7 Things your Adoption Social Worker Won’t Tell You (But Wishes You Knew)

Here are some things your adoption social worker wished you knew. Pen and paper anyone?

Derek Williams February 06, 2018
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I love my job! As an adoption social worker for nearly 10 years, I can tell you, my job is more than just paperwork and home visits; it’s about engaging in relationships and getting to know people and finding the right family for a child. Here are some things I wish adoptive parents knew.

1)    We love transparency!

Adoption specialists expect honesty and openness from potential adoptive parents. I once had applicants who looked like a perfect couple only to find out later that their marriage was on the rocks. Soon after their adoption was finalized, they filed for divorce, and the wife took full custody of the newly adopted child. This traumatized their child once again. While adoption workers are not looking for perfect couples, we are looking for homes that will provide a stable, consistent home for children that have never experienced that in their lives. We expect transparency.

2)    We worry about disruptions

A disruption is an unplanned move of a foster or adopted child from one home to another. Disruptions are bad all the way around most importantly for the child because it retraumatizes the child and sets him or her back about six months. The best way to handle disappointment with a child is to be proactive rather than reactive. So at any time during the selection process, if I feel that a family is not a good match for a child, I will tell that family. If I feel that if a family needs additional training, I will find resources in the area to meet that family’s needs. We want a “forever family” to be just that: a forever family.

3)    We hate conflict

Well, I do anyway. Personality conflicts will happen every once in a while. A person with a “Type A” personality will not always see eye to eye with a person who is not.  Everyone has their own opinions. But the decisions I make are not personal. What I try to keep in mind is to do what is in the best interest of the child.

4)    Surprises take us by…surprise

My wife and I found out we were going to have our first child right in the middle of our first adoption. It was like having twins!  Surprise!  Our adoption worker was very gracious. But sometimes surprises may delay the completion of a home study. For example, your cousin may be a good guy, but if he’s moving into your home, your adoption worker needs to know in advance. An unexpected move to another part of the state or out of state also puts a damper on things. Divorce is never good, either during the home study process or after a child is placed. Yes, adoptive workers and adoptive parents, alike, need to be flexible. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

5)    We use our “Spidey Senses”

Spider-Man had “spidey senses” where he knew trouble was coming before he could see it. Adoption workers are very much the same. Sometimes, we just can’t pinpoint it, but we know when there’s something wrong. Whether it’s with the relationship between the parents or the relationship with the child, we need to rely on more than just rules and regulations to assess a situation. This is where intuition comes in. We adoption workers sometimes need to go with our “gut” especially when we are on the fence about something. So if I feel uneasy, I–as an experienced adoption worker–need to act upon that feeling. Or not act upon a request. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

6)    We have families too

Adoption workers are constantly walking a tightrope. While advising, training, and evaluating families, we must then learn to balance our own work and family. We can identify with your struggles, because we’ve been there. But remember that we need days off too. Personally, I do answer my phone and try to reply to emails during the evenings and weekends because I want to provide excellent customer service. But if I do that on vacations, my wife gives me “The Look” when I work during family time. Husbands don’t like “The Look.” But when I’m on vacation, there is always at least one other person to cover my workload. Bottom line, adoption workers need to be involved in self care, or we won’t be able to care for anyone else.

7)    We are always on duty

This may seem to contradict the above statement, but in Arizona all child welfare workers are mandated reporters. Meaning, if we suspect child abuse or neglect, we are obligated to report it on the state’s child abuse hotline. This is anywhere or anytime we are interacting with the pubic including in grocery stores, in the park, at the movies and yes, in church. We need to always be vigilant.

Adoption social workers are a unique breed, and I applaud my fellow workers. We genuinely love the families we work with and want to see the best outcomes for all involved. But as you can see, there are many things we are thinking about at the same time.

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Derek Williams

Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journeys. He and his wife started their own adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children, 6 of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities, including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.


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