Children's Voice Sep/Oct 2009

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One On One

Questions and Answers with CWLA Staff

Adam Pertman, Executive Director, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute

In this month's One on One, we interviewed Adam Pertman from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. In July, CWLA announced a partnership with the Institute. The partnership will help further the missions of both organizations by expanding work in the field of adoption and, ultimately, improving the lives of children and families.

What is the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute's mission?

The Institute is the leading research, policy, and education organization in the field. Our operating vision is that adoption and foster care work better when they are based on real knowledge and research. In a sense, we are an activist think tank that develops and disseminates knowledge, and then works to put it into practice. We take that extra step of trying to do the right thing by getting information to professionals and policymakers and advocating for its use. We work to change law, policy, and practice so they serve everyone in our community better.

Why was a partnership formed between the Adoption Institute and CWLA?

The partnership furthers the missions of both organizations. For the Institute, it provides access to more people who can use our work, who can inform it, and who can help us figure out what best serves children and families. I see this as a real growth opportunity in terms of the scope of our work and, most important, its impact. For CWLA, this is an opportunity to engage its members in tangible ways-which helps them further their mission-and to serve those members, because you can simply do a better job if you have better information on best practices, training materials, and the like.

How will this partnership benefit children and families?

That's the bottom line, isn't it? I think it will do that both directly and indirectly. Indirectly, when you change a system, you might not be able to identify the kid to whom you give a permanent home, but if you really improve that system, you end up giving 1,000 kids homes. So systems change is critical. It's not just about maintaining families and forming families, but it's also about making sure that those children and families have good lives. When we have better practices, better laws, and better policies, in a broad sense we improve the prospects for all children and their families to have better resources, better parenting, and training on how to deal with special needs-we simply know how to do it better, and that benefits everyone. In terms of direct impact, CWLA is a membership organization, and its members can tangibly use the resources we produce, which hopefully will improve the lives of children and their families.

What projects will come out of the Adoption Institute's partnership with CWLA?

We have only started to understand how broad this partnership could be and how much impact it could have, and I think on both counts, it's quite significant. The Institute's research, policy development, and training materials can be expanded by this partnership. One example of an immediate project is a national survey of agencies we are doing. Through our partnership with CWLA, we'll be able to reach out to CWLA's member agencies. So, suddenly, we can do the research more efficiently, more quickly, and with more responses. It's a two-way benefit: It provides a service to member agencies because they get to help shape this work, and we can produce the work more efficiently so we can turn it into useful products. Right now, the Institute is doing work on training preadoptive and adoptive parents on the developmental and mental health needs they may encounter with their adoptive children. We're also working in the realm of gay and lesbian adoption, developing curricula, educational materials, and best practices. A new project we're going to be releasing soon is on shaping positive identity in transracially adopted children. So the benefits of the partnership are intuitive: the direct service, training, and education that CWLA provides-along with its advocacy for better laws and practices-mesh perfectly with the research and other aspects of the Institute's work.

This partnership also gives us the opportunity to make inroads in areas that aren't getting the attention they deserve. One example is safe havens. States have implemented them, but no one is looking at the laws and saying, "Is this really the best we can do, or should we be changing them?" We're also entering a new world in areas like embryo adoption. This has real impact on the children who already are on this earth and need homes, and there are no strong ethical standards or rules and regulations surrounding assisted reproductive technologies. I hope our partnership can look at issues like this in the future and help shape better laws and practices as a result.

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