Kim Harrell, program director for Catholic Charities’ Pregnancy and Adoption Support (PAS), explains the internet’s effect on adoption and ways that Catholic Charities balances face-to-face services with an online presence.
How long have you been working with birth parents and adoptive families?
I have been working in the field of adoption for over 20 years. When I first started this work the internet was not a factor, but as the internet has become a part of everyday life and “googling” has become a verb, we have seen its influence in adoption. When a woman discovers she is unexpectedly pregnant and is looking for help, she takes to the internet. When a family wants to adopt, they go to the internet. This is a very valuable tool but all those involved in adoption are vulnerable and still require a human “touch” and personal face-to-face contact.
What are some of the benefits associated with the rise of internet-based adoption?
The internet is a great place to start your research. Our website answers questions and myths, details the services we offer and profiles couples waiting to adopt. However, we also have social workers on staff to meet with parents face-to-face, a critical component of the adoption process.
What are some of the risks associated with internet-based adoption?
Choosing to conduct all of your adoption services over the internet becomes dangerously impersonal. It’s especially challenging for birth mothers. Adoptive families are required to work with at least one local agency, but birth mothers can set up an adoption completely over the internet. Without a personal connection, they don’t have anyone to fall back on when times get tough. These women need a human touch, a support group or professional counseling. Local agencies provide those services, but the nature of the internet removes this component.
How are you trying to work against this growing trend in internet-based adoption?
Well, the answer isn’t what you’re thinking… We’re actually going to the source, the internet. Our goal is to have an increased presence on the internet and social media. When people start searching for answers, we want to be on page 1, not page 5. We believe that people will choose a local agency over an online agency if we are easily accessible. We want the parents to know that we offer face-to-face services, and we will go to them if they need us to. Just as Christ went from town to town, so do we.
So what kind of face-to-face services does PAS provide?
We work with anyone touched by adoption, not just families that went through us. I like to say that “everybody needs a somebody” in adoption. We of- fer counseling and a birth parent support group that meets once a month. Some of the members placed their child recently and others placed their child more than 20 years ago. We also have a picnic around Mother’s Day each year to recognize these women even though they may not be parenting their child. We provide a variety of services and resources for adoptive families and those waiting to adopt. We like to bring adoptive families together and facilitate this through meet and greet events, picnics, etc. with our Friends of Adoption group.
Why do you believe that PAS is the best agency to provide these services?
Catholic Charities has been doing this work for as long as any agency in the area. For me and my employees, I would say it’s our life’s work. This isn’t just a job for any of us. We stick to our mission and are rewarded by it.
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If you are in a crisis pregnancy or would like more information on adoption, please call our Pregnancy and Adoption Support program at 703-425-0100 or visit our website.