Sunday, November 10, 2002

`Adoption Diva' shows the way


Agency supervisor becomes a part of the family too

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] "I have 160 children," says Jane Kriege, head of adoptions for Catholic Social Services. That's about how many children the agency has placed for adoption in the eight years she's been there.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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Jane Kriege has a 10-inch-high binder that she can hardly look at without getting teary.

"These are all the Ohio children in the system waiting to be adopted. Two hundred in Hamilton County alone. Their problem? They're not infants."

Ms. Kriege, 55, of Bellevue, knows plenty about adoptions. As program supervisor of adoptions and pregnancy counseling for Catholic Social Services (CSS) for the past eight years, she's on the front lines five days a week. Sometimes seven.

"I guess it could be a 40-hour-a-week job, but I don't see how," she says. "Some need comes up and you need to be there. The reason for that is because we are there with the birth mother from her first visit, through delivery and for six months after that."

As she's saying that, she's marching down her "baby walk" - a corridor with photos of beaming parents and toothless babies. It's her wall of happy endings.

"I have 160 children,'' she says. "That's a conservative estimate, but it's roughly how many we've placed since I've been supervisor. I often think of them and their families as my own." No doubt that this is why some people call her "The Adoption Diva." Probably a little more right now, since November is National Adoption Month and Nov. 24-30 is National Adoption Week.

Presenting options

Services provided to the birth parents by Ms. Kriege and her eight social workers (at no cost) begin with the first visit, usually early in the pregnancy. "The first thing we do is offer pregnancy counseling - we present parenting options, help them examine their support system, talk about finances. We also help arrange medical care and and other social services they may need.

"Then we present both options - keep the baby or go with adoption. Our concern isn't which decision they make, only that they're fully educated and prepared to make it."

Similar services are offered to the adoptive parents - who pay a percentage of their annual income, usually about 10 percent. Home studies begin as soon as they apply. There are also parenting classes and group sessions to get the couple ready to bring baby home, and follow-up sessions for six months.

Services are available to people of all faiths, but CSS requires that prospective parents be married in the Catholic Church and that one parent be a practicing Catholic.

Sounds straightforward, but what about those "needs" that keep her working long after the workday ends, keeping her from her beloved mystery novels and Neil Diamond CDs?

"A birth mother calls from the hospital and wants a counselor there when she delivers at 3 a.m.,'' she says. "You go. A birth mother is questioning her decision, whichever one she made, and calls to talk. You talk."

Sometimes, though not often, "a birth mother will change her mind. She holds the baby and she begins thinking with her heart. She thinks `Yes, I can do it. I can be a mother.'

"In our counseling, we try to prepare adoptive parents for the possibility of the birth mother changing her mind, but it's still a loss for them." When it happens, the couple is put back on a list immediately.

Disappointments

Her biggest problem, Ms. Kriege says, is that hopeful parents wanting an infant outnumber babies by about 10-to-1. The lopsided ratio makes the average wait 12 to 18 months from when adoptive parents sign up to when they get the baby.

Not everyone who applies gets a baby, and that's also hard for Ms. Kriege. "Some people really aren't suited to parenting, and that's something we find out in our home study,'' she says. "Sometimes, it's because we find the family just isn't stable. Sometimes, it's because one spouse really wants a child and the other is just going along."

It's one of the things about the job that sometimes breaks her heart. Birth parents are another. "They choose to give life to this child, then they have to make such a tremendous decision, one that most adults never have to make. It's hard on them.

"And you know they do go through a grieving process. Most people don't know that, but it's very real. We try to help with that process, too."

The one thing they don't usually have to offer help with is whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. By the time a birth parent comes to CSS, Ms. Kriege says, she's usually decided to go to term.

Abstinence program

"Talking people out of something" is the theme to the third program Ms. Kriege runs at CSS. Postponing Sexual Involvement promotes sexual abstinence until marriage.

It's for students in grades 6 through 12. "It emphasizes the healthy relationship that can grow out of waiting (to have sex) until marriage. It stresses the positive aspects of abstinence, just like our adoption services stress all the positive sides.

"That's one thing I've learned in 33 years in social work - you get much better results with a positive approach. It really does work for us."

E-mail jknippenberg@enquirer.com



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