“Families Forever” Project Increases Adoption Awareness in South Carolina
By Francine Bailey
Francine Bailey is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and an associate in the Chicago, Illinois firm of Bellows & Bellows P.C.
This year, the Young Lawyers Division of the South Carolina Bar is going back to basics. Basic values, that is. They have chosen to focus on the family. As part of this focus, the Young Lawyers Division has initiated a project called “Families Forever,” whose goal is to increase adoption awareness across the state, both among attorneys and in the general public.
The “Families Forever” project offers South Carolina residents the opportunity to learn about every stage of the adoption process from professionals. Led by Young Lawyers Division President Tiffany Spann-Wilder, the “Families Forever” project offers education for attorneys and adoption opportunities for the general public. Spann-Wilder first thought about the program when she was Secretary-Treasurer of the Young Lawyers Division. She told The Affiliate that based on her own experiences she could see a need within the community for more information about adoption. The following year, as incoming president, Spann-Wilder hoped to launch a program that touched the community. That hope resulted in the “Families Forever” project, which was launched this year.
Preparing Professionals
In October, the “Families Forever” project hosted an educational program entitled “Creating Families Forever: The How to of the Adoption Process,” geared toward preparing attorneys to assist the public. Various professionals discussed the stages of the adoption process in South Carolina, with attorneys discussing the state’s adoption laws. Attendees heard about the pros and cons of adoption through agencies versus by private entities. In addition, speakers discussed the importance of adoption home studies to determine the best fit with a family and whether to place a child, as well as how the need for them often goes unfulfilled. In essence, the goal of the program was to educate attorneys on how to best serve the public in the area of adoption.
“This is probably one of the only CLE programs offered where all of the speakers were not necessarily attorneys,” emphasized Spann-Wilder. Program speakers included attorneys who talked about the adoption process from a legal standpoint, the director of the local children’s law center that trains attorneys to be guardian ad litems, and licensed social workers and certified adoption counselors who discussed their respective roles in the adoption process.
The continuing legal education class offered a breadth of information to educate attorneys about adoption and to encourage them to get involved by either becoming guardians ad litem or completing home studies, areas where there is always need.
Informing the Public
The second component of the “Families Forever” project involves creating public awareness about adoption, which will be accomplished through Family Fairs held throughout the state. The Family Fairs provide information about adoptions, both domestic and international, and offer advice in one place about each phase in the adoption process. Participants are also able to gather data about adoptions through the South Carolina Department of Social Services, as well as through private entities. Participation in the Fairs is free of charge to area residents.
At the Family Fairs, attendees can make contact with a wide variety of professionals who might be needed throughout the various stages of the adoption process. Attorneys, adoption specialists, adoption investigators, and representatives from adoption agencies are on hand at the Fairs. Families attending the Fairs also have the opportunity to become qualified by an adoption professional.
The first Family Fair was held on November 22, 2008, in Columbia, South Carolina. Though attendance was less than expected, Spann-Wilder considers the first Family Fair a success. Thanks in part to the Fair, a couple recently welcomed a newborn baby into their lives. The baby was born on January 6, 2009. Another couple hoped to adopt older children; through the first Family Fair, this couple has found a family of five children. Those involved with the “Families Forever” project couldn’t be more excited. “From that event alone, six children will have a family because of our project,” Spann-Wilder told The Affiliate.
At press time, the next Family Fair was scheduled for Saturday, January 10, 2009, in Charleston, South Carolina. The final Fair is planned for February 21, 2009, in Greenville, South Carolina. The hope is that based on this schedule the programs will reach more people in several areas of the state.
Riding on the success of the first Fair, participating vendors have sent information out to families interested in adoption to invite them to the second and third Family Fairs. Based on buzz and excitement around the first Fair, Spann-Wilder expected as many as fifty interested families to come to the fair on January 10, 2009.
Looking to the Future
When asked if she expected the project to continue next year, Spann-Wilder didn’t hesitate to say yes. This is an important project that has educated and inspired many people. One of the participating vendors already has an informational fair specializing in international adoption. Spann-Wilder hopes that next year the two fairs will combine to give families one place to gather information. There may be the opportunity to add a one-hour education component to the Family Fairs as well.