Supporting Adoption Placements in Hospitals

CCAI Angel in Adoption Rebecca Vahle
CCAI Angel in Adoption Rebecca Vahle receiving her award from Congressman Coffman

CCAI Angel in Adoption, Rebecca Vahle, is an Adoption Liaison at Parker Adventist Hospital where she works on the Family to Family Adoption Support program. We asked Rebecca to write about why she decided to start this initiative and her experience with the program.

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.”

Twins born at Parker Adventist Hospital and later adopted because of the Family to Family Adoption Support program.
Twins placed for adoption at Parker Adventist Hospital.

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.

For additional information regarding the Family to Family Adoption Support program or to explore upcoming training opportunities, visit  or contact Rebecca Vahle, Adoption Liaison in the Parker BirthPlace, at

*Name changed

Happy National Adoption Day!

Tomorrow, Saturday, November 17, people all throughout the United States will recognize National Adoption Day. As part of this celebration, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute wants to share “You Just May Be” a music video we produced in partnership with national singer-songwriter Karyn Williams. “You Just May Be” celebrates adoption and reminds individuals, families, and organizations all over the world that anybody can make the difference in the life of a child without a family. As Karyn tells us in the introduction, all you have to do is say, “Yes!”

Happy National Adoption Day!

Adoption Today Features Article on Angels in Adoption™

Nominate an Angel in Adoption™!

By Kathleen Strottman and Allison Cappa

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” Robert F. Kennedy said so eloquently what we at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) try to uphold daily and who we hope to esteem through our Angels in Adoption™ Program.

The Program began 14 years ago when a few Congressional offices began to brainstorm about the good that could come from honoring deserving constituents from their state and/or district who had impacted the life of a child in need of a loving family. That first year, in 1999, an awards ceremony was held on Capitol Hill to celebrate those very constituents. As co-founding Member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption caucus and adoptive father Rep. Jim Oberstar puts it, “the first event was sparkling. There was so much enthusiasm and love.”

Since that time, Angels in Adoption™ has grown to be three days of events with over 1800 individuals, couples, and organizations recognized for the incredible work they have done to highlight the issue of foster care and adoption.  The Angels are invited to travel to Washington, D.C., where they learn how to advocate on behalf of children around the world waiting for a loving family to call their own. Additionally, they are honored at a prestigious Congressional Pinning Ceremony and at a very special Gala attended by senior members of the Executive Branch, US Senators, US Representatives and National Angels, like Kristin Chenoweth, First Lady Laura Bush, Patti LaBelle and Al Roker, who are using their celebrity status to promote adoption on a national and even global level. Furthermore, Angels in Adoption™ seeks to increase the public awareness of these individual deeds that profoundly impact a child’s life. The press from this event has spurred hundreds of human interest stories with the hope of inspiring others. Since the program’s inception, more than 1,800 Angels have been honored for their contributions to the cause of finding every child a home.

We all know the miraculous effect adoption has.  Because of Angels in Adoption that message is spreading. As 2011 National Angel in Adoption™, award winning actress (star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), former National Adoption Day spokesperson, Nia Vardalos, said of the adoption of her daughter, “My husband and I were matched with our daughter via American Foster Care, and the minute we met her, our lives changed forever.  At three years old, our perfect little girl walked into our house, and turned it into a home.”

Do you know of someone you would like to nominate to a Congressional Office because adoption or fostering children has changed their life forever? Nominate them as an Angel in Adoption™ by visiting You can also complete a nomination form online for submission which will be passed along to an appropriate Congressional office. The deadline for this year’s nomination is July 6, 2012. 

The preceding article was featured on page eight of the June 2012 Issue of Adoption Today. See Adoption Today.

CCAI releases ‘What Barriers Remain for the 112th Congress’

Kathleen Strottman, CCAI’s Executive Director, authored a report highlighting what areas of reform the 112th Congress may consider addressing this legislative session.  The report discusses several issues advocates, families, and professionals alike have raised.  Visit our website or click here to read the full report.

In keeping with CCAI’s mission to not only identify instances where policies are standing in the way of children finding their forever families, but more importantly to highlight ways that policymakers might act to eliminate them, CCAI raises areas where reform is needed.  A few of the topics covered in the report include:

  • Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA):  With 30,000 youth aging out of foster care each year having never been adopted, advocates have suggested that federal policymakers begin to study the frequency and reasons for recommending APPLA as a permanency plan for a foster youth.
  • Adoption Affordability:  We also know from the National Survey of Adoptive Parents that 57% percent of adoptive parents surveyed reported being at or below 300% the federal poverty line ($67,050 for a family of four).
  • Universal Accreditation:  Where the Intercounry Adoption Act falls short is that it only applies to adoptions between countries that are both parties to the Hague Convention, meaning that if an adoption is between the U.S. and a non-Hague country such as Russia or Ethiopia, the agency performing the adoption does not have to be accredited and the family involved is left without the corresponding services and protections.

The economics of adoption

An article came out earlier this week by Megan McArdle titled Abortion, Adoption, Supply and Demand that examined the link between adoption and abortion rates.  The author was arguing a claim made by a fellow writer, Andrew Sullivan, that promoting infant adoption is a feasible way to lower the abortion rate.  Sullivan wrote, “If the pro-life movement dedicated its every moment not to criminalizing abortion but to expanding adoption opportunities, it would win many more converts.”

McArdle responds, “I find it far-fetched that women are having abortions because no one is willing to help them give the baby up for adoption–there are lots of people and agencies that will not only help them, but pay a substantial portion of their expenses until they deliver.  They’re having abortions because pregnancy is physically uncomfortable, and there’s still a social stigma on women who carry a baby to term in order to give it away.”

Just a few months ago, the Center for American Progress released a report that seemingly aligns with McArdle’s viewpoint.  The report is titled The Adoption Option: Adoption Won’t Reduce Abortion but It Will Expand Women’s Choices.  In trying to educate readers about the abortion landscape, the report shared some statistics:

  • there are 6 million pregnancies in the U.S each year, almost half are unintended
  • 4 in 10 of all unintended pregnancies will end in abortion, roughly 1.2 million each year
  • 6 out of every 10 women who have abortions are already mothers
  • a mere 1% of all never-married women place their children for adoption

The report goes on to examine how prior to Roe v. Wade in 1973, the adoption rate was as high as 19.2% for white women, but fell to only 3.2% just fifteen years later.  The Guttmacher Institute writes that the decline in the adoption rate is affected by the societal shift in accepting single mothers, and that the abortion rate also fell during the same period time.  Because of this, the Institute points out that promoting adoption is not an effective strategy for reducing the abortion rate.

A few of the policy recommendations the report includes is that more research is required to best serve the needs of women considering adoption, along with greater awareness about the modern adoption system, and improved post-adoption services.