Social Workers, Not Adoptive Parents, Should Provide Post-Adoption Support to...

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Another adoptive mother has called asking at what point will her family be allowed to be a regular family without intrusion from the adoption agency, birthparents or anyone else who believes he can intrude because her children came to her through adoption rather than birth. In the all-too-familiar scenario, this woman and her husband adopted a child two year ago ≠the adoption has been final for over a year. Just before placement, the agency (not an NCFA member) told the adopting couple that they had changed their policies and were now requiring adoptive parents to send the agency pictures and an update on the child once a year until the child was six years of age. At the time, the couple felt manipulated, but, as most adopting couples, went along with the policy in order to adopt a child.

Since then, it appears the agency changed their rules again in the middle of the game. It is not clear whether the agency changed its policy generally or just in this particular case. In recent months, the agency has begun forwarding tearful letters from the birth mother asking for direct contact. It seems the birth father recently ended his long standing relationship with the birth mother. The birth mother is seeking solace from the adoptive family and their child. The adoptive mother has protested receiving this mail and the social worker at the agency has responded that she is unfeeling and should reach out in anyway that the birth mother needs, since the birth mother's problems are the result of the adoption.

The adoptive mother has some background in mental health and her analysis of the situation is the same as mine. The inexperienced social worker at the agency does not know how to handle the grief of her client (probably some related to the loss of the boyfriend) so she is passing the buck to the adoptive parents. The adoptive parent is being told that only her child can bring comfort to this woman. At the same time, the agency's actions are telling the birth mother that her happiness is tied to contact with the adopted child and his family.

When I first came into the adoption field in 1980, I recall that perhaps the most important benefit of agency adoption was that all clients ≠ birthparents and adoptive parents ≠ received professional counseling from trained social workers. Agencies criticized attorneys for leaving birthparents to their own devices to resolve all issues related to adoption, unplanned pregnancies and troubled relationships. Adoptive parents, including the one who called me, chose agency adoption over independent adoption because they were assured that the agency would be available to counsel the birthparent.

But as some attorneys are becoming more conscientious about ensuring that their clients receive adequate counseling, it appears some agencies are abandoning their services and expecting adoptive parents to pick up the slack. Some agencies are telling adoptive parents that if they locate a birthparents they will handle the adoption. In this way, agencies no longer provide outreach services. This abdication of responsibility is even more troubling when adoptive parents are expected to provide support and counseling to birthparents with unresolved grief issues.

Obviously, most prospective adoptive parents are not counselors. But even if they are, they, because of their emotional involvement and conflict of interest, cannot counsel the birth mother of their child. One former head of an agency defended his agency's move to requiring prospective adoptive parents to take on roles previously held by social workers by stating that all prospective adoptive parents had 100 hours of training. How can one justify 100 hours a night, the training would be once a week for an entire year! That kind of training appears to be excessive intrusion into a family's life by a social worker. Certainly, this is the sort of intrusion that would not be acceptable to families who give birth to their children.

Adoption advocates need to demand practices which require professional services to parties to an adoption and remind those involved with adoption and society at large that adoptive families are real families. Once an adoption is finalized, there can be no justification for the intrusion into a family's life by any outsider. The only exception would be abuse or neglect, just as it is for families formed through birth.

Credits: Mary Beth Style, M.S.W.

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