Modern Adoptive Families

ban on gay adoption

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

DAI TOC_final_no logo2

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.

Simple Dreams on the Fourth of July

Remembering Those Who Died for Our Country Memorial Day 2012

The Fourth of July is upon us, marking a great moment in history as it signifies our official independence as a nation. All across America the red, white and blue will be waving. Families will gather around to enjoy the simple pleasures of a backyard barbecue as they celebrate their pride in being an American.

The ideology of freedom is a core value in America. It is the crux of our patriotic songs, the thirteen stripes on our national flag represent the independence of the original colonies, and it is the cornerstone of our Constitution.

When the suffragettes fought for the right to vote they were seeking the freedom that comes when your humanity is considered equal to the humanity of others. When members of the LGBT community and their allies fought for the right to have their union given the credence of marriage, they did so in part based on the fundamental truth that love is a universal concept which cannot and should not be inhibited by any bigotry that holds the love of some as unequal to the love of others.

Freedom was the basis for the great dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who so aptly proclaimed that if America is to be a great nation, all of God’s children must be able to meaningfully sing the patriotic hymns which pronounce that freedom should ring from every mountainside in this land where liberty is held so dear.

There are those of us who know only fractured freedom, which negates the very idea that Independence Day is meant to convey. We may not know all that freedom has to offer because of our gender, or the color of our skin, or because of who we love.

And some of us, because of the circumstances of our birth, know freedom related to our identity and heritage only as an idea instead of a lived experience. This is true for countless adopted persons in the United States who are denied access to the very document that attests to our humanity; our birth certificate.

When a person is adopted, their original birth certificate becomes sealed and a new birth certificate is issued. This amended birth certificate lists the adoptive parents as birth parents and it leaves off details that are typically included on a long form birth certificate. In some places, where the adopted person was actually born can even be replaced with another location, as though the place where one entered the world is an insignificant detail that can easily be exchanged.

The meaning of a birth certificate is both practical and personal. Practically, it is an identifying document. We use it to get driver’s licenses and passports. We use it to gain access to privileges and resources.

We use it to confirm identity, and identity is both practical and very personal.

A birth certificate is ultimately an attestation to the profound moment when we entered this world. It attaches us, in writing, to a very important family; whether we are raised by that family or not. A biological family is a factual aspect of any person’s identity. It is where we gain biological elements such as our race and ethnicity. It is where we gain our medical history, something we can all agree is vital information.

Our family of birth contributes to our nuances, strengths, and flaws. These personality characteristics can also be aspects we gain from our family of experience, those who raise us and whom we know and love as family regardless of blood ties.

Both then are quintessentially important to every personhood; the meaning of one family does not and should not replace the other. And knowledge of all parts of who we are should be a basic right.

The fact that we continue to deny this knowledge to adopted persons by concealing their actual birth certificates in most US states is a blatant human rights violation, and it contradicts the very principle of freedom we claim as so essential to the core of what it is to be in America.

This denial is also contrary to the realities of the adoption experience today. Most families who live adoption today do so in the spirit of openness, with biological and adoptive families getting to know each other and staying in touch over time out of their shared love for their child. Other people are connecting with extended family every day through social media technologies and advancements in DNA science.

The research base, and more importantly the voices of those who live adoption, are loud and clear that access to information, openness and honesty are necessary.

A birth certificate is a vital document; vital is a word that is synonymous with ‘essential’, ‘fundamental’ and ‘necessary’. But for those of us who were adopted after our birth, this document is conceived by some as inconsequential and replaceable.

The battle for civil and human rights is, in many regards, universal regardless of the issue at hand. This advocacy is uniquely personal yet inextricably uniform. Because whenever rights are being abrogated the underlying struggle is the same. It is a struggle to gain access to the tangible privileges that are denied when a person is discriminated against. But it is more intensely a struggle for the desire to be valued as human; the intangible yearning to be regarded as equal to all other persons regardless of the nuances that make us diverse within our shared humanity.

Within this framework of universality, and with deep respect for the distinctiveness of each unique human rights cause, our own dreams for the community that is called ‘adopted’ are inspired by Dr. King’s powerful declaration.

Our dream is for all adopted persons to gain access to the very information that affirms their humanity. In this dream we see our brothers and sisters in adoption made whole again not simply because of a piece of paper that proclaims their humanity, but moreover because they have the unique and intense opportunity to use this piece of paper to delve into rich exploration and potentially know all elements of their identity.

This document holds the promise of transformation that goes well beyond the simple right to gain access to it; yet it is in being given this simple right that revolutionizes how we hold ourselves as ‘adopted’ and how the society we live in regards us.

On the tenth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt stated the following:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

The world of the adopted person can be complex. But for many of us, our desire to know our biological origins is not reflective of the love and affinity we have for our family of experience. The mom’s and dad’s who raise us are the people we run to in childhood in tears over a bad dream or joy when we make the basketball team. Our mom’s and dad’s are the people we complain about for their meddling ways and they are the people we call when we need the advice of someone who has been there and done that many times over. We are part of a family that came together differently, but is family just the same. We are people, just like anyone else, and we seek access to the document that gives us the dignity of being valued as a person. And then, our unique dream of freedom will be realized. And then we will be able to fully celebrate Independence Day.

It’s as simple as that.


Photo from Flickr, used under creative commons license 2.0.