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Sierra Adoption Services: miracles happen daily

Suzie Daggett interviews Gail Johnson, executive director of Sierra Adoption Services, and a nationally recognized leader in the field of special needs adoption.

What interested you in working with children?



It’s a calling! All of my working life has focused on children. After my own were in school, it was time for me to take account of my life, make some changes, yet stay involved with children. A friend suggested I submit my resume for assistant director for Sierra Adoption Services. The rest is history. I am extremely resourceful and have been lucky enough to work with a talented, committed group of people to develop an agency that is a leader in our field.

How did Sierra Adoption Services get started?




Bobbie Rowlands and her husband Alan Haley are adoptive parents. After the adoption, Bobbie decided she wanted to create a parent-led adoption agency. This was a new concept in 1983; we have grown from that to an agency serving families in 15 counties from four sites.

What makes a child unadoptable or adoptable?

In our early days we easily found families who were willing to adopt older children, children with disabilities, sibling groups and others who were then considered “unadoptable.” What we learned is that a child is “adoptable” or “unadoptable” based entirely on the beliefs of the professional working on their behalf. We started asking the question “Why does it have to be that way?” From that point of view, we successfully advocated for legislation that has enabled children with disabilities, psychological problems, older children and teens, to be adopted. California now has 61,000 foster children who will not return to their birth parents and who will grow up in foster care if they are not adopted. However, we see miracles happen every day. For example, Ross, who at 171Ú2 years of age, was able to choose his own family from many we recruited who wanted to love and parent him.

What other miracles do you see?

One of the big miracles is Felix, adopted by a local couple – he was born addicted to drugs with virtually no kidney function. The couple took him home to love him, even if though he might not live long. The miracle is that since he was adopted, he qualified for a kidney transplant which would not have been possible if he remained in foster care. Miraculously, his new mom was a match and able to give her own child her kidney. He is 5 now and doing fine.

Another example is Christina who was born with severe brain damage, yet, she was adopted at birth by a family who deeply loved her. There are many cases of older siblings (even as young as a 3 year old parenting a 1 year old) who take over the parental role for their siblings when the parents neglected their care. For a family to take these sibling families, and grant them the ability to be just kids without stigma, extending love and family protection rather than harm and hurt is indeed a miracle!

What is the appeal for you at SAS?

Traditional adoption provides children for families, and, what we do is to provide families for children. The exact opposite! If you adopt a child from us, you are the family for the children that we are here to serve. We absolutely believe, all 60 of us at Sierra Adoption Services, that there is a family for every child, even those that many consider unadoptable; ranging from terminally ill children, large sibling groups, teenagers, and more. Our mission says it all: we transform the lives of foster children by finding nurturing permanent adoptive families. This is transformation in the most profound way for the child, parents and the community. The outcome for foster children who do not get a permanent family are dire. Fifty percent of the children who leave foster care at age 18 without a family are homeless, in prison, or dead within two years. Can you imagine a life without a family? We are all committed to finding a family for any child, not just the most adoptable. This is what makes our agency unique and a true team effort. This is our work and we are fully committed to grow with the needs of all the children, parents, community and state and federal agencies.

Is there a fee to adopt a child through SAS?

There are no fees to adopt children from foster care. In fact, financial subsidies are available to help with the cost of raising the children. This is a surprise to many people. If you are financially and emotionally stable, and have room in your heart and home, we want to help you adopt a waiting child. About 70 percent of our funds come from government sources, the rest we must raise from community donations. Nevada County has always been very supportive of our efforts to place children in loving homes and we appreciate all donations that come to us.

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Gail Johnson can be reached at Sierra Adoption Services, 478-0900, or www. sierraadoption.org

Suzie Daggett is the TV host of Healing INsights on NCTV, and the publisher of INSIGHT, the Directory of Healing Arts Practitioners; she can be reached at 265-9255 or http://www.insightdirectory.com


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