The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Ruettgers lecture: The joys and obstacles of DCF adoption

CCHS students taking English classes with Johnny Woodnal or Shelley Hull recently had an opportunity to see another side of their teachers: proud parents. Woodnal and Hull have adopted, or are each in the process of adopting two children with their respective partners. On Thursday, November 4, they presented a lecture entitled, “Real Families, Too – The Path from Foster Care to Adoption” as part of the Ruettgers Series. They spoke of the joys and obstacles of adopting through the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF, formerly DSS).

Woodnal and his partner explored a range of options before approaching DCF. They found that international adoptions are not generally open to married same-sex couples, although a single man or woman can adopt regardless of relationship status. Private adoptions generally carry a significant financial cost. Also, Woodnal and his partner were led to believe that birth mothers, who often have a choice in private adoptions, would shy away from choosing a same-sex couple. (Later he learned this was not necessarily true.)

Woodnal was surprised to learn that a DCF adoption is essentially free, and in some cases subsidized. Adoption is open to anyone 18 years of age or older with sleeping quarters for a child and a stable home and income. Marital status and home ownership are not considered, but a background check and home study are required.

Process explained

Hull said that the children DCF manages have been removed from their birth parents, 70% because of neglect, 30% because of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Many of those legally free for adoption are older, have special needs or medical issues, are part of a sibling group or are linguistic or ethnic minorities.

The goal of DCF is to keep children with their birth families if possible, and to pursue adoption only when other avenues, including extended family, have been exhausted.

Because this process may take a while, babies are seldom immediately free for adoption, and people hoping to adopt babies typically start out as foster parents. Foster parents must undergo training, and often must attend court dates and allow for parental visitation. Woodnal notes that foster parents do not have the rights of biological or adoptive parents, and there is no guarantee a foster child will become available for adoption. In addition, “It’s hard to bank on your happiness at the expense of another’s unhappiness,” through the failure of a birth parent to provide for a child. In spite of these drawbacks, this was the avenue he and his partner chose.

A special surprise

After being told they would have to wait a year, only two weeks later Woodnal and his partner were called to become foster parents to a daughter. “We were so not ready for this,” he says, grinning happily. Asked to pick her up at the hospital, they chose the first name that occurred to them, Cassandra, or Cassie, which they later discovered means “she who entangles men.”

The process of freeing Cassie for adoption was well underway when the biological mother, who had disappeared after giving birth, resurfaced six months later. Fortunately she did not choose to oppose the adoption, or she might have delayed it. Eighteen months after her birth, Cassie was legally part of the family. A second child, Amir, moved in on Fathers Day 2009 after spending his first year in a foster home in Westboro. He was adopted earlier this year.

Hull was on a daytime excursion when she got a message from her partner, “It’s a boy!” A six-week-old baby was available if they could come immediately to pick him up. “It was a little anxiety producing, but we were so thrilled!” Hull says. They later met with Dominic’s 19-year-old mother, and he was adopted a year later. A brother, Christian, will be legally adopted on National Adoption Day, November 19.

As real as any parent

Hull advises the public to avoid commenting on differences within a family, or asking questions such as “Are they related?” or “Who are their real parents?” She notes that the sibling bond is as close as it is between birth brothers, and adoptive parents are as “real” as any other. Later, a student in the audience said that it is important to her that outsiders refer to her “birth parents” as she feels her real parents are those who adopted her. It was also noted that introductions do not have to include the information that the child was adopted.

On the other hand, all these children celebrate their adoption. Woodnal’s and Hull’s families sometimes vacation together in Provincetown where the children have a circle of adopted friends. Dominic, who has Native American ancestry, reads books and attends events that put him in touch with his heritage. “I think he would express quite a bit of pride,” says Hull.

As the audience smiled and “ahhed,” the seminar ended with a short photo essay showing the lives of the two families. Several adults had questions on the process and Woodnal referred them to the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE) website at Hull later noted the website has photo listings of children who are free for adoption. “It’s a great place for folks who are interested in the process of adoption to start,” she said. As National Adoption Day approaches, Hull and Woodnal encourage anyone considering adoption to log on and explore the full range of possibilities. ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito