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VOL. 124 | NO. 219 | Friday, November 6, 2009

Adoption Support Center’s McDonald Honored for Successful Work

By Tom Wilemon

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Michael McDonald
Position: Director
Organization: The Adoption Support Center
Basics: The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute recently named McDonald an “Angel in Adoption.”

Michael McDonald knows some of the biggest hurdles in adopting a child come after the deed is done.

Studies have shown the failure rate for adoptions can be as high as 25 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but that is not the case when families receive training and counseling through a program administered by The Adoption Support Center, a division of Agape Child & Family Services Inc.

McDonald, the center’s director, has helped achieve a 98.9 percent success rate when families receive training and counseling through that program. For this achievement and others, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute recently named McDonald an “Angel in Adoption.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, selected McDonald for the honor. He and more than 190 “angels” from around the country traveled to Washington in September to discuss adoption issues. Today, McDonald is sharing his knowledge at a regional adoption conference.

Concerns to work through

Some of the more pressing adoption issues are more restrictions on international adoptions, a lack of follow-up support for young adults after they emerge from foster care and the high rate of African-American male teenagers who need homes.

“Kids are aging out of the foster care system without being prepared to live a successful life as an adult, having no one to turn to, no where to go to for support,” McDonald said. “With kids that have been adopted, especially out of the foster care system, they come with some baggage as a result of having to be removed from their families and also possible abuse and neglect that they went through.”

Of the 135,000 adoptions that occur each year in the U.S., 59 percent are child welfare adoptions, 26 percent are international adoptions and 15 percent are infant adoptions, he said.

“There are a lot of children domestically that need homes. Every year, there are 13,000 to 15,000 that are infants adopted … but really the majority of adoptions that occur in the U.S. are adoptions from the foster care system.”
– Michael McDonald

“There are a lot of children domestically that need homes,” McDonald said. “Every year, there are 13,000 to 15,000 that are infants adopted, the babies that most people think of, but really the majority of adoptions that occur in the U.S. are adoptions from the foster care system.”

McDonald has been working in adoption at Agape for nine years. A Missouri native, he has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Harding University in Searcy, Ark., and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Improving the percentages

Since 2005, the Adoption Support Center has grown from serving 280 youths to nearly 2,750.

“When we first started, we basically were doing just adoptions and foster care. Now we do a lot of education,” McDonald said. “We probably serve about 600 kids and then their extended family members in individual counseling and family counseling. We have support groups that meet on a monthly basis. We’re working with those families.”

The center also provides training about infant adoptions to nurses and social workers from Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. The center strives to make adoptions successful whether the children are infants, born in foreign lands or teenagers.

“Up to 25 percent of all adoptions can fail,” McDonald said. “That means a child goes back into state custody or even an international adoption – if a child was adopted internationally and the adoption dissolves where the child can no longer stay with the family – if they are adopted internationally, they don’t go back to that country, they end up in our state foster care. Nationally, that’s the kind of failure rate for adoptions due to lots of different variables.”

However, less than 2 percent of adoptions fail when families go through Agape’s Adoption Support and Preservation Program.

“The post-adopt counseling and support that we provide has been really the main factor in the change,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s just the knowledge that there’s somebody there to help and somebody there to support them when they need it.”

With international adoptions, many countries are enacting tougher regulations or closing their borders. Most international adoptions are of children around the ages of 4 or 5, McDonald said.

“Some are even like 10 years old,” he said. “That has been a trend, because there’s been fewer infants available through international adoptions even. With international adoptions, more countries are kind of closing their doors or tightening their restrictions. Even with China, it’s gotten very difficult to adopt from China – one place people think of most whenever they think of international adoptions.”

Meanwhile, one group of children in the United States await homes.

“The greatest need is for families that are willing to adopt African-American teen males,” McDonald said. “There are more African-American teen males in the foster care system waiting for a family than any other type of group.”

Many African-American women are adopting these teenagers even though they are single.

“There’s a huge need for mentors, people who can be there to help support these great women who are adopting these teens,” McDonald said.

“Really, they are the angels doing that every day.”

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