Category Archives: Adoptive Families

Words of Wisdom from One Great Dad

above: Martin, Bob, and sons

Martin Mitchell works as an administrator in the Oakland Unified School District, and served as a member of Our Family Coalition’s Board of Directors for years. He’s now an OFC Emeritus Board member, and also Treasurer and a Deacon at City of Refuge UCC Church.

OUR FAMILY COALITION: Tell us a bit about your family: anything you’d like to share about how you came to be?

MARTIN MITCHELL: Bob and I have two adopted sons, one 16 and the other 24. We’ve been together for 18 years and legally married for five. Both our sons were adopted as teenagers, which is a bit unusual —but there’s a huge need in that area.

OFC: Has your notion of community uplift changed since you became a parent, and if so, how?

MM: No, it hasn’t. I’ve just had to learn how to plan better! (laughs) I’ve always been involved with the community. I’m almost 60, and I worked on my first political campaign when I was 16 years old! Throughout my life I’ve always been involved, whether it’s with some organization, mentoring young men, or tutoring kids—it’s how I was raised. You give back to the community when you can. So when I had children, I didn’t want to give that up. I just had to be sure that what I was involved with did not take time away from my family, and instead ideally include them.

OFC: What kinds of community volunteer work do you engage in now that has been family-friendly, and why?

MM: We’ve found the kids can easily be involved with us at church. For years, Bob was involved with the church food pantry. Our youngest son James would go with him twice a month. They would get there about 5:00AM, set it up, and then end up staying until it closed. It was how he got James involved. And it stuck.

OFC: Do you see your sons showing you new directions in community involvement?

MM: Both Bob and I come from families that were very involved where we grew up. Now that we’re parents, we know our children will eventually emulate what they grew up with. Since our parents instilled in us a sense of service, we’re hoping we can instill the same in our sons. The value of giving is multi-generational.

Lawrence, our oldest, is a court advocate. He works with young people who are in the juvenile justice system and are out on parole or waiting for their court cases. Helping others is a critical part of a career, for him. It’s just part of his personality.

James is the same way. When he first came to live with us, we used to talk a lot about helping others. But we saw that he already had that value in him; helping just came naturally. When he was in middle school, we always told him, “Don’t fight. Just walk away.” But the fights he got into were when he was protecting other kids who were being bullied. He’s very caring. Even when Bob couldn’t go to the pantry, James would make arrangements to have someone pick him up so he could still go.

OFC: How do you manage manage a life of service as a working parent?

MM: Whatever you engage in has to be something you’re going to enjoy. There are hundreds of organizations that need volunteers. Find organizations that your children can get involved in as well, so they can go with you, and at least from time to time, get involved. If you have a busy work life, your kids have sports and school, you just have to set a time aside and say, “As a family, we’re going to do this once a month.” If you can get the entire family involved, it works. And if not, as an individual you start that example, and maybe everyone else will follow.

OFC: Anything else you’d like to share?

MM: It’s a gift to be able to give back. And it teaches your kids to respect individuals who are less fortunate than they are. It’s just the luck of the draw. Any of us can be in that place at any time in our lives. You have to help others because there may be times when you’re going to need help. Life has a way of showing showing up at your front door when you don’t expect it!

We can and must defeat this anti-LGBTQ family amendment

Every week we are faced with another gratuitous challenge to the gains LGBTQ people and our families had so recently made, or an affront to human decency. This week it’s both.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a harshly anti-LGBTQ family amendment to an existing bill, allowing child service agencies widespread license to discriminate against LGBTQ people –or against interfaith couples, or single parents, or any other prospective parents who don’t pass the agency’s or its staff’s religious muster.

And more: the bill not only enshrines discrimination based on “religious or moral beliefs,” but it would discriminate against states who ban anti-LGBT discrimination in child placement services – such as ours – by denying such states 15% of their federal annual adoption dispersals. The effect: the federal government would disproportionately fund adoption and foster placements in “religious recusal” or legally discriminatory states.

This is more than outrageous, this is inhumane. More than 440,000 children are in foster care right now; 117,000 are waiting for adoption; more than 20,000 age out before finding a permanent family. Two million LGBTQ adults have expressed interest in becoming foster or adoptive parents: it’s beyond time to end this pointless discrimination, in the best interest of the children.

Because the amendment is attached to the bill that provides funding for the Department of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, to kill this amendment representatives need to vote against the entire funding package. But House Democrats and moderate Republicans could work together against, and they must.

We know from impacts on the Affordable Care Act and family separation that public outcry has an impact. Our voices can and will make a difference!

Here’s what you can do today:

  • Contact your representative. Demand they oppose this inhumane attempt to enshrine anti-LGBTQ discrimination nationwide. If they’re already on record in opposition, encourage them to raise their voice louder, and assure them you have their back.
  • Join the mailing list of the Every Child Deserves a Family campaign to stay updated: ECDF is a federal act – introduced last year by John Lewis (D-GA) in the House and Kirsten Gillebrand (D-NY) in the Senate – calling on child welfare agencies to make placement decisions on the basis of the best interest of the child, not an agency’s or its workers’ religious beliefs.
  • Share your story: Our Family Coalition is always interested in collecting and publishing your story, whether you are a foster parent or youth, an LGBTQ parent, a child welfare professional, or an ally. Or join the Speaker’s Bureau at Our Family Coalition. In print or in person, your voice will help spread real understanding about real families. We need this now more than ever.

We are here for one another; we are here for the children, and we will continue fighting against bigotry, together, in the name of love.

Baby Boy

Guest Post by Nicole Opper

Nicole and Kristan document their journey into the foster care system to adopt a child in their new comedic documentary web series The F Word: a Foster to Adopt Story. Our Family Coalition is proud to be a supporter of the film and a co-presenter of its screenings at Frameline Film Festival. Below, Nicole shares a morsel of their story. Come for more at the screenings June 18th at the Roxie in San Francisco, or June 20th at the Elmwood in Berkeley.


When my cell phone rang I thought it was going to be our social worker calling about two siblings we’d seen photos of earlier that day in her office. It’s a bizarre monthly ritual: showing up to leaf through the new collection of flyers featuring foster children awaiting homes. Some of these children reappear month after month. Others are new faces. Their descriptions say things like “Enjoys playing soccer” or “Has an infectious smile,” before divulging the inevitable traumas they’ve faced.

We had made the decision to build our family through fost-adoption two years earlier and signed up for parent training classes at a local agency. We were open to any child age 0-4 and were told that it would be about a two year wait because everyone wants little kids. For awhile we thought about taking on an older kid, but knew this was unrealistic for us – we live in a tiny rent-controlled apartment in Oakland, and to leave this apartment would mean to leave the Bay Area altogether. Many of our friends had already been priced out. So we decided to stick to our guns, and two years later, almost to the month, I was answering this phone call, expecting to hear about next steps for the two little girls who had captured our hearts that morning, a two year old and her six year old sister. Not only had we broken our age rule but we’d doubled our number to two, deciding we’d make up for our lack of space with boundless love and plenty of outdoor adventures.

But the call about the siblings never came. In the time it had taken us to see their flyer and inquire about them, another family had already been selected. This was the third potential match that we’d gotten our hopes up about but that ultimately fell through.

The call was, in fact, about a baby. “Baby Boy” was what they called him, because he hadn’t been given a name. When I think back to the day we were told about him, none of it seems real. For one thing, my wife and I were already starting to feel pretty cynical about the whole process. Either we’d see a kid and get excited but wouldn’t be picked by their social worker, or we’d be picked but then it would fall through for other reasons. We knew this was part of the deal; that adoptions through foster care were messy and hard, that there would be joy but also profound grief. We just didn’t expect it to take so long to even be considered. Was it the gay thing? Our small home? Our income level?

We were told it was a concurrent planning case, which means there was a chance Baby Boy would be reunified with birth family. Were we still interested?

“Yes,” we replied.

Well okay then, we’d hear by the end of the day if we were selected. We spent the day wondering if the Yentas of the child welfare system would deem us to be a match. Sure, Baby Boy’s social worker had a thirty page document cataloging most of our major life choices, but how do degrees, careers, hobbies and the cities we grew up in add up to any sense of whether we’d be the right parents for a particular kid? Most kids in the system aren’t there because of abuse or abandonment. Most are there due to neglect. Poverty is an indicator for neglect, and the idea that there are kids in foster care who wouldn’t be there to begin with if their parents had received the support they needed was not only unjust but completely heartbreaking. This system treats the symptom instead of the cause, yet we put our faith in the process, because a broken foster care system doesn’t get fixed by those who ignore it, but by those who engage with it.

And then the call came. At 5pm later that day we were told we’d been selected. We would have a disclosure meeting the following week where we’d receive information about the child’s history and his needs. We knew next to nothing about him, but we knew he had a story, one written onto his heart and his body if not his conscious mind. It was a story that included two months of doctors, nurses, social workers and even volunteer ‘cuddlers’, but began months earlier in his mother’s womb, and centuries before that with his ancestors. We knew so little, but one thing we were clear about: our task was as much to honor this child’s story as it would be to care for him.

The F Word: a Foster to Adopt Story screens at  Frameline June 18th and June 20th and streams on PBS Digital Studios in the Fall. On Twitter/Instagram/Facebook @thefwordseries.