Adoption Expert Peter C. Winkler, LMSW has agreed to write blog posts for Adoption STAR and share his expertise. He writes regularly for allexperts.com on the subject of adoption. In part one of this 2 part blog post, he begins with an introduction and shares his considerable background in the field of adoption. In part 2, he will address key points concerning contemporary adoption practices. Please feel free to ask questions on the comment box. He will answer assuredly.
Since I was asked if I would write a blog on adoption, I thought that the appropriate way to start off would be by writing about my background and how I became involved in adoption.
I was born and grew up in the Bronx in New York City. As we social workers describe it, I grew up in an intact family. Although my family was of modest means, my Mom and Dad always took good care of me and my brother and sister. During my entire childhood we lived in an Irish American, Catholic neighborhood and I attended Catholic schools through high school and then I decided to enter the Catholic seminary. When I was in my teens I was involved in an organization called he Legion of Mary. The volunteer work that I did with the poor while in the Legion of Mary was my initial introduction to social work.
I stayed in the Catholic seminary through college and then I returned to lay life. I guess that both my prior desire to serve as a Catholic priest and my experiences in the Legion of Mary drew me to social work. I started out with a job in the New York City Department of Welfare and then I had the opportunity to attend social work graduate school with my tuition and expenses paid. I also began working with teenagers who were returning to the community after spending some time “upstate” in NYS Training Schools. I worked in the community visiting the homes to which the youths had returned. I tried to help them to avoid behavior that would cause them to either return to the youth facilities or go on to the adult criminal justice system. (Back then and still today, youths in New York State who are 16 years old or older, and commit crimes, are tried in criminal court and if sentenced to incarceration, they are sent to adult correctional facilities.) It didn’t take long before my interaction with these kids and their families brought me to the conclusion that the primary problem leading to the kids’ behavior problems was family dysfunction. In the majority of cases that I saw, these kids were being sent home to families that provided inadequate care or supervision. The family dysfunction was usually so extreme that it was virtually impossible to provide services that might prevent the recurrence of behaviors that would send the youth back to an institution or on to prison.
After working both in New York City and then in northeast New York State, I received an offer to work in the main office of the New York State Department of Social Services in the Division of children and families. At first I worked primarily on the development of a system that was intended to provide more resources to foster families and programs that were working with older and more disabled and troubled children. A few years later, I became involved in the State’s adoption program. New York State was a pioneer in encouraging the adoption of foster children rather than having them grow up in foster homes. Whereas only a handful of older or disabled children were adopted out of the foster care system during the 1940’s and 1950’s, by the 1960’s these numbers were growing significantly, due to a large extent to a change in attitude that every child available for adoption is adoptable. It often struck me as I worked in the adoption program, how much better off many of the children that I had worked with previously would have been if they had only been adopted.
In 1994, I took early retirement from my position as Director of State Adoption Services because my wife had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease and I realized that it would be difficult to continue working on a full time basis. However, I realized that my previous work had given me extensive knowledge of adoption and I decided to work on a part-time basis with adoptive families in more of a hands-on manner than been the case previously. In the ensuing years I have worked with several licensed NYS adoption agencies primarily preparing adoption home studies and post-placement supervisory reports. One of the genuine pleasures that I receive from this work is that I haven gotten to meet a few hundred adoptive families and to see their joy in becoming parents of an adopted child.