Vermont adoption agencies pass love parent to parent

By Lucia Suarez

Staff writer - Published: November 28, 2010 by Rutland Herald

MIDDLETOWN SPRINGS — In 1979, Dawn Smith-Pliner and her partner, Joel, decided they wanted to adopt. But she says every agency they called said no, because they weren’t married, because they were of different religions, because of their income.

“Not one person I called would even let us come to visit because we weren’t the template (family),” Smith-Pliner said.

Every rejection she received just made her want to adopt even more. And she did. Nearly two years after the initial phone call, Smith-Pliner adopted two healthy newborn babies through private adoption — that is, with the help of an attorney rather than an agency.

In 1982, Smith-Pliner opened Friends in Adoption, a nonprofit, nontraditional adoption agency in Middletown Springs with the premise that “we are not here to judge; we are here to educate, be kind and be helpful.” Her agency accepts single women and men and all types of families as potential adoptive parents.

“That was (then), and we are now in 2010, almost 2011, with the same inherent philosophy,” Smith-Pliner said.

Dawn Smith-Pliner, founder of the nontraditional adoption agency Friends in Adoption, poses next to her office in Middletown Springs last week. Photo by Cassandra Hotaling
Dawn Smith-Pliner, founder of the nontraditional adoption agency Friends in Adoption, poses next to her office in Middletown Springs last week. Photo by Cassandra Hotaling

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, offering the opportunity to recognize all the people and organizations in the adoption process.

In the United States, approximately 100,000 children are adopted each year, according to Smith-Pliner.

Adoption in Vermont has been changing in the last couple of years, said Wanda Audette, director of adoption services for the Lund Family Center in Burlington, a private nonprofit that provides adoption and other services for families and children.

“Private adoptions are increasing over the last year, while international adoptions are decreasing,” Audette said.

Smith-Pliner attributes the change largely to the Hague Adoption Convention affirmed by the United States in 2008 that made international adoption more difficult.

‘How lucky we are’

Since it began, Friends in Adoption has place about 2,000 babies throughout New England and New York state, Smith-Pliner said. In the last five years, between 40 and 60 babies have been placed each year.

Alan and Nancy Garfinkel, of Rutland, adopted their son, who turned 3 last week, as an infant through Friends in Adoption.

“We were going to get the child we always wanted,” Alan Garfinkel said.

He and his wife met various times with the agency until the couple felt ready to begin the adoption process, Alan Garfinkel said.

“It played out beautifully,” he said. “We still can’t believe how lucky we are.”

Smith-Pliner said she and her staff work with birth parents and adoptive parents throughout the process.

They require adoptive families to attend a workshop at the agency, Smith-Pliner said. “We talk about everything we have learned in 30 years. If after the workshop an individual or couple wants to join our agency, welcome aboard.”

The agency creates profiles of birth families and helps couples complete a home study required by state law, Smith-Pliner said.

Throughout the process, Alan Garfinkel recalled, he and his wife would look at each other and say, “That’s exactly how they said it would go.”

Support all the way

Not all adoptions are as smooth or as quick as the Garfinkels’.

Cindy and Rick Nelson, of Waterbury, anxiously waited for more than four years to adopt their daughter Bethany, now 2, through Friends of Adoption.

“It was a long time and they were very supportive, telling us the right baby for us was out there,” Cindy Nelson said. “Now we have Bethany and she is such the perfect match.”

Friends in Adoption also works with potential birth families, talking to them about all their options, including how involved and informed they want to be if they choose to create an adoption plan for their child, Smith-Pliner said.

“We educate the pre-adoptive parents here (through the workshops), and we educate the pregnant woman or family depending on what they want,” Smith-Pliner said.

Audette said adoption has evolved in that the birth parents have more say in where their child goes.

“Unplanned pregnant women have goals for themselves,” Audette said. “They want to finish college or high school. They are not forced to make the decisions they had to 30 years ago,” when, for example, a pregnant young woman might have left school or her community to give birth.

Smith-Pliner’s agency guides and educates both families in adoption, Rick Nelson said, as it did with their daughter’s birth mother, who initially did not want to know about the family that would adopt her birth daughter, Rick Nelson said.

“Through the process she changed because of the (Friends in Adoption) support,” he said. “(Now) we have established a great relationship with our birth mother, which is wonderful.”

© 2010 Rutland Herald. Used with permission.

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