Turning Down a Referral

Weigh the pros and cons before saying yes or no to an international adoption referral.

Sonia Billadeau April 12, 2014
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What Happens If I Refuse a Referral?

International adoption offers so many choices: good choices, difficult choices, complicated choices. While most people never even consider the possibility of refusing a child referral when they embark on their international adoption journey, you can quite easily and unexpectedly find yourself in a very tough, emotional situation. Some people compare turning down a child referral to having a miscarriage: both are situations of personal loss and lost possibilities– you’ve lost the possibility of parenting a particular child.

If you are referred a child who brings circumstances you didn’t expect– or has more severe special needs than you think you can handle– don’t immediately say, “No way, this isn’t what we asked for.” Instead, stop, and take a deep breath. Then, do some digging– lots of digging. Find out what is truly involved in parenting a child from this particular situation or with these particular needs. Get multiple opinions from doctors and specialists; ask your adoption agency to connect you with other adoptive parents whose children are in the same (or similar) situation; and talk it over with your spouse, and then talk some more.

Only after you have done the research and gathered all the information you can find should you decide to turn down a referral– and even then it will be a devastatingly difficult choice. In the end, you must make the choice that is right for your family– a choice about the type of life and lifestyle you want for your family. If you turn down a referral because the child has more needs than you can handle, you won’t be seen as a bad person and your adoption agency won’t put you back at the bottom of the referral waiting list. (It’s a different story if you repeatedly turn down referral after referral for trivial reasons. At that point, your adoption agency and your social worker will probably want you to re-evaluate your desire to adopt.)

If you turn down a referral, be prepared to grieve. Grieve for the child you said “no” to and grieve for all the lost possibilities. Also, be ready for a lack of understanding– and the insensitive remarks that it can bring– from some of your family and friends. Just when you need their support the most, you may hear, “So what? You’ll get another referral,” or, “What’s the big deal? You never even met the child.” This type of remark is akin to telling someone who miscarried, “You’ll have other children,” in that it doesn’t acknowledge and validate the real nature of the grief you’re feeling. Try to remember that most people who say insensitive things at a time like this are very uncomfortable with expressing emotions. Don’t go adding their problems to yours!

The bottom line on evaluating a referral– any referral– is that you must take into consideration what is best for you and your family. You must weigh everything– your job, your needs, your lifestyle, even the type of health insurance coverage you have– when deciding whether to accept or turn down a referral in international adoption, because absolutely everything will change when you say “yes” and bring that child into your life. You have to be brutally honest because you’re not just considering the impact on your life, you’re also considering the impact on the child. Don’t beat yourself up if you find that you have to say no to a referral. Instead, take strength in the fact that you are honest and in knowing that the right child– your child– will come along.

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Sonia Billadeau


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