How Kate Helps Out

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the fourth and final installment. Part one is found here, part two is here, and part three is here.

We asked Kate to detail her volunteer and paid work in the field of adoption, and she kindly complied.

by Kate Donovan Hodgkins

One thing I’d like to mention is that I could not do ANY of the work I do in the adoption field if it weren’t for  the support and encouragement I get from my husband Tom and my children, Chase, Joshua, and Amilya.  They are the reason I do this. They make my life complete, and my happiness endless.

Connecticut Adoption and Family Services (CT-AFS, formally CARA)

After having our home study done by CT-AFS (formally CARA), I volunteered my graphic design experience and helped redesign their business cards and brochure. I worked with clients of theirs to help them design their profile/birthmother letters.  This led to my speaking at their informational sessions and on their PRIDE class panels on a volunteer basis, as well as being a mentor for their clients.

The Director of CT-AFS asked if I’d consider being a respite/foster mother for newborns which paid a stipend.  Other agencies that didn’t have a foster mother also placed newborns with me through CT-AFS, and I was a DCF sanctioned respite for the newborns of a member of my support group.  Most came to us right out of the hospital and many were premature babies.    The newborns were with us for up to five weeks. I have recently given up this position to enable me to spend more time with my children this summer.

I did find it was a great way for my children to gain an understanding of what adoption is and how special it is.  Often I would be involved with the birthmother, which ranged from meeting her at the hospital to having her to my home to visit her child. Often the adoptive parents would have visits with the babies while in my care. On several occasions, I was honored to be able to place the child in their arms for the first time.  My own children were present at times and saw how a new family was made and how emotional and special this was.

Only once did any of my children feel sad when a baby was leaving us. My oldest son was particularly fond of one newborn we cared for, and the day we brought the baby to meet his forever family, Chase didn’t want to say goodbye.  We sat and talked about it, and he eventually decided that he did want to say goodbye and the adoptive family graciously let him hold the little one and say his goodbye.  He told me on the ride home that he was glad he changed his mind because he was happy when he saw how happy the family was to have their new son.

I was called with no notice to take a newborn baby girl several years ago.  The birthmother was a young girl who was unsure if she wanted to place her daughter.  I invited her and her mother to my home to spend the day with our family and see what a family by adoption was like.  On a nice summer day her mother and I sat with her on our back deck watching my children play and we talked for hours.  At the end of the day she tearfully told me that my family had made her see how much better a life her daughter could have if she chose adoption for her.  And her biggest realization was that in a family by adoption there are no real differences.

In 2012 the Director of CT-AFS asked if I would be interested in being a co-instructor for their PRIDE classes for state adoption, which also paid a stipend.  They have now merged with Waterford Country School which does therapeutic state adoption and in the fall I will begin teaching the PRIDE Classes and have begun speaking on Waterford Country Schools PRIDE class panels on a volunteer basis.

In 2009, I was awarded the Joseph and Barbara Sheffey Award for my work in the adoption field.  This is an award given by CT-AFS each year to someone who has worked to help further adoption through their agency.  It is made even more special to me because Joseph Sheffey was the Director of CT-AFS (then CARA). He was very helpful and supportive of us when we started our adoption journey.

Sandra, the Director of CT-AFS, has been my main source of information when something comes up in my support group that I do not know the answer to.  She has done research for me and helped me many times over the years.

Kate’s Online Adoption Support Group

It was during our wait to adopt that I started my first adoption support group via email with four women I had met on adoption forums online.  We became each other’s support systems and lifelong friends.  Since I was a stay-at-home mom when Chase came to us, I decided to start up another support group and use my experience and that of the others in my first group.  CT-AFS advertises my group in their newsletter and their social workers help spreading the word about my group has helped keep my groups going over the years.  Now ten years later “Kate’s Online Adoption Support Group” has over 30 families currently and is run using Yahoo Groups.

It is so gratifying to be part of my members’ adoption journeys and to know I had a small hand in forming new families by adoption.  I have gotten to meet so many of the children and been able to watch them grow and, in some cases, to watch the families continue to grow through adoption.  I have several families who have adopted that stay in the group to offer their invaluable experience to the members.  We have several get-togethers a year, and there have been some great friendships formed.  As our next get-together is rapidly approaching, my family and I are looking forward to seeing all the families and their children.  We love opening our home to give everyone an opportunity to connect in person with the people who have given them support and strength through their journey.  It is a wonderful feeling to watch these children play with mine and know I had a small hand in getting their families started.

CAFAP (CT Association for Adoptive Parents) and Hearts, Hands and Homes

A wonderful woman, Alana, who worked for CAFAP and now for HH&H, introduced me to a program they have which supplies clothing to foster and adoptive families at no cost.  I now help by opening “Karen’s Kloset” several times a year. I help keep the facility stocked by soliciting donations and sorting the clothes as well as spreading the word to foster and adoptive families through my support group.

Board of Directors

I have served on the Board of Directors for several adoption agencies over the past 10 years and would like to think that I have contributed ideas and helped further the growth of adoption through this.

One of the agencies, A Little Bit of Heaven, is run by a very special woman, Betty Smith.  Betty and I met over 10 years ago when we were both starting the process to adopt.  We shared the ups and downs as we both went on to adopt three children and formed a lifelong friendship.  The reason I accepted a position on her Board of Directors when she opened her referral/adoption agency was because I knew she was entering the business for all the correct reasons.  She wanted to make the dream of being parents a reality for others.  Betty has also been a wonderful source of information for me to help answer questions that come up in my support group.

Kate’s Story: The Interview

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the third installment. Part one is found here and part two is here.

Luanne’s interview of Kate Donovan Hodgkins

*What kind of goals regarding children did you enter adulthood with?

I had thought about adoption before meeting my husband, Since my husband’s brother was adopted, he was very open to the idea of adoption.  Our plan was to adopt a child and then have a biological child.  Ultimately, we wanted two children.

Shortly after Chase’s adoption was finalized, we learned that I was unable to conceive or carry a baby because of uterine cysts. Having adopted once already and not being able to imagine loving a child any more than I did my son, I did not have any issues with not having a birth experience. 

*How did you first get started on the path to fostering children?

While waiting to adopt a second time, we decided to do respite care to see how it would be with more than one child in the house. After doing respite care several times, our son came to us and we stopped.   Later, I was approached by the director of a local adoption agency I had done volunteer work for over the years and asked if I’d consider doing respite and foster care for newborns being adopted domestically.  We’ve had babies with us anywhere from one to five weeks. 

*When did you first get licensed for foster care? What did you go through to get licensed?  Do you have to reapply, and if so, what is the process like?

We had been licensed for our second adoption and we just had to update it to foster/respite.  We had already done the PRIDE classes required by our state, so we did not have to do any additional training other than for medically complex and CPR for children and infants.  It was not a difficult or invasive process at all.

*How did you choose whether to adopt from foster care, a local adoption, or an international adoption?

We started off looking into adopting through our state and also from Romania, but while we were researching our options we found the state route was less likely to be a newborn and we did want a baby.  Then Romania closed their doors to US adoptions and being concerned that this could happen again if we went international, we decided to adopted in the US through private domestic adoption.  At this time, several countries were increasing the amount of travel needed to adopt and we felt that it would be less travel and expense to adopt in the US. 

For our second adoption, we decided to look into state adoption again.  We were happy having had the newborn experience and were open to adopting an older child.  We hoped that we’d be able to adopt a child younger than our son, but we were open to a child up to three years old. 

*What has surprised you about your children?

Perhaps the fact that I could not love my children more than I do had I given birth to them.  I think many people going into adoption question if they will bond and love a child as much as they would a biological child. 

*What would you like to see changed in the system?

From a mother’s point of view there are things that I wish my son hadn’t  had to go through, such as visitation with his birth parent, but I also understand why the state tries for reunification.   I would like to see a better system for visitations that is less stressful for the children.  

*What qualifications do you think it takes to be a foster or adoptive parent?

Patience, patience, patience!  With foster parenting, it is often necessary to adjust your parenting style for the needs of each child and that takes patience, understanding and flexibility.  I’ve heard it said many times that all you need is “love,” but that is not always enough.  Many children in the foster system need much more than just love, and although my state strives to provide the necessary training, more training is needed, in my opinion.

*Do you have resources that help you?  What are they?

We have found various agencies over the years that have helped us in many ways.  We’ve used Birth to Three, Building Blocks, IICAPS, Care Coordination, UConn Health Adoption services, as well as therapists and other clinical help.  But the one thing that seems to be our best resource is other adoptive parents.   Talking with others who have gone through or are going through what you are going through is key to helping you feel you’re not alone in some of the struggles that arise.  We’ve used many of the local agencies that provide help for children of adoption and have found most to be very beneficial. 

*If you are or were a foster parent, do you continue a relationship with the children after they leave your care?

We are very fortunate to have several families that keep in touch with us, and we love to see the children grow up.  This past Thanksgiving we had a visit from a family that adopted a little boy that we fostered right out of the hospital, and we see several at a yearly picnic we attend.  We get email and pictures. We all get so excited to see how they are growing. 

*Do you have a little story about your children you would like to share?

Chase with his birthmom

Chase with his birthmom

When Chase was about one year old I started telling him the “story of his adoption” at bedtime.  This became a nightly ritual, and there was no way he would let me rush through or leave anything out.  He would be quick to correct me and tell me what I omitted.  He started asking at night for us to tell him his “doption story,” so we dropped the A in adoption and began calling it his doption story.  When Joshua joined our family, Chase insisted that we tell Joshua his own doption story nightly and this began to get rather lengthy at bedtime when our daughter joined us.   We explained that we would have to alternate their stories, and this continued for many years.  It was a way for us to tell our children about their adoptions starting at a young age and giving them a gradual understanding of what it meant to be adopted. 

Recently my niece gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, and my daughter started asking many questions.  As we explained to her that Josey was not adopted, Amilya’s reply was a sad, “she won’t have a doption story.”  It seemed to sadden her until we explained that she would just have a different type of story that her mommy and daddy could tell her at night.  She was satisfied with that answer thankfully.

*What bothers you the most about the situation your children have been put in?

It bothers me most that my daughter has medical issues that were caused by her birthmother’s lack of prenatal care and drug use, which caused her to be born three months premature.  With each new diagnosis, I found I would have anger directed at her birthmother. 

*Have you volunteered or worked with any agencies for foster children or adoptions?  What did you do? What were your reasons for doing so? Do you feel you made a difference, and if so, how?

Over the past 10 years I have volunteered by speaking on a panel for state adoptions both for DCF and for local agencies, CT-AFS and Waterford Country School.  I have also spoken at the CT-AFS informational sessions.  I have run online adoption support groups for over ten years for those just starting or in various stages of all types of adoption country-wide.  We currently have 33 families in our support group, and we meet in person several times per year.  I have volunteered for CAFAP and currently volunteer for Hearts, Hands and Homes by opening their clothing closet for foster and adoptive families to get clothing at no cost and to solicit and take in donations. 

*What do you want the general population to know about adoptees?

Adopted children are “forever” children; they are not disposable.   Adopting is as much a commitment as giving birth to a child.  

*What do you want the general population to know about the foster system and the adoption system?

Neither the foster or adoption systems are perfect, but I’ve found many of the people in this field are very dedicated to the children. They have a very difficult job at times. 

*Has your experience with fostering and adoption affected your politics?  In other words, is it a topic you watch for during election season?

Absolutely.   Most recently in our state, the adoption tax credit was the hot topic.  Many families that want to adopt cannot afford the costs of adoption or the added cost if the child is medically complex or has therapeutic needs.  This tax credit can make a difference in the amount of children that get placed as families are more able to adopt with the help of this tax credit. 

* Have your religious beliefs been a big part of you becoming an adoptive parent?  If not, what do you think motivates you?

For me the motivation to volunteer and work in the adoption field was born from frustration.  I didn’t have much knowledge or help during our first adoption and started a support group online to help me connect with others going through the same things.  I continue my work in the adoption field to help others in hopes of lessening their frustration some by connecting with others who have gone through the same frustrations and can lend their experience. 

*What else would you like to say about your experience?

The road to adoption through domestic adoption and through state foster to adopt was very bumpy with many ups and downs along the way. However, I would do it all again in a heartbeat to have my children.  It is an emotional journey and it can have the most wonderful outcome.

How We Became A Family of Five

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the second installment.  Part one is found here.

by Kate Donovan Hodgkins

When we decided to adopt a second child, we began the process through the state and then did respite care while waiting for a placement. It helped keep our minds off the wait and gave Chase a chance to see what it would be like with another child in the home.

Two years later,  almost to the day (one day shy of the date we got the call about Chase), we got the call about a little 7-month-old boy who was being placed for adoption through our state DFC.  Joshua’s adoption, although not quite the adventure we had with Chase’s, was another miracle.

Chase now had a little brother and we had a complete family.  Joshua’s adoption was a legal risk situation, and we had a very long legal battle to adopt him.  There were court ordered visitations with his birthfather that were very difficult for Joshua.  He had separation anxiety when social workers would take him for his visits and would have night terrors the night of visits.  We went to every court hearing and tried to be advocates for Joshua. We knew he was meant to be our son and we never lost sight of that goal.

In April 2007  we got a call that Joshua’s birthmom had given birth to a baby girl at 27 weeks.  The baby was only 2 lbs 2 oz, and they were not sure if she would make it.

Three months later, when we weren’t expecting it, we got a call asking if we could take the baby for a week or two respite. She was now out of the hospital and a little under 5 lbs.  Mom had disappeared after giving birth, but the birthfather was visiting daily.  His son was going to adopt the baby so she’d be with family.

Two days after we picked her up, we got word that the paternity test came back showing that the man named as father was not the father.  Because she was Joshy’s half-sister we could adopt her without going through a lengthy process.  When our social worker asked if we’d be interested in adopting her, the boys and I had already fallen for her. My husband just turned to me and said “go buy your ruffle butts.”  His way of saying yes to adopting her.

In September of 2007, Joshy’s adoption was final.  Joshua got to put the seal on his adoption paperwork, and Chase got to bang the judge’s gavel.  We were now legally a family of four–and soon to be five!  The judge told us she was looking forward to seeing us again soon to finalize our third adoption.

In August 2008, Amilya’s adoption was final and we once again sat in the judge’s chamber. As before, Joshua put the seal on Amilya’s finalization and Chase got to bang the gavel.  We were very content and looking forward to our future as a family of five.

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Chase has been on the honor roll at school and loves to play soccer and swim.  He is a healthy, happy, loving boy and is very open about his adoption.

Over the years it became evident that Joshua struggled with  ADHD, OCD and PDD. He has been getting therapy and working hard to overcome the challenges this presents.  Josh is an intelligent, happy guy who loves life and always has a smile for everyone.

Amilya was diagnosed with Broncho Malacia and severe asthma at a very early age, but she does not let her medical issues get in her way of living her life.  She is a trouper and takes most everything in stride.

Watch for Luanne’s interview of Kate next Friday, June 21!

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