EASTON, Md. — When setting off to begin your home study process, people don’t think you can choose your social worker, but you can. And you should.
Most people use the social workers their agency directs them to, often an in-house social worker. The majority of adoptive parents do just that, work with the social workers they’ve been given. The upside of working with the social workers your agency recommends is that that person understands how the agency operates. It can be a fine arrangement. It can even be an exceptional one. But it is not a necessary one.
Since this one of the most important relationships that you will have over the years that you go through the adoption process, you should choose wisely. At least, give it some consideration, as much as, say, if you were choosing a periodontist. Take your time to find someone who you believe you will work well with. That may very well be your agency’s pick; but it may not.
Start by asking family and friends. Facebook is brilliant for this because you can reach out to an extended community to ask for recommendations in your area.
Making sure you social worker is nearby will be crucial. We made the mistake of initially engaging a social worker through our agency, which was based about an hour and half away, as was our agency. With the agency, distance matters much less because you need only go into the agency office a couple of times during the process. Most everything can be done via email and snail mail. But with a social worker, it’s different.
A required set of meetings mandates that you will see him or her many times. Scheduling appointments can become difficult, especially during the work week. In our case, the social worker kept regular business hours, wrapping up by 5 o’clock, which meant we had to leave work early to meet with him. We also learned that the social worker was charging for every mile he drove past 30 miles from his office. We did the math and realized that since we were 80 miles away, this was going to add up quickly.
We wound up switching to a social worker who was about 45 miles from our home, but who did not charge for her travel time and who kept evening hours, meaning we wouldn’t have to leave work early to attend meetings with her. She made our lives easier and that alone was worth the switch.
Although we were working on an international adoption and she specialized in domestic placements, we worked with her through the process to make sure she included what was needed. Of course, it would have been even more ideal if she’d also had international experience, not only flexibility and proximity to us. However, two out of three wasn’t bad.
One adoptive mom I know credits her social worker with enabling her to adopt. After a series of setbacks presented challenges (see Red Thread profile of Melanie Taylor Castelli), she shopped for a social worker to find one who could bring some finesse her home study and not pre-judge her unique situation. In finding the right person, she overcame what for a while (with other social workers) seemed insurmountable.
Most importantly, you have to sort of like your social worker. This is the person that will be with you almost every step of the way in the process, offering advice, guidance and, yes, making a determination of your fitness as a parent. You want this relationship to be a good one.
He or she will interview you, your friends and family, examine and inspect your home, and turn over every stone in your past –from illness to job history. And no matter how much you understand the job, this intrusion will breed resentment. If you find you don’t care much for your social worker, you’re going to have a very hard time overcoming that resentment.
You should also have a certain level of comfort, where you can ask questions, express concerns and reach out for help when you are struggling along the way. Do you feel comfortable asking questions? Is he or she engaged and interested or is he or she too jaded to connect with you on an emotional level? Does he or she seem to know the latest in adoption regulations and requirements? (This is important because this information changes often.)
I highly recommend before choosing a social worker (or even accepting the choice your agency has made), that you do a little pre-interview. This intense short-lived relationship will be one of the most important relationships of your life because how it goes can make or break your adoption, or, at the very least, color the experience.
With that in mind, I recommend interviewing at least three social workers prior to choosing one to work with on your adoption. I reached out to several social workers for their thoughts on what prospective parents should ask to help ensure they make a good match. Below is a list of questions that I have developed with these sources:
- How long have you been working in the field?
- What got you interested in adoption initially?
- What parts of the home study do you think are most important?
- Have you ever turned away someone you didn’t think would be a good candidate for adoption?
- What are the traits that you believe make good parents?
- How long will the home study take to complete? (It should take between three and six months, if you and the social worker are on track and work well together). Ours took 10 months because our social worker was overloaded. I know some families who took 13 months because of communication issues with their social worker.
- What will you charge for your work on our case? How is it to be paid out? Be sure you get this in writing upfront. There can be unexpected fees along the way, but you to need to get an idea for your budget. Generally, costs run somewhere between $900 and $3,500.
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