The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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April 20, 2001 Issue
Local News

Specialist adopting new life

After 42 years with Catholic Social Services, Janice Thomas retiring

By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

More than 42 years ago, Janice Thomas faced an important career decision. A couple weeks into her employment with the Diocese of Green Bay, she was offered a position at a local paper mill. To the benefit of thousands of adoptees and birth parents, she turned it down.

Thomas, who has spent her career reuniting adoptees and birth parents of closed adoptions and assisting with the open placement process, has announced her retirement as services specialist for Catholic Social Services (CSS), effective April 20.

"I went through the closed system of adoption, then we became the pioneers of reopened adoption," said Thomas. "They called it the pioneers of open adoption, but actually, at one time, adoption was open."

Reopening adoptions

Adoption was reopened in 1974. During the years of closed adoption, identifying information was not exchanged by adoptive and birth parents. Birth parents were not able to choose the couple for placement of their child.

"The kids were really being shortchanged," said Thomas. "Nobody was looking out for their interests. Nobody was looking out for the best interests of the birth parents as well. Their needs were being ignored. They were told that you terminate your rights. The baby will be placed in an adoptive home. Get on with your life. You will forget all about this child. Of course, this just didn't happen."

Thomas has conducted as many as 170 adoption searches a year, helping adoptees who request the identity and location of birth parents.

"It's important to remember that, in search cases, adoptees are not looking for parents," explained Thomas. "They have parents. They are looking for their medical/genetic history. They want to know who they look like, who they take after and where they came from."

Thomas has also provided assistance and support to birth parents although they have no provision to conduct searches.

"They may sign an affidavit allowing for information to be released to the adoptee if requested and may update their medical file," explained Thomas. "If a medical condition exists, the adoptive parents are notified."

"The gratification for me in this job is meeting the needs of the people," she continued. "It's hard to believe the number of lives you impact. You impact several families in each case. There is the birth mother's family and the birth father's family. It goes well beyond the adoptee. I will miss my interaction with the adoption search clients and the staff. When you work here a long time it becomes a second family."

In addition to her work with adoption, Thomas handled many clerical responsibilities for CSS, including maintaining the agency manual, revising and creating new forms, processing applications and producing annual reports. She also served on the board of directors and task force for Christmas in May, a community program where volunteers repair, clean and paint 15 homes of the elderly or indigent.

"Janice will take a strong piece of the history of the agency with her," said Karen Johnston, diocesan director of CSS.

"Her rich sense of compassion, concern for the future of our programs, and constant reminders of what mission is all about are all things that, not only I will remember and cherish, but others as well," Johnston said.

Given freely, generously

"Janice has given of herself generously and freely," Johnston added. "Her knowledge of child welfare, her commitment to all parties in the adoption triad, her sense of justice and professionalism will be missed. Also Janice's uncanny way of pointing out the "errors of our ways" over the years has added humor and challenge to our work. We wish her only the best in retirement."

Thomas has no regrets about passing on the paper mill job in 1959.

"Just think about how much money I would have today if I had taken that job," she said. "If you are only in a job for financial reasons, you can get burned out pretty fast. In this job, I have liked the contact you have with people and serving the children. I did what I enjoyed doing, so that's why I stayed so many years. I've always really enjoyed the kids. I don't think I would have been as happy doing something else."

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