How We Decided Which Special Needs Boxes to Check on Our Preference Checklist

Completing the Preference Checklist - ideas and suggestions.

Candise Gilbert May 31, 2015
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There is no denying that an adoption home study is A LOT of paperwork. It seems that there is an information sheet/questionnaire/checklist covering nearly every aspect of your life. You will find yourself sending texts and e-mails in an effort to correctly document the height, eye color, level of education, and current address of each of your siblings. You will painstakingly make your way through questions about your marriage, child rearing, and the genre of music you listen to most frequently.

Many of these documents, though they take considerable time and require attention to detail, are somewhat mundane and don’t require a lot of self-examination. There is one document, however, that for many couples causes a great deal of personal reflection, discussion, research, and soul-searching. The Preference Checklist. As an adoptive couple you have the opportunity (or should I call it a responsibility?) to complete a Preference Checklist as part of your home study. A Preference Checklist is an exhaustive list of physical disabilities, mental disorders, and other special needs. Couples determine whether or not they are willing to be considered for children with these conditions. Another major component of the Preference Checklist is racial origin. It also requires a couple to select whether or not they are willing to be considered for a child who has been exposed to drugs or alcohol.

I have known many adoptive couples in my experience with adoption over the last 10 years, and I have yet to meet one that didn’t struggle in part with the Preference Checklist.

There are so many things that have to be considered. You may not always agree with your spouse. You may feel it important to be sensitive to the opinions of your extended families. You will likely feel uneducated about much of what you see on the checklist. In short, you will feel overwhelmed. I remember distinctly feeling that I should not be given this much power in selecting my children! Certainly, if I were to become pregnant I would accept without reservation a child with a cleft palate or a child with significant hearing loss. I wouldn’t think twice about loving a child with a learning disability or mental and emotional struggles. I felt very conflicted, yet I knew it had to be done.

I’d like to offer my encouragement, and a few suggestions as you get ready to fill out the Preference Checklist. I know you’ve been avoiding it!

1. Be honest. There is nothing you can do with more perfection than being honest. It is not, in any way, in your best interest to check “yes” on any boxes you are very uncomfortable with. When we completed our first Preference Checklist we were living in a remote town, population 2000. The nearest children’s hospital was many hours away. At that time, we felt strongly that it was not the time for our family to include a child with a major medical issue. We marked “no” on Spina Bifida, for example, as well as a few other special needs that we knew would be very difficult given our location at the time. We have since moved, and have not had a problem marking “yes” on those boxes with subsequent home studies.

2. Work together. It is possible that you and your spouse have yet to have some of the crucial conversations required in the adoption process. Are you both on the same page with the racial makeup of your future family? How do you each feel about parenting a child with significant physical or mental handicaps? My husband is a diabetic, so working with a birth parent with a family history of diabetes is no big deal to us.

3. Educate yourself. I should add “carefully”. As you are all well aware, you can find MUCH more than is truly necessary online. A simple ailment and 10 minutes on a search engine will convince you that you are likely going to suffer a severe life-altering malady. We’ve all experienced it! We found it necessary to do a little bit of research on drug and alcohol exposed infants. We had friends who were absolutely against any exposure at all and marked “no” with great confidence on their Preference Checklist. After some (brief, but enough) research we realized that we were reading a lot of “mays.” A child exposed to drugs MAY. . . We didn’t feel overly concerned about this and were comfortably able to mark “yes”.

4. Ponder but don’t fixate. Trust yourself to make some decisions quickly and instinctively. If you pore over every item you will go crazy. Don’t spend hours learning the ins and outs of caring for a child with every possible special need. It will do you no good. Be thoughtful, but don’t be overly consumed. I remember at one point years ago I began researching whether or not certain illnesses were more likely passed from the birth father or the birth mother, as our Preference Checklist required us to mark medical histories in both birth parents. This was a slippery slope and I quickly realized this would do me no good!

5. Trust. Remember in adoption you are looking for YOUR child. Not any child, or every child. Please believe me when I say that your child will find their way into your home. Trust your instincts.

6. Be honest. I began the list with this—and it is only fitting to end with it. Be honest with yourself, your spouse, your caseworker, and above all with the birth parents interested in your family. It is true that a completely open Preference Checklist may expose you to more adoption situations, but in the end, honesty is always the best!

Take a deep breath, make sure you are well rested and have eaten your favorite dinner, and get to work on your Preference Checklist. You will feel wonderful when it is done! Please feel free to ask any questions, and I’d love to know which part was the most challenging for you.

I wish you the best of luck!

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Candise Gilbert

Candise is the mother of 2 darling girls and the wife of a fantastic husband. She became a mother through the miracle of adoption and parenting is her favorite job! She makes dinner every night, loves a good book, talks about adoption as often as she can, and tries to surround herself with fabulous people.


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