Catholic Charities Adoption Services and Specialized Foster Care staff members need only look at the pictures on the walls and the photographs tacked to the bulletin boards at their Harrisburg office as a reminder of what their work is all about – placing children into the loving arms of foster or adoptive parents.
Here, International Adoption Caseworker Gwen Pfeifer is ready to help adoptive parents welcome orphaned children from foreign countries into their new families.
Catholic Charities works with international adoption agencies that place children from all over the world, including Korea, China, Bulgaria, Columbia, the Philippines, Kazakhstan and Russia, and other countries. Referral time, travel, post-placement visits and costs vary by country.
But where do prospective parents begin?
“The first thing they ought to do after they review the adoption information is have an orientation meeting and list their priorities in adopting, because that will be key for them in selecting a country,” Ms. Pfeifer said during a recent interview at Catholic Charities Adoption Services and Specialized Foster Care offices, located just a few miles from downtown Harrisburg.
With more than 60 years of experience in adoption, Catholic Charities plays a significant role in the adoption process in an effort to assist parents and children at every step of the way.
Like other agencies, Catholic Charities performs a home study to determine whether a person or couple can provide a safe, healthy and loving home for a child. But their involvement doesn’t end when the home study is completed and the paperwork begins.
“What Catholic Charities does that other agencies might not do is really help the families go through the process, from filing with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtaining their paperwork for the dossier, which is the set of papers that gets sent to the country from which they adopt,” Ms. Pfeifer pointed out. “It’s an extra service that we provide.”
Kelly Bolton, Program Director of Catholic Charities Adoption Services and Specialized Foster Care, said that walking hand-in-hand with adoptive families through the process provides a tremendous relief to parents, many of whom “understandably have numerous questions along the way.”
Catholic Charities also provides adoptive parents with training so they can be prepared for their child’s arrival. The training sessions typically take place in groups, which gives adoptive families a chance to connect with one another.
“We discuss many things, including adoption language and what adoption means for the child and the family. We talk about different health issues, attachment issues, grief and loss, child development and parenting,” Ms. Pfeifer said.
Training is key to helping adoptive parents understand what to expect with their child, Mrs. Bolton noted.
“When they’re learning about child development, they come to know that kids who are institutionalized often have delays, such as with speech or motor skills,” she said. “So their expectations for a 6-month-old might be appropriate for the 9- or 10-month-old child they will bring home.”
Parents can expect that the child they adopt will be healthy, and they can elect to adopt a child with health issues.
When all the waiting is over, when the home study, paperwork and training are complete and the adopted child is brought home, Catholic Charities continues to offer support and services.
“It’s another benefit of adopting through Catholic Charities,” Ms. Pfeifer said. “Parents can call for additional training, to receive referrals for counseling or just to let us know how they are doing.”
The International Adoption program also requires a 30-day post-placement supervision visit in addition to visits required by the country from which the child is adopted. These visits allow Catholic Charities to detect any problems and assist families with securing support services if needed.
Ms. Pfeifer pointed out to those considering international adoption that prospective parents can look into it regardless of their age, that single people can adopt and that need-based grants are available. Moreover, Catholic Charities serves people of all faiths, not just those who are Catholic.
Ms. Pfeifer said she has been privileged to witness the joy that comes with adoption.
“Many of these parents have waited years to have a child. It’s just pure joy when their dream comes true. There are tears and a lot of smiles,” she said. “Parents instantly fall in love with their child. A lot of families will say that when they get their referral with the information about their child, there is an instant feeling of love.”