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(May 26, 2009)   In August the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) will honour adoption activist Susan Crawford, of the Halton Multicultural Council in Ontario. She will receive an Adoption Activist award for her work promoting transracial adoption in Canada.

NACAC will present adoption awards at its 35th annual conference, Aug. 13-15 in Columbus OH. Four conference workshops will be presented by Canadians: 1H "Dealing with Disruption" and 3B "Surviving Adolescence", by Brenda McCreight of B.C.; 4G "Transracial Parenting", by Susan Crawford of Halton, Ont.; 6K "How to Tell Stories with Flare and Purpose", by Paula Schuck of London, Ont. and Laura Eggertson of Ottawa.

At its annual awards ceremony NACAC honors special individuals, groups and organizations who have contributed their service to promote adoption and improve child welfare.

NACAC was founded by adoptive parents in Montreal in 1974. Its annual conference is held mostly in the U.S., with Canadian cities chosen every five or six years. It was held in Ottawa in 1992, in Toronto in 1997, in Vancouver in 2003 and in Ottawa in 2008.

The 2008 Ottawa conference produced a bumper crop of Canadian honorees, listed below.

Here are the tributes to these dedicated individuals and groups, as published in NACAC's Adoptalk newsletter.

2008-2009 NACAC Award Winners from Canada
* Susan Crawford, Halton Multicultural Council, Ontario - 2009 Adoption Activist

* Phil Fontaine, Ontario - 2008 Child Advocate of the Year

* Adoption Support Centre of Saskatchewan - 2008 Parent Group of the Year

* Coltyn Renzetti, Alberta - 2008 Youth Advocate of the Year

* Nancy Umbach, Ontario - 2008 Friend of Children

* Jeannine Carriere, University of Victoria, British Columbia - 2008 Adoption Activist

* Maureen Jones, AdoptOntario - 2008 Adoption Activist

* John Lim, Korean Canadian Children's Association, Ontario - 2008 Adoption Activist

* Sandra Bell-Lundy, Ontario - 2008 Adoption Activist

* Carolyn Peacock, Yellowhead Tribal Service Agency, Alberta - 2008 Adoption Activist

Susan Crawford - 2009 Adoption Activist

Susan Crawford, who was born into a family headed by an African American / Choctaw father and a mother of Eastern European/German descent, grew up facing issues of multiculturalism and identity. While earning her Master's Degree in social work at the University of Toronto, she researched factors that influence mixed-race youth's sense of identity. This work led to an intense interest in transracial adoption, a topic Susan has been exploring ever since.

Upon graduation, Susan worked in the adoption services area of a local Children's Aid Society. There she co-facilitated workshops for prospective foster and adoptive parents who were considering transracial placements. In 2004, she moved to the Halton Multicultural Council.

In various roles, she conducted trainings related to diversity, and in 2007 Susan developed the Transracial Parenting Initiative with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The Transracial Parenting Initiative is a three-year, multiphase project aimed at creating and piloting an education and training program for families who are adopting or fostering children from a race or culture different than their own. In Phase I, completed in 2008, Susan published a literature review on transracial adoption in Canada. Next she will work on the curriculum, and by 2010 unveil other parent resources. We applaud Susan's continuing activism on behalf of families who adopt transracially.

Phil Fontaine - 2008 Child Advocate of the Year

The youngest son in an Ojibway family of 11 boys and 2 girls, Phil Fontaine lost his father at age 6 and spent a decade in the Indian residential school system. Social and economic hardships spurred him to consider politics, and by age 28, he was Chief of Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. Since then, Phil has spent his life helping Aboriginal families and children.

Since 1997, as the Assembly of First Nations' (AFN) National Chief, Phil has fought to obtain equitable funding for First Nations child and family services. Under his leadership AFN partnered with the federal government and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) to produce reports that explained the need for greater funding to keep more Aboriginal youth out of care. When the government failed to act, Phil and AFN partnered with FNCFCS to lodge a joint complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2006.

In fall 2006 Phil launched an anti-poverty campaign: Make Poverty History for First Nations. As he noted then, "First Nations poverty is the greatest social justice issue in Canada today." Because poverty is linked to child welfare involvement, Phil has called for increased family support and community investment to address challenges that bring a disproportionate number of Aboriginal children into care.

The Rebuilding Our Nations Youth Accord, a draft of which was presented to Phil and Assembly of Manitoba Grand Chief Ron Evans on November 1, 2007, is a five-year action plan by Aboriginal youth. As he received the Accord, Phil stated, "[A]ddressing youth issues is a priority for our leadership. As National Chief, father, and grandfather, I am both proud and hopeful to have received ... this blueprint toward a better future for our youth." For always striving to improve life for youth, Phil is a model child advocate.

Nancy Umbach - 2008 Friend of Children

For 40-some years, Nancy Umbach's life has revolved around children. It started with three birth children in the 1960s, and by 1970 grew through adoption and service work. In all, Nancy and her husband adopted four children, fostered seven who came to Canada for life-saving surgeries, and was legal guardian for more than 100 medically needy children from around the world.

Nancy has also been publicly and professionally devoted to child welfare. She spent 9 years as an adoption disclosure worker for an Ontario Children's Aid Society, 15 as a board and committee member of the Disabled Persons Community Resources Organization, and 8 on the NACAC board. Nancy was also president of the Open Door Society and represented adoption as a member of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children.

At the Adoption Council of Canada (which she co-founded), Nancy was their first president, as well as executive director, Canada's Waiting Child Children program manager, and ongoing volunteer. In 2007, she represented ACC at the first International Conference on International Adoption in Kathmandu, Nepal.

In recognition of her service to children, Nancy has earned the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award, a Korean Mothers Award, and activist awards from NACAC and ACC. And, like a true Friend of Children, she is still working to sponsor and resettle refugees, enjoying the granddaughter her daughter adopted from Nepal, and hoping to return there to work at the Child Haven Home for abandoned women and children.

2008 Adoption Support Centre of Saskatchewan - Parent Group of the Year

More than 15 years ago, a support group for adoptive parents formed the Saskatchewan Adoptive Parents Association. Over the years, the group grew and its mission diversified to serve the needs of everyone involved in adoption--from birth parents to adoptive parents to adoptees from any country to child welfare professionals and other community members. Now more accurately labeled, the Adoption Support Centre of Saskatchewan (ASCS) is the primary adoption information and resource center in the province.

In its expanded role, ASCS houses one of the largest adoption-related lending libraries in Canada, publishes a bi-monthly magazine, guides adoption support groups, and hosts conferences and events for professionals and adoptive/pre-adoptive families. In the community, ASCS offers adoption education sessions for schools, and partners with local organizations to share a variety of information about adoption-related topics.

ASCS's Heritage Program, started more recently, supports Aboriginal youth who are in non-Aboriginal foster care, adoptive, or residential school settings. To help the youth maintain or regain a sense of their culture, elders and community leaders lead Aboriginal ceremonies, share knowledge about traditional customs, and teach youth age-old skills such as drum making, drumming, and story telling.

Whether running a W.I.S.E. Up! class to help children and parents talk about adoption, or referring a caller to a parent support group or other resource, ASCS continually serves all members of the adoption equation. For their years of success and dedication, ASCS is uniquely qualified for NACAC's Parent Group of the Year award.

Coltyn Renzetti - 2008 Youth Advocate of the Year

In the six years since he was adopted from Russia, 14-year-old Coltyn Renzetti has become a dedicated spokesperson and advocate for older child adoption. With some of his nine siblings, he has participated in training sessions for prospective parents, involved himself in raising money to help other families adopt, and mentored other adopted children at events in British Columbia and Alberta.

Coltyn joined the Renzetti family with a friend from the orphanage and the friend's sister. His mother Judy recalls how strongly Coltyn advocated for himself at the orphanage: "He told the coordinator repeatedly that he would work for us, he would do anything we wanted him to do ... if only we would adopt him too." When there was a delay, eight-year-old Coltyn called his parents' hotel room to demand that they come the next day to take him and his friends home to Canada.

When another glitch kept "Papa" from traveling home with Judy and the children, Coltyn insisted on lugging the heavy suitcases. In Papa's absence, he was set on being the man of the family. This keen sense of responsibility for others' well-being has allowed him to patiently interact with challenging teens the Renzettis fostered, and offer ongoing support to a Russian exchange student studying at the University of British Columbia.

An essay that Coltyn wrote in seventh grade shares how his family continues to support older child adoption. Parts of the essay have been presented at adoption sessions, and in 2007 Coltyn presented a framed copy of the entire work to the Honorable Tom Christensen, British Columbia's Minister of Children and Family Development. For his eagerness to promote and support adoption wherever he goes, Coltyn Renzetti is a highly fitting Youth Advocate of the Year.

Jeannine Carriere - 2008 Adoption Activist

Dr. Jeannine Carriere is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work who holds a PhD in human ecology and family studies as well as an MSW, BSW, and BA in sociology. She is also a researcher whose primary interests include indigenous adoption policy and practice, indigenous mental health, and indigenous identity and well-being. There is, however, much more to Jeannine.

A Métis woman from Manitoba, Jeannine did much of her social work practice in Alberta. As director of a treatment foster care agency, she established one of the first provincial practice frameworks that incorporated spirituality. As associate director for Aboriginal child welfare, she advanced work on permanency planning that challenged First Nations directives. Her doctoral thesis is titled Connectedness and Health for First Nation Adoptees.

Jeannine has published other important works too. Currently, she is researching the cultural planning process for Aboriginal children who are placed into non-Aboriginal families in British Columbia. In association with the Yellowhead Tribal Services Agency, she is also co-writing a book on open customary adoption. Through direct practice, education, and research, Dr. Carriere has been a faithful adoption activist for many years.

Maureen Jones - 2008 Adoption Activist

As an aunt to many foster and adopted children and through her professional career, Maureen Jones has been a strong advocate for older child adoption. For more than 16 years she worked at a Children's Aid Society, first as the sole adoption worker and later as manager. Helped by adoption workers at other agencies, she initiated joint trainings for foster and adoptive parents, formed post-adoption support groups, and led workshops for other child welfare professionals.

In 1996, Maureen moved to Beginnings Counseling and Adoption Services--a private agency--and worked her way up to be the executive director. While there, she developed open adoption policies and training programs for adoptive parents who wished to pursue open adoption. At the same time, Maureen was also doing training for the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies and creating curricula for parent assessments.

A long-time Private-Public Adoption Task Force member, Maureen was instrumental in creating AdoptOntario--a program of the Adoption Council of Ontario that raises adoption awareness and finds permanent families for children with special needs. Now AdoptOntario's manager, she is also a private practitioner, a Ministry adoption consultant, and, as her nominator wrote, "a highly deserving recipient of NACAC's adoption activist award."

John Lim - 2008 Adoption Activist

In 2007, the Korean Canadian Children's Association (KCCA) celebrated its 15th anniversary of helping to keep culture alive for children adopted from Korea. Founder John Lim is a Toronto businessman who immigrated to Canada from Korea with his family in 1974. He was inspired to help adoptive families after attending a Canadopt summer camp.

Dubbed a "culture keeper," John's personal mission is to immerse adopted Korean children in the culture they left behind. Language classes, cultural performances, heritage camps, Lunar New Year gatherings, and panel discussions are just some of the ways he brings Korea to Canadians. Over the years, John has also organized at least six Motherland Tours to Korea for nearly 250 participants.

At an age where many retire, John is handing the family business to his sons, but he remains steadfastly dedicated to promoting cultural awareness within adoptive families. As he is quoted as saying in one article, "I just want to show them love on behalf of the Korean people." We are delighted to recognize John Lim for his devotion to adoptees and their families.

Sandra Bell-Lundy - 2008 Adoption Activist

Between Friends is a cartoon syndicated in more than 130 newspapers in 13 countries. Ontario native Sandra Bell-Lundy launched the strip--a story that follows three adult women--in 1994. Several years later, when the main character was struggling with infertility, readers encouraged Sandra to resolve the issue through adoption. "By having the couple adopt," one reader urged, "you send a message to the readers that is socially just and practical."

Between Friends began educating its readership about adoption in the late 1990s. Archived on the series' web site, the adoption-related strip introduces the adoption option at an infertility support group, and follows Susan and Harv as they eventually welcome home their adopted daughter, Emma. As Emma grew up, Sandra also introduced a storyline in which Emma's birth mother contacts Susan.

Based on research and interviews with adoptive parents, Sandra's adoption story line rang true. As one fan wrote, "You have done a masterful job of capturing the essence of ... the adoption process." On behalf of every newspaper subscriber and web visitor who has been inspired to adopt, or educated about the option by Between Friends, we celebrate Sandra Bell-Lundy's adoption activism.

Carolyn Peacock - 2008 Adoption Activist

A First Nations woman from the Enoch Cree Nation, Carolyn Peacock has been instrumental in blazing a trail to bring quality Aboriginal child and family services under Aboriginal control. She started out as a social worker, but since 1995 has been the director of the Yellowhead Tribal Services Agency (YTSA) in Alberta--an agency whose model adoption practices have influenced Aboriginal child welfare standards across the country.

Following her unwavering belief in and respect for tribal elders, Carolyn helped conceive and build YTSA's Custom Care and Open Custom Adoption programs. Through holistic and culturally appropriate supports for birth and adoptive families, their communities, and children, YTSA's programs have secured caring First Nations families for a number of First Nations children without recording a single disruption.

Carolyn also lights the way for other First Nations child and family service efforts. She has graciously shared the custom adoption program with other First Nations, published child welfare articles, and hosted--through YTSA--an annual First Nations child and family services conference. As Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada sums it up, "Carolyn is simply an inspiration to all of us who work in Aboriginal child welfare ... in Canada."

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Contact: Robin Hilborn,
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©2009 Robin R. Hilborn
Updated May 30, 2009

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