Exploring Options Counseling

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The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) is pleased to announce collaboration with the University of Texas, Arlington on a new research study of options counseling experiences. The study will be conducted by Assistant Professor Elissa Madden, Ph.D., and Dean and Professor at the School of Social Work, Scott Ryan, Ph.D., Madden and Ryan will investigate the decision making experiences of women and men who relinquished their parental rights as well as the context and standards that guide professionals who provide options counseling. Ultimately, DAI will seek to use this knowledge to suggest best practice standards.

DAI recognizes family preservation as optimal and thus it must be central to ethical options counseling.  DAI’s previous research demonstrates a significant need to better understand and explore options counseling as it is practiced and experienced in modern day adoptions.

For expectant parents in crisis, the services they receive as they consider their options are critical. The ethical standard of care requires that women and men receive unbiased and non-coercive, comprehensive information on the full range of their options and available resources to give them an understanding of the lifelong impact to them and their families.  Only then can they truly give their informed consent. While some professionals have practice guidelines in place that reflect this standard, there are gaps in overall service to expectant parents as they navigate decisions surrounding their pregnancy.

Silhouette Pregnant Woman Looking Out Window

Historically, adoptions were commonly marked by coercive and shame based techniques, particularly related to the engagement of expectant women.  Adoption policies and practice have advanced in many ways since then, particularly around more openness in relationships and often improved post adoption services. These measures are not, however, universally implemented and there remains a critical need to explore the nature of options counseling expectant parents receive to insure against manipulation and coercion.  Use of the Internet and social media including adoption advertising seeking to attract women in crisis to consider various adoption services, even across state lines where different laws can apply, makes this work more critical than ever. 

Most recently, we read the story of a father who has been battling for seven years to have custody of his daughter returned to him after his rights were abrogated in her adoption placement. Although this father’s pain is palpable during media interviews, and undoubtedly the adoptive parents are also suffering, our greatest concern as a society must be for the child who remains in limbo while the courts seek to unravel this complicated situation. Such situations need not happen if best practices in options counseling were fully known, understood and universally implemented.

DAI anticipates release of the completed Options Counseling study in the second half of 2016. This vital work is made possible by the Lynn Franklin Fund, a unique, dedicated source of financing for DAI projects that focus on the insights, experiences, needs and aspirations of first/birth parents and expectant parents considering adoption. The goal of this fund is to ensure that the voices of this too-often-marginalized group are heard in every relevant and practical discussion of adoption-related laws, policies and practices. The Lynn Franklin Fund is guided by an advisory group, all of whose members have a personal and/or professional connection to adoption, including being first/birth parents. Advisors are charged with offering their expertise in steering projects that fall within the Lynn Franklin Fund to ensure that research, advocacy and education in this area is in keeping with the reality of the adoption experience today.

The Options Counseling project is being led by Brenda Romanchik, LCSW, ACSW, CTS, author of “Birthparent’s Book of Memories” and other publications. Brenda is a therapist in private practice specializing in trauma, grief, and depression.  She is also adjunct Professor at Wayne State University. For 12 years she served as the Founder and Executive Director of Insight Open Adoption Resources and Support. 

The impact of adoption will manifest itself in many different ways throughout a first/birth parent’s life; for many it will be a difficult and complex experience. It is imperative that we seek greater understanding and implement ethical standards in this realm of practice. By focusing research on options counseling, we aim not only to gather information, expand the conversation and change perceptions, but ultimately to safeguard everyone’s rights and wellbeing starting from the first stages of inquiry.

Modern Adoptive Families

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The landscape of the American family continues to rapidly change. In today’s modern world, our thinking surrounding who constitutes family and how families come together is always evolving.  With these changes, we know that all families can benefit from quality support, particularly those who have the unique experience of coming together through adoption and foster care adoption. In order to provide the right tools and supports needed to strengthen families, we must first understand the space where today’s modern family lives. The Donaldson Adoption Institute is excited to announce the introduction of an important new data set developed by Dr. David Brodzinsky that will enhance knowledge surrounding the different experiences of Modern Adoptive Families (MAF).

The family of adoption has changed dramatically over the years. Historically, the face of the adoptive family was a white, middle class couple adopting a racially and ethnically similar infant. Today though, the adoptive family has changed in many ways and has become much more visible in society. As societal awareness increases, it is critical for practitioners to have the knowledge base necessary to ensure adoptive families have the supports they need to stay strong. The MAF data set seeks to expand upon existing knowledge while also contributing new facts and information to the empirical literature. For example, best practices in adoption today dictate that openness and honesty makes for a healthier family experience. The MAF asked respondents to discuss these kinds of issues in some detail, and researchers led by Dr. Brodzinsky are currently examining the data to see how this is currently playing out across different types of adoption for example; private vs. public and adoptions by heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals.

One area the MAF study seeks to explore is parenting by lesbians and gay men. The National Adoptive Parent survey, 2007, has been an invaluable tool for better understanding many aspects of adoptive family experiences. However, the survey did not include information about parents’ sexual orientation, which is critical to investigate. The Modern Adoptive Families study, although predominantly completed by heterosexual respondents, does include respondents from the lesbian and gay community, which is important in order to further knowledge of the many types of adoptive families today.

Beyond demographics, there are many key questions included in the study that augment understanding of the adoptive family experience. These include questions surrounding the need and quality of pre and post adoption support and education as well as experiences with mental health professionals and their ability to respond to the unique needs of adoptive families. Of great value are questions geared towards understanding adoptive parents current needs; these include fostering positive identity development for their children, developing communication strategies, and racial and cultural socialization among other areas.

Parenting in today’s modern world can be complicated. For families that come together through adoption, the experience may have added layers of complexity. What is true is that the majority of parents are working hard to make sure they are raising children with a healthy sense of themselves and a sense of love and security from their families. Our role as a society is to keep up with the changing family dynamic, continue to encourage dialogue that explores the experiences and needs of diverse families and respond in ways that ensure strength and resilience.

In the introduction to the MAF study, Dr. Brodzinsky provides the descriptive data in the report; future studies will include comparative and inferential analyses related to different types of adoptions, as well as such questions as the type, timing and regularity of contact. This data will hopefully provide researchers a tool for further exploration of questions pertinent to the experience of adoption as well as to enhance knowledge of the unique intricacies of the modern adoptive family. From there, it is important to ensure policies and practices are reflective of these realities and that families have the support and tools needed to stay strong. Strong families build strong communities and strong communities make a better world for all of us.

In coming months, DAI will be privileged to report on the policy and practice implications the MAF has revealed.





“Let’s Adopt Reform”


Hi Res Manifesto/Letter ImageWelcome to “Let’s Adopt Reform”, DAI’s new initiative that aims to ignite a national conversation about adoption in the 21st Century in order to highlight what is working, encourage needed changes and strengthen families. “Let’s Adopt Reform” will include new public opinion research, a four city national listening tour and a digital platform to capture input and experiences directly from the community.  Following the last stop on the listening tour, DAI will publish a landmark report that outlines key elements for reform.

At the center of the “Let’s Adopt Reform” initiative is a comprehensive national survey of public opinion on the landscape of adoption in the 21st Century. This first of its kind research will help provide an understanding of how members of the adoption community as well as Americans that have no connection to adoption, perceive and respond to adoption, foster care adoption, and the policies surrounding both.  This groundbreaking research will serve as a baseline measure to track change in perception over time.  It will also provide insight into which topics need to be addressed as part of “Let’s Adopt Reform.”

The research will be fielded by a new, nonprofit partner named Research-In-Kind, founded by the Global Head of Brand Intelligence at J. Walter Thompson.  “Research is the first step in reframing people’s understanding and creating behavior change,” said Mark Truss, Global Head of Brand Intelligence at J. Walter Thompson.  “DAI is making an important contribution towards creating the change our culture needs.”

“Let’s Adopt Reform” will tackle topics like openness in adoption, LGBT adoption rights, the changing role of the Internet and social media and the powerful market forces that influence the adoption process and experience. More details about the initiative will be announced in the coming weeks.  To kick-off this conversation, DAI is releasing its “Let’s Adopt Reform” open letter to show the world where it stands on exploring the bigger concepts that surround adoption as well as suggesting a less transactional and more transformational approach overall.

“After nearly 20 years of research, education and advocacy from DAI and others, it’s not about not knowing what to do. It’s about exploring the bigger picture, having the transformational conversations, changing perceptions and taking action,” said April Dinwoodie, Chief Executive of DAI. “DAI is uniquely positioned to ignite a more modern conversation about adoption today, continuing to give members of the community a voice in the effort to inspire positive change and ultimately to achieve our common goal: healthy families that strengthen all of us.”

The DAI Internship Experience

This summer, DAI had the opportunity to work with two student interns who collaborated with us in unique and important ways. Each student was a valuable contributor to the diverse activities that are essential to DAI’s mission and vision. Their educational background combined with their personal connections to adoption enhanced their contributions to our work.

We asked our students to weigh in on their experiences at the conclusion of their internship. We are very grateful for their work and have every hope that they will continue to collaborate with DAI in different ways after their studies are completed. As DAI embraces our bold new vision, building authentic relationships with tomorrow’s leaders in adoption will be a crucial variable to our success.


Intern Mae Mae Moloney


University Attending: University of Southern California

Program of Study: Human Biology

Plans After Graduation: Either research for drug companies or academic research with a university.

Interest Areas in the Field of Adoption and Foster Care Adoption: Media portrayal of families, adoption, and foster care.

How did You Contribute to DAI this Summer: I did a lot of organizational work with information about adoption in the media.  In nonfiction, I found reporters and news outlets, and on the other side I profiled fictional narratives (movies and TV).  I also found out about related organizations and charities.

How did Your Internship at DAI Contribute to your Education/Field of Study: My school has an emphasis on the humanities in response to the growing emphasis on STEM in universities and in the workforce.  I’ve had to take them along with the hard sciences for my major, so I frequently think of the biological basis for the human experience.  I think family is good case study: the nuclear family is one of the most important ideas in our Western society (now with elections coming I’m sure we’ll all hear a lot about “family values”) but it is not the only way.  Hunter-gatherers have different strategies for keeping the population going, and are probably more “true” to our origin as a species.  So the prototypical “family” of mother, father, and their biological children in the Western world is clearly not the default model people think it is.  Working at DAI taught me how one group who deviates from the supposed norm – adopted, and often LGBT families, from the nuclear family – internalizes and communicates its experience as a “variation” with both each other and society at large.

Personal Connection to Adoption: My parents adopted me from a Chinese orphanage, and also have my older and younger brothers who were in open adoptions.  We’re a multiracial family, since my parents are white, my older brother is Black, and my younger brother is mixed but mostly Asian.

Plans to Contribute to the Field of Adoption/Foster Care Adoption in the Future: As a scientist who will have to keep up with the community and its research, I will hear a lot about climate change and sustainability since they are such pressing issues.  My generation and its children will likely inherit much of the damage and have to find its solutions, so one of the best things I can do is promote responsible population growth in my peers and encourage them to consider adoption, as an adoptee, when they plan to have families.  I also think this makes sense from a humanitarian perspective-taking care of the ones already in existence and ensuring the best quality of life possible-and beneficial for the sake of critical thinking to reconsider the ages-old traditional family model that we’re told is normal and constantly flooded with in our media.


Intern AnaElisa Franco


University Attending:  Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University

Program of Study: Master of Public Policy with a concentration in Child, Youth and Family Policy

Plans After Graduation:  Work to improve adoption or child welfare policy. Ideally, working for a non-profit organization that specializes in this type of policy.

Interest Areas in the Field of Adoption and Foster Care Adoption:  While I am interested in many areas of adoption and foster care policy, I am especially passionate about those related to pre- and post-adoption services as well as those that advance first/birth parent rights and extended family rights.

How did You Contribute to DAI this Summer: I had the opportunity to do a variety of tasks to support DAI in their work:

  • Researched federal and state bills related to adoption
  • Researched LGBT adoption, the impact of marriage equality, and resources available to the community
  • Researched state legislative and budget calendars
  • Compiled a list of conferences related to Adoption, Foster Care, ART, Family, and Philanthropy
  • Contributed to Policy & Advocacy section of DAI’s Summer Newsletter
  • Created factsheets relating to DAI’s 4 pillars
  • Reported back on what I learned at NACAC’s conference in Long Beach and where DAI’s work could complement and be strengthened by that of other agencies

How did Your Internship at DAI Contribute to your Education/Field of Study:  I gained experience in researching policies and developing tools to advance policy. This gave me a behind the scenes look at some of the leg-work necessary for this type of work.

Personal Connection to Adoption: I was adopted through private, domestic, infant adoption and am sister to an adopted person.

Plans to Contribute to the Field of Adoption/Foster Care Adoption in the Future: I would like to devote my career to policy advocacy; advancing and supporting changes in policy to strengthen families.


DAI’s Bold New Vision

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Since 1996, The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) has worked to improve the lives of children and families across our country and around the world through research, education and advocacy that have led to better laws, policies and practices. We engage all members of the adoption and foster care adoption communities, including the professionals that serve them. As we enter into our twentieth year, DAI is introducing a new vision which will guide our work going forward.

After decades of research and the collective work of DAI and others, our current system still too often treats adoption as if it’s nothing more than a one-time transaction. Because of this, individuals and families are left to navigate the complexities of the adoption experience without the knowledge, support and guidance necessary to keep them strong. It is imperative that the adoption community, including the professionals that serve them, take this knowledge base to a critical new level and provide the practical resources people need.

DAI is committed to reframing the conversations and changing perceptions, encouraging authentic relationships, building coalitions, and being a practical resource in order to ensure the strength of all families. Ultimately, DAI’s new vision will enable us to enhance our work as a critical contributor to the adoption reform movement and ultimately strengthen all families.

New Vision

In 2014, as part of its evolution, DAI launched four pillars of focus: The Adoption Experience, Foster Care Adoption, Adoption Support Services and The Modern Family. The pillars allowed DAI to sharpen its focus. We recognize today that the changing needs of our stakeholders necessitate a bold new step for DAI. Critical elements include:

* the engagement of all members of the adoption and foster care adoption communities, including the professionals that serve them;

* the commitment to reframing the conversations and changing perceptions surrounding adoption and foster care adoption;

* encouragement of authentic relationships and coalitions that work in concert and,

* the distribution of essential and practical resources.

From our inception, DAI has focused on investigation and understanding the practices and experience related to adoption and foster care adoption. By building on what we already know is best practice, we now look to accelerate positive change by actively listening to community voices and creating practical tools and resources with an ultimate goal of making families stronger.

New Board and Staff Updates

In order to expand and grow, DAI recognizes the need to engage a wide range of individuals and partners. Kim Stevens (Project Director, Advocates for Families First/NACAC) and Betsie Norris (Executive Director, Adoption NetworkCleveland) have both joined DAI’s Board of Directors. Their years of professional experience and personal passion will greatly impact DAI at an exciting time. Dr. William Boltz, formerly DAI’s Development Director, has been promoted to Deputy Director. Dr. Boltz’s expanded role offers DAI the ability to grow strategically and to focus on operational excellence. The newest member of the team is Program Director Kim Paglino. In this role, Ms. Paglino will be focused on guiding DAI’s programmatic work, including legislative advocacy and stakeholder/community engagement.

Council of Advisors

DAI is building on its distinguished Senior Fellows Program by expanding and growing it into a new structure: the DAICouncil of Advisors (CoA). The overarching purpose of this group will be to harness expertise and experience from across the adoption and foster care adoption spectrum. It will provide strategic and programmatic guidance to DAI, enabling it to better serve its communities and ultimately broaden its reach.

Members of the CoA will have the unique opportunity to impact DAI’s work as well as to build community within a diverse group, drawing from multiple disciplines and including various stakeholders. CoA members will be exposed to differing perspectives and experiences, creating potential for cross disciplinary projects, studies and collaborations. Members of this prestigious group will be announced in the coming months.

Moving Forward

For almost two decades, DAI has worked hard to generate research and advocate for law, policies and practices that ensure ethics and transparency in adoption. Everything we do and every action we take is geared toward safeguarding the best interests of children, enhancing the adoption experience, sustaining families, and achieving equitable treatment for everyone within the extended family of adoption. As we boldly embrace our new vision we will continue to uphold our core values while also seeking new and innovative ways to change perceptions and behaviors surrounding adoption and foster care adoption. As we work to actively change the context of the adoption experience, we have every hope that the system that guides adoption will be able to honor adoption as the transformative experience it is. Further, what we have learned is best practice for adoption and foster care adoption is generally good practice for all families. Our hope then is that as we advance our work, reframe perceptions and reform practices surrounding adoption and foster care adoption, our new vision has the potential to strengthen the diverse types of families that make our world a rich and vibrant.