Making Families: Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption

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Anna Witteman
DiIrdre Mccool
From left, Sara, Rachelle (mom), Addison, James and Sela
Holmes Home of Redeeming Love in Guthrie, Oklahoma
Sister Anna Wittman and Mrs, Ida Graham with a host of passengers
Owen, Cooper, Emery, Sadie
Tia with birth daughter Erin

Making Families: Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption Services

By Tim Farley

Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption Services has placed 7,000 children with loving families since the agency started 115 years ago, but Deirdre McCool believes there’s always more work to be done.

“Our goal is to have more waiting families than kids who need adopted,” said McCool, the agency’s executive director. “We want to provide an abundance of hope for everyone involved. We provide adoption as another alternative to mothers who are going through an unplanned pregnancy.”

The decisions expectant mothers face can be heart-wrenching and difficult to make. In some cases, women have been sexually assaulted and decided to carry the baby to full-term while still making adoption plans. However, the sometimes-painful process can be eased since the birth mother is allowed to choose which family will adopt her baby. She’s also given the opportunity to continue to be a part of the child’s life with an open adoption.

“She gets to meet the family and many women choose to have the family with them at the hospital and then they take the baby home from there,” McCool said. “The decision to make an adoption plan is the most difficult decision you’ll ever make, especially in a culture that promotes death.”

Open adoptions became the norm because adults who were once adopted wanted to know their birth parents and to uncover information from their past.

“They wanted to understand why they had freckles and red hair or why they have a learning disability,” McCool said. “We believe it helps them develop more holistically.”

The number of fathers who remain part of an adopted child’s life is low. Figures show less than 10 percent of birth fathers maintain any connection with the child.

Typically, about 150 women come to the adoption agency each year with 20 to 25 making official adoption plans. The agency also certifies 30 to 35 adoptive families in the infant program, McCool said.

“We help women whether they’re making parenting plans or adoption plans,” she said. “We equip them to be better parents.”

Although the agency no longer has a maternity home, it helps the women with shelter, clothing and food costs during their pregnancy.

Typically, women who make adoption plans are 25 to 34 years-old. Other than that, the demographics are off the chart.

“They can be married or single. Race and income doesn’t matter. There are no perimeters. We’re here for anyone experiencing an unplanned pregnancy,” McCool said.

Aging Out

While most adoptive families favor infants, other families choose older children because they fit their current situation. Generally, Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption Services handle between five and 10 adoptions for older children annually.

Many times, the older children have significant trauma histories, including emotional and behavioral challenges, McCool said.

“But some families already have other children and want to make a difference in an older child’s life,” she said.

Unfortunately, 10 to 15 percent of foster children hit legal age without being adopted, which can lead to future problems. Within one year, about 50 percent of the females will become pregnant and 30 percent of all former foster children will be arrested by the time they reach 21, according to statistics provided by the Deaconess agency.

In 2014, more than 280 aged-out youth in Oklahoma left foster care without a family.

More than 500,000 children are in foster care throughout the country and 20 percent will wait five or more years for a “forever” family, statistics show.

In Oklahoma, 30 percent of former foster children do not have a high school diploma with more children added to the foster care rolls each year. The Department of Human Services foster care program experienced a 40 percent increase in the number of children from 2010 to 2014. In 2010, there were 7,970 in DHS custody, and four years later that number had jumped to 11,573.

“Our mission is to provide families for children,” McCool said. “But, it’s not as simple as it sounds.”

Families must be thoroughly vetted and home studies are conducted by DHS workers. Sometimes, that can be a daunting experience for couples wanting to adopt. Women, in particular, are dealing with the loss of a dream, which is to give birth.

“Now, they have to prove they can be a good parent,” McCool said.

As difficult as that process can be, adoption agencies are thrilled when they can find good homes for children. Even more exciting is when those children – now adults – stay in touch.

“We helped place a girl 19 years ago and I’ve been invited to her wedding,” McCool said, with a smile. “Another young girl we placed later competed in the Miss America pageant and adoption became her platform.”

Deaconess also maintains an active search and reunion department, which brings adult children in touch with their birth parents. The program began in 1997 and has facilitated more than 200 reunions.

“We reunited a 92-year-old birth mom with her 52-year-old son,” McCool recalled. “She was so excited to meet him.”

Fundraising

Money remains a critical part of the adoption process, so fundraising is a necessity for Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption Services.

The agency’s biggest fundraiser, Angels of Destiny 2015, is scheduled Aug. 25 at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The keynote speaker will be actor Kevin Sorbo who is best known for roles of Hercules in “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” Captain Dylan Hunt in “Andromeda” and Kull in “Kull the Conqueror.”

For more information about adoption or the fundraiser, visit www.deaconessadoption.org or call 405-949-4200 or 1-800-567-6631. The Oklahoma City-based nonprofit agency is located at 7101 Northwest Expressway, Suite 325.

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