Friday, September 24, 2010

Lessons for Social Workers

From Social Work Today mag, a piece about the lessons social workers can learn from the Russian adoption debacle where adoptive mom Tory-Ann Hansen sent 8-year-old Artyom alone back to Russia saying she no longer wanted to parent the child she'd adopted less than a year before:
In this blame game, many longstanding questions surface about social work practice and policy in international adoption. Social workers counseling prospective adoptive parents need advanced knowledge of the unique challenges facing any adoptive family, families who adopt children with difficult histories, and children from other countries, including Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Clinicians need a sound grasp of the clinical, policy, and ethical dilemmas involved in international adoption so they can provide effective care.

* * *

Intercountry adoption presents predictable issues for children. Some U.S. adoptive parents gravitate toward adopting a child from another country because they want no contact with the child’s birth family. This lack of understanding a child’s need for connection, identity, and information may deepen the child’s sense of loss. Today’s adoptive parents are advised to maintain some sort of contact with the child’s birth family and weave the child’s ethnicity into the fabric of adoptive family life by, for example, eating foods, celebrating holidays, speaking the language, or socializing with people from the child’s country of origin. Doing so can be hard in a family’s busy life and requires earnest, sincere, ongoing parental commitment and effort.

While all adoptees encounter loss, children adopted from other countries face additional losses. These may be minimized, denied, and dismissed in a world that sees adoptees as lucky to have been rescued from an orphanage or poverty abroad.


Adoption agencies are paid to make adoptions happen. This may create an incentive that does not serve the best interests of children or families. Biological families may not get the support they need to parent. Prospective adoptive parents may be encouraged to overlook misgivings about adoption as a path to parenthood or their compatibility with a particular child. Agencies may do an inadequate job of helping prospective parents with unrealistic expectations screen themselves out of the adoption process.

* * *

Families are best able to explore these issues in the context of a noncoercive collaborative relationship with a clinician who is well educated about adoption issues and takes a nonjudgmental, strengths-based stance. Each adoptive family needs access to a longstanding relationship with an adoption-informed clinician who can help them navigate the turbulent waters they may encounter on the lifelong adoption journey. Training programs to prepare clinicians for this highly specialized work are needed.

* * *

The decision to parent is a leap of faith—in oneself, the child, and the future. Children in Eastern European orphanages desperately need families. Justice, which forms the heart of social work’s mission, demands that all reasonable efforts be made to keep children safe within the protection of their birth families; when that is impossible, they are best served when nurtured and protected by families within their countries of origin. International social welfare programs should pursue these goals. When children cross national boundaries for adoption, their new families also need support and compassion.
Really good stuff here!  But I'd like to think that ALL adoption social workers already know all of this. . . .

And what about this line:  "[Adoption} Agencies may do an inadequate job of helping prospective parents with unrealistic expectations screen themselves out of the adoption process." Huh?  Why do we talk about PAPs screening themselves out?  Isn't that the social worker's job???


*Peach* said...

So glad professionals are starting to hear.
It goes beyond "culture camp". Adoption agencies who teach that incorporating the adopted child's culture into their new life will somehow remove their sense of loss is a woefully inadequate philosophy.

Amy said...

You ask why we want PAPs to screen themselves out rather than the SW doing it... Because unfortunately, if one SW screens them out, and the PAPs don't agree, they have learned that the "issue" is something to be hidden, and they try again with a new SW/agency. And this time they are less honest with themselves and the SW. At least that is the way I look at it.

Anonymous said...

Exactly Amy!

PAPs who fail a SW review will simply game the system by trying another SW/Agency AND hiding what ever it was that caused the earlier fail.

So, yeah, agencies and SWs need to work diligently with PAPs to get them to come to face with their own realities or constraints and disqualify themselves if they are able to.

That does not however let the poor state of SW review for adoptions off the hook. SWs need to be better at what they do here, or have their credentials restricted from homestudy reviews for adoptions.

And any SW that allowed (through any fault on their part, or not) a positive review for a PAP and that PAP subsequently harmed the child in any way..... that SW needs to be barred from further homestudy review practice. Sure, it sucks for that SW, but it sends a strong signal to all SWs to do their job and do it very well or suffer loss of license. There have to be consequences within the regulatory system in order to make SWs work at the levels needed to protect children from harm through negligence (regardless of reason of cause).

Too often when a story of a harmed child is covered in the press, some in the adoption community in the internet is quick to excuse away fault for both the parents as well as the SW and agency. It's disgusting.

Zero tolerance for any SW that completed a homestudy favorably and the PAP later harmed the child.

Zero tolerance for any AP that harms their adopted child. Prison time, serious prison time.

Anonymous said...

I think it is also valuable if the PAPs come to the determination that the program, process, country, whatever is not appropriate to their desires on their own. When people figure things out for themselves -- rather than being told they aren't good enough by an expert (and no matter the actual reason, that is what they will "hear") -- they are much more likely to accept it.