When Katie and Jonathan Biron decided to grow their family through adoption, Katie had no idea the choice would catalyze her to create children’s books and even change Washington State law. The couple chose to adopt through Amara, an agency that required adoptive parents to first become licensed foster parents. They went through the motions but didn’t take any foster children, staying the course to adopt. They were matched with a mom about to give birth and the meeting with her changed the direction of their family journey forever.
Up until then, Katie saw adoption as a joyful event. The moment the baby’s birth mom placed the baby in Katie’s arms, she realized her greatest joy was someone else’s greatest sorrow. The birth mom wished desperately her own mother, who was not well, could see the baby girl before she went home with the Biron’s. Katie and Jonathan reached into their humanity. Instead of sticking to the rigid rules of adoption, they offered to bring the baby, Emma, to her biological grandma.
That’s when Katie knew the traditional adoption trail was not for their family. She and Jonathan bravely tip-toed into an exploration of a different kind of open adoption. They found a far more pleasing path. While building a relationship with adoption at the center wasn’t always easy, Katie knew deep in her heart that she was doing the right thing for Emma. Her way ensured there was space for all of the important adults in Emma’s life.
A pediatric nurse by trade, Katie later regretted never fostering kids, especially when there was huge need for homes for medically fragile children. The Biron’s decided to get relicensed and care for kids with special needs. All of the events; the meeting with Emma’s birth mom, the relicensing, their experience within the system, evolved their ideas about what adoption and foster care could look like.
Maybe it’s wasn’t about “us” and “them.” Maybe instead of an adversarial relationship, parents and caregivers like the Biron’s could build a collaborative, child-centered relationship. With this belief, Katie began to facilitate visits for the family of the baby placed in their home.
Katie’s first experience with an open visit was for a medically fragile newborn. He hadn’t visited his biological family for over three weeks. The social worker hadn’t yet scheduled any visits. Believing in her heart he needed to see his mom, and vice versa, Katie gathered her gusto, and with all her children in tow, facilitated a visit with his family at a Starbucks in Target. Slowly Katie and the baby’s family built a relationship. Eventually a decision was made that the Biron’s would adopt the baby. His would be an open adoption that welcomed his family, including his mother, into their own. They now enjoy a blended family partnership and Katie’s son has the benefits of both families in his life.
Katie was convinced the traditional version and view of adoption wasn’t the best plan. She felt strongly there had to be an alternative. When she couldn’t find anything, she created it. Out of their family’s experience with two non-traditional adoptions, the Family Connections ProgramTM was born. The program utilizes the expertise of parents with lived experience navigating the child welfare system. These individuals help mentor parents whose children are currently placed in out of home care and those caring for the children to build and sustain child-centered relationships.
Political activism crept in quickly after that. Katie started talking to legislators about a better way to “do” shared parenting for children in foster care. The Family Connections Program bill had great bipartisan support and was signed into law in 2020. It was fully funded and then… COVID.
Due to the state’s emergency, the Governor vetoed necessary funding. This left DCYF (The Department of Children, Youth and Families) with a mandate to provide the Family Connection Program but without money to facilitate it. Katie mourned the developments, then dried her tears and worked with Amara to seek alternative funding sources to keep the program alive. In 2021 the pilot program was again funded by the legislature and became a permanent state program in 2022.
Like the bill, Katie’s book, The Love Tree, was born out of her family’s non-traditional adoption story. A seemingly simple school assignment required her child to create a family tree. Their family made their tree tricky. Katie wanted a way for all the important people in a child’s life to be represented. Out of that grew the Love Tree, an endearing story revisioning the family tree. Katie enjoys sharing her book and family story with schools and in classrooms. It is always fun for her to see who makes it onto kids’ love trees.
In addition to The Love Tree, Katie has plans for more children’s books. Her next book, the first in a series, will help parents talk to kids about Substance Use Disorders. She has plans for a story about attachment styles and how children grow bonds. She dreams of books that touch on really tough topics like why some people are unhoused. It’s already out there for kids to bump into and she intends to give parents safe tools to help tackle the sticky subjects.
Katie has done much in the last decade and has more in store. Ten years ago adoption seemed like such a simple path, it will be interesting to see where another ten years of Katie’s advocacy and passion lead. Katie, thank you for keeping kids safe!
For more information on non-traditional adoption options check out these great resources:
Katiebiron.com – offers workshops and classes to adoption and foster agencies
The First Legal Clinic – Snohomish – provided parent mentor and attorney to help make plans for baby’s care after birth so it’s not a traumatic removal
Amara - has done a lot of work to change their program from just foster to adopt. They’re trying to be on the prevention end of adoption and offer services to help preserve families in crisis so they don’t have to end in adoption and if they do relationships with the biological families don’t have to be completely severed.
Birth and Foster Parent Partnership – a national group with people from all different states working to build relationships between foster and biological parents so that there is continued connection and support for biological parents when kids return home.
KATIE’S BOOK STATS:
Last book read: I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll
Current books: The Searcher, Tana French
Her book rec: Attached. Amir Levine, MD and Rachel Heller, MA
The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff
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