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A Vital First Step

Connecting Hearts Adoption Services puts would-be parents on the right path.

Adopting a baby had always been the long-held dream of Jennifer Abler, who knew from the time that she was just a young girl and diagnosed with juvenile type 1 diabetes that a pregnancy would be risky. After marrying a single dad and adopting his daughter, Abler admits she thought her dream of motherhood may have already been fulfilled—albeit differently than she’d imagined. But that longing for a baby never went away and as destiny often goes, everything started falling into place. Abler’s sister, a NICU nurse, informed her of a baby born in need of a family. And though that situation didn’t work out, it put the wheels in motion. Abler went on to pursue a home study and as she puts it, “had everything in order, except for the baby.” That all changed when a healthy baby boy was delivered and placed with her and her husband under the Florida Safe Haven Law. Thanks to having the home study and paperwork lined up, her dream came true.

Of course, having those chips all in a row was vital to the happy ending of Abler (and her husband Michael’s) story. A lot of people do not realize that the “home study” portion of the adoption process can be incredibly extensive. It’s a full screening of the home and the life of the prospective adoptive parents—and it’s the first step in any adoption. In Florida, as well as around the country, it’s mandated that a home study must be done for any prospective adoptive parents.

When it comes to having a home study completed, families have many choices here in the Orlando area. There are large agencies that also place babies once those home studies are completed. But there is also Connecting Hearts Adoption Services (CHAS), a licensed agency in the state of Florida that solely focuses on the home study. CHAS was founded in 2008 by Amy Imber, who knew at a young age that she wanted to work in the adoption field and in fact, adoption is the only work she has done since 1996.

Amy and her team of nine social workers have since completed more than 1,000 home studies across the state of Florida. One of the key benefits of using CHAS is that adoptive parents are not pigeon-holed or held to one agency. Once they have the home study completed, they’re free to take that anywhere across Florida—or even across the country.

Imber says that by focusing solely on the home study, they are very timely in completing these reports. When prospective parents choose a full-service agency, a home study is just one of many services they provide, and the process can be drawn out. People often also pay large upfront fees to a full-service agency and must follow through with them.

“We don’t care where our prospective parents adopt from, we just want them to be successful,” Imber shares. “A lot of times when clients come to us, they don’t know what’s next. We like to think that we give them the tools they need to be successful, by making sure they understand the reality of adoption and how it works.”

Joseph Acevedo and Amanda Millard, the parents to four adopted children, had been through the process with a large agency in the past—and they admit feeling like a number. Though it worked out and they adopted their son, Acevedo says the process took a long time. After moving from New York to Florida, the couple was looking to adopt again and connected with CHAS. They say the experience with Imber was refreshing.

“Being a smaller operation and being focused on the home study process, it was just an overall better experience,” Millard shares. “We just felt like we had a lot more control over the situation. And we felt like Amy was really committed to doing the right, ethical thing by the birth families and the prospective parents.”

For Acevedo and Millard, it was enough to inspire three more adoptions after that first one in New York.

“I’m not sure we would have gone on to have a total of four adoptions had we not felt so good and secure about the process,” Acevedo admits. “There is so much about the adoption world that can be sketchy and uncertain, and you really don’t understand it until you’re in it. But being with people that you trust is invaluable and that’s how we felt after working with Amy.”

Millard says that she also valued Imber’s commitment to diversity. It’s something that has helped CHAS to earn the Human Rights Campaign’s Seal of Recognition. CHAS is only one of two private agencies in the state of Florida to have done so. Approximately 40 to 50% of Imber’s home studies are performed for same sex couples.

“It’s something I’m very proud of,” says Imber.

No matter who the prospective parents may be, Imber views CHAS’ primary mission as equipping people with the right tools that they’ll need to make good decisions in the adoption process.

“The reality is that there is no such thing as a risk-free adoption and this is not an easy process,” Imber says. “But we’re here to support the families we work with as much as we can to help make the process go more smoothly for everyone.”

That was definitely how Acevedo and Millard feel—as well as the Ablers. In fact, Abler says that as she moved through the process, it was echoed again and again that her “Amy Imber’s home study made her a strong candidate.”

“When I would tell the different agencies and attorneys that I spoke to that I had my study with Amy, you’d almost hear them breathe a sigh of relief,” she recalls. “Her home studies are so well-respected. I’m just so thankful that we’d chosen CHAS.”

Connecting Hearts Adoption Services
Orlando | 407-733-8642

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s November 2020 issue.