In June 2007, Rabbi Jennifer Lewis and her husband Len of Mason, Ohio, inquired about adopting a baby. They visited Adoption Connection at Jewish Family Service in Cincinnati and learned more about the complex process.
Six months later, the couple actively began the steps to adopt an American-born baby. Another six months went by. All of a sudden the Lewises were back to square one.
“They said that they were changing their services,” Lewis said of Adoption Connection. “They were no longer going to do placements, but they would still provide information to Jewish families to help us connect with potential agencies.”
With a phone call and then a letter sent out by Adoption Connection, the Lewises learned that the agency would no longer be an active placement service due to ongoing financial concerns. Instead, it would focus on a wide variety of other adoption services.
“We were really upset,” Lewis said. “We were very disappointed, surprised, a little panicked even. We didn’t know what it all meant. We didn’t know what they could provide.”
The ending of the placement service, provided by Adoption Connection, is not uncommon. Jewish adoption agencies have been struggling for quite some time.
“It’s not a new national trend,” said Bert Goldberg, president and CEO of the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies. “Jewish adoption agencies shrunk many years ago. There has been virtually no increase or decrease since that time. Jewish people don’t necessarily look to Jewish agencies when they begin to adopt.”
There are about 140 Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies across the country, according to Goldberg. While most have some kind of adoption program, not all offer full-placement services.
Here in Pittsburgh, Family Hope Connection, which is a part of Jewish Family & Children’s Service, said it hasn’t and won’t cut any of its services anytime soon.
“Adoption agencies with just one focus are the ones that are struggling,” Family Hope Connection Director JoAnn White said. “Those types tend to struggle when the economy is low.”
FHC is a multiple focus adoption agency, which does both domestic and international adoptions. From July 2007 to June 2008, FHC placed five babies in permanent homes.
However, as much as FHC would like to help those in other states, the agency is only licensed for Pennsylvania.
“We can’t pick up the slack of other states,” White said. “But that’s the way it should be. There should always be a local agency helping local parents out.”
However, for Lewis and her husband, there wasn’t another local Jewish agency.
Adoption Connection did meet with the Lewises after they announced they would not be able to help them.
“They did come and meet with us personally after we got the letter and gave us a list of other private attorneys and agencies,” Lewis said.
One of the agencies on the list was a Lutheran adoption agency. The Lewises contacted them, only to find out they wouldn’t be allowed to adopt a domestic baby.
“I contacted the Lutheran agency and they told me that they do not place (babies) in non-Christian homes for domestic adoptions.”
Hope was not lost for the Lewises. They are currently working with two private adoption agencies to help them get a child.
While Adoption Connection has offered to assist them with post-adoption matters, there isn’t much the agency can do for them now.
“They would be glad to be our post-placement agency,” Lewis said. “Our social worker has been great with checking in on us and seeing how we are doing.”
(Mike Zoller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)