Are you working with an adoption agency? Are they mostly amazing, yet sometimes leave you feeling disappointed? Or can you not even use the word ‘amazing’ to describe them? Do you feel encouraged and supported, or confused and unsure? Choosing an agency is a challenging part of the adoption process, and next time you feel discouraged I hope you’ll consider a few suggestions.
First, remember that adoption is complex. It is emotional and complicated and full of uncertainty. For that reason, I truly believe that adoptive couples (including prospective couples) are some of the most wonderful, and the craziest, people around. We often enter the world of adoption with high hopes and even occasionally unrealistic expectations. We want an agency to do exactly what we have in mind, which will be different for each couple that walks through their doors. For the most part, I believe adoption professionals do a pretty great job! What can you do, however, when things aren’t going how you feel they should?
1. Examine your expectations. Are they reasonable? Talk to friends. Become involved in support groups through an agency or online. Talk to other couples and determine whether or not your requests and expectations are realistic. Are your “needs” really needs? Can you be flexible as you work with your agency and caseworker?
Years ago we had a caseworker reschedule a home visit twice, both as a result of birth parent emergencies. Though somewhat disheartened, we completely understood and were happy to delay our home study update because the caseworker was needed elsewhere. However, when the caseworker tried to reschedule a third time, because of a scheduling conflict (not involving a birth parent), I kindly refused. My husband had taken work off for the third time, the house was “home visit clean,” and we felt like we’d been generous with our flexibility in the past. The caseworker came as originally (for the third time) planned and was very gracious. I was glad that we’d been easy to work with in the past, and I had no problem requesting that we keep our appointment and not reschedule again. Make sure you feel that you are acting reasonably, and expect to be treated the same in return.
2. Understand the procedures. Adoption requires a lot of education; do all you can to educate yourselves. Ask questions as often as you can BEFORE they become concerns. When we began the adoption process with a new caseworker, we eagerly worked on our home study, anxious to be approved! We talked with the caseworker occasionally, but are pretty independent and completely most tasks unassisted. When we were done and approved I realized I wasn’t sure what to expect from our our caseworker through the next phase of adoption. In a conversation with him I asked, “What should I expect in the coming months?” I was a little shocked when he said, “Oh, I’ll check in once or twice a year unless I have questions for you.” I was OK with it—but it was definitely not what I expected to hear. I was so glad I’d asked. I can imagine how frustrated I would have felt after four weeks, then six, then 10 and 12 when I hadn’t heard from him. And really, what would he have had to say to me? Unless our profile was being shown, or he had a situation to present to us, there would be very little reason for him to contact us. We were OK with this, but I know some couples who would have been uneasy with so little contact. I do believe, however, if I had asked him to please call me every six weeks, he would have. When you are trying to ensure that your needs are met, make sure you understand what the agency’s procedures are, and how they can meet, or fall short of meeting, your needs.
3. Communicate. Doesn’t it all boil down to communication? A caseworker cannot change what he/she is doing if they unaware that you are unsatisfied. I find it useful to plan my communications carefully, especially when it involves a complaint. As with any relationship, whether personal or working, there are times when conversations can be the most effective and productive. We’ve all experienced awkward, strained conversations that did not achieve what we’d hoped. Sometimes it is a direct result of poor timing! In a tense period in one of our adoptions, I made an emotion-filled, irrational comment to an adoption professional whom I admired and respected. I immediately regretted what I’d said! Luckily he was patient and kind. He did gently correct and reprimand me, which I most definitely deserved. I have wished many times that I had held my tongue and figured out a better way to have that concern addressed!
When I am thinking rationally (it does happen), I find it beneficial to write my thoughts, then sit on them for a day or two. Whether I plan to talk to someone in person, or communicate via email, it is so helpful to have written, read, and re-read what is on my mind.
Your agency and caseworker want to hear your thoughts, concerns, and suggestions. If you do your best to communicate them effectively after you’ve had a chance to think, calm down, and refine your thoughts, you have a better chance of a positive experience.
With all the best intentions, and even after taking all the right precautions and steps, you may still find that your agency is just not cutting it for you. Before you give up entirely, do a little (more) searching and try something different. There are many agencies out there, and you are bound to find one that best fits your plan. Best of luck in your adventures!