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Janie Cravens, Director of Education at Adoption Advocates adoption agency

Janie Cravens has been working in the adoption industry for over 36 years. Her in-depth knowledge and education has transformed Adoption Advocates into what it is today. Read more to find out how she got started in adoption, her thoughts on HB357 and LGBT adoption, and what she loves most about her job.

How long have you been working at Adoption Advocates?

I officially began consulting for Adoption Advocates in 1994. From the beginning of my work with Jane, AAI founder, we discussed my “first of many rules for good adoption work” — If you want to do this well, you need to offer education to adoptive parents and it needs to be free. What makes Adoption Advocates unique is this investment in education. From that first year it’s been my pleasure to teach at the weekend seminars that still take place today.

Were you working in the adoption industry before Adoption Advocates?

I’ve been in the adoption industry for 36 years. For the first 12 years, I ran a large agency in Texas, then went into a private practice concerned with many areas of child welfare.

How did you get into the adoption industry?

I was a student getting my master’s in social work and needed an internship, so I started working at an adoption agency. After the first week, I was completely hooked by the seismic emotions of the clients, and the need for good counseling, education and reform in adoption. Adoption turned out to be my calling and I feel so lucky to have found that.

What is your current role at Adoption Advocates?

My official title is Director of Education. I write the curriculum that dictates what will be offered as education to adoptive parents and facilitate the group delivery of that material. Both adoptive and birth families get their ideas about adoption from TV, and from our society’s misconceptions about the process. They come through the door of AAI with these misconceptions and we have an opportunity to change those perceptions. I also provide the agency with clinical expertise on difficult cases and expert testimony on the rare occasions that is needed.

What would you say is the most rewarding part about your job?

Getting to walk alongside the people on this journey and help guide them. I want to provide encouragement and hope and be present for folks when they need guidance.

What advice would you give birth parents who are about to begin their adoption journey?

Take time to find the right helper. What I say to birth parents is that ultimately, if you make this most difficult decision, it will be an act of parental love. I let them know early on that even though this is an act of love, society will not see it this way, and they will need strength and help to find their own peace about this decision.

What advice would you give adoptive parents who are about to begin their adoption journey?

Being an adoptive parent is still parenthood, but with a few key differences that will play out in ways that are hard to imagine in the “honeymoon stage” of adopting. They will need a bit of extra work and skills to help their children, and they will need to seek wisdom from helpers who know about the lifelong issues in adoption.

How have you seen adoption change over the years?

Openness in adoption has become the norm. I was one of the pioneers of open adoption. For the first five years I practiced this, I was an outcast and criticized for this methodology. To answer this question though, I’d have to say what is more telling is what has not changed, and that is society’s view on adoptees, adoptive and relinquishing parents.

What do you love the most about Adoption Advocates?

I have worked with a lot of agencies over the years and AAI is really based on solid, professional ideas. A lot of agencies are mission-driven or emotion-driven in ways that sometimes override the best long term practices. AAI understands there are a lot of emotions around adoption, but addressing those emotional issues should be based on the best ideas, research and an educated staff.

What are some of the typical emotions birth parents and adoptive parents can expect to experience during the adoption process?

For the birth parent, this is going to be a profound grief journey. They can survive this hurt by facing and walking the path. A good counselor will help break down their denial, build up their self-esteem, and support them through the sorrow.

Adoptive parents also come to this journey with significant losses, and to be the best adoptive parents they can be, they need to address these feelings. The children they adopt are not “second best” (which is what society thinks)….but they are usually “second choice” and they may need some help sorting all this out. Adopting parents also grapple with feelings of loss of control, anger over other’s comments and inappropriate questions, and fears about how to talk about adoption with their children. Obviously there will also be feelings of joy, elation and gratitude.

What are your thoughts on HB537?

It is absurd that an adult adoptee cannot have an original birth certificate. This law was based on the idea that birth parents did not want to be found. This is not something that is at play anymore as 96 percent of birth parents are open to contact.

What are some common misconceptions regarding LGBT adoption?

LGBT parents are parents like everyone else. Some strengths, some shortcomings, but in the end, the best parents they can be to the children they love. To list society’s misconceptions about them is too tiresome to contemplate.

What are some resources you recommend to parents going through the adoption process?

Read, research and find a support group.

  • “The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption” by Lori Holden
  • “Twice Born” by Betty Jean Lifton
  • “Adoption Nation” by Adam Pertman
  • “Sacred Connection” – pictorial essay book, great for the adoption triad
  • “Weaving a Family” by Barbara Katz Rothman
  • “Transracial Adoption” by Ruth McRoy
  • “20 Things Adoptive Kids Wish Their Parents Knew” by Sherrie Eldridge
  • “Brown Baby, Pink Parents” by Amy Ford
  • adoptioninstitute.org is a great website for research

What is your favorite thing to do in Austin?

I’m a big foodie! I love going to the farmer’s markets and eating my way one end to the other.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I love egg-head research, literature, hiking, dancing and travel.

What is your favorite quote?

“When we know better, we do better.”