LSS has been at the forefront of the world of adoption for decades. Through the years, this world has changed dramatically, and Karalyn Heimlich, LSS’s retiring director of adoption services, has had a ringside seat to it all. In her 35-year career, Karalyn has helped coordinate more than 6,000 placements. If there was a black belt in adoption, Karalyn would have earned it years ago.
Rewind 35 years, when Karalyn was just beginning her career with LSS. Domestic infant adoption was the norm and international adoption was just coming into popularity. Following the Korean War in the early ’50s, brief war-time unions left thousands of fatherless Amerasian children behind. Touched by the fate of these orphans, Harry Holt, of Holt International, pioneered the first inter-country adoptions with Korea and the U.S., and revolutionized the concept of adoption.
Karalyn notes that there has been a major cultural shift affecting domestic adoption, particularly in the past 10 years. Single parenting and young mothers choosing to parent and raise their babies has significantly diminished the number of infants available for adoption. More grandparents are stepping in to raise their grandchildren and birth fathers have attained more legal rights.
Karalyn mentions other noteworthy trends in adoption: Open adoption, an arrangement where contact between the child’s adoptive and biological parents is maintained, was initiated by LSS in Texas in the early ’80s; adoption of older children from the foster care system is much more common, as are larger family placements, to keep sibling groups together and priority placement of children with special medical needs; and collaboration between state and the private sector has necessitated that the adoption process be more highly regulated and formally contracted.
It will be hard, or impossible, to replace Karalyn’s in-the-trenches experience. However, we are privileged to have had her compassionate spirit at the hub of our adoption programs these 35 years. Karalyn is the first to acknowledge that being at the heart of creating permanent families over the years has given her life a true sense of meaning.