Focus on Adoption: Who we are and Mission July 2006
Focus On Adoption is an intercountry adoption advocacy organization dedicated to the following principles and beliefs:
- All children deserve the opportunity to grow and develop within a loving and nurturing family
- When a child cannot remain with its birth family, intercountry adoption is a better solution than institutional care or foster care
- Where parental relinquishment for adoption exists as a legal right, it should be inviolate
- Abandoned or orphaned children should have the opportunity to be adopted and have permanency in a loving family as soon as possible
- All public and private adoption services should be predicated on these principles and conducted with humane consideration for the child, the birth family, and the adoptive family within an ethical, legal, and transparent framework
Unlike most other Adoption Advocacy Organizations, Focus on Adoption™ is made up of, and represents the concerns of, all areas of the greater intercountry adoption community. Focus on Adoption prides itself on the direct participation of all members of the adoption community in order to advocate for transparent, ethical adoption processes that do not limit a child's chance to join a forever family.
The Board of Directors for Focus on Adoption represents this diversity with members who are adoption professionals, adoptive parents, and some who are both.
Hannah Wallace, President
Rudy Rivera, Vice President
Jeannene Smith, Treasurer
Margaret Orr, Secretary
Hannah Wallace, President
Hannah Wallace is the Founder and Executive Director of Adoptions International, which has been licensed in Pennsylvania for 20 years. Hannah was a Social Worker with the Department of Public Assistance, and then a Supervising Social Worker for the Get Set program, as well as a Counselor for adolescents in an alternative school. She is a graduate of the Family Institute of Philadelphia's Clinical School, and had a practice in Family Therapy.
In 1983, Hannah's life was transformed while adopting her daughter from a Honduran orphanage. After returning from Honduras , Hannah's passion to find families for homeless children formed Adoptions International. Aside from its adoption work, Adoptions International has been engaged in numerous humanitarian aid projects in all the countries in which it has operated in response to the great need she saw for family and child welfare services.
Ten years later, when the Hague Convention and Treaty governing intercountry adoptions emerged on the scene, Hannah's life took another turn into examining the more global issues and controversy surrounding intercountry adoption. She became an active member of JCICS (Joint Council on Intercountry Children's Services) and has served on the Board of Directors for two terms, as well as being a past Vice President of JCICS. She has been a passionate advocate for ethical and sound adoption practices, as well as an advocate for sensible regulation which does not impede the opportunity for children to have permanency as early in their lives as possible.
During the "Hague Upheaval" in Guatemala, Hannah Wallace and Rudy Rivera (Vice President) developed the concept of Focus On Adoption™: An Intercountry Advocacy Organization, while organizing with the Association in Defense of Adoption and many other like minded advocates, to preserve and then improve adoption services for Guatemalan children who need families. She sees Guatemala as a beginning in the need to form child welfare coalitions in numerous countries where adoption is no longer an option for hundreds of thousands of children. She believes the entire adoption community needs a resource for educating itself about the issues impacting ICA and needs a center for advocacy to protect children's rights to grow within a family environment.
Hannah has written numerous articles published on Guatadopt, Rainbowkids, and Adoption Today Magazine. She serves on the Hague Committee of JCICS, is Co-Chair of the Guatemalan Country Caucus of JCICS. In 2003, Hannah received the prestigious Congressional Angel in Adoption Award from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.
Rudy Rivera, Vice President
Biography coming soon.
Jeannene Smith, Treasurer
Jeannene Smith is the founder and CEO of Reaching Out thru International Adoption, Inc., a fully recognized non-profit humanitarian aid and child placement organization. She is an adoptive parent of two daughters from China and Guatemala and has remained a strong advocate dedicated to children's issues. She has provided testimony and position statements to Congressional leaders and the media on various international adoption issues such as the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000, the Hague Convention and implementation issues both in the US and abroad, child trafficking and international adoption reform and has presented seminars on international adoption issues, practices and processes both in the US and abroad.
Jeannene has remained involved in legislative issues, serving in the past on several JCICS committees and currently serves on the JCICS Hague Committee, Ethics Committee, and as the Chair of the Cambodia Caucus. In addition, Jeannene served on the Advisory Council on Intercountry Adoption (ACIA) Hague Committee.
She has been a featured presenter at Resolve and has served as Treasurer of the parent support group Families with Children from China (FCC).
Jeannene's current involvement with Focus on Adoption has developed from her work on legislative issues and a strong desire to create a deeper public awareness of the impact of legislation on the very children it seeks to serve and protect.
Margaret Orr, Secretary
Margaret Orr, one of the founders of Small Miracles International, Inc. is the mother of 11 children, all but one of who are adopted and the majority are the result of intercountry adoptions. She began working in adoptions because of experiences in her own adoptions.
Margaret is a founder and charter member of the Oklahoma Coalition on Adoptable Children, a professional organization to work for reform of adoption laws, serving as state-wide president when the group expanded. Margaret is also a member of JCICS with 3 years of service as a member of the Board of Directors. Her undergraduate education is from East Central State University in the field of laboratory medicine with post graduate work in Human Relations at University of Central Oklahoma. Margaret has found her medical knowledge to be invaluable in the adoption field.
Small Miracles International was licensed in late 1985 and has had a program in Guatemala since 1986. Prior to becoming the Executive Director in March of 1987, she was the Administrator of the agency.
Donna Clauss, M.A., LMSW, is the Executive Director of Rainbow House International, a position she has held for the past twenty years. Rainbow House International is a 501(C0(3), licesned in the states of New Mexico and Colorado.
Ms. Clauss is the adoptive parent of six children who hail from four different countries. She is an international adoption advocate and has served on the Board of Directors for the Joint Council on International Children’s Services for the past three years. Ms. Clauss participated in the U.S. Hague Study Group for the Hague Convention on International Adoption in the early nineties. She has served on multi-state panels reviewing adoption licensing regulations and has contributed to a National Standards of Practice for adoption professionals.
The Ms. Clauss produced “THE WAITING CHILDREN”, a short documentary about Russian orphans and a Sundance Film selection 1998. She authored “How are they doing? A post-adoption survey of Russian and Eastern European Adopted Children.” for Roots and Wings Magazine, fall 1997. Ms. Clauss was a former chairperson of the JCICS Education committee and was the major author of The POST PLACEMENT GUIDELINES AND TOOLS FOR ADOPTION PROFESSIONALS, written for the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, April, 1999. She also served on the team that prepared: THE ADOPTIVE PARENT PREPARATION SYSTEM, for the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, April 1998.
Lauren Cleary is an attorney specializing in public health, working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She graduated from Connecticut College and then obtained a Master of Science degree from the University of Massachusetts at Boston before attending Vermont Law School. After graduating from law school, she worked as a judicial law clerk for the trial court judges of Vermont and later entered private practice specializing in health law. Wanting to apply those skills in the public sector, she took a job with MassHealth and now specializes in Medicaid issues.
Lauren recently became involved in intercountry adoption through personal experience. She has an adopted son and saw through the process of bringing him home that the intercountry adoption systems do not always serve the best interests of the children, the autonomy of the birthmothers, or the concerns of adopting parents. She believes that those systems can be improved to encourage and help bring together children without parents and caring adults wanting to parent to form nurturing, loving, multicultural families. She joined FOA's Board of Directors to help provide legal analysis of the laws, bills, and regulations affecting international adoption so we can work to facilitate intercountry adoption as a wonderful way to form families and to encourage global understanding.
Tom DiFilipo currently serves as Vice-President of Programs & Services for the CASI Foundation. He recently served as Chief Operations Officer for International Children’s Alliance, Board Chairperson of Discovery Outreach and as an independent consultant in management practices for a variety of non-profits. In the private sector, Tom has held executive management positions with Sorbee International, Mars Inc. and Pace Brokers. Tom is the father of three children, two of whom joined his family through adoption in Russia.
Jessie is the former INS (now BCIS) Orphan Immigration Specialist at the US Embassy in Guatemala , serving from January 1998 through August 2001. She has a degree in Criminal Justice from San Diego State University. Prior to working in Guatemala she worked as a fraud investigator for the State of California. She received several outstanding awards from INS for her work and dedication in the adoption program. Many of the current standards and safeguards still being used at the embassy such as mandatory DNA testing and banning bad attorneys were established by her.
Jessie and her husband are the proud parents of two beautiful children adopted from Guatemala. She and her family lived in Guatemala for almost 6 six years and are familiar with the culture and its people. Jessie is fluent in Spanish.
Carl is a native of New Jersey but has spent much of his life in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University with a BS in Chemistry and a BA in philosophy. Carl taught high school chemistry and physics for 13 years before entering St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland. He received a BD and STM in 1985. In 1986 he returned to Greensboro and for the next nine years directed the Outreach Ministry and the Liturgical Music Program for St. Pius X Church. During this time he was also an adjunct chaplain at Moses Cone Hospital. From 1988 to 1996 he served on the Boards of Directors for Shepherd House, a facility for the mentally ill, and the Greensboro Housing Coalition. In 1993 he helped found and develop international programs for Carolina Adoption Services, Inc. for which he was Founding Board President until he began working as the Latin American Coordinator for the agency in 1997. This year Carl is in the process of establishing and licensing Aaron Adoption Associates, Inc., an international adoption agency of which he will be the director.
Carl's many jobs and ministries over the years have included choir director and organist at several churches, owner of flower and gift shops, retreat coordinator for teens, religion instructor at Greensboro College, board member for Catholic Social Services in NC, ministry to people living with AIDS and family counseling. However, the experience of serving adoptive families has been among the most challenging and rewarding. He maintains a close personal relationship with most of the adoptive families he has assisted over the past 11 years in the adoption field. He joined the FOA board in the hope of advocating for and assisting children and families involved in international adoption, and to help make the process as simple, safe, ethical, positive and rewarding as possible.
Chris Huber is the Latin American Program Manager for Families Thru International Adoption, a 501C3 not for profit international placing agency licensed in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Chris has lived and worked in Central and South America for almost 15 years and currently supervises adoption programs in Guatemala and Brazil as well as developing new programs in other Latin American countries.
Chris brings a unique perspective to FOA as he is both an adult adoptee, an adoptive parent to Luis Manuel whose was adopted from Guatemala at age 6, and as an adoption professional. These varied experiences allow him to bring different perspectives on the issues currently facing international adoptions. He joined FOA to help assure that children around the world continue to have the opportunity to be adopted into a loving family.
Carl Jenkins is a former litigation attorney who now consults in non-profit restructuring, insurance coverage issues and wrongful adoption defense He is also General Counsel for World Child® International, a Maryland-licensed, international adoption agency.
After graduating from Antioch School of Law, Carl clerked for Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington DC. Following two decades of litigation work involving family, probate, civil, criminal and corporate law, he continues to maintain an interest in the law firm of Jenkins & Povtak.
Carl is actively involved in the Hague Accreditation process through several organizations and has also served such varied community interest groups as: Peer Reviewer for the Council on Accreditation; At Large member on the Lawyer-to-Lawyer Committee for the Maryland Sixth Circuit; and served as Counsel to the Clergy for the Holy Name Order (Franciscans). He has spoken or moderated panels at Resolve, F.A.C.E., Quad A and JCICS conferences regularly during the past several years. He also has been published in Adoptive Family Magazine and other periodic journals on adoption issues.
Traci Kohler is an experienced Human Resources Professional who currently spends her time and energy at home raising her two Guatemalan children. She has involved herself in a variety of facets in the international adoption community. Traci moderates an online international adoption support community. In addition, she is one of the organizers and founders of the Bay Area Guatemalan Adoptive Families Group, a social network that hosts cultural, educational, play and political advocacy activities. Traci’s involvement with Families Without Borders included collaborating on the writing of the UNICEF ICA Position Education packet that was sent to UNICEF contributors and that has been presented to several U.S. Congresspeople and Senators. Traci has also volunteered for the Guatemalan Adoptive Families Event, a national family conference and has organized meetings and events for online communities and adoption agencies.
Traci has a B.A. in Psychology and a M.S. in Human Resources. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and two children.
Kevin Kreutner works in marketing management for a manufacturer supplying products to the food service industry. This career is the mending of two prior career paths - one in advertising and one in restaurant management. He earned his bachelors degree from Cal. State Fullerton and also has an MBA from the University of Notre Dame. While at Notre Dame, he focused his studies on business ethics with a particular emphasis on international business issues facing immigrants from Latin America. He is a published author of one research study in this area titled Life in the fields: an exploration of migrant labor in America ’s agricultural industries.
Kevin, along with his wife Sheila, has one daughter adopted from Guatemala. Going through the adoption process during the Hague crisis of 2003 had a significant impact on his life as he realized that many “child’s rights” groups he had traditionally supported were really following idealistic agendas that ignore cultural realities and are detrimental to children. At that time, he became very involved in lobbying members of Congress for support and fighting to keep children’s options open with ethical adoption practices. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors for FOA, Kevin is the chief writer for the popular Guatadopt website. His goals for FOA are to try to place pragmatic thought into the governance of adoption practices and try to make ICA more available for children in many countries where it has all but been eliminated.
Aleda Price Madison is the Executive Director for Madison Adoption Associates, a 501C3 charity international adoption agency. Although headquartered in Wilmington , DE , Madison Adoption is also licensed in Pennsylvania and, most recently, Illinois. Aleda started the business over 22 years ago seeking a way to bring needy children and loving families together. Her passion comes from her role as an adoptive, foster, and biological parent.
Aleda Madison has always been specifically interested in the international branch of adoptions. For the last twenty-five years, she has taken in students and children needing medical care from countries such as Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Ethiopia, Spain, and the United States. She also has two adopted boys from Bogotá, Colombia. Michael is now 23 and Christopher is 21. Her biological daughter, Diana, sharing her passion, began her career with her at MAA after completing her Masters degree.
Aleda has a Bachelors degree from West Chester University and has completed 32 post-graduate credits. She has provided counseling to attorneys and judges about the international adoption process, and has appeared on both daytime and primetime television as an adoption expert. Although Madison Adoption Associates works with many different countries, her greatest enjoyment and love arises from the Guatemalan program, which she has single handedly managed since the agency’s conception, bringing together over 700 families.
Cynthia Peck is a persuasive adoption advocate who has worn many hats in the adoption field for thirty years. She brings to the FOA Board a perspective honed as an educator, an agency practitioner, an adoptive parent of 8 young adults and a writer. For 20 years, Cindy edited and published Roots and Wings Adoption Magazine, which merged with Adoption TODAY in 2000. She is the author of Parents at Last: Celebrating Adoption and the New Pathways to Parenthood (Random House/Crown). Currently, Cindy is the editor of Fostering Families TODAY Magazine, which she co-founded with publisher Richard Fischer in 2001. She has served on the founding Boards of two
international adoption agencies and on the Board of JCICS.
Debbie Spivack is an attorney whose practice focuses on adoption and family building. Her background includes direct experience in the international and domestic adoption fields, as well as representing organizations in commercial litigation and corporate transactions. She has worked with client families and organizations over the years to assist them in achieving their goals, and has been a vocal and effective advocate on adoption policy issues.
Most recently, Debbie served as the Executive Director of Reaching Out thru International Adoption, Inc. In this position, she was involved in all aspects of placing children from countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and Central America with families throughout the United States. She worked closely with adoptive parent clients on all aspects of their cases, and worked closely with foreign counterparts to address legal issues on the foreign processing side of their cases. She also developed relationships with foreign attorneys, orphanages, and government officials to create new adoption programs and provide humanitarian aid.
Debbie has also been an effective voice to advocate in favor of adoption policy to enable children without families find homes. Most notably, she advocated effectively for appropriate modifications to the regulations proposed in 2003 to implement the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 and Hague Convention in the United States.The Hague Regulation Analysis she drafted was widely favored among adoption advocates for its damaging legal and policy impact, and, ultimately its suggestions were adopted substantially into the final draft of the Regulations, issued in February 2006. She also served an active member of a number of committees analyzing the Regulations (including the JCICS Hague Regulation committee and the Hague Committee of Advisory Council on Intercountry Adoption, a collaboration of national organizations recognized as leaders in the ethical and professional practice of adoption and child welfare services). Debbie further served as the JCICS Chairperson of the Azerbaijan Caucus and as the Co-Chairperson of the ICARE Government Affairs Committee. In 2005, Debbie was awarded with the JCICS 110% Member Award in appreciation for the work performed on the ICARE legislation analysis.
Debbie's prior legal experience further includes domestic adoption, and corporate bankruptcy and commercial experience for a large law firm in Wilmington, Delaware. After graduation law school in 1993, she served as a law clerk in the federal bankruptcy court in Delaware.
Debbie's newest and proudest role is being an adoptive mother of a beautiful child from Guatemala. She very much hopes to participate in effective advocacy that will keep the doors of international adoption open and accessible to children and families worldwide.