Connecting adopted children with families a lifelong passion

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Online Poster

By Laura Graesser

For almost 20 years, Rita Blockman and the Lifelink International Adoption Agency have helped Central Illinois families adopt children from around the world.

“We assess families as good candidates, give proper training and help the families through the process that is necessary to adopt a child,” said Blockman, regional director for the Champaign regional and Edwardsville, Ill., Lifelink offices.

Blockman became involved in Lifelink because of her own experiences with adoption. Blockman and her husband of 35 years, Arnold, have two adopted children from Tennessee, Blockman’s home state.

“Adopting our children was the catalyst for my involvement with Lifelink,” Blockman said. “I felt that the personal experience would help me in the professional role.”

Leaving her position as a volunteer coordinator for activities in a nursing home, Blockman interviewed at Lifelink’s main office in Bensenville, Ill., in 1985. At that time, Lifelink, a private, not-for-profit organization, was branching out from the main office into regional offices throughout Illinois, Iowa, Florida and Wisconsin.

Blockman was placed at the Champaign offices, located in St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, where she was a social worker for about 11 years. During that time, she worked directly with area families, uniting them with waiting infants and toddlers from all over the world.

“We help prepare families to meet the challenges that they will face as they go through the adoption process,” Blockman said.

The lengthy process of adoption includes interviews, a home study, online courses, training and cultural classes, as well as extensive paperwork and government checks.

“The hardest thing for families to understand is that some things are beyond our control,” Blockman said. “There’s a lot of frustrating bureaucratic issues to deal with and we tell our families that a sense of humor will help them get through it.”

About six years ago, Blockman gradually gave up casework to take over a more supervisory role at the agency. While she periodically takes cases when needed, Blockman said she misses the more hands-on involvement that her previous job entailed.

“Being so involved in the paperwork aspect of the process, sometimes you lose the meaning of the work,” Blockman said. “I miss going to Lifelink functions and not knowing all the families there.”

However, her work does not go unappreciated.

“Rita is very dedicated to her work,” said Diane Colravy, a social worker at Lifelink and Blockman’s colleague for more than 11 years. “She gives her all to this agency everyday, doing whatever it takes to help the families.”

The post-adoption period is an important area of focus for Blockman.

“We don’t want to say good-bye after the finalization of the adoption,” Blockman said. “We also help the families through the transitional period after a child joins their family.”

Lifelink aids those families by providing resources such as a network among adoptive families, assistance with medical issues and cultural events to promote the value of the dual heritage of the adopted child.

“We want to support the families as they struggle with parenting issues and try to integrate their family,” Blockman said.

For Champaign residents Ed and Kamela Deatley, Blockman proved to be invaluable – before, during and after the adoption of their daughter from Ukraine in fall 2003 – even though she was not the main social worker with whom they worked.

“She is persistent and patient at the same time,” said Kamela Deatley of Blockman. “She has a very calming effect and I know that if I have question and she doesn’t know the answer, she’ll find it.”

Like Blockman several other social workers at the Champaign regional office are adoptive parents. Blockman’s personal experience has been advantageous as she works with other adopting families.

“Since Rita is an adoptive mom, I see her as a mentor,” Deatley said. “I feel that anything I panic over, I can call her for help.”

As she continues to work at Lifelink and unite children with their new families, Blockman finds the end results of every case gratifying.

“I love to see the excitement of a family when they get a child,” Blockman said. “I reflect back to the beginning when there was so much uncertainty and vulnerability and when they receive that child, there is full commitment and unconditional love.”