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Today's Family Magazine

The Adoption Network brings people together

By Deanna Adams

Did you know that November is National Adoption Month?  Its purpose is to enhance awareness about the urgent need for adoptive families for children and youth in foster care. It began in 1984, when President Reagan proclaimed the first National Adoption Week, and in 1995, President Clinton extended it to the entire month.  Three years later, Clinton directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to extend the use of the Internet as a tool to find homes for children waiting to be adopted from foster care.

Before that, the topic of adoptions was held behind closed doors, as well as closed records.  While some stigmas remain surrounding the subject, thankfully that is lessening due to increased openness, heightened interest in genealogy, and overall acceptance throughout society.  In the past 30 years, the adoption arena has broadened into a wide spectrum of diverse avenues, and now embraces millions of personal stories.

No one knows that better than Betsie Norris.  After two years of searching for her birth parents in the mid-’80s, Norris decided to use her personal experience, and vast information she’d acquired, to help others.  And so, she founded Adoption Network Cleveland in 1988.

“I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, and back then, the subject of adoption was swept under the rug, no one talked about it,” says Norris, who serves as executive director for the nonprofit organization.  “Fortunately, I had parents who were very open with me about my being adopted, so it was a positive thing for me.  Still, I began wondering about things in my teens.  Like where I got my red hair, what my medical history was, and so forth.”

Norris became an RN, specializing in children’s mental health, and that increased her interest in her own background.  She ultimately found a book, The Adoption Triangle, that was full of information on the topic. “That opened up everything,” she recalls.  “Including finding out that anyone born before 1964 had access to their birth certificate.  In the previous law, everything was closed after that year.  Around the same time, there were more stories in the news about adoption searches, and reunion stories among adoptees and their birth parents.”

She says she stumbled her way through the maze.  “It took a year to get information that today would take a day.”

What she discovered was a rather unusual case.  “My birth parents actually did get married, and I discovered I have three full siblings.”

The reunion went very well, she says.  “After that, I was on fire!  I really wanted to explore the social injustice of not having access to personal information, the shroud of secrecy surrounding adoptions, and how important it is to have people around that can help you sort out all the facts and emotions that go with it.  I felt no one should have to go through all that alone.  It’s so deeply personal.”

Norris’s mission has always been to be a support group for parents and children looking to find a missing piece of the puzzle of their lives, but she admits that in the beginning, there was a lot to learn.  “I hardly knew anything about what a nonprofit is all about,” she says. But her passion to help others drove her and she learned quickly.  Today, her agency is a standout success and renowned throughout the country.

Their services includes four “hubs” to cover all avenues of adoption: Family (Adoption, Foster and Kinship), Adult Adoptee & Birthparent, Foster Youth & Alumni, and Advocacy & Public Policy.  It takes more than 20 staff members to keep the agency running smoothly.

“My job is to give people guidance,” says Julius Jackson, who began as a volunteer and now serves as permanency navigator and training coordinator.  “Many are just starting out on this journey and know nothing about the process so I give them the information they need to get on the right path.”

Jackson helps prospective, adoptive, kinship, and foster parents, before, during, and after their journey. He also coordinates the professional trainings offered at Adoption Network Cleveland through the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program (OCWTP).  He says that the challenge, and importance, to help people and families has only increased in the past decade.  The need for fostering and adopting is greater than ever.  “The drug epidemic has brought a huge urgency,” he says.  “We all need to step up and help however we can.  Because these young people are our future.”  

Their website notes some startling statistics, including the fact that out of over 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S., 114,556 of them cannot be safely reunited with their families and are awaiting adoption. Many will languish for years in foster homes or institutions.

However, the Adoption Network has played a large part in producing many success stories.  The organization continues to promote community awareness and social change by advocating for progressive policies and openness in practice, policy, and law, at the local, state, and federal levels.  To increase that awareness, Norris is excited about their upcoming conference to be held on March 20 and 21, 2020.  “Our keynote speaker will be Sharon Roszia, who is a seasoned professional and has made this her life’s work.”  Norris says.  “She has so much knowledge when it comes to adoption and has a new book out called, Seven Core Issues in Adoption.  We can all learn from her expertise.” The theme of the conference will be on ethical issues in adoption.

The agency also welcomes volunteers.  Jeff Faubert has been involved with the organization for four years. “After having custody of two of my great nieces in kinship care, I saw firsthand what great organizations like Adoption Network Cleveland can do.  I give my time to put smiles on faces, and to let the kids and foster parents know that other people care about them.  The bonus is all the friends I meet along the way.”

The Adoption Network Cleveland is located at 4614 Prospect Avenue, Suite 550, in Cleveland.  To get involved or learn more about the agency, visit or call (216) 325-1000.

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