Children's Home Society and Lutheran Social Service merge adoption services

When Children’s Home Society & Family Services (CHSFS) and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) decided to combine their adoption services, it meant tremendous change for two of Minnesota’s venerable institutions.

Maureen Warren, CHSFS president and CEO, assuaged any concerns that the changes would benefit one agency over the other. “This is going to be a good thing for the neighborhood,” she said. Children’s Home will continue providing adoption services at its current location, 1605 Eustis St., just a quarter mile away from Lutheran Social Service, 2485 Como Ave. But the agency will be under the control of LSS, Warren said. “Jodi Harpstead, CEO of LSS, will now be the CEO of both agencies.”

LSS, a $100 million organization with 63 lines of service, has an extensive history of managing diverse programs. Warren said. LSS will provide the administrative services. “They will be doing our [human resources], our finance and working with our board, but Children’s Home will stay a separate organization. Our board will stay intact, and we’ll be a separate 501(c)(3). People who are doing adoption through Children’s Home won’t notice any difference.”

The two agencies’ adoption services will work together and be housed at the Eustis Street building, but people can still choose the agency that they want to work with, Warren said.

“Children’s Home holds licenses in a greater number of countries than LSS, but if you’re interested in adopting from Burundi or the Marshall Islands, LSS has those programs. If you are interested in Korean adoption, you would go to CHSFS.”

There might be some job changes when LSS moves in on July 1. “The administrative jobs might be consolidated or change,” Warren said. “But no changes will happen right away.”

Dramatic shifts in international adoption have prompted the changes that both agencies are making. “In the last five years, the volume of international adoptions has declined,” Warren said. “In 2005, there were 22,734 international adoptions, but by 2011, there were 9,319, so that’s about a 60 percent decline. CHSFS has always been a leader and we continue to be in the top two or three agencies per number of children placed, but our total market has been declining.”

International adoption is adapting to a new set of regulations due to the impact of The Hague Adoption Convention, which went into effect in the United States in 2008.

“The United States signed the Hague Treaty, which ensures that countries follow standards that are designed to protect children,” Warren said. “As a result, countries are slowing the rate of international adoption as they establish infrastructure and regulatory systems.”

“There were some countries where there were instances of corruption in the adoption system,” Harpstead said. “This often pertained to how children were coming into care, or how families were being treated. Because of that, the United States stopped working with certain countries such as Guatemala and Vietnam.”

LSS had a stronger domestic program, Harpstead said, so the new rules didn’t affect LSS as much. “We’ve been stronger in domestic adoption while Children’s Home has been stronger in international adoption. So putting our two agencies together makes the world of adoption that much stronger.”

Harpstead also affirmed that parents wanting to adopt would not notice this transition at all. “The only difference is that we all be in the same building,” she said, “but we are maintaining the brand names of Children’s Home Society and Lutheran Social Service.”

“We’ve been rattling around a bit in our building because of this volume decline,” Warren said, “so we’re happy that LSS’s adoption people will be joining us.” By the end of 2012, they are hoping that both the LSS and CHSFS buildings will be full.

Warren, who will serve as LSS vice president of special projects, will be reporting to Harpstead. Her first “special project” will be integrating CHSFS and LSS.

Harpstead came to LSS after 23 years of working for Medtronic. “I’ve gone from a mission of helping people live healthier lives through medical technology to a mission of forming healthier communities and making sure we do our best to care for our neighbors in Minnesota,” she said.

“One factor that was a big deal to both Jodi and me was that we’re neighbors and we know each other,” said Warren. “We’ve worked together before so it’s not as if we’re perfect strangers coming together. There’s a real history and trust building. For example, adoption involves strict record keeping and we are each other’s backup. If there ever was a fire at LSS, they could reassemble their operations at CHSFS and vice versa.”

Regarding the neighbor—and neighborhood—connection, Warren said, “Our first conversation about all this was at Muffuletta. And Park Midway Bank helped us put the financing together. Initially, when we were in the discussion phase and didn’t know where this was going, we called it by its code name: ‘Project Neighbors.’ ”

You can find out more about the two agencies at their websites: Children’s Home Society & Family Services, www.chsfs.org, and Lutheran Social Service, www.lssmn.org.

Natalie Zett has been writing for the Park Bugle since the early 1990s. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including Metro Lutheran, Freethought Today, Villager, American Jewish News, Minnesota Monthly and Other Side magazine.

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