The purpose of this research is to examine the Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions in the terms of its environment, history, scope, adaptability, funding, personnel, policies, and related legislation. It will deal specifically with recent changes in scope, organization, policy and mode of operation. Since its inception in June of 1949, the department has been highly effective in placing children in adoptive homes. Its efficient services have been extended over the last decade to benefit Los Angeles’ children and parents in many new ways. These will be discussed in some detail below.
The Department of Adoptions is located in Los Angeles County. Aside from its central office, it has six other branches arranged strategically throughout the county. Los Angeles County covers over four thousand square miles and has over seven million inhabitants. Within this immense area, the County Department of Adoptions (CDA) offers complete adoption services to natural and adoptive parents as well as homeless children. Because of the size of the area it serves, the CDA is the largest adoption agency in the nation. It is also considered by many to be the most progressive.
The department was founded in order to handle the immense number of adoptions brought about by the baby boom which followed in the wake of the second World War. Applications for adoption were being made and processed in a haphazard fashion and it was difficult to keep a record of all the activity going on in that area. The sale of babies on the black market was common and needed the control of an organized adoption agency which would discourage that unethical and costly process.
The agency continued to grow and improve its services. However, until recently, the majority of children who benefitted from its service were Anglo. Recent legislation effecting it has enabled the CDA to meet more efficiently the needs of minority and other hard-to-place children. The early sixties, for instance, saw a sharp increase in the birth rate and the agency responded by pioneering in the use of direct hospital placement. In 1970, the CDA began to actively assume the care of children who had been placed and kept in foster homes for extensive lengths of time and who were unlikely to be returned to their natural parents or to relatives. They worked with the courts to free the children legally for adoptions into permanent homes. This new policy required reeducation of both the agency’s own staff and the public. Publicity programs emphasize the plight of the hard-to-place child. Where 87 percent of all placements had earlier been of Anglos, now 87 percent are of hard-to-place children. In that group are included children five years of age or older, minority children, those with medical problems, the handicapped and the emotionally disturbed. Often larger sibling groups are also very difficult to place.
In attempting to find parents for these children, the CDA makes “aggressive use of a multi-media PR approach on a continual basis.” The primary purpose of the public relations programs being used is to recruit adoptive applicants and natural parents. Such programs stress the needs of the hard-to-place child rather than the negative factors involved in his adoption. They emphasize that “the problem of the un-adopted child is a community problem which requires community action – and involvement.” The CDA has been successful in finding homes for almost all minority children under five years of age as soon as they were legally free for adoption. Part of the success can be attributed to their emphasis of liberalized adoption requirements. One no longer had to have wealth in order to adopt. Importance is placed on an adequate and secure surrounding in the family.
Further aid to adoptive parents had been granted by the “Dymally Bill” of 1968, also called the “Aid to the Adoption of Children” or AAC. It has granted aid to middle- and low-income families who wished to adopt. The aid is originally granted for a period of three years and may be extended for two more years. It has been used since its going into effect in 1,696 cases.
Other uses of the media more specifically include creative use of television, radio and other modes of communication. All the media are invited annually just before Christmas to cover “adoption day in Court.” They film and interview families during a two-week period who are receiving their final decrees of adoption. This event is well-received as it emphasizes the “Christmas Spirit.” Television is the most effective tool of public relations. The Ben Hunter show is probably the single most effective television show for the placing of hard-to-place children. On it, Mr. Hunter, who was the Chairman of the five-person Advisory Committee on adoptions from 1974-1975, interviews children who are up for adoption concerning their hobbies and other personal interests. Sometimes he interviews workers from the CDA or concerned groups. He began to broadcast the program in 1968 and has since received an Emmy for his efforts on it and had been acclaimed internationally. England invited him to that country in order that he might aid them in establishing a similar program there. Since 1971, over 350 children have been placed in direct result of his show. It is so successful because it makes a direct personal appeal to the prospective parent.
The agency also organizes public service announcements which show children who are as yet unadopted and sometimes families who have just adopted an older child.
Radio also makes use of public service announcements, but with less dramatic results than television. One attempt was KFW’s “Be A Parent Day” when that station spent twelve hours of broadcast time accepting inquiries into adoption services available and in interviews and the like. There were some six hundred requests for information during the twelve hours, but only a handful of applications came out of the attempt.
Newspapers and magazines have handled special human interest stories about adoption which are extremely effective in generating interest. They deal with the trials and ultimate rewards of adoption. Some carry regular features such as “A Child is Waiting,” which profiles a hard-to-place child and shows his picture.
Brochures are still more effective as they provide a great deal more necessary information and create serious interest in adoption. The CDA puts out pamphlets as well as short films and other material on adoption.
The CDA also becomes involved with community groups who might display interest in aiding their cause. They work with churches and other groups giving speeches and showing films to draw public concern. CDA representatives actively contact community and business leaders for support in their endeavors.
These methods have been highly effective. In the calendar year of 1976, 734 children were placed. Of these, 228 were under two years of ago and 124 were over ten. The rest fell between those ages. The children were from varied ethnic backgrounds, although they were predominantly Anglo. Of the adoptive parents ninety were single persons. Sixty-nine percent of the children had been referred by the Child Welfare Services as children who were unlikely ever to be reunited with their biological parents or relatives. Thirty-five percent of the adoptive families were able to receive grants under the AAC. These successes saved the county a great deal of expense which would otherwise have been incurred by continued support of the child, whether in foster homes or orphanages.
It became possible for single parents to adopt in 1965. The person who is desirable is one who has exhibited the ability to cope with life. The lonely individual or the compulsive giver is not encouraged to take a child. The child needs a firm hand a secure home-life. A single person wishing to adopt may attend an informational meeting. He will have more chance of finding a child if he is willing to accept a boy or a child with medical problems. However, it is usual for a girl to be placed with a woman and a boy to be placed with a man.
The CDA has also expanded its post-adoption services considerably. They receive about 1,000 requests yearly for services in this category. These include inquiries from the natural parents, the children themselves and from the adoptive parents. Natural parents want information about the placement of their children and reassurance that the child is being cared for. The adoptive parents come to the agency with questions on the best way to handle their new children’s questions about adoption, as well as for counseling in regards to adjustment problems and the like. Adult adoptees more and more often return for information leading to the discovery of their biological origins. The CDA agrees with the California Association of Adoption Agencies in that:
a) the adoptee has a right to know he/she is adopted;
b) the adoptee has a right to know something about his/
c) the agency should make available as much information
as possible; and
d) the agency should offer comprehensive post-adoption
Although the services of the agency have grown vastly over the past five years, the ostensible size of it has not. The last of the offices to open did so in the Avalon area in December of 1975. This extended valuable services to that area. But in spite of expansion in certain areas of operation, others have decreased in size. There has, for instance, been an increase in the staff who deal with social casework. At the same time, there has been a sharp decrease in administrative and line staff. With this decrease, the agency had been able to lessen costs while still expanding services.
The increase in social casework personnel was as high as ten percent. These staff members have Masters degrees in Social Work. The number of them who are themselves members of ethnic minorities has also risen from 16 percent to 14 percent. Ninety percent of the staff are women.
The years 1974-1975 saw major changes in the administrative personnel in high places. Among many other changes, the Director of many years stepped out and Lenore K. Campbell took his place. Lane Waggoner became Community Affairs Officer and brought her extensive public relations background into the agency with many of the results mentioned above.
The attachment of various auxiliary groups to the agency may be looked on as expansion also. Groups of citizens such as the Adoptaides who began in 1965 in the San Fernando Valley help the children – and therefore the agency – with babysitting, speech therapy, publicity, and many other services. They are only one of the many such organizations in existence.
Future changes in the CDA are difficult to foresee with any degree of clarity. Many factors must be considered. Changes in abortion laws would have a profound effect on the volume of work which the agency must undertake. It would also affect their counselling practices. The changing mores of today’s world also have an effect. The looser the attitude toward the unwed teenage mother’s maintaining possession of her child, the fewer children of such situations will be put up for adoptions. Another factor effecting the agency’s future operation would be any changes in legislation concerning the adult adoptee’s rights when searching for his biological parents. At present, the agency may not give any information which would identify or locate those parents. Other similar factors must also be considered. Staffing, too, will continue to fluctuate according to the need of the society.
According to the Organizational charts for the CDA, the Director of the Agency answers directly to the Board of Supervisors of the county as well as to the State Department of Health and the Adoptions Commission. To the Director answer the Deputy Directors of Program Development and Program Management as well and the Administrative Deputy of Administrative Services. To these three in turn, the various district branches answer. Each district office is headed by a District Director. This organization enables the district offices to act with a great degree of independence, but to have ready access at all times to the central organization. In the same way, it gives easy access at the top for the governmental organizations most concerned with the agency’s functions to the Director who is central to the whole operation. Lines of communication are open and direct.
Such a direct channel to the government is necessary as the agency is government funded. Seven percent of its operations are funded by the County the remaining is paid for by the State of California. In the early 1970’s the purse-strings for the agency seemed to be drawing progressively tighter. There was danger of lay-offs which would have led to less service and thence to higher welfare expenses due to children remaining in foster homes. However, in 1976, a bill passed the legislature which granted more funds for the Los Angeles agency. The agency spends most of its funds on administrative purposes. Those costs which actually relate directly to the adoption function and the children themselves are small in comparison. Money has been channelled into the acquisition of better educated social workers and into programs for the education of those already working for the agency. For instance, the CDA has recently implemented a program whereby social workers who have only their Bachelor Degrees may attend classes and earn their Masters degrees while employed by the agency.
The agency hopes to continue this trend of more and better services to the community. One expansion of present policy is planned in advertising. Until recently, most of the publicity done has been geared toward blacks. The CDA plans now to include more emphasis on the Mexican-American children and families as well as pushing for more adoption by single parents.
They hope to continue innovative handling of the children and their specific adjustment problems in the adoptive family. Such programs have been used in which the children gather into groups by age and discuss their problems with each other. There is a group coordinator present to lead them in role playing and other methods of bringing out their worries for discussion, but the emphasis is on the children themselves as the law-makers and participants of the groups.
The groups consist of boys and girls together and are broken into age groups such as six to nine and nine to twelve. Some groups last a limited length of times only while others continue for several years in weekly meetings. Only those children who have been successful in group situations are put into these. A child who tends to be used as a scapegoat by others or one who will be a trouble-maker is not made a member. (Unfortunately, there has not yet been a program worked out for these children. Perhaps individual counseling on a continuous basis will become possible for them.)
With increasing use of the mass media to bring the service of the agency into the public eye and heart, the CDA is achieving better and better results in their drive to find homes for the homeless children who are in its charge. Programs of information of prospective adoptive parents and for the public in general are making it easier to find homes for the hard-to-place children who have been a financial burden on the state and have suffered so much psychologically from lack of family love.
“Biennial Report: 1974-1976,” County of Los Angeles, Department
of Adoptions, made November 12, 1976, to the Board of
“Fact Sheet: Children’s Group at the Los Angeles County
Department of Adoptions.”
“Fact Sheet: Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions,”
“Flash,” Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions, October,
Gutierrez, Ava. “Single Parent,” Herald Examiner, December 12,
“Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions Report,” Calendar
“Post Adoption Services,” Los Angeles County Department of
Adoptions, February 1977.
Table of Organization, Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions,
Table of Organization, Los Angeles County Department of Adop tions, July 1, 1977.
Waggoner, Laine. “The Public Relations Program,” Department
of Adoptions, County of Los Angeles, April, 1977.
Laine Waggoner, “The Public Relations Program,” Department of Adoptions, County of Los Angeles, April 1977, p. 1. ↑
“Biennial Report, 1974-1976,” County of Los Angeles, Department of Adoptions, made November 12, 1976, to the Board of Supervisors, p. 2. ↑
Waggoner, p. 1. ↑
“Fact Sheet: Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions,” October, 1977, p. 1. ↑
Waggoner, p. 1. ↑
Ibid., p. 2. ↑
Ava Gutierrez, “Single Parent!” Herald Examiner, December 12, 1976, p. 2. ↑
Waggoner, p. 2. ↑
Unless otherwise footnoted, the following discussion of use of the media is taken from Waggoner, pp. 3-7. ↑
“Biennial Report, 1974-1976”, p. 14. ↑
Waggoner, p. 8. ↑
Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions Report – Calendar Year 1976, p. 1. ↑
Gutierrez, pp. 1, 3. ↑
“Post Adoption Services,” Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions, February, 1977, p. 1. ↑
“Biennial Report, 1974-1976,” p. 2. ↑
Ibid., pp. 7-8. ↑
Ibid., p. 8. ↑
Ibid., p. 7. ↑
Ibid., p. 13. ↑
Ibid., p. 15. ↑
Table of Organization, Department of Adoptions, July 1, 1977. ↑
“Biennial Report, 1974-1976,” p. 6. ↑
Ibid., p. 10. ↑
Waggoner, p. 5. ↑
“Fact Sheet: Children’s Group at the Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions,” pp. 1-3. ↑