The Adoption Network Cleveland and Its Incredible Influence in the Community
The Adoption Network Cleveland has touched the lives of people near and far with their innovative methods of educating, advocating, informing, and supporting those who have been involved with the adoption, kinship, or foster care process, including some associated with the Skylight Foundation.
Executive Director Betsie Norris created the organization in 1988 during her 20s after going through the search and reunion process with little to no resources as an adoptee. She was blessed to grow up in a household with supportive parents who were very open about her adoption, but she quickly realized that not every adoptee had the same situation. “Growing up in the 60s and 70s, there was a shroud of secrecy over adoption, and people didn’t talk about it openly,” Betsie shared. It became clear to her that there needed to be a place for people to freely talk about their experiences and provide support for all aspects of the adoption community.
Adoption Network Cleveland is an inclusive community organization. It encompasses the whole adoption community by providing a wide variety of resources for adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive/kinship/foster parents. “Our role in the community is to pick up where adoption agencies leave off. We try to provide services and support that are needed but cannot be found anywhere else,” Betsie said.
Joe Brennan, Adoption Network Cleveland Board Member, adoptive parent, and son of Dan Brennan (President of the Skylight Foundation), wholeheartedly agrees:
“After adopting our daughter from out of state, I realized we were so wrapped in finalizing the process that my wife and I had never stopped to reflect on our new unique family. We were so happy to find the Adoption Network Cleveland and get involved in their programming to meet and discuss with other people who had gone through the same or similar experiences. It was – and continues to be – refreshing to meet and learn from people with their own personal perspectives on adoption, foster, and kinship care – particularly those with experiences different than our own. We have already formed friendships with other ANC members and look forward to continuing our investment in the organization so that it may become an even stronger resource for our community.”
The Adoption Network Cleveland expanded its footprint statewide when it took on the cause of open adoption records. “I grew up with flaming red hair, and everyone would ask me if I was Irish, to which I had no idea how to respond because I had no information on my background,” said Betsie. Part of the problem was that, at the time, Ohio (like many states) sealed original birth certificates for adoptees. The only available record was the revised birth certificate reflecting the adoptive parents, effectively cutting off the ability to learn more about adoptees' birth ethnicities, cultures, and even potentially important medical information. After nearly 35 years of hard work, Adoption Network Cleveland, under the guidance of Betsie, was able to usher new legislation into the Ohio General Assembly. The result was a new law in 2015 effectively granting every Ohio adoptee the right to their original birth certificate. The law has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people, allowing them to get the basic information to which everyone should be entitled.
Unlocking records was only the first step. Since assisting in the passage of the open records laws, Adoption Network Cleveland further expanded on its mission of assisting adoptees in learning more about their personal background by offering additional services such as background research and DNA testing services for adoptees. “What took me a year to find out about myself can now be done within five minutes,” said Betsie.
The Adoption Network Cleveland is made up of a small staff who have been professionally trained in various areas, with the majority being volunteers. Volunteers are crucial for the reach and success that the Network has on the community. “We use volunteers for almost everything. We interview folks when they first express interest to find where their passion is so we can use them in areas that will be of mutual benefit,” Betsie said. Through the hard work of these volunteers and its small staff, Adoption Network Cleveland proudly offers many resources that significantly impact all children in the adoption system, particularly older children seeking to be matched with a family before aging out of the system. Fundraising and raising awareness to the surrounding communities are key elements of its mission and educational programs, professional training, conferences, speaker series, and access to additional education on adoption and kinship beyond the agency aspect.
The Adoption Network prides itself on continually searching for ways to help the adoption community and to educate the public. Where there is a need, they are sure to do their best to fill it to make sure everyone in the adoption community feels supported and heard. The Skylight Foundation supports the Adoption Network Cleveland and the incredible influence that they have had in the community.
Thanks for sharing, Betsie, and for continuing to do amazing things! For more information on services and resources mentioned above provided by the Adoption Network Cleveland, head to www.adoptionnetwork.org.