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Adoption advocate gets national recognition

Danna Cousins sees herself as a relationship builder, one who sometimes fills in the missing links for birth parents, adoptive parents and adopted children.

After two decades of working in the domestic and international adoption field, Cousins was honored as one of the Angels in Adoption by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Initiative Oct. 3-5 in Washington, D.C. Highlights of her trip included a pin ceremony with lunch and a Congressional Gala on Oct. 5. More than 1,700 Angels in Adoption have been recognized from all 50 states since 1999.

“I’m very excited, very humbled by it,” said Cousins, 43, program director of the nonprofit Adoption Services for Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans. “It still doesn’t feel real.”

What made the event so special for Cousins was the attendance at the pin ceremony of Stephanie Jirard, an adoptive parent she helped 18 years ago who now lives outside of Washington, D.C.

The award took Cousins by surprise. A colleague, Linda Woods, had nominated her to Sen. David Vitter without her knowledge. 

“I could have burst into tears,” she said. “When you have a job like we have, it’s more than a job. It’s my life. Every day there is a reminder of why I’m here.”  

Woods, a 2001 Angel in Adoption winner, was familiar with Cousins’ devotion to adoption, having served together on the Louisiana Adoption Advisory Board.

“Danna has always been, in my mind, a support – not only to the adoptive parents she served as an adoption professional, but as an advocate for birth mothers,” Wood said. “She didn’t forget them when they came back to the agency – that’s the compassion and understanding she has. As a birth parent who has surrendered a child myself, she offers support. She has been faithful to and compassionate to all sides of the adoption triad.”

Cousins began in the adoption field in 1990 as an undergraduate student working at the Maternity and Adoption Program of Associated Catholic Charities. After graduation, she was hired.

“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” she said. “It is where I was meant to be.”

She left Associated Catholic Charities to create the Maternity and Adoption program for Volunteers of America of Greater New Orleans and stayed for 10 years. 

She returned to Catholic Charities in 2004 to work with domestic and international adoption, providing services to the birth parents and families considering adoption. 

“It was coming home,” she said. “Even being gone for 10 years, it was as if I had never left. I was welcomed back into the family.”

Adoption has come long way 

She said adoption has changed over the years. Initially she worked primarily with expectant parents considering adoption and adopting parents not always discussing adoption with their child. Today’s adoptions are more “open.” Birth parents are older and want to take part in his or her child’s life; and adoptive parents feel less threatened, realizing that their opportunity to be a family was given by the birth parents.

“The birth mom says the gift she gives her child were the birth parents,” Cousins said. “That truly sums up what we do. She gave the gift of parents, but it doesn’t change the love she has.”

She said the difficult part of her job is the long wait adoptive parents sometimes have. But she has prophetic words for them.

“On the day you receive your child, you will look at your child and realize why the wait happened,” she said. “You will realize that this is the child meant for you.”

Just doing her job

While the award recognizes those who have made an “extraordinary contribution on behalf of children in need of homes,” Cousins doesn’t see anything monumental about her work. She said she’s the one who is touched by adoptive parents, birth parents and those adopted.

“The really important piece is that it’s a journey we are taking with the family hand in hand,” she said. “We’re working with them to help them achieve their goal.”

She believes in adoption education and has spoken at several adoption conferences. Cousins also provides support services for searches and reunions of birth parents and children. On Oct. 29, she is coordinating a fall social where domestic and international adoption parents and their child come together.

“It’s a special day for us to see these children grow, even if it’s only once a year. We are part of their birth story.”

Cousins and her husband, Craig, have two children, Elizabeth, 15, and Benjamin, 14. She is a parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena and cherishes this recognition.

“This is the top,” she said. “To me this is everything I hoped I would be as an adoption professional.”

Reach Adoption Services at 885-1141.

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