Adoption Network Cleveland: The Ohio Family Connection is an innovative non-profit organization that fulfills otherwise unmet needs for information, advocacy, education, and support for members of the adoption triad (adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive/kinship/foster parents), youth in foster care, siblings, and related professionals.
Since our founding in 1988, Adoption Network Cleveland has developed a range of programs and services designed to meet community needs. We believe adoption is a complex, lifelong, and intergenerational journey for all those whose lives are impacted. Recognizing that a unified voice is a strong voice, Adoption Network Cleveland promotes community awareness and social change by advocating for progressive policies and openness in practice, policy, and law at the local, state, and federal levels.
We connect and empower individuals, organizations, and communities impacted by adoption, kinship, and foster care, and we provide a source of healing for those in need.
An inclusive community supporting all people impacted by adoption, kinship, and foster care.
Inclusiveness*: We draw strength from that which unites by embracing all people, honoring diversity and accepting differences.
Collaboration: We choose to be a catalyst for outstanding practices by fostering relationships internally and externally among individuals, organizations, and communities.
Courage: We stand for our mission and an individual’s right to self-determination even at the risk of compromising mainstream acceptance.
Trust: We promote a sense of security and hope through honesty, authenticity, and openness.
Adoption touches people of all cultures, backgrounds, and walks of life. Throughout our organization, we celebrate this fact by:
- Embracing all people
- Respecting the diversity of the people we serve
- Reflecting inclusivity in our leadership
- Responding through our policies and programs
- Acknowledging and accepting our differences, we choose to draw our strength from that which unites us.
How Do We Meet Our Mission?
Adoption Network Cleveland accomplishes its mission by:
- Creating a safe place for those touched by adoption and foster care to pursue personal empowerment. This includes but is not limited to: adoptees; birthparents and family; prospective adoptive parents; adoptive, kinship, and foster families; youth in foster care and foster care alumni.
- Providing opportunities for peer support and education for those impacted by adoption and foster care and the professionals who serve them.
- Developing and advocating for best practices in adoption practice, policy, and law.
- Creating and implementing high-quality programs and services based on best practices in the field.
- Convening and leading public-private partnerships; promoting progressive system change.
- Promoting public awareness and social change regarding adoption and foster care issues throughout the broader community.
- Creating a possibility for individual and community growth through promoting openness, cooperation, and collaboration in adoption and foster care.
Adoption Network Cleveland was founded in 1988 by Betsie Norris, an adoptee who successfully searched for her birthparents in her 20s. After recognizing the unmet needs of adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents in Ohio, she desired to build a community to support people impacted by adoption and foster care.
For over 30 years, Adoption Network Cleveland has created a safe place to empower people to have a voice and get their needs met. While adoption was once seen as a simple legal event, our organization has promoted the understanding that it is a lifelong journey that continues to impact individuals differently as they grow older. Core programs and services include our helpline, general discussion meetings, professional training, search assistance, a newsletter, pre- and post-permanency support and educational opportunities, advocacy, and systems change. The organization promotes community awareness and social change by advocating for progressive policies in adoption and child-welfare practice, policy, and law.
Adoption Network Cleveland was a fully-volunteer run organization until 1995, at which point the Board of Directors hired the founder, Betsie Norris as the Executive Director. With a small staff and budget, the organization has had a big impact with a volunteer base of over 150. Our small but mighty nonprofit organization has impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals touched by adoption and foster care over the years; two major accomplishments deserve special note.
Adopt Cuyahoga’s Kids Initiative
In 2002, the Community Vision Council led by the United Way of Greater Cleveland identified the large backlog of 1,700 children and youth lingering in foster care waiting for permanency in Cuyahoga County as a crisis that needed an immediate and well-coordinated solution. Chosen to serve as the lead agency for the Adopt Cuyahoga’s Kids Initiative, Adoption Network Cleveland led the effort that transformed child welfare in our community by redesigning the system for youth in need in Cuyahoga County through an innovative public-private-philanthropic partnership. These systemic innovations were instrumental in helping to reduce the number of youth in need of permanent families in Cuyahoga County from 1,700 in 2004 to fewer than 600 in 2019.
Through the Adopt Cuyahoga’s Kids Initiative, Adoption Network Cleveland developed a comprehensive methodology to address multiple barriers to permanency for youth in need and was successful on a far greater scale, providing a replicable model for other areas experiencing crises in the public child welfare system. In recognition of the success of the Adopt Cuyahoga’s Kids Initiative, Adoption Network Cleveland received a 2009 Adoption Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the area of Adoption of Minority Children and Youth, one of many awards the organization has received.
Adoptee Access to Records
Twenty-five years of public policy advocacy were commemorated with a ROAR. Initiated by Adoption Network Cleveland, Ohio Senate Bill 23 was introduced in early 2013 and signed into law in December of that year. Adoption Network Cleveland’s campaign was branded Restore Ohio Adoptee’s Rights (ROAR in 2013!). As a result of this successful campaign, Ohio-born adoptees who were adopted between 1964 and 1996* gained access to their original birth certificates - impacting the lives of over 400,000 adult adoptees. Commemorating its 25th anniversary that year, this law represented Adoption Network Cleveland fulfilling its lifetime of advocacy on this issue as we had initiated bills in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s that had made an impact but faced significant opposition. SB 23 sailed through with little opposition due to progress made over the years. Watch the video highlights, and see the Ohio Adoptees Access to Records Retrospective on this website.
On March 25, 2015 SB 23 was fully enacted. It allows all adoptees from the previously closed records era to access their original birth certificates. Adoption Network Cleveland organized events over two days in Columbus celebrating with hundreds of Ohio-born adoptees, many of whom traveled across the country to attend. See a series of short films. Adoption Network Cleveland was fortunate to partner with documentary filmmaker Jean Strauss to record the process. As of December 2019, more than 14,000 adult adoptees had obtained their original birth certificates since March 2015.
*Birth certificates of Ohio-born adoptees adopted prior to 1964 have always been accessible to the adoptee. In 1996 a bill passed that created virtually unfettered access to birth certificates for adoptees in adoptions from September 18, 1996, forward.
With the celebration of the 30th Anniversary in 2018, Adoption Network Cleveland reviewed the scope, name and brand of the organization. Out of this process The Ohio Family Connection was added as a tagline representing the expanding populations we now serve and our services were categorized into hubs: Families and Youth, Adult Adoptee and Birthparent, and Education and Community Outreach. Each hub continues to address needs with opportunities for advocacy, education, and support.
Awards & Honors
Throughout Adoption Network Cleveland’s history, the organization and its staff have received numerous awards and accolades for its work with the adoption and foster care community. These awards include:
- Executive Director Betsie Norris, The Eleanor R. Gerson Leadership in Social Justice Award from Greater Cleveland Community Shares
- Executive Director Betsie Norris, Virginia Colson Award for Service to Families and Children from the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies (OACCA)
- Executive Director Betsie Norris, Women Who Excel Award's Progressive Entrepreneur Winner from Smart Business Magazine
- Adoption Network Cleveland, Parent Group of the Year Award from the National Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
- Executive Director Betsie Norris, Advocate of the Year Award from the Ohio Adoption Planning Group (OAPG)
- Adoption Network Cleveland, Member Organization of the Year from Greater Cleveland Community Shares
- Executive Director Betsie Norris, Pillar Award for Community Service "Executive Director of the Year" from Medical Mutual and Smart Business Magazine
- Executive Director Betsie Norris, Champion Award from the National Center for Adoption Law & Policy
- Adoption Network Cleveland, Drenda Lakin Memorial Award for Continuing Services to Adoptive Families from Voice for Adoption in Washington, D.C.
- Executive Director Betsie Norris, Health and Human Services Adoption Excellence Award in the area of Adoption of Older Youth
- Adoption Network Cleveland, Health and Human Services Adoption Excellence Award in the area of Adoption of Minority Youth from Foster Care
- Executive Director Betsie Norris, Foster Care Hero Award from the Rona R. Carter Scholarship Fund
- Adoption Network Cleveland, Anisfield-Wolf Award, presented by the Center for Community Solutions and administered by the Cleveland Foundation
- Adoption Network Cleveland, NACAC Adoption Activist of the Year Award, presented by the North American Council on Adoptable Children for “the effectiveness of [Adoption Network’s] youth-driven and permanency planning techniques.”
- Adoption Network Cleveland, Finalist for the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations’ Nonprofit Excellence Award
- Adoption Network Cleveland, Finalist for the Northern Ohio Live Award of Achievement
- Executive Director Betsie Norris, national recognition as an Angel in Adoption (nominated by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones) and locally was named a Woman of Note by Crain’s Cleveland Business and was a recipient of the Hearts of Hope Award presented by Beech Brook
- Executive Director Betsie Norris, 2004 Emma Mae Vilardi Humanitarian Award from the American Adoption Congress