Today on the blog, we're getting to know our Adoption Specialist, Lauren LaStrapes! If you've ever called Choice with questions about adopting, you've probably already met this awesome woman. With an MSW in social work, Lauren's career has taken her to some incredible places! Here at Choice, she serves our adoption community by conducting home studies for our adoptive families, acts as a liaison for foster families, mediates communication between birth parents and adoptive parents, and helps our adult adoptees with birth searches! (Yeah, I wasn't joking. She's AMAZING.) In addition to her incredible career in social work, Lauren is an outdoorsy PNW adventurer with a passion for social justice, who loves exploring in Portland with her partner and 18-month old daughter!
We live in a city with some amazing food! What's your go-to, here in Portland? I love Greek food, but I also love going to food trucks, cause I also love Thai food. I’m the type of person, who’s like, “Let’s order a bunch of things!"
What's your favorite way to spend a 3-Day Weekend? Before I had my baby, I would have said being outdoors. Me and my partner love hiking and camping. It’s hard to camp with our baby, so now it’s more like, long walks and hikes with her. Last summer, we camped around Olympic National, close to Canada, and that was super fun!
What is a surprising fact about you? I was very sporty in another life. I used to play collegiate softball; my siblings and I played since we were little and I got to travel quite a bit. I’ve been to so many places because of softball. I forget that was my everything from ages 5-23. I love sports! All of them!
How did you first start in the field of adoption work, and how did you start at Choice specifically? As a kid, I would watch the “Feed the Children” commercials. I wanted to join the Peace Corps because I wanted to help children internationally, in different orphanages, and that’s what the Peace Corps did.
But when I was getting my master’s degree, I was doing my fellowship with a congress member. So for a long time I was going to Washington DC, doing policy work. I wanted to work on behalf of children and families...but then I found out that everyone was scraping for crumbs at that level--to be quite honest--to get the trickle-down. And I realized that I couldn’t affect policy or change on a macro level if I didn’t actually know what it was like to be on the ground, in the field. How could I advocate for children and families from such a high point if I never saw what it was like in a low-income school?
I started working for Portland Public Schools because I wanted to be in an area with children who I felt like deserved so much more than they were getting. I worked in an area with a lot of diversity and low incomes families. A lot of these kids were in foster care. When they were coming to me at school...something as simple as a hug was something that they weren’t really getting. I realized I wanted to unite kids with families because that was something that was the meat and bones of helping them–getting them into households.
I worked in international adoption, which to me was the culmination of my journey in social work, and I loved it, but I missed working with children in my community. I missed working with kids in the community, kids in the Portland/Metro area. I came from a school setting where I was working with kids directly in my neighborhood. I wanted to get back to that.
Can you share one of the most meaningful experiences you’ve had at this job? I love working in mediation because I get to work with birth mothers. I get to see what one letter can do - those details about what that child is interested in. Those are the most powerful moments. Recently, one of our birth mothers reached out to us from her incarceration. She hadn’t gotten an update in a long time. She’d been wondering for years how her son was doing. She wanted to know what he was like and what he was interested in. Getting to send her a letter from her son changed the course of her life, but it also changed the course of mine. Because the little things like a photo or a letter mean so much. She knew he was happy. She knew he had been adopted by a great family. But there’s something about having that connection...
What do you like most about working in this field? We’re on the same playing field. We’re all living here...we’re all trying to make our community better for children. And I appreciate that in domestic adoption. We’re trying to keep kids close to where they came from, and keep them connected through resources, keep them connected to things that have built them into who they are. I like about domestic adoption. It’s investing in the children right where they are, because we’re all in this community together.
What has surprised you about adoption work? The willingness of families, doing whatever it takes to advocate for their children. Their ability to move mountains for these children. So much comes up when you’re a parent, but to see these families, when they are matched with these children, they will move mountains for them. They’re willing to take them to any doctor, to go anywhere, to change their lives to make sure their child feels a part of their community. It’s part of the selflessness that happens in parenthood. It’s really powerful to see.
What is the most common myth or misconception about adoption that you have come across? The myth that an adopted child can’t have love and understanding and loyalty and ties to both aspects of their story. Some adoptees feel that if they ask too many questions about their birth family, it’s a form of disloyalty to their adoptive parents. The myth is that adoptees can’t walk on both sides, have a tie to both. It doesn’t mean that any side is loved less or looked at any differently. You can live your story and be connected to all aspects of your story. There’s something really special about an adopted child knowing their whole story and being connected to both sides. Adopted children in a loving home can have an understanding of their life journey and can be open to navigate it as they grow up.
Anything else you'd like to share with the Choice Adoptions community?
I love adoption. When people say they’re going to adopt, I look at them with such awe. It’s such a huge thing to do–to open your heart and home to a child. Especially on the foster side, the wanting to heal children who have trauma. To take that on is huge and amazing. I have such respect to adoptive families. It can be scary and hard, but it’s rewarding, and it’s rewarding to watch.
Any questions for Lauren? Comment below!