Maxine Chalker, Founder and CEO of Adoptions From The Heart, leads an agency that set the standard for open adoption. Moreover, she is a businesswoman, a mother, a grandmother and an adoptee. Her story begins long before, open adoption agencies existed. A time when closed adoptions were the norm and preferred – and there was no relationship between adoptive and birth families. Chalker’s adoptive parents struggled with infertility, which prompted them to explore adoption. Their adoption attorney coordinated the entire process and within due time they were placed with a baby girl.
Growing up, Maxine always knew she was adopted, despite not knowing the identify of her birth parents. “My mother talked to me openly about my adoption,” recalled Maxine. “It wasn’t a secret or anything, my younger sister was also adopted.” However, knowing that she was adopted did come with its own set of struggles. “I remember being young and telling my mother I wanted to stop eating and get smaller so I can fit in her belly,” said Maxine. “I wanted to grow inside of her belly, like other kids grew inside their mothers’ bellies.”
After graduating from high school, Chalker decided to pursue a career in social work. She obtained her BA and MSW from Temple University. Following graduation, Maxine began working for a public agency, conducting hundreds of adoption searches. “When I worked at the public agency I did a lot of searches for adult adoptees and birth parent seeking children they placed,” said Maxine. “Since it was a public agency there was extensive records, but there was not much openness.” Although when Maxine witnessed the cases that did allow a birth parent and an adoptee to reunite, it brought fourth an array of emotions. “Attending a reunion can be very emotional for an adoptee,” said Maxine. “And I did not begin my own [birth parent] search at that point.”
After spending years working for a public agency, Maxine realized that she wanted to continue to work within the adoption field, but in a different approach. She began researching other agencies throughout the country that facilitated open adoptions. “I decided to start my own agency, and I did my search for my birth family.” “I felt like I had to do that before I could be successful at open adoption.” Maxine started “The Adoption Agency” in the basement of her home in 1984 – from there she upgraded to a small office and changed the agency name to Adoptions From The Heart (AFTH). Today, AFTH has 8 offices located in 6 states, and is the top agency specializing in open adoption on the east coast. “I remember when I first started the agency, I had a meeting with prospective adoptive parents, and coincidentally a birth mother stopped by the office at the same time,” Maxine recalled. “the birth mother was able to interact with the prospective parents, and later on that night she decided she chose them to be the parents of her child.”
As one of the first agencies to allow openness, Maxine helped paved the way for open adoption.“Throughout the years I have been lucky enough to help build beautiful families through adoption,” said Maxine, “Open adoption is wonderful, because now there is no mystery or fear. Adoptees are able to have a better understanding of why they were placed.”