By Sarah Thompson, LCSW
Why was I placed for adoption? Didn’t my birth parents love me enough to keep me? What did they look like? I asked myself these questions during my childhood in Western Nebraska, where I was raised. I was adopted from South Korea when I was four months old. My adoptive family is and has always been loving and supportive… and yet I still had questions about my birth country and my birth parents.
It wasn’t until later in life that I would seek out answers. In September 2009, I traveled to South Korea to learn more about where my life began. I sat in a small conference room in the Post-Adoption office of Holt International in Seoul and listened to the adoption social worker disclose information about my birth parents and my life prior to the adoption. Even a decade later, I remember very distinctly what I was wearing and how nervous I felt- nervous to finally know more about my birth mother; nervous that the ideal birth mother image I had created in my head was not going to match reality. I listened very intently to the social worker, almost as if she were divulging a secret. I cannot remember every emotion that passed through my body because, well, there were just too many.
After two hours of being on an emotional roller coaster, the meeting ended. I thanked the social worker for speaking with me. As I walked away, hundreds of different feelings and thoughts swarmed my head. For hours after the meeting ended, all I could do was try to process the information she had given me. I had walked into her office at Holt International as one person and had left it as a new person. Then, I had an epiphany: God’s plan for me was to become a social worker and help children to have the same opportunities that I have had with a forever family.
Soon after my trip to South Korea I returned to Chicago and began my graduate studies at Loyola University Chicago. I obtained my Master of Social Work degree and later became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. In the last eight years, I have worked in all facets of adoption – public, private, and international. As a social worker at the Center for Law and Social Work (CLSW), I work closely with families who are completing successor public adoptions and guardianships. This includes children who were previously adopted but the caregiver either became incapacitated or passed away and the children are now being re-adopted by another caregiver. As part of the adoption process, I meet with the family in their home to interview them, speak with additional collateral references, and complete the documents necessary to the process. My ultimate goal in my work is to help these families overcome any barriers that may arise between the moment they decide to adopt, and the moment that they stand in court to finalize the adoption.
Being an adopted person and working in this field has been both rewarding and challenging. I have been a part of countless adoptions and have seen firsthand the smiles, laughs, hugs, and tears of happiness from the adoptees and the adoptive parents. Helping to create more love within a family warms my heart as a social worker. But I have also seen families struggling to find resources, and children feeling “lost.” These obstacles can affect an entire family unit. Luckily, for public adoptive families, CLSW and the Post Adoption unit at DCFS can aid in locating services in their communities. Connecting families with community resources is key to a successful post-adoption.
CLSW provides additional services outside of public adoptions – short-term guardianships, adult guardianships, standby adoption/guardianships, matching children with appropriate families, educational advocacy, and counseling for current college-aged and former college sexual assault survivors. These programs are vital to many families in Illinois. CLSW has offices in Springfield and Chicago and works in all counties throughout the state. Our social workers will travel near or far to families in order to help with their needs.
Passion for family advocacy is one characteristic I have seen from all my colleagues at CLSW. They all strive to uphold CLSW’s mission of providing the highest quality service to achieve the best outcome. As my dad says when someone asks him about adoption, “A family grows from the heart.” CLSW will help grow your family.
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. If you would like to learn more about CLSW Adoption Services, click here. To visit the Heart Gallery of Illinois and view children in need of forever families, click here.