November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Bean Soup Times thought this would be a great time to raise awareness about adoption in the Black community. We found Nicole Yutkowitz, a leader at The Cradle, an Evanston-based adoption agency founded in 1923 by Florence Dahl Walrath. Nijole joined The Cradle in 2011 with responsibilities for both The Cradle Foundation and The Sayers Center. Nijole works to educate the Black community about adoption and recruit more Black families to adopt.
What is your role with The Cradle?
I am the VP of Inclusion and Community Development at The Cradle. I am responsible for recruiting African American families to consider adoption. I work with all families who have adopted African American and Biracial children and I work partly for the foundation to help raise funds for the Ardythe and Gale Sayers Center for African American Adoption. The Cradle has had an African American infant adoption program since 1994. In 1999 it was renamed The Sayers Center for African American Adoption in honor of Cradle adoptive father and legendary Chicago Bears running back, Gale Sayers.
Much of The Sayers Center’s work is focused on educating the African American community about adoption in general and, ultimately, recruiting a greater number of African American adoptive families. The Cradle recognizes, however, that African Americans perceive adoption in a very different way from other ethnic communities. They strongly value blood ties, and kinship adoption has always been more accepted than non-kinship adoption.
The goal of The Sayers Center is to find permanent, loving homes for Black and multiracial babies, and to give expectant women of color a greater choice of adoptive families. We achieve this through outreach in the African American community – educating people about the myths and realities of modern adoption and actively recruiting African American adoptive parents.
To date, more than 800 babies have been placed with nurturing families through The Sayers Center program. In FY2016, 43% of the babies placed through The Cradle’s domestic adoption program were African American or multiracial. We also assist families who wish to adopt children from Africa and Haiti.
In your role, what programs have you implemented?
A little more than a year ago, the Our Children: An Education and Empowerment Series was implemented. An important function of The Sayers Center – and now the Our Children initiative – is to provide ongoing support and opportunities for connections to all families who are raising Black or multiracial children. For white parents of Black children, it fosters an environment of cultural understanding and facilitates connectivity with other transracial families.
Education, guidance and lifelong support are all pillars of The Cradle’s mission. And while educating parents has always been a central to our mission, we determined that expanding our focus to address the realities of growing up Black in America is not only timely, but critical.
The goal of Our Children is to educate families about the realities and injustices their children may experience in societal interactions and give parents the tools they need to communicate with and prepare their children for a society that is far from color-blind.
The Cradle has embarked on this critical initiative for a number of reasons:
- The tone and direction of our conversations are changing, particularly with our families who have adopted Black children
- To address the parenting needs of adoptive and foster families who are raising Black children, especially parents in transracial households (in 2015, 52% of the African American or biracial babies The Cradle placed were adopted by white families)
- To help families successfully navigate these difficult dynamics in positive and productive ways
Some of the programs that we have implemented include the Raising Black Boys and The Color of Education Webcasts and Roundtables. In February, we will implement the Raising Black Girls Roundtable.
Four years ago we executed our first Sayers Summer Soiree, which is a fundraiser designed to raise funds for the Sayers Center for African American Adoption and assist in my efforts to educate the African American community about the process of adoption. This event is therefore critical to sustaining the Sayers Center program.
Why are these programs important for the Black community?
These programs are important for a number of reasons. As people of color, we understand the challenges of growing up in this society. We know how to talk to our children about race and racism. We prepare our children for the realities of stereotyping, labels and the bias that exist. We talk about the dos and don’ts of driving while Black, how to respond to a police request and many other prejudices that affect us. From the achievement gap, to why African American students are more than three times likely to be suspended from school as compared to their white counterparts.
Today 40 percent of the children, who are adopted nationwide, are adopted by parents that do not share the same race as them. On average, 40 percent of the children we place at The Cradle are African American, and more than half of them are placed in white households. We as an agency have an obligation to share the realities of what it means to raise a Black child today with families who have not experienced the prejudices that their Black children will experience. We also want their Black children to be aware of their culture and embrace it. One of the saddest things you can do if you are a transracial family (when parents are a different race than their children) is to think that love will conquer all and that color does not matter. In this world, race does matter and a white parent of a Black kid, not having experience, racism and stereotyping and prejudice, it’s quite difficult to prepare your child for the challenges that he or she may face being a person of color.
So these programs are designed to help our transracial families help the African American children that they adopt which is so incredibly important to the African American community and culture.
Are Black families adopting? Why or why not? Black families are not adopting at the rate that we would like as non-kinship adoption is quite foreign in the African American culture. As Vice President of Inclusion and Community Development – and a Sayers Center parent myself – a large part of my job is to educate the Chicago-area African American community about the myths and realities of modern adoption. This can be challenging, as I’ve learned, since many African Americans perceive adoption in a very different way than other ethnic communities. We strongly value blood ties, for example, and kinship adoption has always been more accepted than non-kinship adoption. Continuing to build awareness, therefore, is critical.
Also, often African American women may suffer in silence when it comes to infertility issues and often the subject of adoption does not come up.
I have often had African American people address me angry asking why are we allowing so many of our Black children to be adopted by white families. I reality is that we aren’t doing it. For many that are interested, it is often a couple of years between the first meeting and actually agreeing to go through the process. For white families who are adopting white or African American children, they may attend a meeting and days or weeks later, they have begun the process.
I think we need to get away from that fear of adopting a stranger’s child and thinking about how your community and culture will view you. There are so many myths that exist in our community. For example; expectant parents don’t place, that Blacks don’t adopt at all, that the birth parents can take the baby back and that openness is co-parenting. There is so much to learn about adoption in the Black community and I am committed to educating people.
What would you like for Black families to consider when it comes to adoption?
I would like African American families to be open to the process and open to building and adding to their families in this way. And more importantly I would want them to not think of adoption as a second option. It is going to be important to remove the stigma around adoption in our culture, almost as though adoption is taboo.
The Cradle host information meetings throughout the Chicagoland area to talk to families about adopting an African American child. I would encourage any family who has considered adoption or who are struggling with infertility to come and join us to learn more about the adoption process better understand openness and ultimately become part of the community of families who have adopted more than 800 African American children through the Sayers Center Program at The Cradle.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We would love to get more families of color out to the Our Children: An Education and Empowerment Series. These programs are beneficial to any and all families raising Black children. Log on to www.cradle.org to learn more.
Coming Next: Interviews with adopting parents