Waiting to adopt a child can be agonizing, as Caren knows well. Waiting means you’re being asked repeatedly how things are progressing, you’re constantly checking your email in case a birth mother is trying to reach you, and as it drags on, you can feel like you’re the only childless couple left on Long Island.
Waiting to adopt can also mean hope and anxiety and ultimately, joy.
As an adoptive parent herself, Caren is especially attuned to the myriad emotions that adoptive couples feel and she brings her own special sensitivity to the process.
Caren decision to adopt was due to an inherited genetic disorder, Neurofibromatosis, a disorder that can develop into multiple soft tumors under the skin and throughout the nervous system, and can be passed on to biological children. For Caren and her husband Kenny, there was no question that they would adopt. Their eldest, Justin, was adopted domestically in 1990 and their daughter, Heather, was adopted from Guatemala in 1997.
After her own experience, Caren decided to focus her career on adoption social work so she could help other couples experience the joy that she felt. “I thought ‘This is cool to do,’” she says.
The first step in what is a long and arduous journey to a successful adoption is a home visit from the adoption social worker. For many couples, the stress of that visit can be almost overwhelming, fearing that the social worker will find fault with something that will end their dream of having a family.
“I am the person giving permission to proceed with the adoption,” Caren explains. She provides the home-study portion of the process, checking references, job history, and criminal records. Then she submits her written report to the court, attorney and adoption agency, as well as the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Through the years she has built up a solid reputation with prospective couples, singles and non-traditional families as being kind, considerate and understanding, and being able to put them at ease.
“You let us know that you were on our side,” one new mother told her.
“You helped guide us and explain what was expected and what would happen next,” said another of Caren’s cases. “Not everyone took the time, but you did.”
It can take 18 months or longer to adopt a child, depending whether it’s being done domestically or internationally. Caren says she has facilitated adoptions from Montauk to China.
As the chairperson of the L.I. Chapter of the Children’s Relief Committee for the Adoptive Parents Committee, Caren collects donations of clothing, toiletries and other needed items for orphanages all over the world and has the families traveling to pick up their child hand-deliver them.
But there is much more to Caren’s story. She provides her services and expertise to the Children of Hope Foundation/Baby Safe Haven, working closely with founder, Tim Jaccard, who started the organization in 1997. The original mission was to help pay for the burials of unclaimed infants who were abandoned but now Safe Haven’s goal is to prevent unwanted babies from dying by offering mothers safe locations where they can leave their infants without fear of arrest or other ramifications.
Since its inception, Safe Haven, which is accessible 24/7 nationwide, has saved hundreds of babies.
“Spreading the word is the only way for people to know about the Safe Haven Law,” said Caren, who does her part by social networking especially on Facebook, as well as speaking at events.
“If my information helped save a newborn because I was seen at a health fair or spoke at a high school, then I have to keep going,” she says.
Safe Haven operates its hotline through the Bellmore-based Long Island Crisis Center, where calls are first screened, and then, if needed, forwarded to Caren. She says she receives about three calls a week from young women asking for help.
Recently, a 17-year-old from Wisconsin had just given birth and called the hotline. “She had no one to talk to and she trusted us,” Caren says.
She counseled the young mother and asked her to bring her baby to the local firehouse where the baby was found alive and well.
“That happens all the time,” Caren says.
She recently traveled to Yonkers to help a young woman who needed a C-section. “I called my friend, a paramedic EMT,” Caren says, “and we brought her to the hospital.
“If I can physically get to her, I will,’ she vows, “or we’ll network to get her help if I can’t.”
On Long Island the tragic case of Thomas John Hope, an infant boy discovered in a Yaphank refuse facility almost two years ago, has continued to resonate, possibly saving other infants’ from suffering the same fate. Since Thomas’ death, more than 12 babies have been saved on LI and the surrounding area by Safe Haven because of his story. “It has a rippling effect,” she says.
Caren also works closely with the national organization Guardians of the Children. “They are bikers who help abused children,” she says. Although she doesn’t ride a motorcycle, she helps at their local events.
The Guardians gave her an official vest that is now covered in pins and patches. Her starfish pin holds special meaning to Caren because it refers to the “Starfish Poem,” adopted from an essay by the late Loren Eisley.
Many of the connections that Caren has made throughout the community have compelled her to make a difference in areas outside of adoption and babies.
She is part of a group helping a paralyzed Hempstead police officer by bringing him a supply of homemade food twice a month donated by Upper Crust Food. Now she’s forming her own nonprofit group called “Donate A Dish,” a simple concept that can make a tremendous difference in the life of the recipient.
But saving babies will always be Caren’s first priority.
“Adoption is what I do, but Safe Haven is what I am,” she says. “That’s my mission: to keep babies safe.”
For more information go to www.Adoption-SocialWork.com, or call 631-366-3434 or email CarenCares4Kids@gmail.com The Safe Haven crisis hotline is 1-877-796-HOPE. All calls are confidential, as protected under the Safe Haven Law.