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Let’s Be Adults for Children: A Night with the National Council for Adoption’s Adoption Hall of Fame

  Last night in Washington, D.C., while other were watching election returns, I was receiving an award for Media Excellence in Adoption as p...

 Last night in Washington, D.C., while other were watching election returns, I was receiving an award for Media Excellence in Adoption as part of the National Council for Adoption’s Adoption Hall of Fame. I’ve been to a few of these awards ceremonies over the years, and never expected to be an honoree. Sen. Roger Wicker and Harvard’s Elizabeth Bartholet were among the others inducted into their Adoption Hall of Fame. For those interested, here are my prepared remarks for the event:

Thank you for this tremendous and humbling honor.

My first guess is that part of the reason I am here tonight is because it has been encouraging to the National Council for Adoption and friends for someone who has been writing about pro-life issues for about 30 years to have stopped a few years ago and realized how much so many of us are failing foster children and foster families and birth moms and adoptive families. While I came at it from an informed consent kind of way, as a pro-life advocate, a whole world opened to me that I hadn’t paid much attention to previously. So many don’t know about how many children languish in the foster-care system. So many don’t know how the system can work against the child and his best interests. I’m thinking right now about a little boy named Noah I love who has been in the home of a loving family since spring, after nearly being killed by his birthparents. He was born with marijuana and meth in his system. My friend Darcy Olsen who runs Generation justice and is the adoptive mom of four children from foster care believes that children who are born to parents or a parent on meth should immediately have their rights severed. She came convicted when she watched one a foster son go back to a mother who wound up killing him because of her meth addiction. His name was Angel.  I know that’s a controversial position, especially in the child-welfare world. But it ought to be considered – and the reality must be known. We want family reunification where possible. We also want a child to be able to get on with his life.

You’re giving me an award but I want to mention some others, who do much more than I do, and who you might not all be aware of. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s win at the Supreme Court in their Fulton case, where foster moms sued the city of Philadelphia for the right to have the resources of Catholic Social Services to continue to be at their disposal as they continue to love children. Sharonelle Fulton, the lead plaintiff, is does more for black lives than any lawn sign will ever do. Because of the likes of Fulton and because of the Becket Fund and the just unanimous ruling of the court, Catholic Social Services is back in the adoption business after an unnecessary city-inflicted pause. The Fulton victory gives me a lot of hope that faith-based agencies won’t get pushed out of adoption and foster care work. Children need more quality choices, not less.

One of the reasons I think adoption and foster care needs to get more attention from the media beyond horror stories and political conflicts over same-sex marriage and now transgender issues, is because at a time of such tremendous conflict, this is an urgent place for common ground. You don’t have to agree with me on abortion to stand with me in supporting the work of the National Council for Adoption.

By the way, the most important book on adoption out now is by Naomi Schaefer Riley. It’s called No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives. I think many of you will want to read and engage with it. We should all make it a bestseller, because that will help bring attention to the needs of some of the most vulnerable children. Among other things, she points out some of the ugly reaction to Amy Coney Barrett having adopted children from Haiti. A people who, whatever we think about one president or another, can’t acknowledge that there is something beautiful about Barrett’s family and achievements – as I long admired about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, even though I disagreed with her on some terribly fundamental things – is a country in need of an examination of conscience and healing. Caring for the orphans would be a start. Thank you to everyone here and who supports the National Council for Adoption for doing so.

And I want to share one thing on a personal note: I’m honored and humbled by this award tonight, yes, because of the critical work Chuck Johnson and Ryan Hanlon and everyone else on the team has and is continuing to do. But also: I don’t think anyone at the National Council for Adoption knows this, but your founder, the late Bill Pierce was one of the first people in D.C. who was gratuitously kind to me in a mentorly kind of way. I don’t entirely remember when we first met – I think, as I often did, contacted him cold about some issue or another. I remember in a fleet of youthful ignorance, I thought he was wrong about safe-haven laws. Safe-haven laws provided easy, obvious ways for mothers to safely give their infant to a responsible authority – like a hospital. I thought: Why would you encourage such a thing? Of course, at the time, we had a rash of mothers leaving their babies in dumpsters for dead. Bill knew how desperate some terrified mothers were. Even though I grew up in a housing project in New York City, I had been shielded by loving parents from some of the harshness around me. If only more children could retain their innocence — at least during childhood! I was heartbroken by Bill Pierce’s death; though so many of you knew him way better, I saw in him a radiance I wanted to be around and learn from. On All Souls Day, we continue to pray for the repose of his soul and for peace and consolation for all who continue to mourn his death.

There’s so much more that could be said. But I want to implore people of Scripture in a particular way to continue to consider what more can be done and better to help children and families. Leaving the home of a mother with four children under 8, whose husband died last November 1, on the way here, I read this from Psalm 146 in Morning Prayer today:

It is the Lord who keeps faith forever,
who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
the Lord, who sets prisoners free,

the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
who raises up those who are bowed down,
the Lord, who protects the stranger
and upholds the widow and orphan.

We must love that which God does. And how can we not help but love the defenseless child? The teenager on the verge of aging out of the system, whose rough edges have more to do with adult choices than him? You can’t unknow that if he doesn’t get a forever family, he might purposely get himself arrested to have somewhere to sleep and eat and shower. A homeless young man named Patrick once told me that being on the streets you’ll never be hungry, but he’d do just about anything for a stable, safe place to sleep and shower so he can look for a job without perpetually watching his back. COVID intervened as I was getting to know his story.

It might be easier to live in silos with our screens, but that’s not the kind of radical love we are called to and children need.

Thank you again for the work that you do at the National Council for Adoption and thank you for this underserved honor. It prods me to do better! I have to say it’s pretty awesome to be in your Adoption Hall of Fame though. I never expected that. I am grateful. And especially for you all.

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