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A Conversation with Steffany Aye, LSCSW, LCSW, the Founder & Executive Director of Adoption & Beyond and 2024 Birthparent Support Alliance Member

On Your Feet Foundation launched the Birthparent Support Alliance in 2022, to provide adoption professionals a way to ensure the birthparents they worked with were receiving lifetime access to the most comprehensive care available, and the response has been incredible. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Steffany Aye, LSCSW, LCSW,  the Founder & Executive Director of Adoption & Beyond, who is joining the Birthparent Support Alliance in 2024, to learn more about the work they do, talk about common adoption misconceptions, and why adoption education is so critical for adoptive parents and hospital staff. 

Let’s start at the beginning: tell us a little bit about who you are and what your connection is to adoption.

I am the Founder and Executive Director here at Adoption & Beyond. I started the agency back in 1998. And I am an adoptive mom, although I did not become an adoptive mom until well into my adoption career; it just happened unexpectedly through foster care. We adopted her when she was eight and she's now 22.

What led you to found an adoption agency?

When I was young I was interested in the factors that lead to teenage pregnancy and then later on, while I was in college, I had an interest in infertility, but I never saw the connection between the two until I ended up in the adoption world. That started when I went to interview for a maternity home position: I wanted to work with pregnant women, but they didn't have any openings, however, they did have a job opening in adoption and I said, well, I don't know anything about adoption. They told me to come in and interview anyway. They ended up hiring me, and then nine months later, the Child Placement Supervisor was let go, and I ended up stepping into that role. I stayed at the maternity home/adoption agency for four years, and then left to finish up my master’s program in Social Work. I already had a master’s degree – in Family Life, Education, and Consultation – but nobody knew what that degree was, so I decided to go back and get a second master’s degree in Social Work, because everybody recognizes what a Social Worker does!

I ended up doing a school social work internship, and also did hospital social work internship, and I loved it – both roles. While I was doing my internships, I started exploring opening my own adoption agency, and two months later, we were licensed in Kansas and then two months after that, we were licensed in Missouri. The reason why I was looking at starting my own agency was because there were three other single-person agencies here in Kansas City. I thought, if they can do it, I can do it and having been in the adoption world for four years, I had connections with all the adoption attorneys who came along and helped me.

Your agency is a non-profit – what made you decide to go that route?

Being a non-profit agency felt like a good fit, because it was more in line with the social services we were providing.

You are also Hague accredited. Do you work in international adoption as well?

We are Hague accredited: we just got our renewal notification yesterday. In domestic adoption, we work with expectant moms, and adoptive families, and we also provide home study services. In international adoption, embryo adoptions and foster care adoption, our role is providing the home study only.  Hague accreditation can be difficult, but because we are only providing international home studies and post-adoption services, it’s a little easier for us. 

Your website talks about the hospital experience, and making sure potential adoptive parents understand how to respect the wishes of the expectant parent, and why that is so important. Can you talk a little bit about that?

I think the learning really starts with the hospital staff, therefore, we recently created a hospital training program. I think good adoption practice training starts with hospitals, social workers, and hospital staff being adoption-informed. Making sure hospitals are adoption friendly, and that they understand and acknowledge that the expectant mom is the parent, and her needs have to be met. It's making sure the expectant mom understands that she has total control of this experience, and we help her create a hospital plan - often about five or six pages long - just helping them think through everything that they need to consider, and educating them on things they may not know to consider. We help her create that plan that fits her, and we also are very honest upfront and make sure she understands it's just a plan, and birthing plans can change, and that plan can be adapted in the hospital at any point in time if she desires. It also becomes a nice guide to be able to give to the adoptive family, and to the hospital, for them to know what her wishes are in the hospital, and so that the hospital staff is aware she is making an adoption plan so that way they're prepared for her arrival.

In that way everyone is respectful of her plan, and it eliminates guesswork and questions.

This is fantastic. We don’t hear a lot of people talking about the needs of expectant mothers while they are in the hospital, and their rights, and often, potential adoptive parents are not well-educated on why the expectant mother’s needs come first.

Oh, thank you. It’s a critical piece of education. There was one time that I was involved in a private adoption, where I was brought in to just work with the expecting mom because in Missouri, the expectant moms have to have an agency involved on their behalf. The potential adoptive parents were from California, and when the mom ultimately decided to change her mind about her adoption plan and parent her child (which she has every right to do), I remember having the adoptive mom scream at me, telling me that this woman (the mom) had stolen her baby. I was so stunned. I really didn't know how to respond to her, because she truly felt that this expecting mom stole her baby when she decided to parent. Afterward, I made sure that I called the potential adoptive mom’s agency, and let them know what she said, because this was not okay and it was obvious she lacked adoption education and needed some serious counseling.  

Something that really sets your agency apart is how absolutely transparent your fees are on your website. That’s not very common in adoption.

So two things about that:  it is required, if you're Hague accredited, to have your fees available and listed out. Sometimes it might require a name and email address to be given access to them, but we don’t do it that way. We've always had our adoption service fees available on our website for prospective adoptive parents to see before becoming Hague accredited, just because there is nothing worse than sitting in front of a hopeful adoptive family offering a free consultation and seeing them be completely caught off guard at the costs. I wanted people to go in with an understanding of the costs associated with private adoption services, and that it isn’t a cheap process, there is no government funding or insurance to cover private adoption services. There’s more integrity and trust in transparency.

Education and transparency seem to be a big component of the work that you do.

It’s so important! Something I started doing about 18 months ago is creating YouTube videos, because I’ve been in the adoption field for close to 30 years, and I really felt that I had a lot of wisdom to share, to help people do adoption well and with everyone in mind. I started creating these videos, and now we create blog posts from them, along with weekly emails and newsletters, just to start sharing all that information with them. It’s been interesting, because I'm not a YouTuber, in the way you see people pursue it or become famous. I'm not famous, you know? But it's really helped our families learn what they need to learn about adoption. Now when families come in, they feel like they know me and trust me, even I've never met them before, because they’ve gotten to know me and my point of view through my videos. So that's the purpose. And that's been really nice.

It’s fantastic that you offer so much information without commitment or fees. The educational component of that is such an important part of the ethical process.

We've always offered free consultations to families, whether they end up working with us or not. I want them to be as informed as possible as they move through this journey. It’s funny; we recently did some marketing research on adoptive families and birthparents and the biggest complaint from them was that they just wanted to find the information they were looking for. They didn't want to have to give their contact information just to see if adoption was right for them, and for us, the majority of our information is available without having to give out your personal information.  

Let’s pivot to how you came to join the Birthparent Support Alliance. Why is post-placement care important?

It is so important, and in the past, it is an area in which we recognize that we have been lacking, and we want to change that. I was super-excited to hear that you guys were national now, because I've known about the work of On Your Feet Foundation does for a really long time.

It is such a traumatic and painful thing to do, to place a child for adoption, and I just want to make sure that our moms are supported. And I like that the care they will receive is actually separate from us because I find that, for a lot of birthmoms, they find us a reminder of that pain because we were there when they relinquished, and so I think that providing them with support from a neutral third party, separate from us, means they will be more likely to use the services being offered. I really want a way for our moms to be supported, because there is very much a lack of support out there for them, and it's something we've always wanted to do but we just never been able to get off the ground, because of logistics of where we're located. Now, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to keep them connected and to get the support they so deserve through this partnership.

A lot of people don’t recognize how critical it is that birthparents have a neutral space, unconnected to their adoption, in which to heal. And it’s tough to get the kind of critical mass necessary for a community.

Exactly. We had a birthmom on our staff for a period of time, and she tried to do a pre-Mother's Day event, but only two mamas showed up. She sent out invitations, but only two actually showed up and one of them almost didn't show up. And what was fascinating was that, because she worked for an agency, they didn't really see her as one of them, even though she was a birthmother too. It was interesting to see and just made it clear how important that separation is.

I've been helping with adoptions for 30 years now, and back when most adoptions were still closed, the placing agency I worked at would just give expectant parents a piece of paper – just one page – and I don’t even know if there was a name on it, just general demographic information, and we were asking moms to place their babies based on the information on that piece of paper. At the time, I was having my first child, and interviewing 12 different people to babysit my child during the day, and then here we are, asking our mommas to place their children with just this piece of paper. Because of that, I was instrumental in trying to get our mommas profile books to view, and eventually, face-to-face meetings. It’s been fascinating to watch the evolution, but I think post-placement care hasn’t changed, and we aren’t thinking enough about that.

What is the biggest misconception people have about birthparents?

 I think in general, the biggest misconception people have is that birthparents don't love their children and that they don't deserve to know anything about their children afterward they place, because they chose not to parent their child. Which of course we know is not true and they do deserve to know and have a relationship with their children.

What do you wish adoptive parents understood about the birthparent experience?

Well, I think it probably just comes back to the fact that she does very much love her child, and this is why she's making this decision because she felt that's what's best for her child. So it's just making sure they understand that just because she's looking at making an adoption plan doesn't mean that she doesn't love her child.

 How do you think becoming a member of the Birthparent Support Alliance will help your birthparents?

Well, I think it's going to help them be able to properly process their grief, and keep them from experiencing disenfranchised grief. They will be able to get the support they need from the very beginning and not take the wait-and-see approach. I also really like that aspect of being able to help them manage their open adoptions, and be able to have the support they need to be able to maneuver through those, because after an adoption is finalized, we step out of the picture for the most part, which is why we want expectant mothers and potential adoptive families develop a relationship because we want that relationship to continue. We are only here for a short period of time, and they are the ones who have to live in this openness, so we encourage that relationship-building from the beginning, I am glad they have the support they need to do that because while adoptive families will come back and ask us questions, the birthmommas really don’t.

To learn more about Steffany and Adoption & Beyond, visit them online, at their website, or on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Be sure to check out their videos covering three myths of open adoption, seven core issues in adoption, and open adoption after closed adoption

 Membership for the Birthparent Support Alliance onboards quarterly, and there is still limited space available for 2024. If you are an adoption professional who wants the birthparents you worked with to receive the kind of comprehensive care they need to heal, and to be able to build strong, healthy relationships within their adoption triad, drop us a line; we'd love to talk.