Organizations work to help place children in need into foster homes and adoptive families

By Daniel Bodden

Adoption can seem daunting for both birth parents and adoptive parents because of confusion about the complex process, but adoption agencies with professional staff can help. Good Shepherd Family and Children Services is one of these agencies. It is a domestic agency that provides services such as adoption, foster care, residential care and expectant parent support.

In addition, there are agencies that provide both international and domestic adoptions such as Lutheran Family and Children Services (LFCS). LFCS has six offices around the St. Louis are that provides service including crisis foster care, voluntary adoption, home studies, counseling, and parenting classes to aid in the process.

“Our goal is to help people make good choices for themselves and their families,” LFCS Director of Child Welfare Debbie Schallom said. “We believe in a lot of education and a lot of openness, meaning that adoption is something to celebrate and something to be proud of that that’s the way you built your family.”

Adoption agencies provide many services to help build these families. LFCS provides some of the most extensive services in the area. It is contracted with the State to provide foster care to children removed from homes because of abuse and neglect, and also provides crisis foster care for families dealing with unforeseen circumstances. Good Shepherd merged with four other agencies in 2006 in hopes of more efficiently providing much-needed services and keeping families together as much as possible.

Most agencies, including LFCS and Good Shepherd, have staff that provide the required home studies for parents adopting domestically or internationally, and facilitate voluntary adoptions for people faced with unexpected pregnancies where the couple can choose and have ongoing contact with the adoptive family. LFCS has a program called Women In Need Growing Stronger (WINGS) specifically for pregnant women in this situation considering their parenting options.

“We provide the counseling and prepare them for the lifelong impacts of adoption,” WINGS supervisor Kristen Sutterland said. “We also will work with them to find an adoptive family who is the best fit for their child. We say, especially with our adoption cases, ‘once a client, always a client,’ and they can come back for support down the road if they need it. That initial moment of placing a child can be very difficult, and it doesn’t ever go away, but I can tell that people become more at peace with their decision overall; it’s just at first it’s more raw.”

Although any single or married person over 21 can adopt if they meet certain requirements, private agencies may set their own requirements. LFCS, as a private agency, generally narrows down prospective adoptive parents to people 45 years or under who have been married at least two years, attend a Christian church, and have an infertility issue. LFCS does, however, make exceptions to these guidelines depending on the case.

“We look for parents to be realistic about the child’s background,” Schallom said. “Almost everybody wants a healthy child – that’s very normal. What I try to point out when meeting with adoptive parents is to look at their own background. If you are saying you won’t take a baby that has any drugs or alcohol problems or any mental illness in their family history, that’s not very realistic, because almost every family has that in their history somewhere. We also tell them to be honest with their kids because their child has a right to know their background.”

Even with all of these services and processes to place children in foster and adoptive families, the goal for many agencies is to place children with family members whether they are uncles, aunts, grandparents, or other relativesand ultimately reunite the children with parents.

“The most rewarding part of my job is when the kid goes home to a family member or when they are reunited with their parents,” Family Case Manager Erin Karandzieff said. “When you see a kid or a parent succeed, like when a parent completes their drug treatment or when a kid does well in school or gets an award, they always are proud and those are good days.”

Not all situations ultimately end this way, though. It can be difficult to place teenages, children with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth. Even after placement, the child and their foster or adoptive parents may have issues that lead to the child being removed from the family.

“For foster care, usually if we have three or four siblings, we can’t always place them together which is disheartening,” Family Case Manager Supervisor Michelle Shelton said. “Also, sometimes kids don’t want to attach to new families or they aren’t getting along. We sometimes have to pull kids back out of families if things don’t work out or when kids are acting out. Usually, it’s because they were just separated from their birth family, they don’t know what’s going on and it’s the only way they can express their feelings.”

Because agencies want to place children with the best families possible, they educate prospective parents on everything about adoption, from the long process to raising an adopted child. One of the things agencies try to do is address misconceptions that prospective parents have. With the difficulty of placement and the complicated adoption process, many misconceptions arise. A misconception Schallom often hears is that birth parents made a mistake and the birth parents don’t love their child because they chose adoption, which she believes couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The birth parents love their kids so much that  they want their children to have more than what they can provide,” Schallom said. “It’s very difficult to go through nine months of pregnancy, then labor and delivery, then say goodbye to your baby because you want more for that child.