Session 4 – Conference Speakers

Session 4a: The Nuts and Bolts of Adoption and Reproductive Technology
Shelley Ballard, Attorney at Law, Shelley B. Ballard P.C.

This workshop will present an overview of the domestic adoption process, both agency and private, and will address locating a child, costs, avoiding scams, openness, the interstate process, the Indian Child Welfare Act, birth father rights, the Putative Father Registry, insurance coverage, reproductive options (egg, sperm and embryo donation as well as surrogacy) and recent changes to adoption law.

Shelley Ballard has devoted her law practice to adoption after adopting her oldest child over 25 years ago, handing thousands of adoptions of every type (domestic, international, foster care, related, adult, surrogacy/gamete donation and contested cases). She is active in legislative efforts to improve adoption in Illinois and was recognized by the Illinois House of Representatives in a formal House resolution for her efforts in passing the “Baby Richard Law”, which created the Putative Father Registry and added several safeguards to reduce contested adoptions. Ms. Ballard contributed the chapter on adoption for the Illinois State Bar Association Family Law Handbook and is the author of the chapters on Interstate and Adult Adoption for the Illinois Adoption Law Practice Handbook, published by the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education. She is a member and Secretary/Treasurer of the Board of Directors of Midwest Adoption Center, a nonprofit organization that provides services to persons touched by foster care and adoption, including search and confidential intermediary services. Ms. Ballard is an Honorary Board Member and past President of the Board of Directors of the On Your Feet Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to birthparents who have placed children for adoption. She has twice chaired the Chicago Bar Association Adoption Law Committee, has been a Fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys since 1990 and has been consistently recognized as a top lawyer in adoption and reproductive technology by the Leading Lawyers Network. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the Loyola University School of Law, where she teaches a seminar on Adoption Law. Ms. Ballard graduated magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University School of Engineering and cum laude from Northwestern University School of Law.


Session 4b: Getting Real About Adoption: Trauma, Truth, Transition, & Triumph
Traci Heim, Director of Education, Refuge Ministries
Kristen Longshore, Director of Resources, Refuge Ministries

Adoption is often romanticized. Most adoption preparation is geared toward getting through paperwork, dealing with government agencies- both foreign and domestic, and making it through “THE WAIT”, all leading to that final goal: …and they lived happily ever after! What families don’t usually discover until they have arrived is that everything up until that point has been a preamble, a warm up to the real story. Families find that they have not quite prepared for what happens next. Please join us as we seek to enable families to not just survive, but thrive! Objectives: This session will discuss the realities of what it takes to graft in a new family member. We will discuss grief over lost dreams, both for the child AND the parent. How to build a foundation for your new child. How to endure and overcome institutional behaviors. How to love someone who seems unlovable. How to cherish a child who has experienced and created so much pain. How to promote healthy attitudes in yourself and your children.

Traci Heim and her husband Scott have adopted 10 children internationally. She has adopted children as young as 10 months and as old as 17, including sibling groups and other special needs. She has spent the last seventeen years in the trenches parenting and bringing healing to her own children. In addition to attending countless adoption/parenting conferences as a visitor, she has spoken at adoption conferences to prospective adoptive parents about adopting and parenting a child with HIV, discussing disclosure and stigma, daily living, and the challenges of parenting a child out of an orphanage or foster care system. She shares with complete candor her family’s strengths and failures, and the joy as well as pain that adoption brings. Traci is co-founder of Refuge Ministries, seeking to educate, equip, and encourage adoptive parents, has served for 8 years in various positions with Project HOPEFUL and is on their board of directors, and is a Christian Counselor licensed through the AACC.

Since her children have come home, Kristen often finds herself in situations where she is able to encourage other adoptive families. She has become passionate about assisting both families in process and those whose children are already home. Kristen has a background in education and has taught primarily in high risk, low income schools. She loves reading, writing, and is a total musical theatre nerd but her true calling is advocating for kids and encouraging, educating, and supporting adoptive families as they walk the road of healing with their children.


Session 4c: Adopting Through Foster Care: What to Expect
Genie Miller Gillespie, Attorney at Law, Gillespie Law Group, LLC
Christina Schneider, Special Assistant General Counsel, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

The thought of adopting a child through foster care may be overwhelming, but these relationships are also extremely rewarding. This seminar will explain the process of adopting through foster care, highlighting the benefits for both you and the child and discussing the very real concerns you may have about adopting a child who may be older than a newborn, a different race than you, or may have special needs. This seminar will also discuss the post-adoption benefits and support available as well as providing other helpful resources, including time frames and the court process in both juvenile court and adoption court.

Genie Miller Gillespie has been practicing in the area of adoption law for more than 23 years. She was recently named an Angel in Adoption by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys. She is also the President of the Family Formation Charitable Trust which gives grants to potential adoptive parents. Genie is one of the Guardian ad litems appointed to represent children in Cook County adoption cases, and is the General Editor of the IICLE Adoption Law Manual. She was one of the co-founders of the Center for Law and Social Work and has twice been the Chair of the CBA Adoption Law Committee.

Christina M. Schneider is the Special Assistant General Counsel for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ Office of Legal Services.


Session 4d: Connecting With Your Kids Through Arts And Crafts (Even If You’re Not Artsy-Crafty)
Raina Cowan, LCPC, ATR

This interactive workshop will provide parents with fun, creative ways to connect with their kids, arts-based language for exploring adoption concepts (relationships, attachment, otherness, self-worth etc), do’s and don’ts to encourage children’s healthy self-expression, and resources for kid friendly art techniques and materials. Parents will have a brief art making experience designed to increase confidence in their own inherent creativity and will close by processing and Questions and Answers.

Raina Cowan is a licensed clinical professional counselor and registered art therapist in private practice located in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Raina also works part-time at Saint Anthony Hospital’s Intensive Outpatient Program. She has worked in community mental health for 18 years, in residential, inpatient and outpatient settings. She is equally well-versed in traditional talk therapy and art therapy but her passion is helping people express themselves through art based methods. Raina is also an adoptive parent in a transracial adoptive family. Her areas of practice include: mental health, stress and anxiety management, emerging adulthood, life transitions, reproductive issues, infertility, recurrent pregnancy loss, adoption, adjustment to parenthood, and parenting, especially helping form connections through art.


Session 4e: I Wish You Knew…
Carmen Knight, Adoption Professional, The Cradle

Ever wonder what your child might be thinking and experiencing but maybe not always sharing with you? This presentation is aimed to give you insight into the world of the adoptee and tools to help your child. Topics will include identity, family, birth family, peer relationships, racial/ethnic experiences, and various other challenges your child might experience as they move through this world. Discussion of topics will also address relevant challenges at different developmental ages. The presenter will draw from her own experiences, as well as her 10 years of experience working with hundreds of children and families all who have come together through adoption.

Carmen Knight, MS MFT is an international transracial adoptee from Peru. She has her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. Carmen has been working in the adoption community since 2006 and is currently working as an Adoptive Parent Counselor at The Cradle. Some of her past experiences in the adoption field includes working at culture camps and adoptee camps, leading classes and seminars on adoption topics at conferences and for various adoption agencies, speaking on adoptee panels, leading parent and children adoption groups, and helping families prepare logistically and emotionally for touring their child’s homeland. She has also provided emotional support to families doing birth family searches and reunions, and has worked with adoptive families as a therapist. Her encompassing knowledge aligned with her passion has guided countless families who have come together through adoption.


Session 4f: Meet the Birthparents
Jennifer Pedley, Board Member , On Your Feet Foundation

A panel of birthparents intended to help the adoption world get to know us and break some of the stigma around being a birthparent.

Jennifer Joyce Pedley, BSW, MJ has been an adoption professional for 20+ years. She is birthmother to Grey, aged 26, who was placed at birth in an open adoption. She holds a Bachelors of Social Work degree from Hope College and a Masters of Jurispridence in Childlaw degree from Loyola Law School. She is the author of the book, Secrets To Your Successful Domestic Adoption and is a founding board member of the On Your Feet Foundation. In 2003, she created and continues to facilitate, On Your Feet For Life, Weekend Retreats for Birthmothers, a program of the On Your Feet Foundation. She lives in Naperville, Illinois with her husband, two teenage boys and a rescued Papillon named Milford.