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7 Questions with Dr. Marilyn Regier, Executive Director and CEO of The Barker Foundation

Today we welcome Dr. Marilyn Regier, Executive Director and CEO of The Barker Foundation to 7 Questions! Dr. Regier heads The Barker Foundation, one of the leading and oldest comprehensive adoption organizations in the US.

1. What motivated you to begin working with this organization?
It was eleven years ago that I accepted the position of Executive Director/CEO, drawn by the agency’s compelling history, mission, and values. I was aware of its incredible longevity as one of the nation’s oldest adoption agencies (founded in 1945), and its reputation for strong ethical underpinnings. I also respected Barker’s commitment to post-adoption services, not found at many agencies. The idea that adoption is a lifelong process rather than a one-time event is a concept that had guided my practice, and I knew Barker shared that view.

2. What was your most interesting recent project/partnership?
Social workers are undeniably busy with direct practice issues, making it challenging to get involved in advocacy and political issues, but over the past several years, Barker staff led several advocacy efforts to modify outdated adoption laws and regulations. We successfully testified before the DC City Council to effect changes in old adoption regulations, and in January 2013, we worked with Maryland Delegate, Kathleen Dumais, and other adoption professionals to change an adoption statute which was effectively limiting our ability to meet emergency needs of women in crisis pregnancies. Within four months, we had testified before the House and the Senate, and our bill passed unanimously in both chambers. I would like to see the “helping professions” do more advocacy of this sort.

3. What other projects are you up to?
We just completed a Colombia Homeland Tour, which is a tremendous amount of work but life-changing for the participants. For most of the Colombian-born adoptees and their parents, these tours are the first time they have returned to their birth country since being adopted as infants. Barker is the only agency in the U.S. to organize and sponsor these tours, which are focused on both cultural exposure and adoption issues.

We are in the midst of our second endowment campaign. The Legacy I campaign was in 1998, and Legacy II: The Next Generation began in 2012. Adoption is a volatile field, both internationally and domestically, and an endowment fund is critical to secure the agency’s future.

4. Who inspires you in the philanthropy world? Do you have a hero?
Of course, I have my personal heroes in the larger philanthropic world, but I am also moved by the countless acts of giving by Barker’s children, teens, and young adults -budding philanthropists. We are seeing more college- age adoptees giving to Barker online. Our children are making Barker the recipient of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and Confirmation gifts; Scouting troops donate; young adoptees send us the monies raised from summer lemonade stands; our youth run marathons for Barker or earn their Tae Kwon Do black belt and designate Barker the beneficiary of celebration gifts. It is wonderful to see Barker’s adoptive parents model philanthropy and energize their children to care about critical issues.

5. What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces (besides finances) and how are you dealing with this challenge?
In the adoption world, we are facing challenges from the Internet. While there are many terrific things made possible in adoption by the internet, we are sadly seeing consortiums of unlicensed for-profits operating in a “virtual world,” rather than licensed by States (as adoption agencies are). We often decry child-trafficking in other countries, but increasingly we see what amounts to baby-trafficking in America. Through the smart Phone and internet, vulnerable pregnant women and vulnerable prospective adoptive parents are being lured by .coms in a process that really “commodifies” children. In such a scenario, adoptive parents pay huge sums for the babies of pregnant women who have been flown, all-expenses paid, to spas, ranches, and vacation-like settings, where they receive little counseling. The average person has no idea this is happening in our country.

I am countering this with a combination of advocacy and education. I would love to see the problem tackled at the federal level and am working to mobilize a coalition to do just that.

6. What advice do you have for other people in your position??
Never rest on the accomplishments of the past. The world is changing rapidly, and the adoption world is no different. We can never rest on our laurels or bask in a “good year” at Barker. Not if we care about the needs of children.

7. What’s next?
In the short term, we are aggressively expanding our older youth adoption program, Project Wait No Longer, where we are responding to a national crisis by moving children from impermanent public sector foster care to the permanency of adoptive homes. In the slightly longer term, Barker plans to expand and diversify our post-adoption department’s repertoire of services, particularly in the area of attachment issues faced by children who are placed at an older age than the typical “Barker baby.”

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