A Q&A: Kim Perez, President and CEO of the adoption agency The Cradle
Though thousands of Illinois children need homes, adopting a child comes with both emotional and financial challenges. Illinois’s budget for 2019, recently signed by Governor Bruce Rauner, seeks to ease the financial burden.
The budget includes the first-ever tax credit for families who adopt Illinois children—and at $5,000, it’s one of the highest in the country.
Governor Rauner, a self-proclaimed “big advocate for adoption,” fought to include this credit in the budget. Rauner also hopes to increase this credit every year to support adoption services and ensure a brighter future for Illinois children.
Women Working for Change interviewed Kim Perez, President and CEO of the adoption agency The Cradle, to discuss what this new tax credit means for Illinois families and children—as well as the challenges that lie ahead for the state’s adoption community.
WW4C: Governor Rauner recently fought for—and got into the Illinois budget—a $5,000 state tax credit for families who adopt Illinois children. What does this mean for Illinois families looking to adopt?
KIM PEREZ: There are many Illinois families who are seeking to build their own families through adoption. I think it’s an incredibly family-friendly decision to implement this tax credit. Raising a family is expensive, and this tax credit will certainly help Illinois families to adopt.
WW4C: Why is the state tax credit important and long overdue in Illinois?
KIM PEREZ: There are many children—not only in Illinois, but across our nation and throughout the world—who need safe, loving, and nurturing homes. Anything that can be done to make adoption more accessible is a really important step to be taken.
WW4C: The Governor says the tax credit is a start, and he would like to increase it even more next year. What message does that send to the adoption community?
KIM PEREZ: I think it’s a very family-friendly message. As I mentioned earlier, there are many children in Illinois, across the country, around the world, who need safe, loving, nurturing homes. The Cradle works hard every day to find such homes for the infants in our care. Other organizations in the adoption community in Illinois—certainly across the country—are doing this important work for toddlers, for school-aged children, and for adolescents in need. The tax credit sends a message of support.
WW4C: The Governor's office says you had suggested improvements in screening and training foster parents, and now they are working on that as well. Is it gratifying that they are following your suggestions?
KIM PEREZ: I certainly can’t take credit that the governor’s office is interested in making positive changes through collaboration. Regardless of who makes the suggestions or how they come about, remaining focused on building and strengthening families is my priority. The Cradle has more than 95 years of experience working with families and supporting those families with stellar education. We have a program called Adoption Learning Partners that is a perfect example of this. Leveraging 95 years of experience in unison with state-of-the-art technology, we believe, would address some of the barriers that exist in the child welfare system. The Cradle is already a part of the Illinois child welfare system, and we’re excited to be a part of the conversation and hope that we can be part of addressing some of the barriers.
WW4C: What are the biggest challenges for adoption in Illinois?
KIM PEREZ: There’s many Illinois children in need of stable, well-prepared adoptive families, and there are many prospective adoptive parents who want to provide a safe and stable home for a child. These two groups represent two sides of the same coin, and the alignment of these two sides can sometimes be quite challenging. We know that the needs of children available for adoption are more complex, and thus recruiting and preparing adoptive parents for meeting such complex needs is an enormous challenge.
WW4C: What does it mean to The Cradle that the Governor reached out to you and asked for input and wants to do more to support adoption in Illinois?
KIM PEREZ: We’re very grateful to be able to share our perspective and vast experience with the governor and his people. Adoption touches the lives of many Illinoisans; adoption’s not something that simply happens, but it’s the start of a lifelong journey. And we’re grateful to be working in a state that’s supportive of this journey.
WW4C: How are the adoption laws in Illinois compared to other states? What could be improved?
KIM PEREZ: Illinois has very strong adoption laws. There’s a talented professional cohort of adoption law professionals and agencies who work very collaboratively. The laws that have been worked on over the years have ranged from interstate contact to access to original birth certificates and everything in between. At this point, I’m not aware of any major legislative needs, but as always, the Cradle team members are an active part of that cohort that is engaged in ongoing conversations with the broader child welfare community here in Illinois.
WW4C: Tell us more about The Cradle: your history, how adoption has evolved, and what you see in the future?
KIM PEREZ: The Cradle, at the heart of it, is an organization that builds and strengthens families. We have been doing adoption-focused work since 1923, so with 95 years of experience, we are quite experienced in not only the building of families but also strengthening families and continuing to support families.
Much of our work today is focused on strengthening families through education. I mentioned the Adoption Learning Partners earlier in our conversation; this program provides state-of-the-art education to families across the nation through online training courses and webinars. The Cradle has the only facility of its kind in the country with an on-site nursery that provides a safe, temporary, and nurturing home for babies as parents weigh essential decisions around plans for adoption and all of the related decisions.
The Cradle is continuing to innovate by bringing families together to have honest conversations about really difficult topics. The Our Children Initiative is something that started just a couple of years ago here at The Cradle, and engages families to learn from one another on topics focused on the realities and injustices that children experience, providing support for those topics. Our goal is to give parents the tools they need to communicate with and prepare their children in positive and productive ways, and we’ve learned that we don’t always have all the answers, but we have a lot of relationships. And when we bring families together that have very diverse experiences, they can share those experiences and help other parents see through different perspectives and apply those experiences and perspectives to their own decisions for their own families. There’s real power in building that kind of community. That’s what we see in terms of the future, as an organization that is building and strengthening Illinois through relationships and making sure we are bringing people together to learn from one another and share as many different experiences as possible. Families today come in all shapes and sizes, and we recognize all the unique qualities of each family. We want to help strengthen families by finding their own uniqueness and their own strength.
WW4C: What advice would you give to parents who are thinking about adopting?
KIM PEREZ: The best piece of advice that I can give is to be as well-prepared as possible. There are many, many children in need of safe and loving homes. When you find a partner organization such as The Cradle which provides you with outstanding education and support, that partner will help guide you through the decisions regarding the circumstances you’d be open to considering. Adoption is a lifelong journey, and the support of many throughout this journey—as is true with parenting in general—will be invaluable.