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Adopting Parent Networking
By Bill Betzen

Networking Recommendations for Adopting Parents

These networking recommendations presume that both adopting parents have read the following books, Adopting After Infertility by Patricia Irwin Johnston, The Open Adoption Experienced by Lois Ruskai Melina and Sharon Kaplan Raszia, and Adoption Without Fear by Jim Gritter. It also presumes all families are working with an agency who will provide support and guidance through this process and manage the group meetings that are such a valuable part of achieving maximum return on the time invested in the process. The family must have a completed home study and be ready to receive a child into their home. Six years experience with these recommendations, and a more than doubling of the number of adoptions through the agency I was with, and the experience of professional colleagues all across the US, has more than verified that these methods work.

Networking recommendations for adopting families:

I. Be Actively Involved In An Outreach Support Group!

All families involved in networking must be actively involved and working from within the supportive atmosphere of a group of adoptive families doing outreach together. The group process and support is very important! In surveys of families that have adopted through CCS the group meetings have been listed as being the most valuable part of the process. There can be many setbacks in the outreach process and group support, guidance, and assistance are crucial in maintaining positive motivation. While CCS does not make the doing of outreach mandatory the attending of the group meetings is required.

To date the most successful outreach has come from groups (four to twelve families) who meet every other week in members' homes. Since the number of outreach groups currently supervised by CCS fluctuates between three and six there is one meeting every four months which is attended by all families from the different groups.

As the size of an individual outreach group goes below four families due to placements made that group generally merges with another outreach group.

The outreach support groups serve 4 general purposes:

1) Sharing & Emotional Support - as outreach begins events can happen rather rapidly there is usually much to share at each meeting regarding calls received and/or relationships with birth parents that are developing. The ups and downs of these relationships are crucial to be shared. (All sharing is voluntary.) Families must realize that they will meet and get to know many potential birth mothers before they receive placement. They must know they are not alone.

2) Education - at each meeting there will be material shared about adoption either to address needs identified by the group or by agency staff. Group members also bring material they gather from publications and other sources about current adoption issues and events.

3) Outreach Planning - families gather to plan and orchestrate their outreach activity. They may plan mass mailings, contacts with community entities and or public relations efforts with the media.

4) Agency Contact - the outreach meetings help the families stay in contact with the agency during this time of intense effort and change.

II. Establish an Outreach Phone Line

A) Many families are now beginning to use their regular home phone number as their outreach line. In the past we had recommended that a family "install an additional phone with call-forwarding at least a week before outreach is to begin." We have now noted that this appears not to be a worthwhile expenditure and such expenses are no longer credited to outreach expense. Families are free to install such a line if they choose. If a family installs a dedicated line we recommend that it be an unlisted number so as to avoid telemarketing calls and that the number be one which has been unassigned for several months. (As the answering machine will speak of accepting all collect calls as many other potential calls as possible need to be eliminated.)

Recently a family discovered they could move their main number to a "smart ring" number and install another number as their main number to be their outreach number. Then they had call-forwarding installed on the main number ONLY with the smart ring blocked from call-forwarding. Thus for the cost of call-forwarding and a smart ring line they achieved everything they wanted at a total cost of less than $10 per month.

Have the phone located where you will be comfortable during your phone calls and where you can take notes. Also, to date only one family has tried an 800 number. They did not receive as many calls as other families and ultimately changed their number to a local number. Local numbers appear to be a draw. Therefore we do not recommend an 800 number. Also we do not recommend using a number which spells out something (such as "baby") as these efforts have not met with an increased number of calls.

B) It is recommended to have a voice activated phone answering machine on the outreach line to increase the number of calls received. The message on the answering machine should state that all collect calls are accepted and express the desire to talk with the person calling. A time when the family will be back home to receive a phone call should be given if the person calling does not want to leave a message.

C) The family should be able to answer the outreach phone themselves, or have it answered by a friend knowledgeable about the outreach, as much as possible. It is recommended to use the call forwarding feature to help make this happen. Families doing outreach in the Outreach Project can team up to help provide such coverage for each other. To date the best response from any classified ad has been an average of a call a day. Many of those calls come during the day, Monday through Friday.

Having said all of this, a family should allow the phone coverage to fit into their regular life style as much as possible. Such coverage may go on for well over a year. Families must be able to live as comfortably as possible while providing such telephone coverage as it may be a "normal" part of life for some time.

III. Prepare For The Phone Calls

The agency will be providing training and ongoing support through the group meetings regarding the handling of these phone calls. Following are a few general pieces of advice.

A) Realize that the birth mother (or whoever calls as her representative) will probably be as fearful as the family receiving the call. It is recommended that families be able to talk about this fear with the birth mother as appropriate. It may help her to relax as well as the adopting parent.

B) A family should have facts ready about their family (their "rap") that they are willing to share over the phone. They should be aware of information they are not ready to share. They should be able to speak about the child they hope to adopt and the plans for their family. If a question is asked that they are not prepared to answer then they should not answer it. They can cay they would like to think it over and call back the person calling with an answer. They should be ready to share the level of openness with which they are comfortable and to give the reasons for wanting that level of openness.

C) Have questions prepared you would like to ask her, about herself, her family, and their plans regarding adoption. When is the baby due? There is an agency fact sheet to be completed on each call received. However your goal is to have the person calling feel comfortable speaking with you and ultimately with the maternity worker. She must feel comfortable with you and know that you are concerned about her. The information on the fact sheet can always be secured by the maternity counselors. Your relationship is what counts. Before you hang up, be sure to ask for the birth family's phone number and to ask about plans for the next step.

D) If she is comfortable and you are comfortable you may plan to meet. Agency staff may be able to join you for the visit if you would like. If you are unable to contact agency staff before your meeting go ahead with the meeting if you are comfortable but call the agency as soon as possible. Call us at any time.

F) If the child being expected is not appropriate for your family please encourage the mother you are speaking with. Let her know you want to help her secure the help she is seeking. There are definitely families available for every child. Encourage her to call the agency and give her our 24 hour phone numbers. If she seems interested but uncertain ask if she would prefer that agency staff call her. You can call agency staff at their home numbers and we can call the client back if she would want that.

G) This system presumes that you are working toward a fully open adoption. However, before you are able to know the family well, and due to the potential for people to pose as families planning to place a child, it is wise to be cautious initially. Be prepared. Do not hesitate to consult with agency staff before moving into an identified relationship if you have any reason for any doubts as to the truth of the situation you are presented with. Above all, do not tell a family considering the placement of their child that you are willing to do something unless you know for certain that you will be willing to follow through on that promise.

H) Remember you are not expected to be an unplanned pregnancy counselor. That is the agencies job. They are there to answer and ask the more difficult questions of all parties involved. They are working with you to make sure that the new mother receives needed guidance and makes the best decision for herself and her child.  Your "job" is to show your natural interest and excitement in adoption, and to provide a home for your son/daughter when she/he is placed.

IV. Outreach Through Newspapers

One very successful outreach of the APOP system used to be through the newspapers. However this has changed since December of 1991 when the largest local paper with such advertising closed down (The Dallas Times Herald.) We still recommend using such advertising if it is already being done in a newspaper and the newspaper will not terminate the practice. (We are recommending that such advertising be made illegal in Texas unless the newspapers can prove that they are developing policies that will eliminate the illegal activity our families have been witnessing. We cannot encourage adoption classified advertising as it now exists in Texas. It allows some women to be victimized by for-profit adoption practitioners engaging in illegal payments and coercive relinquishment practices. Newspaper classified adoption advertising is already illegal in 20 states.)

When your phone is ready and you are prepared to handle the calls received you are ready to place an ad in the paper with such advertising already present. Remember to inform agency staff of your outreach plans, and send a copy of your ad to the agency for approval, before you place an ad.

A Select a local paper first. We have had the best success with local papers within a local phone call from the family placing the ad. When this is not possible other papers can be used, but we do not recommend going outside an area within a comfortable drive (200 miles?) from your home. 

B) Design of the Ad:

It is recommended that the ad include: 1) a statement about your inability to have children, 2) your desire for a child, 3) a statement of the area in which you live, "We live in the Mid-Cities area", and 4) that you would love to meet with the birth family. Additional information about your family may also be included. Make your ad stand out. It is a statement about you and your family. It appears that large ads have received more calls with our experience so far. It is recommended that your name and outreach number stand out in the ad, maybe with the phone number centered alone on the last line. Ads with "cute" pictures of baby rattles etc... do not seem to work well.

V. Outreach Through Resumes/Letters of Introduction

It is strongly recommended that all families initially prepare 500 resumes or letters of introduction. These should be one page long with blank space on the top so a recent photo of your family can be attached. It is recommended this be done on nice paper with a good photo. (In a variation of this we have had three families join together in making a trifold resume with all three families and agency information included.)

The resume should be attractive and include information about your family, your interests, work, hobbies, and your plans for the child you will adopt. The resume should be you. Honesty is the guiding rule because you ultimately want a birth mother who likes you for who you are. The "match" goes much better. The resume must have at least your first names, your outreach number, and a statement about your working with an agency. Then please give the agency's 24 hour numbers, both the local and the 800 numbers. You may also give your worker's name as the contact at the agency.

If you do not have an outreach number the resume should have a statement such as "If you would like to know more about us, or to meet with us, please call our caseworker at (agency name) phone  1-800-XXX-XXXX"

 

A) Group circulation:

Resumes can be circulated in groups of three or more resumes from different families in your group with a cover letter from the agency. Agency staff will help coordinate such mailings. They can be sent to doctors, priests, schools, teachers, counselors and doctors. (By one report doctors account for 66% of the independent adoptions in California.) Whenever a mailing is done it is recommended that the letters be hand addressed. Whenever anyone in the group knows the person to whom the envelope is addressed a note should be included or better yet the letter should be hand delivered. The more personal such mailings can be made the better. Distribution in person is the best method.

B) Private circulation:

You are strongly encouraged to circulate your own resumes among friends, acquaintances, relatives, priests, doctors, hairdressers, dentists, etc.... Prepare a personal cover letter for your resume for each person to whom you send a resume. The cover letter should explain your goal and ask the person to either save the resume for future use or to give it to someone they know who may be in contact with a person with an unplanned pregnancy.

One of our families in 1993 had what I will call their "Amway" meeting to which they invited friends, relatives and neighbors. They asked everyone to bring the addresses to 5 or more other families or friends. They had 35 people come to their home. The husband, using a flip chart, gave a general orientation on open adoption and the work they were doing through networking in their adoption process. Then he said they could all help by writing letters that evening to the friends whose addresses they brought. He then provided stationary, copies of their resumes, information about the agency, and stamps and envelopes. The response was wonderful. The adoptive mother said she was emotionally overcome by the support shown by their friends. That evening it is estimated that over 500 resumes were sent out. One friend stayed till midnight and send information to 75 addresses. The family began to get calls and refer them to the agency. However, as often happens, within three months they were selected through the book by a client not brought to the agency through their work, and they received placement a month later. (The active families seem to always go out of circulation the fastest.) Can you imagine the community into which this child was brought? They had been prepared for the event by this "Amway" meeting.

C) Personal Contact:

Whenever possible, resumes should be distributed by personal contact. Several of the resume packets described above can be delivered by a waiting couple to Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Counseling Centers, Churches, etc. The people visited tend to remember a visitor more than a letter.

D) "Business" Cards:

A "resume" abbreviated to fit on a business card is also useful to circulate. It may amount to no more than a statement of your availability for, and interest in, open adoption. Include your names, phone number, and the agency's 24 hour phone number. Distribution of business cards has been considered very successful and will be used more in the future. If distributing them in apartment complexes it is recommended that they be placed on bulletin boards as they have a longer "shelf life" in such a location.

Of all the outreach methods it is my experience that the circulation of resumes and business cards, combined with personal contacts, is the most successful.

Proof of this fact is that there is now a small boy alive who would probably have died except that his mother had found a card distributed by a family doing outreach in her apartment complex. She was alone, pregnant, and gave birth in her apartment with no pre-natal care. This was in the afternoon and at about 4 PM she called our office using the number she found on the card. Staff went out immediately and took her and the baby to the hospital. The baby was in distress and immediately sent to intensive care. The heart beat went from 90 down to 60 within 30 minutes before the baby was stabilized and recovered. An hours delay would have cost the child his life. Three weeks later the mother had selected a family and placed her son with them in a very touching placement ceremony.  I had the honor of running the video camera as the adoptive mother gave the birth mother a ring she herself had worn for years, thereby documenting that she is now also a member of their family.  This was powerful documentation of the start of a powerful friendship between birth and adoptive parents.  Is there any doubt this was in the child's best interest? 

Our agency is continuing to maintain a higher number of referrals of maternity clients due to the greater visibility of our agency brought about by outreach efforts of past adopting families. Couples need to understand that this is a group effort. Work done by past couples has significantly increased the chances of current families receiving placement more quickly. Likewise it is important that current families continue to do outreach which helps future couples wishing to adopt. The benefit of outreach work for all families working with our agency is the reason that our agency allows up to $2,000 in outreach expenses incurred by a family as a credit toward their adoption fee.

(This article was written April 27, 1994.)

Do not hesitate to contact me with your comments or questions about what is written here.

Bill Betzen

mailto:bbetzen@openadoption.org

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Main Page Domestic Adoption Adoptee Information Planning to Place Planning to Adopt Adoption Reform
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