Holt’s post adoption team shares about what they do, and what inspires their commitment to the families and adoptees they serve.
Sunday Silver, Director of Post Adoption Services:
I have served as the director of Post Adoption Services since 2006. Over the past 7 years, I have helped create a post adoption quarterly e-newsletter, presented post adoption webinars and have networked with other agencies to find ways to collaborate in providing services to adoptees and families.
While I have been the director for seven years, I started working at Holt 21 years ago. Even though the bulk of my responsibilities are administrative, nothing has touched me more than working directly with this population of people we serve. Through the years, I have provided counseling and referrals to adoptive parents, adoptees and birth parents who need a listening ear and resources to help them navigate through the different issues adoption brings. It has been my privilege and honor to be a small, albeit temporary, part of their lives as they share their deepest thoughts and pains.
Working at Holt as long as I have, I have had the opportunity to see children I placed as a social worker grow to adulthood. One particular case comes to mind. When I first came to Holt, I coordinated Holt’s pregnancy counseling program and provided counseling to women experiencing unplanned pregnancies. One particular birth mother I worked with early in my career was about 16 years old when I first met her. Her parents were extremely angry when they found out she was pregnant. They brought her to Holt for help. I met with her throughout her pregnancy, helping her decide whether to parent or make an adoption plan. After several sessions with her — and hearing from her parents that they would not help her raise her child — she came to the difficult decision to place her child for adoption. The birth father was not in the picture. She chose her child’s adoptive parents after viewing several family portfolios, and we scheduled a meeting with them. The meeting was difficult at first, but after some time, they began getting acquainted with each other. After the meeting, the birth mother stated that she felt she found the right parents for her unborn child.
After the child was born, I went to the hospital to visit with her and discuss whether she wanted to continue her plan. With tears in her eyes, she nodded her head. We went through the task of signing the paperwork. I asked her if she wanted to see the adoptive parents and she shook her head, saying it would be too hard. So she asked her parents to hand her baby girl over to the adoptive parents, which they did, not realizing how difficult it would also be for them.
I will never forget the anguish on their faces as they handed their first grandchild over to the adoptive parents, begging them to take good care of her. The adoptive parents cried as well, and assured them they would. We then left the room to give the adoptive parents time with their child. I attempted to comfort the grieving grandparents as best I could. We walked to their daughter’s room, where I talked with them and set up additional meetings to help them through the grieving process. We had one or two meetings afterwards.
Every year, the adoptive parents sent me photos and a letter to the birth mother, informing her how their daughter was doing. Every year, I would read through the letter, look at the photos and be amazed at how time flies. I would forward these updates to the birth mother. This continued for 18 years.
Then one day, I received a call from the adoptee. That little baby girl I helped place with her adoptive parents 18 years ago. She was now on the phone asking if she could meet her birth mother. I contacted the birth mother, whom I had not spoken with in 18 years, and told her that her daughter wanted to meet her. She was surprised and thrilled. She did not hesitate in her answer. After both mother and daughter signed the appropriate paperwork, I was able to put them in contact with each other.
I have not heard from either of them since. I can only assume that they are getting acquainted with each other and are doing well. I am honored, proud and thankful that I was able to play a part in this process.
This is why I do what I do. This is why I have been with Holt for as long as I have — to make a difference in people’s lives, to be there when needed most.
As the director of Post Adoption Services, I get to hear the experience of all involved in an adoption, both the bad and the good. Although we no longer provide pregnancy counseling in the U.S., I still sometimes hear from birth mothers who I counseled, and are now searching for their child. More often, today, I help adoptive families and adoptees with questions they have. I listen and develop ways to improve services not just post adoption, but before as well. By listening to those who are touched by adoption, we may develop better ways to minimize the loss, the pain and the trauma that adoption can bring. I get to be a part of this change. And although listening to these experiences can, at times, be difficult, it is through this sharing that I can become a better social worker — and we, as an agency, can develop more effective ways to serve our families, throughout their lives.
Debby Hanson, Administrative Coordinator for Post Adoption Services:
I’ve been the administrative coordinator for Post Adoption Services for eight years, although my connection to Holt began almost 20 years ago when I adopted my son through Holt. As a native Oregonian, I’d heard about the Holts for years, but really didn’t know much about the work they (now we) do for so many different people from different countries. Holt has had adoption programs in over 30 countries during our long history. Post Adoption Services works with all of our adoptees, their adoptive families and their birth families, for as long as we are needed.
What do I do? My job description is so long I’d have to write a book to hold it all. Nearly all contacts for the post adoption department come through me. Last year, that was over 4,000 contacts or services provided to adoptees, adoptive families, overseas partners, birth families, friends of adoptees and the post-adoption service providers of other agencies. I provide file copies, help adoptees with their U.S. citizenship issues, discuss personal histories with adoptees and adoptive parents, provide search and reunion services for birth parents and adult adoptees, edit the quarterly e-newsletter, assist with travel plans for adoptees and families returning to the birth country, provide cultural information, provide orphanage photos and information, reconnect adoptees and birth parents, assist with the development of new programming, webinars and web content, and maintain the 43,000+ physical files in Holt’s vaults.
Why do I do what I do? On a personal level, I’ve stayed in this position at Holt because of the variety. I’m in a unique position to provide adoptees information about themselves that they didn’t know the day before. I can help an adoptive mom obtain a passport so her teenager can be a part of their student exchange program. I work with adoptees who don’t know if they are U.S. citizens — helping them navigate the system to obtain the proof they need, reassuring them that what feels like insurmountable problems can be resolved. I share the joy of helping a birth mom who lives in another country and speaks another language reconnect with the child, now adult, they relinquished so long ago. I listen to the tears, the fears, and the emotions expressed by anyone who has been touched by adoption. Sometimes I can’t “fix” the problem; sometimes all I can do is listen.
I work with Holt’s director of adoptee services, Steve Kalb, referring adoptees who need to be heard, and working to shape programming so we as an agency and as a department do a better job than we did yesterday. I work with Sunday Silver, director of post adoption services, referring adoptive parents to her who also need to be heard, and to shape programming to better serve everyone. I communicate every day with the people who work so hard in country to provide services not only to the children in their care, but to birth families, adoptees and adoptive families. I have the opportunity to learn about so many other cultures and to provide that information when asked. Knowing the culture of the country they came from isn’t important to everyone. But if it is, I have the opportunity to help them discover it.
This isn’t easy work for any of us, but it’s work that I’m extremely passionate about. Adoption is hard. It’s loss, it’s emotional, and it’s happy and sad at the same time. As an adoptive parent, I have one perspective on adoption. Working at Holt has given me the opportunity to hear the perspectives of adoptees and birth families, and I appreciate it more than I can express. I appreciate Holt’s commitment to effecting change, and to continually expanding and improving our services for everyone. The short answer? I love it.
Steve Kalb, Director of Adoptee Services:
I’ve worked at Holt for nine years, all of which have been in the post adoption department. In my first seven years, my main role was as adoptee camp director. I was able to learn from hundreds of adoptees about what it’s like growing up adopted around the country. It was an incredibly rich and humbling experience.
Currently, as the director of adoptee services, I’m able to take what I’ve learned from the campers and shape post adoption practice and policy around the lessons they’ve taught me: we’re not alone, community is important, race and identity matter, and search for self never ends.
A Q&A with Steve —
Did you grow up going to camp?
I didn’t go to any camps period as a kid. The Holt Midwest Camp didn’t even exist when I was growing up.
You have said that the need for a strong adoptee community guides your advocacy work at Holt. Growing up, did you struggle to find an adoptee community?
My sisters are adopted. But there wasn’t a community of adoptees around me. I don’t think an adoptee community really even exists. That’s the whole purpose of my work.
How do you envision creating an adoptee community?
First, we need to establish an adoptee identity. We need to allow people to identify as adopted – to have that as an option in addition to Asian or Black or Latino.
Do you feel there’s too much emphasis placed on race?
No, I think there’s too much emphasis placed on the birth culture experience. Racial background doesn’t get enough emphasis. Historically, adoptees have been identified with their birth culture; “Korean adoptee” is typical. Birth culture isn’t satisfying for adoptees for explaining why they are different. It is until they are 4 or 5 years old, but then birth culture as presented and prioritized for them does not give enough rationale for why they are different. As they grow older, they require a more complex explanation.
My work here has really shined the spotlight on this as an area that could really use addressing.
How have you shaped Holt camps to address these issues and meet the needs of young adoptees?
The camp program is designed around the adoptee experience. Activities revolve around adoption, identity, race and racism, birth parents and birth search. These are changes I introduced in 2006. In 2005, during my first year, it was still the old system of birth culture. It wasn’t working for me, or the kids.
The predominant model of adoptee camp still revolves around a birth culture and ethnic heritage approach. Ours is the only camp that focuses on the adoptee experience.
Describe a typical day at camp.
A vast majority of the camp is taken up by games, swimming, typical outdoor activities. We have two activities a day – one in the morning and one in the evening – that focus on adoptee issues. Generally, we use activities that allow them to think about how others see them and how they see themselves.
What do you hope campers will gain from the experience – and that maybe you missed out on growing up?
I want the campers to understand that they are not alone in their adoption story and experience. I never really felt alone in my experience as kid. But it’s something that I never had the chance to talk about growing up. I think there are thousands of kids like me experiencing similar situations.
As a post-adoption services social worker, you also help adoptees with birth search counseling and accessing background information. That’s a very important role …
Basically, I end up being a listening ear for adoptees who are searching or are being searched for. I allow them to grieve or feel whatever they are feeling.
Pame Chow, Administrative Coordinator for Adoptee Services:
My name is Pame Chow. I have worked at Holt International for over 10 years. I am an adoptive mom of a beautiful girl from China. My passion at work is really the children. Seeing their pictures and hearing the stories is something I can never get enough of. I would love to some day travel overseas and be able to see the children first hand, give hugs and spend some quality time with them.
I have worked in several areas at Holt throughout the years, starting out as receptionist and then moving into the adoption process. I am now in the post adoption department. I believe that the work we do in post adoption services is really important for the children and the families to show that Holt is truly always there for them. As the Holt Adoptee Camp registrar, parents tell me how important it is for their children to connect with other adoptees. I have heard many times from parents that their child didn’t want to leave camp and cannot wait for next season. It’s experiences like these that keep me motivated and engaged with Post Adoption Services.
I also collect and compile annual reports from families that we send on to adoption authorities in the children’s birth countries. I enjoy seeing the children’s photos, and finding out how they are growing and changing. Seeing families with their children reminds me that the work we do at Holt International keeps our hearts — and our priorities — in the right place; we always put the best interest and welfare of children first. Sometimes, I wonder if Bertha and Harry Holt knew when they founded Holt International, that it would continue for more than 55 years. No matter the struggles they faced, they always came through and continued on.
My daughter is now grown, but I still vividly remember the feeling of holding her in my arms for the first time. That will never leave me. And when I hear families’ stories of finally holding their child, it brings back wonderful memories for me.
This is the first job that I have had in my life that I truly take pride in. It takes everyone at Holt to accomplish our mission. Our sponsorship department is continually growing, and I believe that it is so important to be able to support a child. Anyone can sponsor a child and the benefits and rewards of getting updates are so fulfilling. If families are not able to adopt or feel that it is not right for their family, then they can certainly sponsor a child. Such a small gift can do wonders for a child overseas.
Working on the post adoption team has been such an easy transition for me. I’m able to see Holt’s work from the beginning to the end of the process and beyond for families. It just reinforces for me that Holt is all about the best interest of every child.