CCAI’s Angels in Adoption™ Program consists of three days of event in Washington, D.C. where those who have made a difference in the lives of children through adoption or foster care are celebrated by Members of Congress. Here are some of the highlights of the 2014 Angels in Adoption™ Program!
Each of our Angels were honored at a Congressional Pin Ceremony. Above, the Dille family receives their specially designed Angels in Adoption pin and certificate from Senator David Vitter (R-LA).
Here, Senator John Boozman (R-AR) honors his Angels in Adoption nominees, the Creekside Center for Women at the Senate Pin Ceremony.
CCAI Advisory Member, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), poses for a photo with the MacConnell family.
National Angel in Adoption Honorees, Dr. Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein of TLC’s The Little Couple, and Debra Steigerwaldt Waller, CEO of Jockey International and Paul Singer Award winner, met with Senators Landrieu (D-LA) and Grassley (R-IA) and CCAI’s Interim Executive Director Becky Weichhand on Wednesday to discuss adoption policy.
Dr. Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein are presented their Angels in Adoption pins from Senator Landrieu and CCAI Board Chair man, Jack Gerard.
On the red carpet at the Angels in Adoption Gala!
Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) joins the honorees on the red carpet with his family and adopted granddaughter.
The gala began with a performance by Dove Award nominated singer and songwriter, Sara Groves.
The atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building was transformed the evening of the gala.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
CCAI’s 2014 Foster Youth Intern, Amnoni Myers, received a standing ovation from the audience.
Adoptive father Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) presents Debra Steigerwaldt Waller of Jockey International with the Paul Singer Award.
Dr. Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein’s acceptance speech.
The Little Couple’s fans taking photos.
CCAI’s staff are big fans of Jen and Bill and their wonderful family.
2014 Foster Youth Intern, Amnoni Myers, so graciously shared her story of survival at the recent Angels in Adoption gala. Watch her video and read her speech below!
Good evening everyone. It’s an honor to be here with all of you tonight. This is an opportunity that I would have never imagined a few years ago. But it’s because of Angels like you in my life that made it possible.
Life was not easy growing up. My mother abandoned me at birth and trauma became the theme that impacted my life early. I was taken in by a caregiver who neglected to feed and properly care for me. By the time I was six years old I experienced sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and physical violence. Already vulnerable, I entered into state care where I was separated from my siblings. My sense of family and identity was robbed. During my time in care, I moved around 5 times, and foster mothers seemed more interested in the economic benefits of caring for me than unconditionally loving and treating me like I was their own.
Sadly my story isn’t so unique. Thousands of children experience these types of obstacles each day but the uniqueness of my story is—I survived. Though survival wasn’t always easy, I thank God for placing people in my life then I needed it most because strangers became my family. Strange, right? But if it wasn’t for those who decided to invest in me, I wouldn’t be here today.
I would also like to credit my story of survival to my faith in God and to my inner determination and strength to NEVER GIVE UP despite the many odds that were against me. It was during a very critical time when I heard these important words: Never allow your past to dictate your future.
This summer I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship program. This program impacted my life tremendously. As part of this experience, I was able to develop lifelong friendships with people who had been through experiences that were similar to mine. What I found to be unique about CCAI is that they see potential in every intern that comes through their doors no matter what they have experienced. In my time as an intern I found that my voice finally mattered and was valued. CCAI provided a wealth of opportunities that I was able to experience right at my fingertips!
We went on retreats where we could share our stories with each other, learned how to effectively tell our stories to people we would be working with on Capitol Hill, and spent a weekend at Deep Creek Lake where some of us experienced jet skis, boating, and tubing for the first time. Growing up in the inner city never afforded me these types of opportunities so it felt good to be able to check off so many excursions on my bucket list at once (despite crashing into a tree and falling off the tubes multiple times).
As a Foster Youth Intern, I was assigned to the office of Senator Chuck Grassley. Because the Senator is a leader on foster care issues, I was able to work on projects specifically related to federal child welfare policy and my firsthand perspective was valued in the office because of my journey in the foster care system. My supervisor, Kathy, encouraged me to not only share my perspective with her, but also with the other interns in the office.
The Foster Youth Interns develop a policy report, which we present to policymakers and staff. The CCAI staff spends many long nights helping us refine our recommendations. For my policy recommendations I chose to focus on the need to standardize trauma-informed care training for caregivers and to provide ongoing training in this area. I envision that one day my recommendations will be enacted into law!
Although I was anxious about whether I was equipped to handle the workload of a Congressional Internship, being here gave me the chance to develop a healthier sense of myself. It was people like the staff at CCAI, Senator Chuck Grassley and his staff, my mentor Aisha, and my Sara Start Fund mentor who not only believed in me, but also invested their time in me, loved me, and adopted me into their families.
To tonight’s Angels in Adoption honorees, this is exactly what all of you have done for children like me. You saw something special in them that others didn’t see, and you are making an impact not only in their life but in the lives of future generations to come!
My time here on Capitol Hill has prepared me for my future goals to change and impact policy. I am now participating in a fellowship program in California where I am working with underprivileged youth and their families. Speaking of future goals, I also applied for The White House Internship this summer and I am keeping my fingers crossed that someone in the audience has a connection they can send my way!
I am eager to return to Washington D.C. because I know my work here is not quite finished. CCAI gave me wings so that I could fly, and with the experiences I have gained, I will continue to invest in the lives of children in the same ways that CCAI and all of you have invested in me!
Despite the daunting winter weather, today millions of Americans will take to the roads, the air and the rails to travel home in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. I cannot think of a better example of how ingrained the ideal of family is in our society than Thanksgiving, a day when we come together to share in a bountiful meal and give thanks for our collective blessings. Like many of you, I will begin and end Thanksgiving Day with an overwhelming amount of gratitude for the blessing of my own family. And if tomorrow is like most of my other Thanksgiving celebrations in recent years, I will revel in watching my children build lifelong memories with their grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins.
At some point tomorrow I will observe what has become another annual tradition. I will pause and say a prayer for the millions of children all over the world who will spend this holiday alone. There is not a day that goes by my heart does not ache for these children, whose dream of a family to share holiday traditions with seems more like an unreachable dream than a soon-to-be reality. Yet on a day designed to serve as a reminder of just how much having a family means in our lives, it aches all the more.
CCAI was founded on the simple yet profound belief that every child needs and deserves a family to call their own. We go to work each day with the hopes of identifying the legal and policy barriers which prevent children from realizing their basic right to a family. While we still have a long way to go before we reach our goal of a family for every child, we have taken many steps toward making this dream a reality this year. For this I am incredibly grateful.
More specifically, this year I will give thanks for:
10. The Adoption Tax Credit Working Group and the Save the Adoption Tax Credit Campaign. There is no doubt in my mind that this organized, effective campaign played a major role in making the adoption tax credit a permanent part of the tax code. This means more children will find families. I also firmly believe this group has what it takes to convince Congress to make the Adoption Tax Credit refundable.
9.Senator Charles Grassley (R- IA), who has been a leader in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption for over a decade, and who recently reminded all in attendance at the Voice for Adoption Portrait Project reception of how important the goal of a family really is when he said, “We must always remember that foster care is meant to be a layover, not a destination.”
7. Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, who served at this year’s Angels in Adoption Gala emcees. Their passion for adoption, their giving hearts and their unmatchable wit made this year’s gala one to remember.
6. Dr. Charles Zeanah of Tulane University, whose passion and commitment to deinstitutionalizing children and improving foster care is second to none. CCAI was very fortunate to have Dr. Zeanah join us on our 20/20 Vision Program’s Congressional delegation to Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam in February. Additionally, his presentation to a key group of Guatemalan officials in April during our Pathways to Permanency training moved some in the group to tears.
5. For Pat O’Brien and his legacy at “You Gotta Believe,” an organization wholly committed to finding forever families for older children. This recently posted YouTube video is just one example of the thousands of families who have been born as a result of Pat’s tenacity.
4. The USG Action Plan for Children in Adversity – the first ever federal policy to acknowledge that reducing the number of children outside of family care should be one of our universal foreign policy goals. The release of this important plan has opened the minds of many federal policymakers to the idea that food and shelter do not make children thrive, families do.
3. For Dr. Sharen Ford, who retired this year after nearly 30 years with the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said – “to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.” Dr. Ford, tens of thousands of our nation’s most vulnerable children have breathed easier because of you.
2. For the Foster Youth Interns (FYIs) from this summer and every summer before. Not a day goes by that I am not inspired by their example. I am so proud to see you each grow into the leaders you were always meant to be.
At CCAI’s recent Angels in Adoption gala, we asked each of our awardees and presenters to submit a family photo along with a quote explaining what family means to them. To join in our celebration of National Adoption Day on November 23rd, would you consider submitting your own family’s photo and quote to firstname.lastname@example.org with “ Family Photo” in the subject line? We might just post it in an upcoming CCAI blog!
“Families don’t have to match.” Sean and Leigh Anne Touhy
“Family is love, security and people who will encourage you to follow your dreams.” George Dennehy
“The family provides the gymnasium in which God enables us to develop spiritual maturity.” U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black
“Family is someone who picks you up at the end of a long day” Kathleen Strottman
“The only thing bigger than time is family; and the only thing bigger than family is God.” Representative Trent Franks
“Every child deserves a loving family. We need to do all we can to support the countless families across the country that are willing to open their hearts and their homes to children from across the globe.” Senator Amy Klobuchar
“Family are the people who care for your heart and your spirit, often our circle of friends become a family tribe that grows as we define ourselves through a lifetime of experiences and relationships.” Rita Benson LeBlanc
“And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them; and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, ‘Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me.’” – Mark 9:36-37a Senator Roger Wicker
“My family makes me smile and laugh and cry and dance and want to be the best I can be. They are my world, my joy and my greatest love.” Deborra-lee Furness
“My family is built through adoption. My husband was adopted from an orphanage in Ireland when he was 5 years old, and, together, we have brought two wonderful children into our family through adoption. I grew up in a loving and large family and know how important it is for children and adults to have a family they can count on.” Senator Mary Landrieu
“I think it’s important for people to know that we adopted Will before we became rich and famous. And I say that because I think sometimes people think that only the rich and famous have what it takes, the money, the staff, to give a home to a child. But the truth is anyone can do it, once you have committed to make that kind of difference in a child’s life.” Willie and Korie Robertson
“Our forever family means everything to us, both in this life and the life to come.” Jack Gerard
The word for family in Spanish is “familia”, in Mandarin Chinese its “jia”, in Russian its “sem-ya”, in Indonesian its “Kelurga” and in Swahili the word for family is “jah-mee.” In all 6,500 spoken languages in the world, there is a word for family. While the word family is said differently in each, its importance to children is universal. Everywhere in the world, the family is known by all as the very basic unit of society, the unit into which children are born and through which they are meant to reach their full human potential.
When speaking of family, American comic George Burns once said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, close-knit family …who lives in another city.” And humorist, Erma Bombeck described the family as “a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bind us together.” Former First Lady Barbara Bush put it perfectly when she said “family means putting your arms around each other and being there.”
These heart-felt tributes to family are matched equally by scientific evidence that a loving family plays a fundamentally important role in the development of a child. Co-founder of Head Start, Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner put it this way: “In order to develop normally, a child requires activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationship with the child. Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last, and always.”
I have been blessed to attend some of the best schools in the United States. And in the 25 years of my education, I have learned many of life’s certitudes. I learned that the square root of 144 is 12. I learned that every sentence must have a subject and a verb. And I learned that the force that takes an object from a higher point to a lower one is called gravity. I cannot tell you precisely when it was that I learned that family matters. Maybe it was through the countless times that my parents demonstrated their “completely irrational love” for me. I never once doubted that they would be there for me. I grew up completely secure in the idea that they would always protect me. And because they showed me every single day how special I was, I grew up believing that I could do anything.
Maybe I have learned how much family matters when I became a mother to three children. Like my mother before me, I would go as far as to lay down my own life for my kids. Believe me, Dr. Brofenbrenner, I know what you mean by CRAZY. Is there a parent reading this blog who would not admit to being crazy in love with your children? What makes the love we feel for our children so amazing is that it is a pure and unconditional love, like no other we have experienced.
And that is why CCAI exists. Because we believe with all our hearts that every child in the world not only deserves to know that kind of love, but needs to. We know that a nurturing relationship with a parent is not a luxury meant only for a precious few, but a biological necessity of all children everywhere. And our heart is heavy with the knowledge that there are children all over the world who because of cultural and policy barriers don’t know that kind of love. Some don’t have it because they have a disability and their parents live in a place where they are told to believe these children are cursed. Others don’t have it because they are older, and society has told them to just hold on for the day that a family is no longer necessary.
And we think that is simply unacceptable.
In 2011, the almost 700 people in attendance at our 13th annual Angels in Adoption dinner were brought to tears as national award winner Scott Fujita, a six foot five, 250 lb. linebacker for the Cleveland Browns talked about what his five foot two Japanese American parents meant to him. He said, “you can’t put a face on love and you can’t tell me what a family is supposed to look like, but we all certainly know what a loving family is supposed to feel like.”
Take a minute today to watch the video. I hope it reminds you of how important family has been in your own life and inspires you to do more to help every child in the world know this kind of crazy love.
The Family to Family Adoption Support program at Parker Adventist Hospital in Parker, CO, just southeast of Denver, is the only established and comprehensive hospital-based adoption support program in the nation. Over the past eight years, our goal has evolved and expanded. The program’s core mission is to ensure that mothers who desire to make an adoption plan have access to trained nurses and doctors during this emotional and complex time.
As an adoptive mom, I have welcomed two of our children home as infants. Both hospital situations, while very different, were extremely emotional and unnecessarily chaotic. It was evident that the staff had a wide range of opinions about adoption, and the hospital policies were unclear.
After our two experiences, I started talking to other adoptive families and birth families. I found that hospital placements were described by all families involved as wonderful, horrible, humiliating, shame-filled, beautiful, etc. And sadly, some of those words, such as wonderful and shame-filled, were used to describe hospital placements at the same facility, all dependent on the “nurse you got” or if a staff member had a positive or negative adoption experience. I also heard from nursing staff that they felt uncomfortable since they didn’t have any formal training as to how to best handle the complexities of an adoption placement.
We started our program in 2005 with mandatory training for our staff, and in time, training for our doctors. Little did we know that the program would evolve to a service and support model that included education for those both considering adoption and preparing for an adoption, as well as awareness of post-adoption resources.
As the only hospital in Colorado that offers services to all members of this population, our outreach efforts also include adoption education throughout the community. A clear understanding of adoption has allowed us to help women like Karen*. Karen was driving through the Denver area on her way to her home state when she went into labor. Her contractions got too strong for her to continue, and no one back home knew she was pregnant. She followed the “H” signs on the road and entered Parker Adventist Hospital in the early morning hours. She told the nurse her plan: to leave once the baby was born and give the baby to the state. The nurse, trained in adoption, simply mentioned that she could choose to do an adoption plan instead, and that she could choose an agency and meet with a counselor. She was made aware that she could pick a family, even meet them if she’d like, and would still be able to leave that day. After choosing the family for her child after delivery, she told me, “I had no idea! I didn’t even know this was an option.”
Sometimes we get connected with patients considering adoption early in their pregnancy. We are able to connect them with adoption-sensitive doctors who are aware that they are simply considering adoption and that their care will continue with that doctor regardless if they choose to parent or make an adoption plan. This is beneficial as they do not have ER deliveries, but are offered consistent prenatal care and ongoing support regardless of their ultimate decision.
Another recent patient didn’t have much warning and also came into the Parker BirthPlace ready to deliver. She, however, announced when she came in that she was planning to do an adoption. She had been living in her car and had not been able to meet with a counselor. She was able to step into a program in the BirthPlace that understood her wishes and had the resources and infrastructure to meet her needs. She told me, “It was just really important to me that she not go into foster care. I really wanted her to go straight to her family.” This time in the hospital would hopefully be the beginning of a lifelong relationship with her adoptive family. We are so honored to share this precious time with our patients and the families involved.
Imagine how the adoption community would be different if there was a Family to Family Adoption Support program in every hospital? What if nurses and doctors felt empowered to care for their patients in a way that honored their decisions? What if hospital professionals clearly understood their adoption policies and guidelines and had an opportunity to explore their own thoughts about adoption? What if there was a place for families to go where they could receive care from healthcare professionals who better understood the logistical complexity and emotional impact of an adoption plan?
I was asked recently why a hospital wouldn’t have a program like this one. I believe there are two reasons:
Hospitals don’t believe they see “enough” adoptions to fund mandatory training. I would challenge that with this fact: we were seeing an average of one adoption a month when this program was first launched in 2005. In 2013, we started off the year by having seven babies placed in seven weeks, serving patients ages 14-42. The mother of a 14 year-old patient told me, “Without Parker Adventist Hospital, we would be taking this baby home. Not because she is ready to be a mom, but because we wouldn’t have even known where to start when considering adoption.” One of our doctors told me, “I now do not hesitate to discuss the option of adoption with my patients. If they want more information, I know I can send them to the Adoption Liaison.”
Hospitals don’t recognize how much adoption has changed. In the “old model”, the hospital stay was very different. A woman delivered a baby, the baby was taken out of the room and given to a social worker, who then delivered the baby to his or her new family. The mother was told to forget about the baby she just delivered and move on. The adoptive family was coached to not address the child’s loss of his or her first family. This approach is contrary to the model we embrace at Parker Adventist Hospital. With the changes toward open adoption, our program embraces the patient and supports her with compassionate care while acknowledging her loss. We also recognize that the extended family will naturally be affected by the adoption and may be present. The patient and her family are encouraged to define the woman’s time in the hospital, and if the baby’s father is present also, we do our best to support his unique emotions as well. Our goal is to support that baby’s parents with not only excellent medical care but also compassionate emotional support.
I truly believe we must challenge our hospitals to do three things: become knowledgeable about adoption issues, require mandatory training regarding current adoption practice, and learn how professionals can best support patients during their hospital time, empowering them to make the choice that is best for them. As we see our community utilizing our Family to Family Adoption Support program at Parker Adventist Hospital, we see how having adoption-sensitive care and providing adoption resources can change the community’s approach and understanding of adoption.