My Adoption Story

By Sarah Thompson, LCSW

Sarah Thompson, LCSW

Why was I placed for adoption? Didn’t my birth parents love me enough to keep me? What did they look like? I asked myself these questions during my childhood in Western Nebraska, where I was raised. I was adopted from South Korea when I was four months old. My adoptive family is and has always been loving and supportive… and yet I still had questions about my birth country and my birth parents.

It wasn’t until later in life that I would seek out answers. In September 2009, I traveled to South Korea to learn more about where my life began. I sat in a small conference room in the Post-Adoption office of Holt International in Seoul and listened to the adoption social worker disclose information about my birth parents and my life prior to the adoption. Even a decade later, I remember very distinctly what I was wearing and how nervous I felt- nervous to finally know more about my birth mother; nervous that the ideal birth mother image I had created in my head was not going to match reality. I listened very intently to the social worker, almost as if she were divulging a secret. I cannot remember every emotion that passed through my body because, well, there were just too many.

After two hours of being on an emotional roller coaster, the meeting ended. I thanked the social worker for speaking with me. As I walked away, hundreds of different feelings and thoughts swarmed my head. For hours after the meeting ended, all I could do was try to process the information she had given me. I had walked into her office at Holt International as one person and had left it as a new person. Then, I had an epiphany: God’s plan for me was to become a social worker and help children to have the same opportunities that I have had with a forever family.

Soon after my trip to South Korea I returned to Chicago and began my graduate studies at Loyola University Chicago. I obtained my Master of Social Work degree and later became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. In the last eight years, I have worked in all facets of adoption – public, private, and international. As a social worker at the Center for Law and Social Work (CLSW), I work closely with families who are completing successor public adoptions and guardianships. This includes children who were previously adopted but the caregiver either became incapacitated or passed away and the children are now being re-adopted by another caregiver. As part of the adoption process, I meet with the family in their home to interview them, speak with additional collateral references, and complete the documents necessary to the process. My ultimate goal in my work is to help these families overcome any barriers that may arise between the moment they decide to adopt, and the moment that they stand in court to finalize the adoption.

Being an adopted person and working in this field has been both rewarding and challenging. I have been a part of countless adoptions and have seen firsthand the smiles, laughs, hugs, and tears of happiness from the adoptees and the adoptive parents. Helping to create more love within a family warms my heart as a social worker. But I have also seen families struggling to find resources, and children feeling “lost.” These obstacles can affect an entire family unit. Luckily, for public adoptive families, CLSW and the Post Adoption unit at DCFS can aid in locating services in their communities. Connecting families with community resources is key to a successful post-adoption.

CLSW provides additional services outside of public adoptions – short-term guardianships, adult guardianships, standby adoption/guardianships, matching children with appropriate families, educational advocacy, and counseling for current college-aged and former college sexual assault survivors. These programs are vital to many families in Illinois. CLSW has offices in Springfield and Chicago and works in all counties throughout the state. Our social workers will travel near or far to families in order to help with their needs.

Passion for family advocacy is one characteristic I have seen from all my colleagues at CLSW. They all strive to uphold CLSW’s mission of providing the highest quality service to achieve the best outcome. As my dad says when someone asks him about adoption, “A family grows from the heart.” CLSW will help grow your family.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month. If you would like to learn more about CLSW Adoption Services, click here. To visit the Heart Gallery of Illinois and view children in need of forever families, click here.

The Center For Law and Social Work Partners With Wendy’s Wonderful Kids to Find Forever Families for Illinois Youth in Care


Since 2017, the Center for Law and Social Work (CLSW) has been designated by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption as an Illinois partner for Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a signature program of the foundation that brings children waiting to be adopted from foster care one step closer to safe, loving and permanent homes. The Dave Thomas Foundation believes that “unadoptable is unacceptable.” This mantra is at the heart of everything we do at CLSW. Please take a moment to read Mercedes Lovett’s first person experience as a CLSW Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Child-Centered Adoption Recruiter: 

Mercedes Lovett, MSW, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Adoption Recruiter

“As a CLSW Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) Adoption Recruiter, I wholeheartedly believe that every child deserves a forever family regardless of the emotional, behavioral, medical or physical challenges they face. Therefore, it is my goal as a WWK Recruiter to find permanency for all children waiting in the Illinois foster care system, starting first with children assigned to my caseload. I work with children of all ages, but I specifically focus on those children who have issues that prevent them from easily being matched; including older children, children with complex medical, behavioral and educational needs, children who have previously failed placements, and those who are a part of a sibling group. 


In order to find the right family for the children assigned to my caseload, I utilize an intensive evidence-based Child Focused Recruitment Model. The model focuses on reviewing the child’s history, experiences, and connections to find permanency with someone known to the child. It emphasizes and places the most importance on meeting the child’s needs. The model uses eight components that when implemented lead to achieving successful outcomes for the minors. These components include child referral, relationship with the child, case record review, assessment of adoption readiness, adoption preparation, network building, recruitment plan, and diligent search.  


I am given a smaller caseload so that I can focus intensively on finding a “forever family” for Illinois Youth in Care. A smaller caseload affords me the ability to develop a rapport with the children I serve and their network, which is so integral to the recruitment process. Nobody slips through the cracks. It’s important to me that my kiddos and their network feel a sense of trust with me so they can be open. Without the children and their network, I would not succeed in finding their forever family, preparing them for adoption and post-adoption. 


My goal is to have the children on my caseload be open and forthcoming with me in order to let me know about people in their network who are currently or formerly known to them regardless of location. Examples of such people may include a teacher, neighbor, former caseworker, a classmate’s parent, extended family, former foster parent, sports coach or adult siblings. Once I am aware of those people who are in the child’s network, I work diligently to locate them and to figure out ways in which they can potentially be a permanent resource, even if they can’t provide placement. I want to know that the person interested in providing permanency is able and willing to meet the minor’s needs, regardless of the complexity. I want to know that the family is willing and open to seeking ongoing training of knowledge needed to effectively help in meeting the minors specific needs. I want to know that the child is entering a home that will be supportive. 


Unlike general recruitment tactics that find non-related families for children, using the Child-Focused Recruitment Model aids in finding someone currently or previously known to the child. It is proven that children adopted by someone they already know and have a history with are less likely to experience disruption. Disruption happens when a child is placed in an adoptive home and the arrangement is not successful, sending the child back into the foster care system before his or her adoption is legally finalized. Therefore, I look for anyone appropriate and known by the child by exhaustively reviewing their history and facilitating ongoing conversations with the youth and their network. 


As a Center for Law and Social Work WWK Adoption Recruiter, I am honored to make positive and meaningful connections with the children I support. During the course of my role, I have been able to witness these children showcase their creative and artistic abilities at talent shows and dance performances. It is truly an honor for me and one of my favorite parts of my job. It is through these special moments that I am able to see how multifaceted these children are. It helps me get a deeper understanding of their true personalities. I love learning more about their interests, hobbies, and passions. 


Additionally, I have been able to make strong connections to their network which may include extended relatives and fictive kin. These relationships have been so important to me because they help me to become knowledgeable of the minors past and their current needs in a way that the case manager or clinical team may not be familiar. Their network understands aspects of the child that I would not be able to because they are details that are learned with time and history.  Additionally, having developed a rapport with their network allows us to join together in advocating, supporting and empowering the minor as this important task, finding forever family, cannot solely be accomplished by any one person alone. I’ve had the honor of cheering and celebrating children at events with their extended network which I know is so important to the youth as we all want family and friends supporting in the stands and cheering us on! 


I am beyond grateful to be given the opportunity to be a part of each and every one of my children’s teams as the key resource available to aid in finding a forever family. I am grateful to my Center for Law and Social Work recruiting team and to the children’s assigned child welfare workers who work tirelessly each day advocating and supporting the minors. Without the invitation and collaboration of many dedicated individuals, I would not be able to have success in finding forever families as it is truly a team effort. 


Through the partnership of CLSW and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids and by using the Child-Focused Recruitment Model, I successfully matched two children with their forever families over the last six months. I believe every child deserves permanency. Adoption provides them with that gift which fulfills their need for unconditional love, belonging, and acceptance. I leave you with words that describe adoption to me: love, acceptance, belonging, destiny, stability, consistency, compassion, guidance, friendship, hope and a path to healing. 


I believe that there is a family out there for every child. It is my hope and the hope of CLSW to close the gap between children waiting in care and permanency in Illinois.”


If you are interested in adoption through foster care or to learn more about how The Center for Law and Social Work implements the WWK evidence-based Child-Focused Recruitment Model, visit or call 773-728-7800.



“It Was Challenging, It Was Exciting, and It Was Worth It”

My Journey of Becoming an Adoptive Mom

As Told By Felicia Stratten

Adoption begins in your heart. When Felicia Stratten and her husband Sean decided they wanted to expand their family, they envisioned adopting a 5-year-old boy. Flash forward to today, and their family has expanded by adopting a 12-year-old girl, their daughter, Angelle.

Angelle is on her school’s cheerleader team and part of the yearbook committee.  She’s very creative and loves art, especially painting and drawing. Angelle wants to be a playwright or an actress. She writes short stories and has been working on a play about her adoption journey. She is very adventurous and wants to scuba dive, skydive, parasail, and travel more. She has already swam with dolphins, zip-lined, and snorkeled. Her dream trips are Dubai and Paris. Felicia and Sean are also adventurous and love to travel, so taking vacations to explore new destinations, cultures, and experiences has been a fun way for their family to bond.

Felicia is a Child-Centered Adoption Recruiter here at the Center for Law and Social Work. Felicia earned her Masters in Social Work and has been working in Child Welfare since 1995. She has worked at CLSW since 2017. Last year Felicia and her husband completed the adoption of their daughter whom they were foster parents to before adopting. CLSW sat down with Felicia to discuss her roles as both an adoptive mother and as a Child-Centered Adoption Recruiter.

Felicia Stratten, MSW

CLSW: Tell me about your role here at CLSW.

I’ve been a part of the CLSW team since October of 2017. My role as a Child-Center Adoption Recruiter is to match Youth in Care who are waiting for their forever home with licensed foster parents. “Matching” means that I meet with the Youth In Care, I set up quarterly visits with the child going forward, and I meet with potential families who might be a great fit and could potentially be their forever home. My goal is to find the family who will be that long-term or permanent support system for the child.

CLSW: What is your favorite part about your job?

My favorite part about my job is when I make a successful match. A successful match is one that ultimately ends in adoption. That’s my favorite part.

CLSW: If you could sum up your family’s adoption story in a few words what would they be?

“And there you have it”. It was challenging, it was exciting, and it was worth it.

CLSW: Where did your adoption journey begin for your own family and where is it now?

Well, I got married later in life, at a point where I knew I didn’t want to do diapers and sleepless nights. So after discussing with my husband, we decided to adopt. Our journey began when I first started working for the Adoption Listing Service at CLSW and my supervisor, Katie Friend, assigned me my caseload. I noticed my daughters picture as part of it and I recognized her from when I was a case manager at a different agency. I thought she had been adopted by a relative so I called back to the agency to find out why she was still listed. It turned out that the previous arrangement fell through and that’s where our adoption journey began. We finalized our adoption on December 5th of 2018 and now we’re onto the next step. You know, you think the journey has started back then but it’s really just starting after everything is final. Now it’s just a different leg of the journey.

CLSW: What’s your favorite thing about being a mom?

Oh my gosh, my favorite thing about being a mom is actually being able to impart different things into her life or teach her things that I’ve learned throughout my own life. It’s also watching her learn things on her own whether it be the hard way or not. I love just watching her grow and come into her own.

CLSW: What has surprised you the most in the process of finalizing your daughter’s adoption?

What surprised me most was how quickly it went once the subsidy paperwork and everything was in.  A subsidy is financial assistance from the State to help cover various costs for adopted children’s needs. So after that was taken care of, it went smoothly. It was nothing like I thought it would be going into court. It was really quick and very simple so that piece was the biggest surprise.

CLSW: What is one thing you wish people knew about adoption or foster care?

The one thing I wish people knew about adopting from foster care is that it’s not as scary as they think it is. It does come with a lot of red tape. It does take, in most cases, a lot of time but it’s not as scary as people make it out to be. I think people get dependent on the support of DCFS or a private agency and they get caught up when that’s gone but its never really gone because you have post-adopt services so you still have resources. I just like not having the departments involved and we can really do things on our own and grow as a family. If they would just look beyond that safety net being gone, I think that they would be able to be more open to adoption and all that it has to offer.

CLSW: What advice do you have for other adoptive parents?

Be honest with yourself, know your limits, and be committed if you’re going to do it.


May is National Foster Care Month. There are over 440,000 children in foster care in the U.S. today. Youth in care are there at no fault of their own. In Illinois alone, there are 17,920 children currently in foster care. Reunification is typically the goal for these children and their families, but in Illinois, over 3,300 children in foster care are waiting for adoptive families.  Most of the youth in care who are waiting to be adopted are part of sibling groups and are school-aged. We have a team of Child-Centered Adoption Recruiters through Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. This program is up to three times more effective at serving older youth, sibling groups, children with special needs, and other children who have been in foster care the longest.  Call the Center for Law and Social Work today at 1-800-572-2390 if you are interested in taking the next steps in becoming a licensed foster parent. It is only through the selflessness and compassion of foster parents like Felicia and her husband in which children awaiting adoption are able to find their forever families. As Felicia said, it’s challenging, it’s exciting, and it’s worth it.

Visit the “Services” tab of our website to learn more about our programs spanning all the way from adoption and foster care to backup planning and adult guardianship and beyond.

Public Adoption and Why It’s So Important

By Katie Friend, MA

Adoptions Listing Service and Inquiry Unit and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Adoption Supervisor Katie Friend says after 25 years in social work, building trusting and genuine relationships with our most vulnerable youth is not only important but priceless. Read more about how she sees herself as a matchmaker for children in foster care looking for their forever home.

It may sound cliché, especially with “Friend” as your last name, but I like helping people. Providing knowledge and assistance is very rewarding. Child welfare allowed me to tap into a wide variety of experiences such as finding valuable resources for youth and families and increasing my ability to be objective while being an advocate for our most vulnerable. Although I work very closely with the youth, families and other professionals at the Center for Law and Social Work, I still feel as if my role is more behind the scenes. Often times I am steering the process with a gentle nudge or in a more demanding way if necessary. It feels good to be viewed as a valuable and respected member of the team. It’s often said that the rewards received from social service aren’t financial but come in the form of the lives you touch and help change for the better.

The youth I work with have complicated stories. There’s seldom a happy reason behind a child coming into foster care. Therefore, establishing trust can be difficult, especially with our youth who have been in care for many years. By the time they’re assigned onto my caseload, they’ve told their story 1,000 times to countless people- case workers, therapists, teachers, foster parents and classmates. They’ve been placed in a foster home they liked and then were pulled out. They’ve formed bonds that were broken again and again by the system and here I am, asking them to trust an adult…again. The heartbreaking challenge is when the trusting relationship is formed and you don’t have any available families for them. You see the hurt in their eyes and the hopelessness. Most families see a stigma attached to kids 13 and over and are hesitant to take a chance on a youth older than age 8.

Not every story is heartbreaking though. When a match is made and the child is brought to meet his or her prospective parents, everyone is on their best behavior. Over time you see the walls break down, you see the authenticity come out and you get a feel for how they’ll come together as a unit. It’s one of my favorite parts about my job at CLSW- seeing a child be brave enough to trust adults once more and seeing the adults fall in love with the child.

The importance of our youth having lifelong connections can’t be stressed enough. They say it takes a village and I love being part of and helping to create that village. Hopefully the Village is an adoptive family but if the Village is something different, that can be great too. Our youth need mentors, teachers, coaches, fictive kin and biological family to wrap their arms and resources around our youth forever- not just until age 18.
Working for the Adoption Listing Service of Illinois at CLSW has opened my eyes to the urgent need for adoptive families for our youth 8-17 years old. They are the faces you come across time after time on various adoption websites. Yes, their past contains trauma. Breaking down barriers, building trust and self esteem is hard work but it is very possible. It’s a myth that youth 8-17 don’t want to be adopted; they do and they tell me often and I can see it in the eyes of the ones not willing to say it out loud. The youth are not perfect and the changes are slow to manifest but they want and deserve a stable, nurturing, supportive and loving family. You may have heard an ad about becoming a foster parent that says “You don’t have to be perfect to be a foster parent”; and that is the truth. These children are not looking for “perfect families”. We have in depth conversations with our youth about what they want in a family. They are open minded and we talk honestly about our families who are of various ethnicities, races, gender, marital status, sexual orientation. What these children want most above anything else is a family that will care for, love, and support them.

Katie Friend is the Adoption Listing Service and Inquiry Unit and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Supervisor with The Center for Law and Social Work. Last year at the annual summit she received Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Supervisor of the year Award. She is a former Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter and has been working in social services for 25 years.

Grandfamilies: Grandparents adopting their grandchildren

By Ashley Reed, CLSW Attorney-At-Law

Why would anyone delay his or her retirement and step back into the role of raising children?  The answer is simple for grandparents raising their grandchildren: the children are worth it.  The reality of grandparents raising their grandchildren is becoming an all too familiar family dynamic in today’s society.  Many may hear this and think of what the grandparents are giving up and all the things that had to go wrong in a family’s life for this to happen.  But in reality, there is so much good happening for these grandparents and grandchildren.  Giving a child the gift of security in knowing they will have a stable home that can’t be disrupted on a parent’s whim is invaluable to the emotional development of a child.  

I was recently in court representing a family for adoption.  A grandmother was adopting her two granddaughters who are both in elementary school.  The granddaughters had lived in their grandmother’s home, on and off with their mother, their whole life.  Five years ago, their mother left the girls there and had not returned to care for them.  Unfortunately, both of the girl’s parents suffer from mental health issues and drug addiction.  Living with “grannie” is the one constant the girls have known throughout their short life. When the Judge asked the girls if they knew why they were in court that day, both of their faces just lit up.  They very clearly told the Judge that “grannie is going to adopt us so we can stay with her forever”.  No matter how much she has assured them in the past that she would keep them safe, there was clearly the lingering question of what would happen if mom or dad showed up again.  To hear our client rave about the positive characteristics of both of her granddaughters was also a welcome reminder to me of the love she was pouring into them every day. She doesn’t see these girls as preventing her from retirement.  She sees them as rays of sunshine that add so much to her world.  She just kept repeating that these girls are worth it. We left court that day and the sense of relief in all of them was evident from the hugs, smiles and literal skip in the girls’ steps. This sense of joy and relief is not an uncommon occurrence when working with grandparents and grandchildren through adoption and it is one of the reasons why those of us in the field love to help these families.  The road leading to our office is never an easy one for the families, but the smiles and the skip as they walk home together seems to make it all worth it.     

I am fortunate to be able to work with many families who are experiencing the benefits of grandparents adopting their grandchildren.  The choice for a grandparent to adopt typically comes at the end of a long line of steps and decisions for the family.  The biggest hurdle for families can often be the fact that parents’ rights have to be terminated before the adoption can be completed.  As a parent (and as a grandparent), it is understandable that to permanently change the relationship between your child and their children is a very difficult decision to make.  Ultimately, the decision to adopt a grandchild gives that child a sense of long-term stability and strengthens the bond between grandchild and grandparent.  While the formality of a final adoption order severs one familial tie, it also provides the grandparent with the knowledge that they are now in control and can care for their grandchild in the best way possible.  

Adopting a grandchild puts grandparents in the role of parent, allowing them to make more decisions for their grandchildren without restrictions.  Educational decisions and medical decisions affecting grandchildren’s health and well-being are just a few examples.  Adoption also allows grandparents to have a say in who will care for the child upon their passing. It allows grandparents to pass along many benefits to their grandchild that would not otherwise be possible including insurance benefits, social security benefits, college grants and scholarships, legal rights to estate issues in the future, and more.

The Center for Law and Social Work was founded as a resource for grandparents raising grandchildren. We provide legal services for adoption and wrap around social work services to ensure a smooth transition for your forever family. Please contact me at with any questions or to set up an appointment.

Porchlight Counseling Services receives grant from VNA

In the time of the #MeToo movement, the need for a program like Porchlight Counseling Services is more evident than ever before. This grant from the VNA Foundation, in the amount of $50,000, will make it possible for Porchlight to serve an even greater number of people who need these services the most.

Did you know that according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), an estimated 90% of sexual assault survivors on college campuses don’t report the crime to their school or to the authorities? Time and again, Porchlight is contacted by students who have been scared to speak out, and who have struggled to complete their coursework and resume their lives after an assault.

Through the support of individual donors and grants like the one awarded by the VNA Foundation, Porchlight can continue its mission to reach out to these students, who too often feel alone and in the dark. By providing free counseling services to these survivors, Porchlight strives to bring them back into the light.

Learn more about Porchlight Counseling Services by visiting our sister website here.

Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Awards $140,000 Grant to CLSW



Every child deserves a family.

That is the mission of CLSW’s newest program, the Adoption Listing Service of Illinois (ALSI). You may be wondering why this program is so important. What makes ALSI deserving of a grant from Wendy’s Wonderful Kids? What is ALSI, and why does it matter?

Everyone in the state of Illinois who is interested in adopting or fostering through the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) gets directed to CLSW. Yes, you read that right- everyone in the entire state who wants information on adoption and fostering gets directed to the ALSI program at CLSW. Not only does CLSW manage the Adoption Information call number (1-800-572-2390), but it is home to a wonderful team of Adoption Recruitment Specialists.

It takes a special kind of person to be an Adoption Recruitment Specialist. They work directly with licensed families and with foster children ready for adoption to find the right family for each child. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids has recognized how truly exceptional the ALSI recruiters are. They have granted CLSW $140,000 so that the ALSI Adoption Recruitment Specialists can truly dedicate time and energy into matching children with their forever families.

Not only that, but our very own supervisor to ALSI, Katie Friend, was recently recognized for her hard work and dedication. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids selected Katie as the winner of the Outstanding Supervisor Award. The staff at CLSW are unbelievably proud of her! Read more about Katie here.

Thank you Wendy’s Wonderful Kids! CLSW thanks you on behalf of all the beautiful children in Illinois who are dreaming of their new families!

CLSW’s own is recognized by Wendy’s