JFCS closes adoption and foster program Family Hope as longtime director retires
The program was created in 1997 to help Jewish families who were being turned away from religious-based adoption agencies. Those needs have receded as agencies become more diverse.
JFCS Family Hope, which for 20 years has provided families with help in adopting and fostering children, is wrapping up operations this month.
The cessation of the program coincides with the retirement of JoAnn White, who has served as director of Family Hope — formerly known as Family Hope Connection — since its launch in 1997.
Family Hope was created to address adoption needs in the Jewish community at a time when Jewish families and children were being turned away from many religious-based adoption agencies, according to Jordan Golin, president and CEO of JFCS.
Those needs, he said, have receded.
“When we started, faith-based Christian adoption agencies often said they were ‘uncomfortable’” adopting out children to Jewish families, Golin said. “That has evolved. There has been a shift in the availability of services.”
Now, he said, many Christian adoption programs include families who are diverse in their faith and in other ways.
The declining availability of international adoptions has also factored into the ability of Family Hope to provide its services, according to Golin.
“International adoptions have slowed down across the country,” he noted. “So, private adoption companies are struggling. For every family we assist, it is really a life-changing service for them. But there are so few families we are able to assist.”
Foreign adoptions by Americans declined 77 percent in 2016 from their 2004 peak, according to an October 2017 report by the Pew Research Center.
Family Hope evolved from its original mandate to also provide services to non-traditional families and individuals, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
JFCS had been evaluating the viability of Family Hope for the past couple years, according to Golin.
“It was a program whose future was at risk,” he said.
The decision ultimately was made to use JFCS “agency resources to serve the greatest number of people in our community,” said Golin, rather than a program that now served so few Jewish families.
Over the past 10 years, Golin said, Family Hope has only placed five children into adoptive homes.
Family Hope also has been a member of the Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network (SWAN), providing a “number of services through that network and public funding,” Golin said. “That’s where we provided the bulk of our work.”
The SWAN work included “preparing children for permanent placement, investigative work and meeting with children to help them create a ‘life book,’ to establish a sense of who they are and to help them understand what happened in the past and who they are today.”
The SWAN work involved primarily non-Jewish children, he said.
While JFCS will cease adoption services for new clients, White and her staff will be working to see current open cases through to conclusion. No current clients will lose access to any services. Existing and former clients who require supportive and post-adoption services will be referred to JFCS Counseling Services whenever possible, or to partner agencies in the community.
“I’m committed to making sure no one falls through the cracks,” White said.
White, who is an adoptive parent, has had a rewarding career at Family Hope, she said.
“I think about the individual families and children I’ve worked with, and when I get pictures from them years later, each one is my proudest moment,” she said. “I kvell every time.”
Working with families and individuals on adoption offers both “the highest and the lowest moments,” according to White.
“Adoption starts with loss, where children are losing their biological families, and then turns to joy when they find new families,” she said. “And generally, families are adopting for reasons that start with loss.”
“You go through the whole gamut with them,” White added. “There are lots of tears and lots of laughter. I love my job. I love working with families and children and seeing the joy and wonder of bringing them together.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at