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
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
Thomas has conducted as many as 170 adoption searches a year,
helping adoptees who request the identity and location of birth
"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
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
Thomas has no regrets about passing on the paper mill job in
"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."