What motivated your initial interest in foster care and adoption?
As a kid, I was part of the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) and we did social justice work at a place near where I lived called St. Dominic’s Home in Blauvelt, NY. We called it an orphanage – but it was a child welfare agency, we had no idea at the time. I thought after volunteering there, this would be a great place to work, helping kids and families. I then went to Dominican College and while going to college, I started working as a child care worker in a cottage with what we called in those days, “the baby boys” – ages 6 -13 years old. Working as a child care worker was very different than I thought it would be. The kids had lots of challenges, all the kids were African American and Latino and the staff were all white. We had, in those days, no cultural competency training and there was a lot of ignorance on our part about the families of the children.
How has your personal adoption experience inspired or influenced your work?
I am deeply affected in my work, by my own personal experiences with foster care and adoption. I have been a foster parent and I am an adoptive parent, so I always say that I talk, the talk and walk the walk. Doing it and talking about it are two very different things. I feel like, I know about foster care and adoption on a much deeper level than the person who “studies” adoption and foster care – not to say in any way I am better than they are, not at all, but my personal experience has informed my work in deep and meaningful ways. I am still affected every day when of my former “kids” reaches out to me on Facebook or when my daughter calls me to tell me something that happened to her that day.
If you could change one thing about the practice of adoption/people’s attitudes toward adoption, what would it be?
I would LOVE to get professionals to believe that youth really need permanent, loving, lifetime families. I still hear way too much – “Oh, these kids don’t want a family, they want to be out on their own.” I know some of my former kids who at 33 and 43 are still floating out there, like a boat without an anchor, because we did not do our jobs and connect them to lifetime families. So, yes, if I could change one thing it would be to change our professional colleagues’ mindsets that older youth do not need or want families.