Thursday, June 26, 2014

All About the LDS Family Services Adoption Announcement

On June 17, I received an email from the Commissioner's Office of LDS Family Services outlining changes to LDS Family Services' adoption program. This is the agency we have used the past few years while we've been officially waiting to adopt and when we adopted our son in 2011.

I immediately had a feeling of what it was about, because I'd heard rumors last year that LDSFS wanted to pull out of being a full-scale adoption agency. In fact, our adoption that fell through in Louisiana last summer gave me a taste of what it would be like if LDSFS was just a counseling service rather than a full-scale adoption agency, because a few offices had already been implementing these new changes - and our office in Louisiana was one of them.

So, I wasn't surprised when I got this letter, but was anxious to know all the details and how it would affect us if we decide to stay on this adoption roller coaster.

CLICK HERE to view the letter as a Google Doc.

That same day I started seeing it all over the local and Church media - that LDSFS was closing its doors to adoption, that the Church would no longer be subsidizing adoptions, etc. Speculation as to why (low adoption placement rates, bad publicity for the Church when adoptions go wrong, etc.) cropped up. My first thoughts were: How in the world do they think that these changes are going to help increase adoption opportunities for LDS couples? And how do they think that in most cases this won't impact cost of adopting or that it could be less expensive with the new program? Lots of people across social media were confused as well.

Last night I attended an info session held by my local office that covered any and all questions about the changes and how it would affect us as prospective adoptive couples. And I took LOTS of notes! So I will share them here:

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  • Current prospective adoptive couples (defined as any couple who has at least attended Orientation before June 17, 2014) will have the choice to continue with the old program or explore the new program, until the end of 2014. New prospective adoptive couples (defined as any couple who attends Orientation after these announcements were made) will begin with the new program immediately. Beginning January 1, 2015, everyone will be moved to the new program. The only exception is for couples who are "matched" at the end of the year - LDSFS will facilitate those adoptions with the old program, if the couple so chooses. Any questions/concerns about the transition will be taken into account and LDSFS will err on the side of fair to each prospective adoptive couple as the new changes take place.
  • LDSFS will no longer be a full-scale adoption agency after December 31, 2014. Instead, they will be shifting their focus to better align their services with Church and welfare principles.
  • The two-fold reason for these changes is to 1) increase opportunities for LDS couples to adopt and 2) give more support to families and leaders who are assisting single expectant parents. While pursuing these goals, they want to better meet the needs of a worldwide membership and decide where they should put Church resources vs. where they should refer to community resources and not duplicate their efforts. What can LDSFS uniquely provide? And what can the community do well that doesn't need duplicating?
  • Increasing opportunities for LDS couples to adopt:
    • The itsaboutlove.org site currently draws a very limited traffic flow and is limited in its ability to reach a large audience of expectant parents considering adoption. Its function (to list LDS adoptive couples' profiles online) will be completely replaced. Right now, LDSFS is in negotiations to work with a much more high-traffic "parent profiles" type site in order to get LDS adoptive couples listed on their site for a discounted cost which LDSFS will cover. This will increase exposure for LDS adoptive couples to include much more traffic from non-LDS sources. This is part of LDSFS effort to pull away from trying to duplicate something that is already done in the community much better/ more efficiently/ to a broader audience, and re-focus its efforts elsewhere.
    • LDSFS will now be an adoption consulting institution rather than an agency. The goal will be to encourage couples to be their own adoption advocate, to take charge, and to reach out and talk to adoption professionals to find more opportunities to adopt. LDSFS will be there to point couples in the direction of community resources (attorneys, agencies, foster care, places that will do home studies, adoption education, placement and post-placement services, etc.) and to continue to counsel them free of charge throughout the adoption process. Their goal will be to expose prospective adoptive couples to many community resources and arm them with information to make the best decisions possible on their adoption journey. They will be having an "adoption info fair" sometime in July (to be determined) to help facilitate that.
    • The new requirements to work with LDSFS no longer excludes couples who are "fertile" and biologically capable of getting pregnant and having children, or couples who have more than 2 children. In the past, infertility treatment had to be proven with a doctor's note and a couple couldn't have more than 2 children.
    • Although these changes may increase potential cost (which will now vary depending on each adoption's situation rather than be a flat fee), especially for out-of-state adoptions, it could also save money by removing the agency costs and "pass-through expenses" from the equation. For example, I'm in Utah and if I adopt in Utah with a relatively straight-forward case with no hiccups, it may be less expensive than the old program's flat fee, depending on which attorney we used (which LDSFS would help us find - the best and least expensive). Even if this does turn out to be more expensive for LDS adoptive couples (the Church was subsidizing $18,000+ per adoption on the old program), it still will generally be much less expensive than working with another agency (although that can still be done if the couple so chooses).
    • The new program will help screen out some scammers by requiring expectant parents to meet with LDSFS, but if they need any assistance (what used to be covered by "pass-through expenses") they will also have to meet with their assigned Bishop and he will have stewardship to judge what welfare the Church can help her/them with. This is in line with how welfare is distributed Church-wide.
  • Assisting single expectant parents:
    • How well are we serving and meeting the needs of the single expectant parents in our midst? This is a vulnerable population who is making decisions for another vulnerable population (the children they are carrying) - are they getting all the support they need to make good decisions? This is where LDSFS focus should be - on supporting them, counseling them without being an "adoption agency," and helping them find the resources they need to make good decisions.
    • What's unique and distinctive about LDSFS is that they can provide a place where an expectant mother can find screened LDS adoptive couples. For someone specifically looking for that for their child, LDSFS will continue to screen the couples they work with to meet the high standards of the Church. Now, without the restriction on adoptive couples to those who are infertile and have no more than 2 children, expectant parents are empowered to choose the family she wants. Maybe an expectant mother wants to place her baby with a family with 6 kids. That option will be opened up to her.
    • Without the "adoption agency" title, LDSFS is hoping to become known as a free professional counseling service rather than an agency, by removing that potential conflict of interest and to relieve pressure on expectant parents to place their child. To better serve single expectant parents, LDSFS will focus on counseling and pointing them in the direction of community resources, their Bishop for assistance, or if they so choose - a listing of screened LDS adoptive couples. They want to be a bridge between single expectant parents and the information they need to make the decision that is right for them and find support/assistance no matter what that choice is.
    • Non-LDS expectant parents can still meet with their assigned Bishop and counsel with him and it is up to his discretion what help is given. I imagine that counseling with them to help their lives become more consistent with Gospel principles may be a part of it. Inactive LDS expectant parents may be encouraged to return to attendance. Counseling with LDSFS and/or the Bishop is designed to really reach each expectant parent and help them on the whole. If they choose to parent, they need a good start at it and may need help (counseling, spiritual encouragement, job opportunities, information, guidance, etc.) to be in a good place to do so. This is the goal of the new program. All Bishops will be trained to handle these situations appropriately.
  • Other things to note:
    • The $1,000 application fee that adoptive couples have already paid will no longer apply to placement fees after the changes are in effect, unless they are matched before the end of the year and choose to use the old program to finish out the adoption. From now on, no application fee will be required of adoptive couples. All services through LDSFS under the new program will be free of charge.
    • Instructions will be given on how to migrate from itsaboutlove.org once a decision/contract has been made about the new site that will list LDS adoptive profiles, sometime before the new year. Again, this will greatly increase exposure.
    • Statistically, there is one unwed pregnant mom-to-be per ward per year. Adoption placement rates for unwed pregnant moms-to-be are about 1% nationally. Adoption numbers are down as times are changing and single moms are given much more support. At the same time, if adoptive couples want to increase their chances of adopting, more online exposure in this social media-driven world is the answer.
    • Adoptive couples will no longer have a specific caseworker or have an "adoption file" with LDSFS, since home studies will be done by a different entity of the adoptive couple's choosing.
    • LDSFS will no longer run "Families Supporting Adoption," but will encourage families touched by adoption to continue their own support groups. From the outside, FSA may not even look like it changes very much, because there are so many wonderful volunteers that will keep it going (although the name might change). The adoption community in Utah is amazing!
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Those are all my notes! WHEW. It was a very informative Q&A and I was very glad that I went. All my questions were answered.

I love the direction they are going, ethically, in regards to expectant parents. And for me personally, I love the new website idea for increased exposure.

Adoption is still up in the air for us, so I'm not sure if any of these changes will actually matter much to us. Who knows? Maybe something will come up for us soon. But as we saw with both our Louisiana and Mississippi failed adoptions, if our children are meant to come to us from out of state, we may have to swallow the extra cost of hiring our own attorney in each state.

CLICK HERE to see our adoption profile right now as it's still listed on itsaboutlove.org (I'll be updating it with new family pics in a couple weeks!)

FSA adoption walk in honor of birth mothers. :)

Cute quote board I found, someone was selling. I want one!!






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