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Baker Victory Services curtailing adoption work

Baker Victory Services – the people carrying on the legacy of Father Nelson Baker more than 75 years after his death – no longer will help local families seeking to adopt children internationally or domestically, agency officials have confirmed.

Instead, the Lackawanna not-for-profit will shift its resources from domestic and international adoptions to placing young people from its own foster-care program into local homes.

“As we saw fewer opportunities for families to adopt, agency leadership looked to find a bigger need,” said Thomas R. Lucia, director of public relations and special events for Our Lady of Victory Institutions. “Foster care was it – many more children of all ages who are in need of stable homes. Our services on that side are expanding.”

The problem is that there are fewer babies available to adopt, both internationally and domestically.

On the international side, countries that Baker Victory officials worked with – including Colombia, Russia, China and Vietnam – have tightened their restrictions for allowing foreign adoptions, said Terese M. Scofidio, Baker Victory’s chief executive officer. The agency now works only with Colombia, and that’s only for special-needs children.

“Domestically, society has changed,” she added. “Mothers are keeping their babies, so it’s just a decrease in the number of babies being available for adoption.”

Baker Victory will continue to work with those families already in the process of adopting international or domestic children. Anyone looking to start that process, though, would be referred to other agencies.

The numbers show that the end of Baker Victory’s international and domestic adoptions was inevitable, with only seven total adoptions occurring in the most recent fiscal year, compared to 33 five years ago, Scofidio said.

In 2006, Baker Victory did 43 international placements, along with about 200 home studies for various agencies. In the fiscal year ending June 30, the foreign placement number was down to four.

On the domestic side, the agency handled about 15 adoptions per year in the mid-1980s, compared to five or fewer each of the last few years.

One person familiar with the longtime adoption program claimed that Father Baker “would be rolling over in his grave” if he knew about Baker Victory Services discontinuing its work for international and domestic adoptions.

“Father Baker was well known for changing the program and evolving,” Lucia replied. “There’s no orphanage now. There’s no Infant Home anymore. At the time, those met society’s needs. ... But now the need is much more severe on the foster care side.”

As Scofidio put it, “Father Baker looked to the future and said, ‘What are the needs around us?’ ”

For example, he opened Our Lady of Victory Infant Home in 1906, only after learning about all the newborns’ bodies found in shallow graves and local waterways.

“In a similar vein, we’re saying, ‘Where is the need?’ ” Scofidio said. “There’s a dramatic increase in the need for foster care placement.”

The Baker Victory Services Adoption Program has helped families for more than a century, the agency’s website states.

“A lot of things have changed in society since then,” said Judith P. O’Mara, Baker Victory’s director of adoptions. “A woman who is single and has a child is more accepted now. People are in a better place to care for their children. Their parents support them, their grandparents support them, and there are programs to support them.”

Meanwhile, the lack of available children from other countries is a problem across the U.S., where the number of international adoptions has dropped from some 23,000 in 2004 to about 7,000 in 2013.

“It’s just a global change that we’re seeing,” O’Mara said. “There’s not one reason for it, because every country has different reasons and issues.”

At the same time, Scofidio said Baker Victory now has 28 children in foster care, compared to 12 five years ago. That, too, mirrors the national picture, where some 400,000 children are in foster care across the country.

“I think you have more awareness about children being neglected,” O’Mara said. “Obviously, you have an increase in families that have drug- and alcohol-related issues. That contributes to it as well.”

All three workers in the adoption program will remain with Baker Victory, but in different roles. For now, O’Mara will work with families that have started the adoption process and in post-placement services for recent adoptions.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done,” O’Mara said, noting the thousands of children the agency has helped, either in placing them or conducting home studies of prospective adoptive families.

“We’re going to continue Father Baker’s legacy, but in a different way.”