Let us all take the opportunity to join in saying “thank you, Kathleen Silber!”
If you’re new to the adoption community, you may be wondering who Kathleen Silber is, and why we are paying tribute to her? Here’s the reason: for all the adoption practitioners who brag about being pioneers in open adoption, Kathleen Silber actually was at the forefront of this movement that has done so much for so many.
It was Kathleen Silber who actually “wrote the book” on open adoption– two of them, in fact! Kathleen Silber and Phyllis Speedlin co-authored the seminal classic Dear Birthmother in 1982. Subsequently, Kathleen Silber and Patricia Martinez Dorner co-wrote the sequel Children of Open Adoption in 1990.
While somewhat dated nowadays, both books remain on Abrazo’s recommended reading list today. Why? Because each still speaks to the needs (and fears) of adoptees and the parents that love them, even now.
Decades of Experience & Wisdom to Share
Kathleen Elizabeth Silber earned her MSW from UC in Berkley, and began working in adoption in 1971. She was employed as a social worker at German Children’s Home (MD) from 1971-1975. She was regional director of LSS from 1976-1986, and state director of domestic adoptions for the Children’s Home Society (CA) from 1986-1988. She served as the associate executive director of IAC in CA from 1988 to 2015.
Kathleen Silber was employed by Lutheran Social Service here in San Antonio, back when open adoption was then a newfangled placement concept. In 1983, Silber told Mark Langford of UPI that the secrecy of closed adoptions often leads to communication breakdowns between adoptive parents and their children, who mistake their parents’ apprehension and fear for dark mysteries that do not exist. She went on to explain that “open adoption banishes the fear and anxiety by answering children’s questions and providing varying degrees of contact between birthparents and the (placed child/ren).”
She remembered in a 2011 Patch newspaper feature “to me, the step to open adoption (considered very radical in the 70s and 80s) was the obvious answer. After all, what could be wrong with openness, honesty and communication with the family? This is the foundation of all healthy families.” Kathleen, who became the mother of two and a proud grandmother, did interviews on countless television programs, including 20/20, The Today Show, ABC’s World News Tonight, and Good Morning America.
Thank you, Kathleen Silber, for your Expertise
Abrazo’s director, Elizabeth, first met Kathleen Silber at an adoption conference several decades ago, then went on to present at the conference on several occasions. It was Kathleen who first introduced Abrazo to the iconic Steven Seskin adoption anthem “Everybody Wins”. (And it was under Kathleen’s tutelage that Abrazo staff obtained Certified Professional Open Adoption Practitioner credentialing many years ago.)
From our perspective, Kathleen Silber (like other luminaries in the adoption field such as Sharon Kaplan Roszia, Lois Melina, Jim Gritter, Michael Trout, Annette Baran & Ruben Pannor, Randolph Severson, Joyce Pavao, and Betty Jean Lifton) was a rock star in adoption. Through her and via them, Abrazo fully embraced open adoption truths, as embodied by this quote from Silber’s first book: “The adoptee benefits because his collective parents are permitted to grow secure in their particular roles in his life. His adoptive parents are not unwittingly encouraged to compete to possess him. Nor are his birth parents punished and banished from a place in his life.”
Our Tribute to a Revered Mentor
It was, therefore, an overwhelming surprise when Abrazo received this unexpected message from Kathleen Silber herself, in recent years. It read, in part “I am always impressed with Abrazo’s commitment to and advocacy for fully open adoption. Your agency is a shining example of how all adoptions should be.” We were deeply touched by her kind words, then as now. For even in retirement, Kathleen has continued to mentor others with grace.
These days, Mrs. Silber is now aged and bedridden. Yet her impact is no less important now than it ever was, and we hope she (and her loving family) knows this. Thank you, Kathleen Silber, for helping to make adoption better for countless adoptees and their parents– and for helping countless adoption professionals do adoption better.
All those years of service to children and families have surely made a difference! Even now, your influence lives on, so once again: we thank you, Kathleen Silber.