A group of about 200 families from Howard and Prince George's counties has broken away from a national adoption support group, Families Adopting Children Everywhere (FACE), establishing its own organization, the Adoptive Family Network.
"Our goal is to assist and support families who want to adopt," said Gail Pendergrast, coordinator of the new group, which began offering pre-adoption courses, educational seminars and other services for adoptive families about a month ago.
In addition, Ms. Pendergrast said, the new group will focus much of its efforts on family activities and increasing sensitivity about the concerns and needs of adoptive families.
Clyde Tolley, executive director of FACE, played down the significance of the split.
"I think they're free in doing whatever they want to," he said. "There's no indication that we're losing members in Howard County or anywhere else."
Members of the new group say they left FACE because they felt ignored by the executive level of the 3,000-member adoptive parents organization, which is based in Baltimore.
"They had a totally hands-off approach to the chapters," said Trina Torkildsen, a former member of FACE's Patapsco chapter, which included Howard and Prince George's counties.
Former members also complained that FACE was too specialized and failed to reach out to single parents or those who adopt children through the state Department of Social Services.
"We really wanted to put [families] in the forefront and to really expand families," Ms. Pendergrast said. "We really want to include families who adopt domestically . . . and single-parent families. We really wanted to spread out that diversity."
But Mr. Tolley said FACE remains a grass-roots organization, representing many types of adoptive families.
"I am an adoptive parent," Mr. Tolley said. "I do stuff that people in chapters do. There is not some sort of hierarchy distinct from local chapters."
Although the two groups have disagreed on some points, officials agree there's room for both.
"There's no overlap at all," Ms. Torkildsen said. "FACE provides a yearly conference and adoption courses, but other than that, the local chapters provide pre-adoption courses."
As it did as a FACE chapter, the Adoptive Family Network provides pre-adoption courses for people considering adoption, discussion groups for schoolchildren who are adopted, and social activities such as picnics, holiday parties and play groups.
In addition, the group has launched a new program designed to sensitize elementary school teachers about adopted children.
The 30-minute seminar describes adoptive families and gives teachers positive words to describe birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees.
"A lot of it is raising the consciousness level," Ms. Pendergrast said. "There's still a lot of myths and misunderstanding surrounding adoption."
Yesterday, the group held its first party, an ice cream social at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory near Columbia.
For more information about the Adoptive Family Network, call Trina Torkildsen at 442-5905 or Gail Pendergrast at 997-1231.