A native of New Jersey, Tara McAvoy, LHMC, most recently lived in Maine and moved to Rhode Island because her wife, a United Methodist Minister, was transferred to a church in Hope, RI. They are the parents of an active four-year-old boy.
As JCS’ Adoption Coordinator, Tara McAvoy oversees the agency’s Adoption Options and works closely with Director of Clinical and Community Services Janelle (JC) Roussel, Adoption Social Worker Shelley Katsh, and Administrative Assistant Marcie Ingber. Tara joined JCS in mid-October 2020, and currently works part-time.
Q: Although you started work at JCS in the midst of COVID, you had other adoption experience before that. What’s different under COVID; is the adoption process more challenging now?
A: A lot of adoption programs were put on hold at the beginning of COVID, as agencies needed to get permission from licensing agencies to use telehealth video platforms and develop processes to ensure people’s health and safety when face-to-face contact was required.
The biggest change is that virtual contact is much more flexible; people can log on wherever they are and don’t need to worry about commuting time, etc., to meet with anyone. It’s beneficial, as I can reach a wider range of people at different times.
Q: What’s happening currently with Adoption Options?
A: We work with prospective adoptive parents who are residents of Rhode Island or Massachusetts to complete home studies and do postplacement visits that are required for the adoption process. The prospective adoptive individual or couple also works with a placing agency that is responsible for matching a baby/child with the family. We work with both domestic and international adoptions.
We have applications coming in and we continue to be busy. We have shifted a lot of our work with clients to telehealth modalities and only do the legally required face-to-face visits to ensure everyone’s health and safety. In addition to home studies and post-placement visits, the program offers free informational meetings for people to learn about adoption and post-adoption support for families.
Q: Are adoption philosophies or approaches changing? If so, how and why?
A: The culture in the United States is very different than it was 25 or 30 years ago around unwed mothers, adoption, and abortion, which all change how adoptions happen. On the domestic front, adoptions have changed from being completely confidential to having some level of openness. There was a belief that it was best for everyone to maintain confidentiality in adoption so that a child could bond with the adoptive family. Current research has shown this is not the most beneficial approach for all members of the adoption triad. While in the past, agencies chose the family a child was placed with, now the birth parents most frequently choose the family from a list of prospective adoptive parents. The birth family looks through profiles and expresses an interest in the family they would like to see their child placed with. There is a meeting or some form of information exchange between birth and adoptive families and both must agree on the match.
There is an understanding that a more open relationship between birth and adoptive families benefits everyone. “Openness” can mean anything from confidential exchanges of information and/or photos through the adoption agency, a private Facebook page, a burner cell phone for the adoptive family, to in-person meetings and shared holidays or vacations. While most of the agencies I know do things old school – through paper, rather than through technology – there are so many ways to support families in some level of openness.
It is my professional opinion that adoptees have a right to their story and their information. This information should be shared in developmentally appropriate ways throughout their life. Many states have laws that ensure adoptees have access to their original birth certificate once they become adults. In general, the idea of a completely closed adoption is impossible now; many families, even those involved in completely closed adoptions, are finding each other through technology, such as 23andMe. com; Ancestry.com.; etc. Complete confidentiality can’t be guaranteed any more.
Q: You are an adoptive mother. How do you think that informs your work as an adoption professional and your relationships with prospective adoptive parents?
A: I have been a counselor for many years with a focus on work with young children and families. After the adoption of my son, I realized I wanted to work professionally in the field of adoption. Once I began work in the field, I realized how much I loved it and had a passion for working with all members of the adoption triad. When we moved from Maine, I was so excited to find this position at JCS, as there aren’t a ton of positions open in this field and I thought I would not be able to do this work that I love.
My own path in adoption has informed so much of how I think about adoption and work with all members of the triad. I know the anxiety of a home study process and work hard to put families at ease. I want them to know that, while it is partially an evaluation, it is really a time for me to help them sort out their own hopes and dreams. I know what a failed adoption feels like and work really hard to minimize that risk for families and prepare them for that possibility, as it is always a birth family’s right to not follow through with an adoption plan. That decision can never be fully made until the baby is born. It was also the adoption of my son and meeting a birth mother who wanted visits, which I had never considered, that led me to research openness and decide on an open adoption for my son. For my wife and me, open adoption means that we text frequently with the birth mother to check-in and share pictures. We also more formally create and send Lifebook updates on our son and have visited twice a year. My personal experience in adoption has led me to believe there is no one “right” level of openness between adoptive and birth families. It is about both families having a similar desire for the level of openness; it is about a good fit.
While I have a fully open adoption, I do not believe that is best for every family or situation. While I openly share with clients that I am an adoptive mother, I rarely share the details of that adoption with clients. As an adoption worker, my role is to help families discern what is best for them and I do not want my story to influence their choices.
Q: What’s a good day at work for you? And a good day at home?
A: A good day for me at work is when I help people define what they are looking for in the adoption process. It is really satisfying when I help prospective adoptive parents overcome their fears and misconceptions and help them own what matters to them in the adoption process. My goal is to support prospective adoptive parents in finding the right fit for their family. At home, a good day for me is one spent with my family; we have an incredibly active son who loves all things running. My son’s first two sentences were, “No nap. I run.” That sums up his personality; anytime we can be active and use up my son’s energy makes for a good day. My ideal day is one spent playing at the playground or out in nature.
For more information about adoption resources, contact Tara McAvoy at 401.331.5437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.