Those of you who know the Adoption Support Alliance know our fearless leader, Erin Nasmyth.
She has dedicated her entire career to helping families of all walks — from those working their way through the foster care system to those navigating the complex world of private adoption. When she founded the Adoption Support Alliance back in 2014, she brought all that experience together with a simple mission: to help adoptive families through the unique experience of building their forever families.
Forever families — it’s a phrase we talk about a lot at the Adoption Support Alliance because adoption is not the simple act of bringing a child into your home. It’s about reshaping your family around that child and making it strong enough to withstand whatever challenges come your way. Family is forever. And, regardless of how your family is formed, family can be challenging. It takes work, especially when layered with adoption, and that’s where Erin comes in.
Here’s how she got her start and, ultimately, found her passion.
Q: How did you first get interested in adoption?
Erin: When I was in high school, my dad worked for FedEx and we lived overseas, in Singapore and in Hong Kong. I was 15 years old and decided to do some volunteer work at orphanages in China and Vietnam. That was the spark, if you will, for me to see that. There were kids in need, and I felt like, at 15, I could make a difference. It felt good — like I had found my purpose. If I could do that as a sophomore in high school, wouldn’t it be amazing if that was my job?
Q: So how did it become your job?
Erin: From the naive perspective of high school, I was committed to moving to China and starting an orphanage. By the time I graduated from college in the United States, I recognized there are numerous kids in our country in need of forever families. I started to work in the foster care system in Tennessee straight out of college. I quickly realized I was underprepared for the complexity of this work and returned to school and got my Master’s in Social Work. I worked for a foster agency in Georgia and then moved to Charlotte and did some work in child mental health before become a licensed clinical social worker.
After my second daughter was born, I started doing adoption home studies. That’s when I really started to think about what the adoption field needed. The agencies pay contract social workers to come in and visit the families before an adoption can be approved, which is a critical part of the process. But there wasn’t really room in that process to support and prepare the families as much as they needed. We would talk a little bit about race and culture and openness and loss, but we were paid to create this document, not really to engage with the families. And the agencies aren’t set up to provide the kind of ongoing support adoptive families need, not just in the beginning, but post-adoption.
Think of it like your wedding and your marriage: There’s a ton of resources out there to help you plan for your big day, but what about the rest of your life? That’s where I saw adoption resources falling short.
Q: Why did you decide to build the Adoption Support Alliance as a nonprofit?
Erin: There are so many ways that the adoption world is an industry and a business, and we wanted to stand apart from that. We wanted to minimize the additional financial burden placed on families. We also wanted families to trust us — because trust builds community. We weren’t in this to take advantage of them. Our only mission is to help.
Q: What have been some of your favorite stories to come out of your work for ASA?
Erin: I have received several phone calls from adoptive parents in which I can hear tears of relief to have found an organization that is built for them. Those calls are so encouraging because it demonstrates we are meeting an unmet need for families. I am also really proud of the connections members of our support groups have made. The longest running group has a text message chain full of notes of frustration with their children, honesty about their own struggles as adoptive parents and encouragement when their children succeed or a connection is made. There is a connection between adoptive parents that is honest and authentic and loving. These parents have been able to find a community to lean on, a place where they aren’t alone and where they can find others who understand the unique challenges that come with adoption. It’s not always happily ever after when families adopt. It can be really hard. But when we can help families find hope and connection in even the toughest moments, that’s when I feel like we are doing our job.
Q: Tell us about your family.
Erin: I met my husband, Ibrahim, in college at Vanderbilt University. Together we have two biological daughters, Olivia and Audrey, who are 8 and 9, just about 17 months apart. That was tough when they were little, to have two babies at once, but now we love how close they’ve become — when they’re not trying to kill each other.
While Olivia and Audrey joined our family through pregnancies, I share a personal connection with aspects of the adoptive experience because I am raising biracial children. I am white and my husband is black. Through my own personal experiences, my missteps and discomforts and joys and growth, from being part of a mixed race family, I have become more certain that adoptive parents, especially white adoptive parents, need to be better educated on what it means to raise minority children.
Q: What is your goal for the Adoption Support Alliance?
Erin: Our ultimate vision is to ensure every adoptive family gets the support they need to thrive. It sounds so simple, but you’d be surprised how many families I meet who feel like they have nowhere to turn. The challenges of adoption are unique. You’re dealing with loss on multiple levels. There is trauma both to children and parents. Parents are opening and expanding their definitions of family through open adoption and, in many cases, are learning how to raise children outside of their race and culture. And then, on a very basic level, you’re dealing with the simple matter of folding another human being into the fabric of your family. It’s emotionally, physically and mentally draining. But it’s also one of the most beautiful and life-changing experiences a family can have. It’s an honor to be a part of that process, in any way I can. I want Adoption Support Alliance to continue to grow and be able to offer more services to more adoptive families. I want every family to not only survive but to thrive — forever.