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Your relationship with the adoption social worker

One of the most important relationships you will develop along your adoption journey is that with your social worker. It is them who comes into your home and your life to make the assessment to see if you would make suitable adoptive parents.

Social workers come in all shapes and sizes!! Some with lots of experience of inter-country adoption, some with none. Some think that it is a fantastic thing to do, others think that it is a travesty. Some social workers are timely and efficient, some will always come late, others always make mistakes. Some are professional, others are incompetent. Some have good social skills, others none at all.

Unfortunately, the way the system works, you do not get a choice of which social worker to work with. 

And if you do not get on, there is very little you can do about it. This is one of the biggest flaws in this system.

I find this very strange with something so personal and sensitive as adoption and the depth of the assessment , personality clashes are most definitely likely to arise. No flexibility is built into the system and when things go wrong there is very little recourse and your future is in jeopardy. We are all human and there is no doubt that there can sometimes be a clash with regard to personalities.  Of course everyone aspires to be 'professional' but it puts the adopters at a distinct disadvantage as they already feel exposed and judged and any impediment on this is very difficult to deal with.

It is very much a hit and miss scenario as to the standard and quality of the social worker you will be allocated. The lucky will get a confident, experienced and wise practitioner to work with.  These are usually found in the voluntary adoption agencies and a sprinkling through the local authorities.  I have heard that it is very difficult to employ social workers in inter-country adoption as very few actually believe in it.

Kate and Ben desperately wanted children but made a fatal error on the first visit by the social worker.  They wanted a child as young as possible. Ben was a smoker which is frowned upon but not a reason to disallow an adoption to proceed. When the social worker arrived at their home they felt straight away that there was no rapport and was never likely to be. But they continued in the most professional manner but as the conversations continued they started really feel the animosity coming from the SW and when the social worker declared 'We will never let you adopt a child under two', Kate responded 'Well we will have one that is older'. At this the social worker stood up and said 'I am sorry, you are too desperate I cannot proceed' and left, leaving a shocked Ben and a distraught Kate.  I do not know what happened to them.

Emotional key words

Vulnerable, exposed, judged, uncertain, inadequate, unlevel playing field, not good enough

Other social workers are inexperienced and with that inexperience comes arrogance and insecurity.  Samina and Mannie's social worker was so unconfident in her role and her abilities she never wanted to end the Home Study!  It was only after 15 visits, a year had gone by and they had put pressure on the social services decision maker, did they move forward and successfully go to panel.

I spoke to two adopters on the same day, and they were at the same stage in the home study. The one said 'Oh it is great I am actually enjoying it' and the other was very stressed 'It is the most awful experience of my life - I feel like I am in East Germany being interrogated by the Stasi."

It should not be like this.  The adopters usually feel impotent to come forward and complain about the social worker - they have after all your whole future in their hands.  'I am the one who decides if you will have a child or not' was declared by Simon and Francesca's social worker.  All local authorities do have a complaint procedure in place, it is however very complex and one only has to see the length of Baby P's case to see how difficult  it is to bring an irresponsible person to account.  And to what purpose does it serve? Your objective is to give a loving and stable home to a child in need, not to be chasing people though courts.

What  most adopters who have had problems with the local authorities have found, other than moving to another area, is that a quick phone call or e-mail to your local MP has had positive and quick results.  This solution is quite good as it alerts the MP that something is amis re inter-country adoption and reminds the LA that they do not stand in isolation.

One time after I had made a complaint about the service I was told by my 'case worker' (I had so many during my adoption I have lost count) "We are just a small team here Cecile.."  I had to remind her that actually she was a link in a very, very long and important chain that went across borders and judicial and social boundaries.  I think it was the first time she had actually seen her role in terms other than the four council walls.

Luckily, there are a few agencies who do concentrate on inter-country adoption and who have their finger on the pulse, with adopters and the process. For the rest it  seems that international adoption or in fact adoption, is fairly new. They are used to dealing with dysfunctional families and are not accustomed to interviewing sound couples, usually bright and intelligent, whose only 'problem' is that their bodies have failed to conceive or (heaven forbid) they choose to give a child in need a home.

What we believe in the international adoption community, is that we have to educate the social workers.  The adoption is in our interests and we spend hours and hours researching and are pretty well acquainted with all the procedures and the country and everything about their children. Kim's social worker was fascinated to learn about Russia, its kids and the orphanages system.  She arrived one day from visiting a woman who had 6 children all by different fathers and all of them in care. She walked into Kim's spacious lounge and sank down on  the sofa and said, "Talk to me about Russia".


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