What does it take to be the best adoption agency in Texas? And what would inspire anyone to try, for over 30 years? (Really, why?)
Decades ago, a young adoption professional began meeting with two Texas attorneys to discuss whether and why a state with so many adoption agencies already might actually need another one.
Back in the early Nineties, the majority of Texas adoption agencies were still church-related organizations, although there were several attorney-owned private agencies and a few old guard secular agencies known as the most expensive adoptions in the State. Nearly all of them catered to the adoptive parents, and most still promoted closed adoptions because that was what the majority of adopters preferred.
How Abrazo Began
Elizabeth Vanderwerf, Steve Seiler and William Nichols recognized that there was a bonafide need for an ethical and progressive nonprofit adoption agency. (Especially in San Antonio, which was then considered to be a hotbed of questionable and high-dollar adoption practices.) The trio dreamed of launching the best adoption agency in Texas, one that would do much more to educate prospective birthparents and adopting couples and facilitate greater transparency between them.
Their plan was to offer more emotional support to parents and adoptees. To treat birthparents with far more empathy and respect. And to build a national adoption community that would continue to promote open adoption and adoptee rights long after each adoption was done.
The new adoption agency came to be called Abrazo Adoption Associates, because Abrazo is a word that means “hug or embrace” in Spanish. Abrazo was licensed and opened on January 4, 1994.
At that time, it was common practice for adoption agencies in Texas to keep pregnant mothers and adopting couples from knowing each other’s “identifying information.” This was a means of maintaining control through secrecy. But the unfortunate byproduct of this was lifelong shame and mystery for adoptees, something Abrazo felt driven to change.
Growing the Best Adoption Agency in Texas
To become the best adoption agency in Texas was, of course, a very lofty goal. Abrazo prided itself on unapologetically advocating for full-disclosure open adoption. The new agency’s priority was serving the mothers who were placing, and couples with documented infertility. Babies sometimes came Abrazo’s way before the adoptive families were fully prepared, back then., One of Abrazo’s first steps was to add licensed foster mother “Grandma Faye” Morrow (and daughter Ruthie) to its team. Elizabeth, a licensed therapist, also facilitated weekly birthparent support group meetings. This enabled expectant mothers using Abrazo to receive professional counseling, as well as peer support, before and after placement .
Abrazo’s first placement occurred just six weeks after the agency opened. The birthmother was a teen mom referred to the agency by a hospital chaplain. Baby Olivia went home with a Louisiana couple who were graduates of Abrazo’s first-ever Parents of Tomorrow orientation class, “The Freshmen Five. (All of the couples in that group became proud parents within the first year.) 1994 also marked the initial observance of Camp Abrazo, held that year in Charlotte, NC. This, along with Abrazo’s orientation weekends, empowered adoptive families in a way not done before. It normalized open adoption by giving folks ongoing access to others whose children’s adoption stories matched their own.
And that was only the beginning of what we still believe is the best adoption agency in Texas. Abrazo is not the biggest. It’s not the best-funded. It’s not even the most well-known (although we are proud to have garnered amazing press coverage in 30 years. (Just check out our In The News page to find out what’s been said about Abrazo.) Try as you might, though, you just won’t find another Texas adoption agency more devoted to its core values, its alumni and its mission.
The Secret of Abrazo’s Success
Throughout Abrazo’s first year and ever since, it’s our people that have truly been the key to this agency’s success. Abrazo’s staff, board and legal representation has changed periodically over the past three decades, of course. Yet each generation of personnel, board members, foster families, legal teams and clients have left their mark. Each has helped to make Abrazo the best adoption agency in Texas in their own way.
Abrazo has consistently sought to keep its services affordable to families of all backgrounds, despite rising medical costs and overhead expenses. Nowadays, Abrazo hosts a biannual birthmothers’ retreat called “Homecoming.” We offer a birthmother scholarship fund made possible through the generosity of bestselling novelist Jacquelyn Mitchard (who adopted here twice.) An AbrazoDad, Dominique Wilkins, and the Atlanta Hawks made a substantial donation to the agency, which will seed another scholarship fund, for adoptees and birthsiblings. The agency’s Angel Account and our newest addition, the Spencer Miles Memorial Fund, also offer donors unlimited opportunities to support adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive families in a myriad of ways.
There’s no way to publicly thank everyone who’s contributed to the success of the Abrazo program. Still, we offer heartfelt appreciation to Glenny Law; to our board of directors; to Texas’ Residential Childcare Licensing unit; to the Texas ICPC staff; to our current foster family, the Haddads; to hospital social workers and homestudy workers everywhere, to the Mayan Ranch (the annual site of Camp Abrazo); and to all of Abrazo’s loyal staff, clients, alumni and volunteers.
The Future of Agencies like Abrazo
Adoption is an ever-changing concept, but the numbers of people wanting to adopt far outpace the numbers of parents willing or needing to place babies or children for adoption in America. The growth of the internet and social media has further limited the appeal of adoption agencies. More folks today are turning to risky do-it-yourself adoption arrangements that skirt laws and endanger children, just to save money or make things “easier.”
Furthermore, society tends to define the “best adoption agencies” very differently than we do. Too often, America’s “have it your way” culture focuses on numbers of adoptions done and shortest wait times, rather than the best interests of children and the full preparation of parents.
Abrazo is mindful of the need to meet people where they are. We strive to be responsive to their desires, of course. Yet our commitment to being the best adoption agency in Texas that we can be won’t allow us to compromise our commitment to best practice.
So whatever the turning tides may have in store for agencies like ours, we believe Abrazo came to be to fulfill a higher calling. And our goal is to continue that quest as long as Texas’ children need our help.
Because ultimately, Abrazo’s mission has always been about our kids– and always will be, however grown-up our adoptees become.