Betsey Norris was in the newspaper recently. You can find the link here.
Here is the article from the Plain Dealer.
The Adoption Network's gentle warrior
The roots of Adoption Network Cleveland grow out of Betsie Norris' quest for her own.
She is an adoptee. She found her birth parents 22 years ago and two years later founded the network in her living room.
Norris has been seeking ever since -- to open records to adults who were adopted, to help people find their own birth relatives and, indirectly, homes for thousands of children stuck in the gray abyss of foster care and county custody.
If that makes her sound like a tireless crusader, it would make her late, adoptive father proud and show just how much influence such a parent can have.
He was William B. (Brad) Norris, a towering man in every sense.
Brad Norris was tall, magisterial and driven by a passion for public service. He was a partner at the Hahn Loeser law firm, campaigned with others to put WCPN FM/90.3 on the air, joined the fight against the county's plan to pave over Shaker Lakes and represented Cleveland in its antitrust case against CEI.
At 16, in World War II, he was also the youngest platoon leader in his rifle company as it fought its way across southern France.
Betsie Norris, the gentle warrior, is driven by her knowledge of the man who raised her and her curiosity about the birth parents who did not.
It is not a frivolous or selfish quest and cannot be dismissed as idle curiosity.
There are emotional issues that go with the knowledge of being adopted and some that flow from a lack of knowledge, including the medical histories of people who came before them.
Then there is a sense of shame that can seep out of the secrecy that enveloped the adoption process.
And finally, there is the concern about how the search will affect the birth family, and the adoptive family.
"You don't know how many times I went to call the agency that handled my adoption and slammed the phone book shut because I thought it was selfish and it might hurt my parents," Norris said.
When an adoptee says "my parents," the reference is to the people who did the raising. As Norris said of her birth parents, "I am their daughter, but they are not my parents."
She found the couple from which she sprang, and it had a happy ending. She was embraced by her blood siblings and was in two of their weddings.
But Norris rarely uses the word "ending."
Historically adoption was viewed as an event that occurred, then people moved on. "Adoption is a lifelong process," Norris said. "There is so much more to it that unfolds over the years."
After World War II, many restrictions were placed on adoption records, in part to insulate the adoptees from the birth parents, Norris said.
However, many courts and state legislatures have been loosening the reins, especially in the past 20 years.
But not in Ohio. Last week, a pending bill was gutted of any language that would have given adoptees access to their original birth records.
One of the great ironies is that attorney Brad Norris played a major role in closing Ohio records. Betsie Norris said her father reacted to the ease with which he - or anyone else - could get birth records. His intent was to keep the public at bay, not the adoptees and birth parents.
But the legislature of 40 years ago went so far that anyone adopted after 1964 cannot get the records - their own records. Brad Norris in 1994 said the law created an absurd situation because two of his adopted children, born before 1964, have access. But his youngest son, born in 1963 but adopted the following year, does not.
Which is not to say that such searches are impossible. One of Adoption Network Cleveland's fortes is assisting people who want to find their birth parents.
But that is not the extent of its work. With "adoption" in its name, one might suppose that the network does a lot of placement work. One would be half-right.
The network is not a placement agency but has reshaped the way those organizations - both public and private - do business.
For example, Cuyahoga County had 2,000 children in permanent custody eight years ago. Today the number is 783, ranging from infants to older teens, thanks to the network.
Jim McCafferty, director of the county's Department of Children and Family Services, said Norris and her group were chosen as the lead agency to formulate new adoption strategies that placement agencies could use.
One is Child Centered Recruitment, which gives a social worker a small caseload, so he or she can get to know the children, and get to know people who know the children, which makes it easier to find adoptive homes.
Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Judge Peter Sikora said, "One of the court's most difficult jobs is when we grant permanent custody to children and Family Services." He said the court and the county then "are making a pledge to these kids that we will do better by them."
Sikora also said that if the child has no permanent home by the age of 18 "we've failed them." He said the network is one of the most effective means of making sure the children and teens "don't age out of the system" before finding a home.
Another feat is the expansion of the number of local therapists who understand issues unique to adoption.
The idea was to educate established psychologists and social workers, said Zoe Breen Wood, director of field education at Case's Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.
The issues include the sense of loss that adoptees and birth parents can feel, she said, as well as adopted children's difficulty in identifying with an adoptive family or with establishing a sense of their own identity.
Wood said the Adoption Network is the only organization in the country that deals with all the issues, all the organizations and all the members of extended families before, during and long after the adoption has been formalized.
In 20 years, it has grown from an all-volunteer group to a private nonprofit with an annual budget of $2.8 million.
More information about Adoption Network Cleveland is available at 216-325-1000 or www.adoptionnetwork.org.
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