Hopeful adoptive parents rely heavily upon their adoption agencies and attorneys for understanding both the process of adoption and the issues they might face as an adoptive family. If you are an adoption professional, how can you help your clients evaluate the risk factors common to domestic infant adoption?
Our online community of adoptive parents (and birth parent and adult adoptees) share their lived experiences about what they wished they had known and how their agency could have helped them evaluate risk factors and prepare well for domestic infant adoption.
Understand Your Clients’ Starting Points
Many hopeful adoptive parents come to domestic infant adoption by way of the challenging journey of infertility. You can meet them in that space by acknowledging the pain and struggle they’ve experienced. Encourage them to enumerate the many different losses that are connected to infertility and the move to adoption–lack of a genetic connection to their child, not being able to see the combination of their and their partner’s genes, not experiencing pregnancy or breastfeeding, not being able to control the prenatal environment–to name just a few. Guide them to talk about how they’ve coped with that grief.
Certainly, you don’t need to act as a grief counselor. However, including resources about grief and healing in your early interactions with hopeful adoptive parents will help prepare them more fully. Depending on how they are coping recommending therapy may be in order. The added bonus is that identifying and coping with their grief can give them tools for empathizing with the expectant mother in her struggle as well.
Coming to Terms with Infertility Grief Before You Adopt is a favorite resource of many of our community members.
Lack of Knowledge
Another common starting point for hopeful adoptive parents is a general lack of knowledge or gaps in understanding about adoption.
Common misunderstandings of hopeful adoptive parents include cost, waiting times, the possibility of expectant parents changing their mind prior to placement, and open adoption, and the need to “market themselves.” These topics need to be brought up early in order to fully prepare your families and help them evaluate risk factors.
Give your families an expert-based resource on the Legal Process of Domestic Adoption.
Finally, another starting point for many prospective adoptive parents might be fear. Telling friends and family of the intention to adopt often unleashes horror stories and tales of adoptions gone wrong. They are also probably fielding unsolicited advice that strikes fear in their hearts about whether they will ever get a baby or if they’ll be able to keep that baby.
They may also be afraid of the lack of control over things like the expectant mothers’ needs and wishes, the prenatal environment, extended birth families’ approval of the adoption, or future openness.
Building their process on a foundation of fear is a terrible way to start a domestic adoption! Not only can fear leave the hopeful parents open to misinformation, it can also guide decisions that would not be best for their family or for the baby in question. In your conversations with these hopeful parents, you can listen carefully and guide them to address the concerns you hear.
Please encourage them to talk about their fears together or with a trusted advisor like a pastor or counselor. Help them understand which fears are coming from misinformation and offer them reliable, evidence-based resources to correct their misconceptions.
The Risk Factors about which Hopeful Adoptive Parents Are Concerned
The most common risk factors hopeful adoptive parents ask about in our community are prenatal exposure, mental health issues in the birth family, and difficult birth family stories (such as rape, incest, domestic violence, incarceration).
Not surprisingly, these risk factors are also things over which the adoptive parents have little or no control. Again, sometimes misinformation or lack of information is at the root of the concern. When you close gaps in knowledge with resources that educate and equip, they consider what risks they can accept and those that might not be a good fit for their family.
Resources to educate hopeful parents
Creating a Family has extensive resources that you can recommend to hopeful adoptive parents who are evaluating risk factors. We’ve listed some of our most utilized, expert-based content here. We’ve also included a couple of other reputable resources to help you build your resource lists.
- Introduction to Prenatal Exposure for Those Considering Adoption
- Accepting an Adoption Match with Prenatal Exposure-Opiates, Methadone, or Hepatitis
- FASCETS FAQs about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Mental Health Issues:
- Introduction to Domestic Infant Adoption
- Should You Accept This Match? Evaluating Risk Factors
- How Heritable is Mental Illness?
Challenging Birth Family Stories:
- Relationships with Birth Parents Who Struggle with Addiction
- Understanding Expectant Moms Who Are Considering Adoption
- Talking About The Difficult Parts of Your Child’s Adoption Story
- ACES Connection “Understanding ACEs” downloadable pdf
Please encourage the hopeful parents to also connect with other parents who have adopted children with similar risk factors in their story. The educational element of peers who can share real-life, day-to-day experiences is invaluable. If you can connect them to other clients in your agency community, all the better!
Resources to support hopeful adoptive parents
The wait for a baby is stressful. As their caseworker, prospective parents might also look to you to help guide the tone of their wait. Some will need many reassurances, and some will require none. Still, other parents will need hand-holding. What will be most effective for supporting each couple is something you can assess as you know them better.
Another support you can offer waiting parents while they are evaluating risk factors is a support group. Whether it’s an online support group or an in-person one, being with like-minded folks who “get it” will help them feel less alone. The bonus is that support groups are a fantastic source of “real life” learning about evaluating risk factors from other experienced adoptive parents.
If your agency doesn’t offer support groups for families, Creating a Family has a very active, online group. Many adoptive families, adoptees, and birth parents share their stories and experiences to support adoptive parents to parent well.
Build Trust As You Build Knowledge
As you build a relationship with the hopeful parents in your agency community, you will learn what they need. The knowledge you offer them builds their toolbox to understand the risk factors of domestic adoption and evaluate them thoughtfully. As the adoption professional with whom they have built trust, what a privilege it is to help them grow and learn!
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Image Credits: rifqy; Lindsey G; Nenad Stojkovic