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A remarkable history -- Perhaps no other child placement agency is as revered for its remarkable history as The Gladney Center for Adoption. What started in 1887 as one man’s dream to find homes for orphaned children continues today as an organization that is highly regarded for bringing leadership, direction and compassion to the field of adoption services.
Methodist missionary minister I.Z.T. Morris took in children arriving on the orphan trains, and working with local residents and the railroad, helped them find homes. Thus began The Children's Home Society, which was chartered in 1904 as The Texas Children's Home and Aid Society. Renamed The Edna Gladney Home in 1950, the non-sectarian, state licensed adoption agency is today known as The Gladney Center for Adoption. Since its founding more than 127 years ago, The Gladney Center has successfully placed more than 30,000 children in adoptive homes.
Beginning with the Morris family’s commitment to the adoption cause, and continuing for more than five decades under the guidance of Edna Gladney, the agency exercised a powerful, positive influence on adoption rights, including the legislation of significant adoption laws.
History of Leadership
For 33 years, Edna Gladney served as Superintendent of The Texas Children's Home and Aid Society. The tradition of reform and driving mission to serve the best interest of children continued with Mrs. Gladney as demonstrated in the way she championed breakthrough legislation, leading two fights for major change in adoption practices. Thanks to her efforts, in 1936, a bill passed that made Texas the first state in the southwest to legally remove the stigma of illegitimacy from birth records. Then another battle resulted in a bill being passed in 1951 that gave adopted children the same inheritance rights as biological children and recognized that they should be legally adopted rather than placed in long-term guardianship.
Also during Mrs. Gladney's tenure, services were expanded to birth mothers when a small hospital was purchased in 1949 so the women could have a place to receive good medical care during their pregnancy. In addition to the hospital, the agency operated a Baby Home, where infants received care until their adoption.
In 1961, Ruby Lee Piester began working at Gladney as an assistant executive to Mrs. Gladney and the head of social services. Following Edna Gladney’s retirement, native Texan Ruby Lee Piester became the agency’s executive director. During her tenure, the agency grew into a multi-million dollar, internationally-renown organization. Recognizing the importance of education to all young people, Mrs. Piester implemented a career development program for Gladney birth mothers and an on-campus school to help residents return home with their education uninterrupted or with marketable job skills.
In more than 50 years of service to the State of Texas, Mrs. Piester’s personal involvement in adoption issues resulted in the permanent adoption of an estimated 7,800 foster children in Texas. Her leadership and involvement with many boards and social agencies resulted in the first Child Welfare Advisory board for Regional licensing. She also organized the Study Committee for the National Council for Adoption. In 1980, she introduced the Model Adoption Act to the Texas State Legislature.
At the national level, Mrs. Piester co-founded the National Council for Adoption and served as Vice President. Mrs. Piester developed and implemented new avenues to make permanent adoption for Texas children a reality, and to insure that children are raised with love and hope for the future.
In 1988, Mike McMahon came to Gladney, the first adoptive parent to lead the agency. McMahon has always had the foresight for change. From his early beginnings of closing Gladney’s hospital and later the nursery, he found change was essential to the agency’s continued success. “Gladney’s willingness to adapt to society’s changing needs is the single most important thing we have done over the years. Without change, Gladney would not still be here,” he says. When McMahon arrived on the Hemphill campus, Gladney had two full dormitories with more than 100 young women living on campus. Shortly before, the campus had been full to its capacity of 144. Then, the tide turned and society changed adoption. Gladney went from booming outlook to a more tenuous state. “It was a period of post-abortion, post-birth control and a greater acceptance toward single parenting. There were a lot more families and not as many children,” he says.
Understanding that thousands of children are homeless abroad, Gladney made yet another change in 1992 by adding an international program. With early beginnings in Asia and Eastern Europe, the program has crisscrossed the world. Under McMahon’s guidance, Gladney developed a strong presence in four foreign regions: Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Through its humanitarian aid projects, adoptive parents have been reaching out to foreign countries. They, too, are supporting those orphanages and areas where their adopted child once lived. According to McMahon, “It’s been a wonderful way for families to broaden their lives. Our international program fits with what’s going on globally.” Gladney not only finds homes for orphaned children abroad, but also works tirelessly to enrich the lives of those left behind. The agency feels very strongly that they have a responsibility to the many children who will never be adopted. By providing financial support to humanitarian aid projects, Gladney is brightening futures around the world.
Openness and Flexibility
Adoption today gives pregnant women the opportunity to create their own unique adoption plan. As part of this plan the birth mother can select the adoptive family and may choose to talk with or meet the family before placement, and continue to communicate with them after placement, often through letters and pictures. This openness means that adoptive parents now have the opportunity to learn much more about the young woman who is about to give birth to their child. "Because adoptive parents have information about the biological parents, we believe children will be able to resolve questions they have about who they are and will have a strong sense of belonging," says Garrott.
Gladney believes that each adoption, like each family, is unique. That's why choices about the degree of openness are important; what is right for one family is not right for all. So whether for adoptive families or birth families, our goal is the same, to get to know and understand each unique situation so that, together, we can develop a customized adoption plan.
Planning for the Next 100 Years
Throughout its history, Gladney has recognized and embraced the changing needs of society and the shifting landscape of adoption. As a result, Gladney is an agency with global reach and impact. Since 1992, Gladney has been creating Bright Futures Around the World through its Inter-country Adoption Programs, placing thousands of babies and young children in homes throughout the United States. As a leader in inter-country adoption, the Gladney Center became among the first accredited in the U.S. as a Hague-compliant adoption agency. The Hague Convention protects children and their families against the risk of unregulated adoption abroad and ensures that inter-country adoptions are made in the best interest of children.
Gladney's Domestic Adoption Programs provide loving homes for infants and children of all races and backgrounds. In the New Beginnings program Gladney works with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, in locating, training and supporting families for children waiting in the state foster care system. "It's really remarkable that Gladney has celebrated over 127 years of service, and that we're still continuing to evolve and grow," says President and CEO Frank Garrott.
At the core of Gladney's commitment to families is a philosophy: Family for Life. Every adoption is a lifelong journey. Gladney's Family Services department brings together parent education, home study services, counseling and resources to enhance the lives of all members of the Gladney family at all stages of that journey. Gladney is also supported by 19 Gladney Family Associations, which provide support to those waiting to adopt and those parenting adopted children. "We are trying to anticipate rather than react to trends in adoption," says Garrott. "We recognize our clients -- birth mothers, adoptive parents and especially children -- have different needs. Balancing those needs is important because we plan to be around for [at least] another 100 years."