adoption has many different facets. Some people adopt infants and need help figuring the best way to explain adoption. Others bring home older kids who already know what it means to be adopted, but whose communities still have some things to learn.

We tried to put together a list of books that would reach everyone in the adoption community, and know there are plenty more wonderful books out there! Don’t see one of your favorites on our list? Make sure to leave your recommendations in the comments to this post!

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“This is not a job for me. It’s a calling and I love it.” Interview with an Interim Care Provider

Have you ever wondered who takes care of an infant between the time they are born and the time they are placed with their adoptive family? In many cases, that person is an interim care provider like Felicia Simms. We spoke with Felicia to learn more about what the experience is like for her and why she has been an interim care parent for over five years.


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Felicia Simms, interim care parent for Adoptions Together.

Introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your family.

My name is Felicia Simms and I am an interim care provider. My husband James helps a great deal and is very supportive. I have a 24-year-old son who lives in New York and works in a corporate office for Bloomingdales, which he absolutely loves. My husband is retired from the Prince George’s County Police Department, and he now works as an officer working court duty in Charles County. I worked for the government for twenty-six and a half years before retiring in 2004. Ever since then, I’ve been at home during the day by myself, unless I have a baby staying with me.

How long have you been an interim care provider?

I have been an interim care provider since May 2010, so a little over five years.

How did you become an interim care parent?

Before I became an interim carer for Adoptions Together, I was a foster mom for a different agency and I worked with older kids. It was a challenge for me and I didn’t always feel like I was making a difference. Because my husband works, I was mostly doing this by myself and I decided that I wanted to do something where I could provide for the children entirely on my own. I researched interim care, and then I found Adoptions Together. I narrowed it down from 20 different agencies and picked AT because I felt like it was a good fit. I read a lot about the agency before I ever made my first phone call.

How many babies have lived with you?

Right now I’m on my 52nd or 53rd placement. I have a little one with me right now, and a few weeks ago I was present to see one of my babies placed with his forever family.

How long do the babies usually stay with you?

It depends on the situation for each baby, because every baby and every family is different. The least amount of time that a baby has stayed with me was a week. The longest was about nine and a half weeks, for medically fragile twins who came to me at five months old.

What was it like the first time you brought a baby home?

It was heaven. Heaven is the best way I could describe it. I was in awe. I was alone during the day, so I could revolve my entire schedule around the baby. I liked knowing the baby depended upon me and that because he was with me, he was going to be loved from the very beginning.

Is it difficult to let go?

If I’m being honest… I understand what I do and what my purpose is, as an interim care provider. I understand that my purpose is to care and love these babies. I’ve got that. With that said, I can’t control my feelings and I don’t try to control my feelings. Once they come to me, I treat them like my own, because they deserve every bit of that love and attention. So sometimes yes, it is difficult to let them go, but I work through it because I understand. I do fall in love with these babies and it is hard, but this is what I want to do.

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Felicia with her husband James.

Are there any babies or stories that really impacted you?

Don’t get me wrong, I treat them all like they’re mine and I love every one of them, but there are a few that really touched me. My second or third placement was a little boy named Samuel. When I first met him, he was in the hospital, not quite ready to go home. My husband and I stayed there overnight at the hospital, waiting with him until he could come home with us. I told my husband he didn’t have to be there, but he wanted to stay, and I knew that I had all his support. It was really a special situation. I’m still in touch with Samuel’s mom today.

The twins that stayed with me for nine and a half weeks were also very special to me. When they were born, one was 1lb and the other was 1.5lbs. Jessica [Taylor, AT’s Domestic Adoption Counselor] called me and said “We have twins and they have a lot of issues, and we were wondering if you’d be able to take this on.” I couldn’t answer right away because I had to talk to my husband, because I wanted him to know what might be entering our lives—twins, boys, who had been in the hospital for five months, with kidney and lung problems, tubes to help them breathe, specialists we’d have to deal with. It was a lot. They had reflux, and that was just one of the minor issues they had. My husband said “let’s do it.” So I called Jessica and told her we were in. At the time they were with us, one of the babies was on 6 medications every day, and the other was on 7 medications. From my understanding, today they aren’t on any medications.

Is there anything else that you would like to talk about that we haven’t covered?

I just want you to know that I have people asking me all the time “how do you do this?” and ‘how long will you do this?” I will do this as long as I can, until I no longer feel like this is a calling. I feel like this is what I was meant to do. I want people to know that these babies are well taken care of. From the time that I pick these babies up, until the time they go home, they are loved. I want them, and everyone else, to know that they were always loved. My only regret is that I didn’t find you sooner. I truly missed out. I am so blessed to be doing this.


Felicia Simms is a wonderful person, and just one of the many people who work with Adoptions Together to ensure that every child, at every stage in their life, is loved and cared for.
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Positive Adoption Language


Alisha Wolf, LGSW, MPH
Education and Training Director
Adoptions Together & FamilyWorks Together

   I was leading an adoptive parent training recently, and we began discussing Positive Adoption Language (PAL).  Many parents in the training knew about it and stressed the importance of its use. One dad raised his hand and said, “I think lots of adoptive families know about positive adoption language, but I wish more people outside of the adoption world knew how to use it.”

We couldn’t agree more. The words that we use say a lot about the way we think and what we value.  Many words that have traditionally been used to describe adoption carry negative connotations.  For example, describing the person who gave birth to an adopted child as the “natural parent” signifies that there is something unnatural about an adoptive parent and an adoptive family.  See the chart below identifying negative terms and their preferred terms.

Negative Terms

Preferred Terms

Gave up her child for adoption

Placed her child for adoption

Real parent; natural parent

Birth parent, biological parent

Adoptive parent

Parent

His adopted child

His child

Illegitimate

Born to unmarried parents

To keep

To parent

Adoptable child; available child

Waiting child

Foreign adoption

International adoption

Track down parents

Search

Unwanted child

Child placed for adoption

“How can we teach Positive Adoption Language to the people we interact with?”

Many adoptive families wonder how they can share PAL with the people around them.  While there are many different ways to do this, I’ve found modeling to be quite effective.  Most people outside of the adoption world are simply unfamiliar with adoption and adoption language.  I’ve seen many people tentatively try to ask about a child’s birth mother, but simply don’t know how to refer to her.  I like to meet the person in that moment, saying, “It’s hard to know the right words for all of this, huh?  We call the woman who gave birth to an adopted child his birth mother.”  Showing an openness to talk about PAL can invite more questions and initiate a larger discussion about the way we talk about adoptive families. Like so many adoption-related matters, each family has to find the method of sharing PAL that’s right for them.

How do you share positive adoption language with the people in your life?

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Attachment, Technology and Helicopter Parenting


Erica Moltz, MA, NCC
Clinical Director
Adoptions Together & FamilyWorks Together

Ever-present gadgets we can’t seem to live without rule many of our lives so that when we are physically with our children, we are too busy to be genuinely with them.  Dr. Ron Taffel, a well-known family therapist who has worked with hundreds of families wrote a recent article in a popular journal.  He stated that a growing body of research suggests that this technology and the information overload it dumps on us undermine our ability and desire to interact with and focus on our children.

Many of us spend hours on our mobile devices that are always within arm’s reach, so that inevitably our attention is interrupted.  Between texting, tweeting, on-line chatting, Facebook, emailing and sharing Instragram photos, a lot of parents are distracted from really being with their children.  There was a recent study published by Jenny Radesky in the journal Pediatrics demonstrating that parents who were observed with their children in fast-food restaurants were spending more of the meal absorbed in their smartphones, ignoring their children who were making repeated and escalating bids for attention.

What will it mean, therefore, that a generation of kids has grown up or will grow up getting this kind of agitated, fragmented distracted attention from their parents? What will it mean when hyperaroused parents can’t stop shifting their focus?  If attachment is based on focused interest, attention and attunement, how can chronic distraction translate into children experiencing secure attachment?

You may be wondering, “What happened to the era of “helicopter” parents who are too involved in their children’s lives?” This parenting style is still alive and well with those over anxious parents who encourage their child to participate in a bullet-train of activities that constantly re-directs the child to the next task that needs to be accomplished.  Just as with distracted, technology-infused parenting, “helicopter” parenting doesn’t equate with connection.  When kids are always on to the next activity, on a virtual conveyor belt, this kind of focused attention has the same effect as distracted parenting in that it does not provide anchoring and soothing, reliable attachment.

Research shows that that restful downtime is necessary for kids’ brains to synthesize new information and to internalize secure attachment so that they can develop a sturdy sense of self. This means that along with setting reasonable limits, it is important for parents to strongly focus on creating points of connection and to become partners with their children in fun and relaxing activities during times when the parent is focusing attention on the child.

An effective strategy to help parents create points of connection that encourage attachment is for them to use the PACE model below that was developed by Dr. Dan Hughes, a nationally known attachment expert.

P = Parenting with playfulness so that our children know we delight in them.

A= Parenting with affection and attention.

C=Parenting with curiosity about our child and what is behind their behavior.

E=Parenting with empathy so that our child “feels felt”.

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