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Teen Pregnancy in Texas

Cutting the funding for programs working to reduce teen pregnancy in Texas? (Seriously, lawmakers, what were you thinking?!) Here at Abrazo, we try not to get involved in political debates, being that we’re a state-licensed nonprofit organization. But the news that government officials in Washington have quietly slashed $213 million (yep, read that number again, that’s $213 MILLION) from federal grants supporting teenage pregnancy prevention utterly astounds us.

teen-pregnancy-in-TexasBecause as you may or may not know, teenage pregnancy is still a Very Big Problem across the US, and particularly in Texas, where we have the fifth-highest teenage pregnancy rate in the country, and the highest repeat rates of teenage pregnancy.

The more cynical among us may be asking: why should an adoption agency care about this?

(After all, the majority of mothers who place children for adoption are not teens. But wouldn’t more unwanted pregnancies just potentially mean more parents in need of adoption services?)

A 7/24/17 Dallas Morning News editorial said it best: “When babies have babies, the cycles of poverty sadly become systemic and increasingly difficult to break. Girls — and the burden falls overwhelmingly on them — quit school to raise children without a father in the picture; they get stuck in low-paying, dead-end jobs and become statistics. And, too often, their children face the same fate.”

How Can Society Help Teens Parent Better?

There’s not going to be one “right” option for every teen mom, of course. A mature teenager with a faithful partner and a strong support system may be well-suited to grow into a healthy parenting role, in time. In San Antonio, even teen moms without strong family support can find free services (including housing for them and their newborn) at Seton Home. (Additional readings and resources can be found at Healthy Teen Network, which is likewise where the helpful graphic below comes from; click it to view a larger version.)

teen-pregnancy-in-texasTeens who become parents need a wealth of support, from housing to childcare to parenting classes to job training to education to medical care and more, and such services should rightfully be provided to both the mother and father and their child, too– not just in the weeks following the birth, but for months (or even years) to follow.

Parents of teen parents often struggle with the unforetold realities of raising two generations of offspring under one roof, because when the challenges of being a teen conflict with the duties of being a parent, all too often it falls to the teen parents’ parents to step in and help– or take over completely. It is important to under how adolescent parenting affects children, families and communities; sex education (before and after a teen pregnancy) is an essential tool in not only preventing repeat pregnancies but in breaking the cycle that too often causes the children of teenage parents to become teen parents themselves. Family counseling may also be a useful endeavor in helping parents and their parenting children renegotiate household responsibilities and set appropriate boundaries tot help all parties better understand who should be doing what, for whom, and when and why?

Why Don’t More Teen Parents Consider Adoption?

Given the enormous complications that can come with children raising children, why is it that more teens don’t ever even consider the option of adoption?

A 1993 study by Marcia Custer of adoption as a teenage pregnancy option found that less than 5% of pregnant teens choose adoption for their child/ren, despite prior findings that teens who place are more likely to enjoy educational advantages, to delay marriage, to be employed with a higher income, and less likely to have a repeat out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and to abort in the future (McLaughlin, 1988.)

Teens who become pregnant often view being someone’s mom as something that elevates their status and makes them more “adult” (missing entirely the irony that becoming a parent before they’re ready may actually make them more dependent on their parents than ever.)

Studies suggest that the vast majority of teen parents are often themselves the product of teen parents, which can impact their pregnancy planning in a variety of ways. Some feel pressured to parent as their parents did, for fear of offending their parents if they consider other alternatives, such as abortion or adoption; for others, however, their parents may be young enough to now feel ready to raise a second family and opt to raise the grandchild themselves. Cultural biases and misconceptions about adoption also often come into play.

Many teens who have chosen to make adoption plans have found themselves shamed or bullied by their peers for doing so. “Everyone I know is keeping their baby, and they give me crap for giving mine away,” said one sixteen-year-old Abrazo birthmom who placed. “But just because they’ve got free daycare at school or a tia who watches the baby for them, that doesn’t mean their babies have everything they need. They say I’m selfish for wanting to go to college and make something of my life. I think they’re selfish for thinking their kids don’t deserve better.”

It’s crucial that teens who do opt for option be fully appraised of their rights, their responsibilities, their options and alternatives, and at Abrazo, that’s a duty we embrace fully. Adoption is never an easy choice for anyone, and the emotions that follow any adoption decision make counseling an essential component of the experience. Open adoption arrangements, while more inclusive, cannot mitigate all of adoption’s losses, so it is important for teenage birthparents to understand healthy boundaries, to engage in effective communication with the adopting family, and to have comprehensive post-adoption support services as part of their placement plan. Adopting parents matched with expectant teens must be diligent about treating the prospective birthparents as the responsible young adults they are, even if it’s tempting to relate to them as a parent figure, or to see the teens’ parents as being adult peers in the adoption process.

At Abrazo, we welcome pregnant teens and their parents to explore what open adoption means and to consider how it might serve the needs of all the children involved in any teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancy in Texas is a longstanding problem with ever-shrinking public funding, true! but it’s still an issue that impacts us all, one way or the other. By working together, perhaps, we can seek solutions to alleviate some of the burdens that teen pregnancy in Texas places upon our state’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

Racism in Adoption

In the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville, Abrazo feels compelled to take a very public stand against white supremacy, and to openly renew its opposition to racism in adoption, in all its forms. This past weekend, as a 32-year-old paralegal named Heather Heyer was killed by an angry racist with a careening car and a senseless agenda, Abrazo was hosting an orientation group of prospective adoptive parents. (Ironically, it was one of the few in a long time in which every couple in attendance is considering transracial adoptions.) Our hearts go out to Heather’s family and friends, and we condemn the ugly rhetoric that has been tearing our nation apart, in Virgina and beyond.

Having been founded twenty-three years ago in a racially-integrated community in South Texas, Abrazo is well aware of the systemic racism that impacts not just our adoptees, but all their parents, too. (And we are just as mindful of the challenges that come with transracial adoptions.) We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we do believe it’s just as important to give voice to the questions, and to be forthright about our own mistakes in this regard.

Race-based Fee Structures

Texas-licensed adoption agencies routinely struggle with the realities of racism in a process that legally permits clients (whether they are placing a child for adoption or adopting a child) to express racial preferences, even as the state adoption standards have prohibited adoption agencies from racematching since 1997.

Since its opening in 1994, Abrazo was one of many well-meaning agencies that routinely classified children of full African-American descent as being “hard-to-place” (qualifying these placements as “special needs adoptions.”) It was (and still is) common practice for social service agencies to use their full program fees to help subsidize the costs of their special needs program discounts, in the hopes that this helped to get children of color adopted. (Whether it actually does or not is debatable. Learn more from this NPR piece on this topic.)

Over the years, Abrazo’s staff struggled with conflicting ethical questions about the practice. racism-in-adoption(If the same casework and placement services are being provided to all children, how is discounting the costs of services simply based on a child’s skin color fair to everyone? Are adopting parents “willing to accept African-American children” being rewarded monetarily (and even if not, is this still the message that race-based adoption fees might convey?) What “post-adoption special needs treatment costs” do discounted adoption fees actually subsidize, if the only identified “special need” is a melanin surplus? How are adoptive families of African-American children to explain the reduced adoption fees to their children, if the question arises? Are adoption agencies implying that children of color are somehow “worth” any less effort on their part? And yet, by not offering reduced fees for special needs adoptions, do adoption agencies potentially impede their efforts in recruiting families for the very children who might need to be adopted the most?)

After years of discussion, study, and soul-searching, Abrazo’s Board of Directors made the decision to eliminate race-based fee structures from its program. In doing so, Abrazo drew disapproval from those who felt it discouraged applicants unable to afford the agency’s full-service placement fees, but it also earned the respect of those who had found the agency’s classification of African-American children as “special needs kids” offensive. (Abrazo routinely encourages any adopting families who find traditional adoption fees prohibitive to instead consider adopting through the Heart Galleries, and it encourages economy-minded rainbow families to look into PACT an Adoption Alliance, a California adoption facilitator that specializes in minority adoptions.)

Race-Sensitive Adoption & Parenting Practices

Beyond this, Abrazo believes it is crucially important for all its clients to educate themselves about the complexities of racism and adoption– whatever an adoptee’s race may be. Abrazo does advocate for transracial adoption, yet feels it is as dangerous to claim to be colorblind as it is to put racial concerns ahead of any child’s best interests. There is a wealth of information to be found and absorbed, from The Pain of White Privilege & Racism in Transracial Adoption to Adoption, Racism & Finding Community to Racism Within the Transracial Adoption Community. The PACT Resource Library should be required reading, as well.

To believe that “love is all it takes” is both naive and misguided. Adoptees need more than just love to develop healthy attachments and positive self-identity, and those processes only start at placement. From that point on, adoptees need effective modeling and cultural membership and parental validation and so much more– regardless of race. And to learn of the needs of adoptees, we must all be ready to listen to their testimonies and learn from their lives, however painful those stories may sometimes be.

As Dee Reisner of NACAC wrote: “To build our children’s trust in us, we must also keep working to understand our own white privilege, stereotypes, and racism. We must explore our country’s history from the perspective of our child’s cultural community and commit to fighting racism even when we pay a personal price. We need to be there with our children when they are mistreated, denied access, or struggling to comprehend the cruel injustice of racism. Love is just the beginning of the transracial adoption journey. There is no end.”

As adoption professionals, we must do more to educate ourselves, as well, and to make the adoption process more comprehensible and accessible to clients of all ethnicities. We should take on the concerns of those who have researched the need for adoptive homes for African-American children, as well as those who have studied the impact of interracial convergence.

Granted, there are no easy answers to be found to the issues at hand, but we must all have the courage and integrity to acknowledge racism in adoption, to condemn racism whereever it occurs, and to devote ourselves to finding new solutions to problems of racism– for the sake of everyone’s children.

5 Mistakes Hopeful Adoptive Parents Make

When you’re trying to adopt, we know you try to “do everything right,” so we thought it might be helpful to share 5 mistakes hopeful adoptive parents make. (We’re assuming you’re already conscientious enough to understand why open adoption should be your first priority. If we’re wrong about this, then start by reading this instead, denying your child an open adoption could be your biggest mistake: What You Should Know About Open Adoption.) For the rest of you, these are five pitfalls we hope you’ll avoid as you pursue the possibility of adopting.

#5: Overlooking the children who need them most.

We get it: everybody (well, almost everybody) comes to the adoption process initially wanting a perfect baby that will best resemble the one they cannot have. Yet adoption is supposed to be about providing a loving home for the children who need you most, not replacing the children you cannot produce. That’s a hard truth– we know. But adoption’s not about you. It’s about children, and what they need most.

It’s human nature, of course, to want to optimize your parenting experience by seeking out the very youngest child available and minimizing any known complications right from the start. (You’re not wrong to wish you could do that.) There are, however, far more children in state foster care all across the US who are ready and waiting to be adopted than there are adoptable newborns waiting in American hospitals, and any child you adopt will potentially face some sort of challenges in life.

You’re underestimating your potential capacities as an excellent parent if you seek to overlook or exclude all the children that may need you most. Extend your preparation to include children of different ages and races and genders, and your new, improved parameters will expand your range of opportunities for placement as well as your potential for changing the world, one child at a time (or more!)

#4: Making hasty choices out of desperation.

As adoption professionals, we hear plenty of the horror stories about first parents who got exploited by overpromising adopters, and hopeful adoptive couples who got scammed by adoption facilitators or fake birthparents looking to play “Let’s Make a Deal.” We understand that dishonest people are out there, and that money is the root of all evil and this is regrettably a risk in some adoptions. We know that even an ethical adoption process can potentially get expensive, but we beg you, hopeful adopters: never lose your common sense or your ethical moorings in your rush to get an adoption done.

5-mistakes-hopeful-adoptive-parents-makeNever make promises you cannot keep. There’s a right and a wrong way to do things, and any good adoption is worth doing the right way and for the right reasons. Because ultimately, whether or not you ever have to account for your actions in a court of law, you will one day have to look your child in the eye and you don’t want to have to blink nervously and look away when all the details come out.

Do not pay anyone “under the table” for anything in the adoption process. Do not trust anyone who tells you that you should. Don’t let desperation fuel any decisions that impact a child’s future. Do not jump into anything that feels wrong. (Just don’t.)

#3: Overstepping rules to do things their own way.

Ethical adoption agencies like Abrazo go the extra mile to try to ensure that their adoptions are done beyond reproach, meaning that the best interests of each child come first– even before the desires and wishes of the placing and adopting parents.

This is why we tell adopting parents “don’t do anything for the placing parents before placement that you’re not willing to continue doing after placement.” (Because that child needs to know your kindnesses were genuine and not strategic.) This is why we tell adopting parents “honor the child’s first parents right to love them first” and not intrude on their bonding in those crucial early days of life. (Because that child needs to have experienced attachment with their first parents first, if their subsequent attachments in adoption are to mean anything.) This is why we tell adopting parents “don’t claim that child until he or she is free to be yours” even though we know you’re longing to room in at the hospital or hang out in the nursery or announce the birth on social media as soon as it happens. (Because you are not authorized to act as “the parents” until the baby’s first parent/s make/s that possible… this is why.)

We know you long to feel like “real parents” right away. We know the infertility and adoption process feel unfair, and that you have a big investment in this process, and you need to feel empowered, considering all that’s been out of your control. We understand that if you’re far from home, you want to get home with your new child as quickly as possible. We get that you may have others in your life telling you that you should get to call the shots.

But please hear this: you’ll never get another chance to make things right, so do everything you can to do it right the first time. That way, you’ll never have to regret what you did to make the adoption happen… nor will the child that you adopt.

#2: Failing to enjoy life along the journey

Let’s be honest: nobody adopts “for fun.” (Nor should they.) The adoption process is arduous and long and waiting for placement can seem like agony, whether you wait for weeks, months or years. Here’s the thing, though… happy parents make better parents, and happier couples tend to have happier homes, all of which are optimal for children being placed at any age.

So lighten up a little, and try to find levity and enjoyment along the way, as you’re able. Find a homestudy worker you can laugh with, when appropriate. Implement a kid-free date night routine with your spouse, long before any child enters your home (and keep it going once you do become parents.) Go on the sort of vacations now that you know you won’t be able to after the baby arrives. Plan some fun outings to enjoy with the expectant parents with whom you match– don’t just go to a doctor or sonogram appointment together. Include some funny photos in your adoptive parent profile, just because they make you smile.

You can still succeed at adoption whether you enjoy the journey or not, so why not enjoy it?

#1: Expecting perfection.

This is important, because parenting is a Really Big Endeavor and nothing in life always goes according to plan. And because adoption is a very emotional endeavor for everyone, you’ll have to expected the unexpected, because the process doesn’t always “go smoothly.” There are bound to be moments in this journey when you may feel disappointed or lost or betrayed, so be prepared, and know that even the detours can still help get you when you need most to be.

Cut yourself and your partner some slack: things won’t always go just right, and that’s okay. You aren’t going to be perfect parents from Day One, and that’s all right, too. The birthparents of your child are not going to be perfect people; love them regardless. (Even your adoption professionals may sometimes drop the ball along the way, because they’re human, too. Try to be understanding when you can.)

Most importantly, understand that there’s no such thing as a perfect child, just as there’s no such thing as perfect parents, nor a perfect home. And children who come to you via adoption are going to be their own little people. They’re going to have their own foibles and flaws and quirks and traits– some of which you may help create, some of which you may predict, and others which will surely catch you by surprise.

So learn all you can, now and in the months and years to come, about becoming the best (not perfect, but best) parent you can be, and about the needs of adoptees and the issues they will invariably face in life.

Of the 5 mistakes hopeful adoptive parents make, expecting their child to be someone he or she is not and can never be might just be the biggest, so remember all you learn here (and thereafter,) and strive to apply it accordingly.

How to Give a Baby Up

The first thing to know about how to give a baby up is that the best kinds of adoption are not about “giving up” your child, but instead, placing him or her with a loving family you can trust… forever.

‘Giving up your baby’ is how folks used to see adoption, back in the days when mothers were expected to hand over their kids to complete strangers, walk away and never look back. That was what is called “closed adoption” and it really wasn’t healthy for anybody.

how-to-give-up-a-baby

See, whether or not you can afford to raise a child and whether or not you chose to become pregnant and whether or not you are ready to parent, there are still things your child will need from you, and there are things you will need out of an adoption.

Your child is going to need to know about you. He or she will need to know you put some thought into this decision, that you considered all your options carefully, and that you did whatever you truly felt was best for you both.

And you will need to choose an adoption agency you can trust, to help you look at all your alternatives, to prepare you for the ups and downs, to arrange and cover support and services before, during and after the adoption, to supervise the family you choose for your child, and to be there for you and your child and his or her family over the years to come.

That’s where a private, nonprofit, licensed adoption agency like Abrazo becomes important. You need an agency that’s close enough to where you live that they can come see you if you need them. You need some place where you know the people that work there well enough that you know they truly care about you and your child. You need people you can trust.

Here’s what to expect…

The first time you contact Abrazo, you’ll be provided basic information about adoption and how it works, and you’re offered the opportunity to meet with Abrazo’s staff, like our maternity coordinator, April, who is easy to talk to and can answer any questions you may have; or Elizabeth, our director and resident therapist; or Ximena, our counselor who speaks fluent Spanish.

All of our services are free to prospective birthparents (people who are planning an adoption for their child.) There’s some paperwork to fill out so Abrazo can open a file and begin the process of helping you find the right family for your child, once you’ve considered all your options and feel sure adoption is how you want to proceed. (You need to know, though, that in Texas, you cannot sign any final legal paperwork committing you to an adoption decision until your baby is at least 48 hours old.)

Abrazo makes both private counseling and a support group available to all prospective birthparents, but it’s up to you if you wish to make use of it. We can set you up with a doctor, if needed, help arrange housing if you have nowhere to stay, provide you with rides to prenatal appointments, and have whatever family you choose for your child come meet you in advance of the birth if you wish. The State allows Texas-licensed agencies like Abrazo to also provide limited financial assistance with certain maternity needs like groceries and clothing and utilities or rent or medical bills, if needed, before and after placement.

At birth and after

When the baby is born, it’s your choice whether you want the adopting family there at the hospital. It’s your choice if you want to pick the baby’s name to go on the original birth certificate. It’s your choice how much time you want to spend with your baby in the hospital. And it’s your choice whether or not you still feel going through with an adoption is the right decision. The legal paperwork can be done in the hospital or at the agency or even in your home, if you wish, and the baby goes right home with the adopting family (no foster care is required.)

You and the adopting family decide how often you want to get together or be in touch after placement, and Abrazo has a voluntary written open adoption agreement drawn up to document what everybody feels comfortable with. (If you do not wish to keep in touch, that’s your right, as well, but Abrazo and its adoptive families hope you will.)

Abrazo’s staff continues to be available to you after the baby goes home with the new family, because making an adoption decision, however sure you are, is a tough thing to go through, and you’re going to need you have support afterwards, too.

Get this: whether you give up a baby for adoption or you make a loving placement plan, it means letting go of the rights and responsibilities of parenting that child, and that’s not easy, especially when a piece of your heart goes with that child. And this is where picking the right adoption agency is especially important– you need to know you are working with an agency that is honest enough to tell you what you don’t want to hear.

Because even if it’s tempting to sign up with some place that will gloss over the hard parts and only tell you what you want to hear, the truth is that you (and your child) are going to need the kind of place that is invested in your long-term welfare (for both of you.) Adoption isn’t easy– but then, neither is parenthood, or marriage, or any of the most important endeavors we sign up for in this lifetime.

If you need to know how to give a baby up for adoption, then know this: you need to get in touch with Abrazo and learn how to make a loving lifetime adoption plan, instead– for you and for your baby.

Adoption is Still a Thing

“I didn’t even know adoption is still a thing,” said a visitor to our adoption agency.

She’d come to pick up some toys we had to give away.

She lives right around the corner from our office, but she never even knew there was still such a thing as an adoption agency around here, she said.

She told us she wished she had known adoption was an option when she was pregnant with her child. The father had told her to “just get an abortion” and she knew she didn’t want to do that.

Parenting had been the only choice she’d thought she’d had– ready or not. And it had not been easy, she admitted.

It got us thinking about how many girls and women don’t even realize that adoption is still an option available to them, today?

Why Don’t We Talk About Adoption More?

Perhaps part of the reason that young women today don’t know adoption is still a thing is because it’s so rarely discussed in our culture?

There’s plenty of talk about abortion because of the pro-life vs. pro-choice debates, of course.

But when it comes to adoption, our society still operates under the mistaken impression that adoption is a hush-hush transaction, involving teenage girls in trouble and sleazy adoption attorneys or impersonal government adoption agencies in cold brick buildings.

As our office visitor pointed out, the only thing she knew about adoption was what she’d seen of the Tyler and Catelyn storyline on television, and obviously, that (coupled with the million dollar lawsuit recently filed against BCS) wouldn’t build public confidence in adoption much.

As she walked through Abrazo and admired all the photos of our successful open adoption stories, she marveled at the reality.

“I really just had no idea this was here, that adoption is still a thing,” she repeated.

And why would she? Schools are very hesitant to permit adoption agencies to even distribute literature for students about the adoption option. Planned Parenthood, Medicaid offices and WIC clinics rarely advocate for adoption as an option. Doctors’ offices and hospital nurses increasingly tell us they mention adoption only if a patient brings it up.

Even mothers who have placed before and couples who have adopted are sometimes reluctant to propose adoption as an option to others they know, for fear of seeming intrusive or offending anybody.

(A little known secret is that even some adoption professionals sometimes struggle with the same hesitation.)

Each One Tell One

We’re not advocating for a return to the Baby Scoop Era, when every unwed pregnant teen was expected to surrender her baby for adoption or otherwise face a lifetime of hardship and public shame.

The truth is, the average mother who places isn’t even a teenager these days. Most birthmothers tend to be between twenty and forty, and the majority are already struggling to raise other children. (And yes, they do know about AFDC and child support and birth control and public housing.)

adoption-is-still-a-thingThey don’t “give babies up for adoption” because there’s a public stigma against being a single mother anymore. They place because they want a better life for their baby and they want to devote their resources to and focus their efforts on raising the children they already have.

Most come to Abrazo on the recommendation of a friend, relative, medical professional or hospital social worker. That means somebody had to tell them that adoption is still a thing for them to know where to go or how to Google “adoption” in order to find us.

If you want to help save babies from abortion or prevent mothers from dropping off newborns at fire stations or in dumpsters, then please– find a way to talk about adoption. Periodically post something on social media to advocate for adoption (or Abrazo) or to let others know you’re someone people can turn to if they ever need to know that adoption is still a thing. Offer to speak at community events or church gatherings or club meetings. Call your favorite ob-gyn, and the maternity social worker at any Texas hospital, and say “I just want to be sure that my adoption agency, Abrazo, is on your referral list, in case you ever have patients who need an ethical adoption resource.” Share Abrazo’s blog posts on a regular basis, or post positive adoption story links and memes when you’re able.

Adoption is not going to be the “right” option for everyone, nor does it have to be.

Yet more people need to hear the good news that adoption is still a thing, and they need to know where to turn, if they ever do find themselves needing a place like Abrazo one day.

Adopting in Texas

What is the reason that adopting in Texas is so popular?

Folks come from all across the globe to adopt in Texas, after all. (Does that surprise you?)

Adoption professionals in Texas have placed Texas-born children with adoptive parents from all around the world, and have been doing so for years (although the idea of Texas kids being one of our state’s biggest imports is obviously not something state officials are quick to brag about.)

Although there are no public statistics available, it’s said that a large number of Texas-born African-American children have been shipped off to Canada, where racism seems less prevalent. A notorious, since-closed adoption agency in San Antonio was known to have placed numerous Texas-born babies with wealthy families in Europe, who were more than happy to pay higher fees than what that agency could command from adoptive families stateside; upon its closure, other agencies gladly took over that lucrative corner on the market (like a well-known Fort Worth adoption agency is said to regularly place Texas children overseas, although there’s surely no shortage of folks right here in the Lone Star State who are ready and eager to adopt.)

Abrazo places its children only with families inside the US who are US citizens or permanent residents. As a private, nonprofit adoption agency licensed by the State of Texas and certified in Connecticut, Abrazo can and does place children with qualified adoptive families from all across America (except New York.)

Why Adopt from Texas?

Texas is a popular state to adopt from because it is considered “adoption-friendly.” What does this mean?

Under Texas laws, there is no reclaim period after the relinquishment of parental rights is completed. Birthparents in Texas cannot surrender a child for adoption for at least 48 hours after birth, adopting-in-Texasbut a voluntary relinquishment of parental rights to an licensed Texas adoption agency, that has been correctly executed after 48 hours or more, is considered “irrevocable.”

This means that unlike in some states, which give placing parents so many days or weeks to reconsider their decision and take back their children, in Texas, a placement is considered a “done deal” once a proper relinquishment has occurred, which gives adopting parents a greater sense of confidence that “their” baby will stay theirs, barring any unforeseen legal challenges.

Texas licensing standards allow only Texas adoption agencies to assist prospective birthparents with financial support for living expenses (ie., rent, groceries, utilities, transportation) during pregnancy and during a defined post-partum period, which appeals to women with untimely pregnancies and indigent parents alike.

Finally, Texas has, over the past decade, severely limited legal protections for alleged fathers who fail to register with the state’s Voluntary Paternity Registry, making it simpler to involuntarily terminate the potential paternity rights of men who are alleged to have fathered children without marrying the mother(s) or legitimating the pregnancy in court.

For these reasons (and considering the state’s size and unplanned pregnancy rates,) Texas draws the interest of would-be adopters (and the predatory interests of non-local adoption providers,) alike.

How Does Adoption Work in Texas?

Abrazo works primarily with placing parents located within Texas, and with qualified infertile adopting families from all over the nation (except NY.)

When prospective birthparents across Texas need to contact Abrazo, they can call Abrazo day or night (1-210-342-5683) or text “help me with adoption” to 210-860-5683, or submit an online info request. Immediately, they are provided quality casework and counseling services to help educate them as to all of their rights, alternatives and options. Pregnant mothers and prospective birthparents need not live in San Antonio to benefit from Abrazo’s support. Our caseworkers can travel out-of-town to meet with nonlocal clients and all Abrazo birthmothers receive the same needs-based maternity support, counseling and care before and after placement.

Likewise, all of Abrazo’s adopting parents in the Milagros (full-service) placement program start by submitting a preapplication (called the AP Inquiry form,) then a full application, then they spend a weekend with our staff learning about the Abrazo way of adoption. They have a homestudy completed by a licensed professional in their locale, and after matching with a prospective birthparent, they return to meet with her, to take placement of a child. Abrazo files their Interstate Compact application, if they are from out-of-state, so they can leave Texas within 7-10 days or more after placement, and then all Abrazo families return to finalize the adoption after 6-18 months of post-placement supervision.

From the perspective of the adoption professionals at Abrazo, Texas would be a far more adoption-friendly state if the Texas Legislature would implement some much needed adoption reforms, to include restoration of OBC access to adults adopted here as children, and legally-enforceable post-adoption agreements, that would make open adoption arrangements safer and better understood by all concerned.

However, we commend the officials at the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services Residential Childcare Licensing unit for their tireless efforts to monitor all Texas-licensed adoption agencies and to work with Texas adoption agencies staffs to keep programs running smoothly. (TDFPS is about to undergo massive departmental changes in the months to come, as a result of legislative mandates that will split its mission and its workload.)

If you are considering adopting in Texas or placing a child for adoption in Texas, please consider letting Abrazo help you with that life-changing process, because that’s what Abrazo does best.

Chase’s Castle

We are so thrilled to welcome Abrazo’s tiniest office visitors to our new, improved playroom, which has lovingly been christened “Chase’s Castle.”

Who Was Chase?

Chase was a tiny princeling who went off to the Land of Parker, to live with King Chad and Queen Charlene and Prince Charles Henry in November of 2016.

The King and Queen loved the fair maiden and the courageous knight who brought him into the world, and together they made plans to be family forever.

But even in the best of fairy tales, there are still endings, and one night in January of 2017, little Chase went to sleep peacefully and woke up playing with the angels in Heaven.

chases-castleEveryone in Land of Parker, as well as the Abrazonation, was very sad. They knew that Prince Chase is in the most wonderful Kingdom of all now, but they had hoped to see this dear boy grow up and slay dragons and live happily ever after.

Real life, however, is not like fairy tales. And sometimes, what we hope will be a fairy tale ending can end up looking very different in real life.

King Chad and Queen Charlene and Prince Charles Henry wanted to find a very special way to honor the memory of little Prince Chase.

They thought and thought about what would make him happiest.

They wanted to come up with something that would make a difference in his name.

And then, they had a most wonderful idea! Why not renovate Abrazo’s outdated playroom, which had not seen a fresh coat of paint since 1995, when the AbrazoChicks decorated the walls themselves, using paint, paper-plates and feather dusters?

How Did Chase’s Castle Come About?

Chase’s loving family found a wonderful artist they knew who worked with them to design a fabulous new playroom plan.

Then they traveled to San Antonio from Louisiana, and had some other Abrazo friends come along to help.

For days, they hauled out old toys and removed old paint and a Winnie the Pooh wallpaper border.

Then they painted and painted and painted and painted, with Prince Charles Henry and his grandma helping to supervise.

Lettering was added, and a mural, and a castle tower and even a secret door, marked “C” for Chase.

Castle lanterns were mounted, a new toy box was constructed, and then, the crowning touch was made with a beautiful hand-painted plaque on the front door, proudly proclaiming this “Chase’s Castle.” The golden plaque at the bottom reads “In Memory of Chase Miller Parker, forever loved by Daddy, Mama, Charles Henry and Your First Family.”

chases-castleAfterwards, a group gathered in that freshly-remodeled playroom, to hold hands and offer a prayer of thanks for the brief-but-bright-shining life of Chase Parker, for all his loving family, and for all the children who will one day enjoy this very special space.

Chase’s Castle was truly a labor of love and we have to believe that he was smiling down on all of them, as the family who loves him so dearly worked so hard on this remembrance of him.

This lovely playroom will forever remind us of the difference he made in the world, in the little time he had, and that truth, in itself, is truly magical.

Welcome to Chase’s Castle, everyone– and our heartfelt thanks to all who made it possible.

Adoption Trolls (& Other Beastly Beings)

Once upon a time, there was a little adoption agency that found itself waging a valiant online struggle with adoption trolls (& other beastly beings.)

It started innocently enough. The little agency had found a news story about a teen mom considering adoption, which used archaic language that dated back to the orphan train era.

The little agency posted it on their Facebook page, with a comment about the headline using outdated language.

adoption-trolls-and-other-beastly-beingsAnother group shared the post on their Facebook page. (Fair enough.)

Suddenly, strangers who are not a part of the little adoption agency’s group began posting ugly accusations accusing the little adoption agency of everything from puffery to trickery to child-trafficking.

The little agency struggled to figure out if– or how– to respond?

Staffed with therapists and social workers, the little agency wanted to believe that the people behind those ugly posts actually meant well, and simply misunderstood the little agency’s intentions.

Efforts to enter into dialogue, however, were simply met with some even more slanderous claims.

The little agency didn’t want to censor visitors to its page. Yet it knew that the things being said were not just offensive to the agency; they were potentially injurious to the agency’s adoption community, good people who have done nothing to warrant such unjust attacks.

So what’s a little adoption agency to do? The little agency decided to read each comment from the perspective of an underage adoptee, and delete only those that were potentially harmful or confusing to Abrazo’s minor adoptees and all the parents who love them most.

Is Adoption Good? Or Is Adoption Bad?

Undoubtedly, anti-adoption activism is on the rise, and it is largely indisputable that the adoption industry itself has often deserved such critical scrutiny due to questionable ethics, egregious acts and sometimes (sadly) unchecked greed.

Adoption in its purest form is meant to be a good thing, but even in its goodness, we must never lose sight of the fact that adoption is born of loss, and must therefore be a choice of last resort for parents who cannot raise their children and for children who cannot grow up in their family of origin. How we do adoption– and when and why we do it– must always be child-centered from start to finish, and our efforts and actions must be beyond reproach, because ultimately, it is the child to whom we are all accountable.

And even then, we must be mindful of the fact that adoption (yes, even the “best” of adoptions) will leave some scars of varying degrees, depending on the needs and/or vulnerabilities of the people involved. Every human life is potentially marred by varying forms of trauma, and the primal wound of an infant or child being separated from his or her original parent is bound to impact both on some level. And that impact may continue to affect the lives of the adoptee and the birthparents and the adoptive family, in ways they may or may not anticipate over the years.

This is not the “fault” of the birthparents nor the adopting parents nor the professionals they hire, yet it is imperative that all the adults must absolutely be aware of this painful truth. The temptation is to minimize it, because we all want to protect the children involved, but in order to protect those who must become adoptees, we must have the courage to be honest about this, with them and with ourselves.

It’s a normal inclination to want to throw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater by seeking to abolish adoption or condemn it as kinship genocide or to point fingers at those who promote it or even who seek to defend it. And for those who see themselves as having been victims of adoption, it may even be therapeutic to speak out against it.

It’s also normal, if one wants to see adoption as being virtuous or positive, to want to label those who oppose it as adoption trolls (or other beastly beings.)

But if we are ever to make adoption better for those for whom it must occur, and if we are to build any bridges of healing for those for whom it did not work well, then we must find some means of working together, and that will requires empathy and mutual respect and, yes, healthy communication.

Take the Little Adoption Pledge

And towards that end, we must resist the impulse to label each other– whether as adoption trolls or babysnatchers or breeders or angryadoptees or babysellers, or whatever ugly taunts folks throw at each other when they’re feeling threatened. (And yes, that goes for us, too. We all have the potential to act beastly at times.)

So we challenge you (yes, you– along with all of us) to take this little adoption pledge. Raise your right hand and read aloud, if you will:

“I pledge to work towards the betterment of adoption, not for the sake of any program nor entity, but for the welfare of children and all the parents who love them. I will strive to hear those whose opinions differ from mine, and to not be baited nor respond to those to who seek merely to insult or offend, rather than to promote healing and reform. I pledge to honor those who have been adopted, whether they perceive themselves to be victims or victors of that experience, and to embrace their right to their own truth, whether or not it reflects my own. I pledge to set aside my own bias, to whatever extent possible, in order to be fully-vested in being an agent of change for the better.”

Because adoption trolls (& other beastly beings) exist only in our minds, and it’s going to take all of us to banish them and to focus instead on working towards a happier ending to every child’s story.

Meth Moms

The growing number of meth moms are the American society’s dirty little secret.

But make no mistake about it:

The opioid crisis in America is giving rise to a whole new generation of moms using methamphetamine and moms on methadone, and children born addicted.

(And lest you think this is merely a junkie problem for welfare moms: think again.)

Meth is cheaper than cocaine; it provides an instant rush, and the effects reportedly last longer than other drugs. It also can be made in one’s kitchen, using legal ingredients. It boosts one’s energy and reduces one’s inhibitions. That’s the appeal.

The downside, of course, is addiction and its symptoms. Paranoia, anxiety, hallucinations, uncontrollable rages, heart problems, teeth decay, skin wrinkles and scarring due to unbearable itching are just some of the symptoms.

Yet for moms who use, the lifelong guilt they feel for the toll the drug inflicts on their kids is sometimes the very worst part. And that same guilt also applies to mothers on heroin, and likewise to methadone moms, women who have been prescribed methadone as an alternative treatment for heroin addiction.

How Meth, Heroin & Methadone Affect Babies

It’s important for both placing parents and adopting parents to learn all they can about the effects of prenatal drug use. (To learn more about women and drug use, click here.)

Years ago, Abrazo’s director met a NICU doctor who was treating an Abrazobaby whose birthmother had been on methadone during pregnancy. “It’s the shame she didn’t just stay on heroin,” the doctor said, explaining that in his opinion, it is more painful for newborns to undergo withdrawal from methdone than heroin. Drug-exposed babies face challenges as they are weaned from the effects of maternal drug use, but we are grateful that even the children whom we know had a rougher start are thriving in their adoptive homes.

Not every drug-exposed infant gains the advantage of being adopted, of course. Adoption is not necessarily the “right” choice for every parent using drugs. Too often, however, when drug-using parents attempt to parent while using, the effects are disastrous for the children involved.

In Utah, the parents of a newly-born baby girl were recently arrested for having given their baby meth, heroin and morphine on the day of her birth. Colby Wilde, age 29, and Lacey Christenson, age 26, rubbed crushed drugs on their baby’s gums in the hospital. They did it in hopes of masking the signs that she was born addicted to the same drugs that the mother had been using during pregnancy.

According to a University of Minnesota study, meth had been involved in 81% of the child protection cases in that state. But “meth babies” aren’t just affected by mothers using during pregnancy. In Kentucky last month, twenty-eight year old Summer Stark lost both her children to the State after her 8-month-old baby overdosed on meth. In Missouri, new mom Ashley Lewis was arrested after a friend posted a photo of her smoking meth next to her ten-month-old baby girl. In Louisiana, Jayme Cebyrinski and her one-year-old daughter were taken into custody this week after both tested positive for meth.

(If you can’t read the caption on the image above, it says that this was an actual photo taken by Child Protective Services when the girls’ mother was arrested by DEA agents for drug possession and distribution. The two children were placed in protective custody and separate foster homes.)

The struggle is real, folks, and it’s affecting more innocent children than we even know.

How Can Abrazo Help Moms with Drug Problems?

Abrazo does welcome the opportunity to work with meth moms, with mothers on methadone and with moms who are using heroin. We know that any of us could be where they are, had our life circumstances and choices gone in a different direction. We recognize that their character is not defined by their addiction, nor should their child’s future be limited by the mother’s disease. While we obviously wish no mothers had to struggle with drugs, we respect their honesty in being forthright with us about their addictions, and Abrazo has plenty of adoptive families who understand that open adoptions with healthy boundaries can give both children and their birthparents a new beginning and a chance at a more stable and secure future.

As one Abrazo birthmom recently wrote on Abrazo’s Facebook page:

“I don’t want to identify myself now, but if anyone is scared (of considering adoption) because of drug us, and they want to hear from someone who has been there, I would tell anyone how glad I am to have found the right place. I was in a situation like that. Abrazo never for one second makes you feel worse about yourself when coping with the whole process and I can guarantee that there is no judgement whatsoever.”

Pregnant addicts and drug-using mothers typically know that if they test positive during (or after) delivery, the State can send Child Protective Services workers to seize their child/ren (both the baby and any other children in their care.) If, however, a mother who has used or is using contacts Abrazo to make a voluntary and private adoption plan, CPS will respect the plan already in place, enabling the birthmother to enjoy the benefits of an open adoption, in which she is able to keep in touch and know how her child is doing afterwards, an advantage not available if the State terminates parental rights.

Additionally, Abrazo is able to help birthmothers with maternity-related needs (ie., housing, groceries, clothing, counseling, transportation, etc.) during pregnancy and up to 8 weeks after placement. The State does not allow adoption agencies to pay for rehab or drug treatment, but our staff works hard to identify local treatment options for parents who are motivated to seek help.

And Abrazo has seen the miracle of open adoption help transform countless lives– not just for the children involved, but for addicted birthparents who found the affirmation and encouragement to get clean and stay that way, so the children they placed and the parents who adopted them can be proud of them, too.

If you know of meth moms, moms on heroin or methadone mothers in need of our help, please encourage them to call Abrazo anytime, day or night, for the help they (and their children) so surely deserve: 210-342-5863.

Family by Adoption

There are people who become parents by adoption, and there are people who become friends through adoption, and then, there are folks who become family by adoption.

Most often, these people are birthparents, adoptive parents and the adoptees who love them both.

family-by-adoptionStill: there’s another sort of adoption relationship which frequently occurs, which can be very important for adoptees, and that’s the family by adoption that is created when adoptees and their adoptive parents are able to build lifelong family connections with birthsiblings being adopted by different adoptive parents.

Ideally, of course, lightning would never strike twice, and birthparents would never find themselves in a position of having to go through the adoption experience more than once.

Yet, life doesn’t always turn out that way. Birth control is not infallible, and hyperfertility can be as great a challenge as infertility.

When birthmothers place more than once

Whenever a birthmother who has worked with Abrazo previously comes back to place again, we talk with her about all her options and alternatives, and we counsel with her about the importance of considering a sibling placement, provided that the family she placed with previously is in good standing (ie., has met all their obligations and kept their promises to Abrazo and to the birthfamily.)

However, not every adoptive family is always in the position to adopt again, much as they might wish they were. Sometimes, the needs of the new child or the need(s) of the children already in their home or their family budget or their career obligations or age (whether of the children or the parents) causes loving adoptive families to have to turn down the possibility of a sibling placement.

When this happens, it invariably causes some disappointment to the birthparents, for obvious reasons, but as loving parents themselves, they too understand the many demands that parents face and they surely relate to the concept of ideal timing being an issue in any parenting commitment.

In Abrazo’s program, whenever a child cannot be placed with the same adoptive family as his or her already-adopted sibling, our staff makes it a priority to help connect the two adoptive families, and to encourage them to build loving family ties, so that the siblings can have lifelong access to each other and so that the birthparents have healthy connections with their childrens’ families.

Adoption relationships between multiple families

family-by-adoptionMarriage makes in-laws of two families; adoption makes relatives of two or more families. Becoming family by adoption has become a very special blessing for a number of Abrazo families. They come together to Camp Abrazo in the summer, and they make it a point to visit each other during the year, as well. Some of Abrazo’s adoptive mothers whose children share the same birthparent/s sometimes joke about being “sister moms” and they really do enjoy a sisterhood, of sorts.

Their children proudly pose for family photos with their also-adopted siblings (and their siblings) and because all have been placed through open adoptions, these families-by-adoption often also include their children’s birthparents in these happy family reunions.

What do they do together during these visits? They eat. They laugh. They compare parenting stories. They go to the zoo or have picnics or they go sightseeing or they take the kids to the park to burn off energy. They take pictures together. They visit each other’s homes, even when that involves out-of-state travel, because it’s important to them as a family. They do all the things that families who are related enjoy doing together, because that’s what family time is all about.

How do the kids involved understand these relationships? To them, their birthsiblings’ parents are like an extra aunt and uncle, sort of. And their birthsiblings who still live with their birthparent(s) as well as their biological siblings who are growing up with other adoptive parents are just like any other family members they have always known… they’re relatives.

Having birthsiblings who live with another adoptive family is not unlike having birthsiblings who live in another home with the birthparents. You know they go to different schools, answer to different parents, and yet, have some important traits and/or features and life experiences in common with you. Some of our adoptees have very close relationships with their birthsiblings who live with birthfamily and/or with other adoptive families; for others, the relationship is less like siblings than friends.

Yet the important thing is that Abrazo’s kids are growing up enjoying the benefits of healthy, intact connections with their brothers and sisters born to the same birthparent/s– and they aren’t expected to wait until adulthood to find out about them, either. (To learn more about the advantages of open adoption for adoptees and birthsiblings, read this.)

Abrazo is grateful to have a mission to help people become family by adoption, and we’re grateful that the parents we serve truly join us in embracing openness, for all our children’s benefit.