Crossing boundaries—Agency goes the distance

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Author: 
Siobhan Rowe
Source: 
Focus on Adoption magazine

A glance at a list of adoption agencies in BC appears to indicate that whole swathes of the province are not served. All but two of BC’s licensed agencies are located in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

Marni Bodner, executive director of Kelowna’s Adoption Centre, emphasizes that while the geographical distribution may give the impression that families or birth parents in isolated communities don’t have access to agencies, this is certainly not the case. 

A number of agencies, including the Adoption Centre, have developed expertise in serving families in far-flung locations. “I often talk to people who live out of the centres of population who are surprised that they can work with an adoption agency many miles away,” says Marni. In the last three years, the Adoption Centre has worked with four families in the Queen Charlotte Islands. On the day she talked to Focus, Marni had just had a call from a birth parent in northern BC.

The Adoption Centre started in 1996 and, since day one, has worked with families across the province. As well as a local infant adoption program, the Agency has strong programs in China, the US, Haiti and, to a lesser degree, works in several other countries.

Not long after the Agency opened they heard from clients, who lived a long distance from Kelowna, that having to do the education component of the adoption process in the Okanagan was expensive in terms of travel time and cost. The Agency responded by adapting the program so that families now have the option of taking the education component on a tutorial basis with their homestudy social worker in their own community. Many families choose this option.

Aware that this could mean families would miss out on valuable opportunities to meet other prospective adoptive parents at the education sessions, the Agency requires families to connect with other adoptive families in their local area, and to seek out all useful resources related to adoption. Adoption Centre families are also strongly encouraged to join AFABC. 

The Adoption Centre also works with birth parents across the province. Marni explains that sometimes birth parents choose an agency quite some distance away from their home community. One of the reasons some waiting parents sign on with the Adoption Centre is because they hope to reach out to a wider range of birth parents.

Having a team of social workers located throughout the province is the most important element of serving rural families. The Adoption Centre has 25 such social workers. Marni says they have rarely had an area that they couldn’t cover. She says, “Families are often surprised to hear that we have a social worker in their area. If we haven’t, then we will refer them to an agency that does, or sometimes our Kelowna-based staff will assist the family.” It is clear that Marni is reluctant to say “no” to any family or individual considering adoption.

As in many long distance relationships, new technology has helped keep the lines of communication open between the Adoption Centre and its clients. The Agency has a toll-free phone line, e-mail, and a Website. Families don’t even need to travel to Kelowna to register, though Marni emphasises that they are always delighted to have clients visit.

Distance between a family and the agency is not necessarily reflected in the length of time it takes for a family to complete the adoption process. Long distances can mean higher costs for families though. The Agency tries to mitigate the extra costs by being creative. “When we can, we suggest that families travel to the social worker, rather than vice-versa, to cut down on mileage and expenses. If we have more than one family in a particular community, we do our best to coordinate social workers’ visits to those families, which can also save our clients money,” says Marni.

She emphasises that it is important for families to be flexible when arranging to meet with a social worker if the worker is trying to double- up visits, and is travelling a long distance. “Most people who live in rural or isolated areas are used to being flexible,” says Marni.”

Marni is proud of the reach of her agency and is always learning how to connect with new families. It may be a small gesture but the Agency Website will soon include photos of staff so that families have a mental image of whom they are talking to all those miles away. “We don’t want people to feel forgotten about. We don’t want them to feel that they are getting less of a service because they are miles away. We want them to be excited about the service they are getting,” she concludes.

The Adoption Centre is not the only agency with experience in working with families or individuals located hundreds of miles away. It is important that families carefully research all agencies rather than just assume they must work with the nearest one. Find the agency that is the best fit for you. Go to www.bcadoption.com for a list of BC’s agencies and and articles on how to choose an adoption agency.