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.

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.