LAUREL – The day before the gala, the Dugan’s home was full of their children and grandchildren popping in and out the door. The next night’s gala was for the 20th anniversary of Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.), which the couple Mike and Kathleen Dugan founded to support families who, like themselves, adopted […]
LAUREL – The day before the gala, the Dugan’s home was full of their children and grandchildren popping in and out the door. The next night’s gala was for the 20th anniversary of Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.), which the couple Mike and Kathleen Dugan founded to support families who, like themselves, adopted children.
Kathleen volunteered at an orphanage during her teenage years. The experience made her reflect on how she could continue to be of service to these children throughout her life. Time passed, she got married and had four children. Still, her mind continued to drift towards thoughts of adoption. After the couple had four biological children, they adopted a child.
They later adopted more kids, and then several more. The couple eventually took in eight children to complete their large family of 12 kids.
“We thought we were good parents. We thought we knew everything there was to know about raising kids,” Mike said.
But, the Dugans quickly discovered they had more to learn.
One day at a restaurant, one of the children asked if they were going to pay for their meal. Mike realized at that moment that the children knew how to “fend for themselves,” since they had not always had someone looking out for them. That experience, Mike said, was very humbling.
“We found out if we started adopting, that these kids had a lot more issues than we knew how to deal with,” Mike said. “We started taking them to children’s hospitals because that was the only resource.”
Some of the children, like many other adopted children across the United States, faced mental health problems and fetal alcohol syndrome.
“There’s a lot of trials and tribulations for children that don’t grow up whole in the first several years of their life,” Kathleen said. “Hence, it is so important that there is a place like C.A.S.E., a place where you can go to get a reference of where to go, where there’s empathy everywhere.”
As the family adjusted to their new dynamic, they began to seek professional assistance with some of the challenges they encountered. However, to Dugans’ dismay, they discovered some of these professionals did not have the skillset to provide help for families with adopted children.
“It was really hard finding competent help,” Kathleen said. “They knew nothing about children coming from the foster care system.”
Some therapists even went as far as to recommend that Mike and Kathleen return their children to foster care.
“There were things in these children that other people didn’t get an opportunity to be able to see,” Kathleen said. “Putting them back in the foster care system just wasn’t the answer.”
In 1998, the Dugans founded C.A.S.E. to help families like theirs access that “competent help” they deeply needed.
“I started (C.A.S.E.) out of desperation,” Kathleen said. “Our main goal was to be able to help children of adoption. They seem to have this – we ended up calling it the missing piece, the one little piece of the puzzle that just wasn’t there.
“Then we started bringing in other clinicians and psychologists and training them.”
C.A.S.E. connects parents and children with qualified counselors. In the 20 years of the organization’s operation, they have served people and families much like themselves access support. Many of these services are free of charge. The nonprofit also provides various pieces of training nationwide and internationally in adoption competency for parents, professionals, and educators.
These trainings include advice for parenting children who have experienced trauma, adopting older children, and understanding and treating mental health issues that are common with adopted children.
According to their website, the organization now has “35 training partners in 22 states and Canada, five local offices across the D.C. metro area, nine National Training Initiative pilot sites and 17 Training for Adoption Competency Partners.”
More than 5,600 individuals and families have benefitted from their counseling services.
C.A.S.E. recently received a $9 million grant from the federal government.
“We’ve been infused with these on-fire social workers, amazing social workers, and clinicians that have this passion,” Kathleen said. “It is wonderful to see how they embrace C.A.S.E. and all the help that we do all over the world…We are an amazing organization that has been desperately poor but done amazing things, and now we’re coming into our own.”