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May 2009Vol. 10, No. 4Project Family Ties Promotes Open Adoptions: An Interview

Project Family Ties, based in Detroit, lives up to its name by placing older children and youth with adoptive families who help the youth stay connected with siblings and other birth family members. Project Family Ties is funded by a Children's Bureau Adoption Opportunities grant to "Improve Permanency Outcomes by Developing Services and Supports for Youth Who Wish to Retain Contact With Family Members." Operated by Homes for Black Children in partnership with churches and community organizations, Project Family Ties recruits resource families for older children and youth (aged 11+) and sibling groups. Families receive training emphasizing the importance of openness and maintaining birth family connections for the youth whom they adopt.

Children's Bureau Express (CBX) recently spoke with Linda Lipscomb, the director of Project Family Ties, about the different project components and how they've contributed to placement success.

CBX: Why and how does Project Family Ties promote openness in the placement of older children and youth?

Lipscomb: Research shows that the longest lasting relationships that most people have are with their siblings. From our own experience, we know that children's regular contact with their siblings or other birth relatives helps with their self-esteem and self-image and gives them a connection to their family history and cultural heritage. If children know they can pick up the phone and call their brothers and sisters or see them on a regular basis, they're less likely to worry about them. Working to maintain this kind of open relationship with birth relatives just makes sense in foster care and adoption.

We do quite a bit of training to prepare prospective families for openness. For instance, families receive information on openness in their orientation packet and in their training. When we assess families, we help them determine the type of openness that they would be comfortable with. And when we talk to children and youth in our program, we discuss what openness options they need in their new family.

We had an encouraging finding recently when we held focus groups with families who had completed adoptions. While we had mapped out ways in which the families would maintain openness with their child's birth family, we weren't quite sure whether the families had really followed through. What we found was that the families had been able to rework their arrangements to better suit everyone, and many families were actually doing more kinds of openness activities than we expected! For instance, one family had invited all of their child's siblings and relatives to the child's church confirmation.

CBX: How have you worked with partners to promote open adoptions?

Lipscomb: We've been very fortunate in working with a number of different partners. First of all, Homes for Black Children already had strong ties with two large churches in our area. And the majority of our children come from the same communities where these churches are located, so it made sense to partner with the churches in recruiting families. The churches help us get the word out about children who need families, and they provide the setting for a number of our events.

We also partner with Kinship, which is a collaboration among 25 area agencies that focuses on joint recruitment efforts and even sponsors an annual Adoption Festival. Another partner is the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE), which has helped us with some of our child-specific recruitment of families. MARE provides informational brochures about specific children, posts photolistings on the website, and often features our children in their quarterly recruitment magazine. Of course, we also work with a number of other community organizations that help us by providing concrete items—such as suitcases for the children—or conference opportunities or other services.

CBX: What kinds of events or activities does Project Family Ties use to promote open adoptions?

Lipscomb: One component of our project is called Life Enrichment Activities. These activities include everything from our annual Family Reunion to a percussion orchestra! Right now, we're preparing for our third Family Reunion, which is a big picnic-style event attended by our families and children, as well as many of the children's birth families. It gives everyone a chance to reconnect, and it's also a recruiting opportunity for children who still need foster or adoptive families.

Drummers for Peace is our percussion orchestra for our youth, their siblings, and even for some community youth. They meet monthly to rehearse their Afro-Cuban music and are led by one of our staff. They've performed at a number of events, most recently at the opening of Michigan's Heart Gallery. We view this as a therapeutic opportunity, because it allows the drummers to use a physical activity to redirect some aggression or inappropriate behavior—and to have fun!

CBX: How do you conduct your recruitment program for families?

Lipscomb: We know that most older children and youth are adopted by people they know, so we work to find both foster and adoptive placements, knowing that placing a child in a good foster home may eventually lead to adoption by that family. In looking for both types of families, we use a three-pronged approach: faith-based recruiting, community recruiting, and child-specific recruiting.

The importance of the church in the community and the leadership from the church pastors really contributes to effective recruiting. In the community, our various partnerships help us with recruiting at public events where prospective families might be—such as a local Women's Expo. Then we do child-specific recruiting, which involves assessing the child and determining what type of connections the child already has and how we can expand those. For instance, in one assessment, we found out that a child's aunt lived right around the corner from his foster family. While the aunt wasn't able to provide a home, she was able to provide a permanent connection for that child.

CBX: How do you involve your youth in recruitment?

Lipscomb: We have a Youth Ambassadors program for youth who are interested in going out and speaking about what adoption means to them. They make a strong impression on listeners when they talk about their experiences. One of the most moving speeches was given by an older girl who told her audience, "Everyone just wants to feel loved." She was eventually adopted by the same person who had adopted her siblings.

CBX: What kinds of success have you had with placing children?

Lipscomb: We're proud that Project Family Ties has placed 62 children for adoption and provided services to approximately 140 children. Some of our larger sibling groups have been split among adoptive families, but our emphasis on openness and our families' cooperation in maintaining openness means that the siblings do remain connected to each other. And we're looking forward to our upcoming Family Reunion event, when we can celebrate with all of our children and families.

To learn more about Project Family Ties, visit the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Adoption website at or contact Linda Lipscomb at

Many thanks to Linda Lipscomb for providing the information for this article.