Adjusting Our Focus: A Conference Presentation Summary

Adoption STAR staff member Meg Montgomery shares insight regarding their presentation at the 8th Biennial Adoption Initiative Conference in New York City. This is the third and final installment of a three part blog series.

meganmont1Adoption professionals likely came to their career with a personal motivation of wanting to help others in need. At the same time, these professionals are faced with the knowledge that there are often many more children waiting to join a family than there are families looking to adopt (amongst other ethical challenges).

Sometimes when our motivations are to do something good for someone else, unrealistic expectations are impinged on the person who we have done something good for. As an example, the prospective adoptive parent that’s driven primarily by a desire to do something good for a child in need may imagine that a child will feel thankful and appreciative of the new life they have been given through adoption. This expectation is not only unrealistic, but also hurtful, as it does not acknowledge everything that the child has been through in order to become part of a family.

Similarly, the adoption professional whose focus is to join children living without a family to a family through adoption might be unrealistic about the challenges that the adoptive family and child will face. They also may expect that every family is prepared and has the support to make these relationships successful. This expectation is also unrealistic and hurtful to the entire family, as they may not have the tools needed to assist a child that may be struggling to adjust to their new life.

Education is such an important focus for those involved in international adoption. The adoption professional must understand the hard truths about adoption and parenting a child who has had traumatic life experiences. This requires that we understand what motivates our work and regularly assess if we are following or core values and code of ethics. The agency/adoption professional has a responsibility to be continually educate themselves on adoption related issues, including (but not limited to):

  • Country specific laws and issues.
  • Realities for adoptees and families in international adoption.
  • Accurately assessing families closely during post placement periods.
  • Staying cognizant of Brodzinsky’s research.

Motivations and expectations need to be hand-in-hand, and the bottom line is that as much as we wish to work with the prospective adoptive family who knocks on our door, and as much as we wish to find a family for every child that is living outside of family care (and without the security, nutrition and love they deserve), we must accept the reality that adoption is not going to be a good fit for every family. When we provide fair, educated, accurate information to prospective adoption families, they will come to understand the following 6 criteria (that can help them to determine whether the desire to parent is at the core of their motivation and if adoption parenting is the right fit for them):

  1. Knowledge that “love is not enough”
  2. Willingness to change themselves for the good of the child
  3. Ability to see the perspective of the child as the victim
  4. Recognition of how trauma impacts behavior
  5. Commitment to provide a safe environment
  6. Understanding that adoption is a life-long journey

The common thread among all of these principles is this – always work with the best interests of the child in mind.

  • When adoption is found to not be the best fit for a family, there are still some fulfilling options available to them. Just a few of those things include:
  • Volunteer to help children and families in need.
  • Sponsor a child into foster care or to receive medical care or education.
  • Fundraise to make contributions to an orphanage or to an organization that helps to keep first families together.
  • Advocate for children who are waiting to be adopted.
  • Donate time or goods to a charity that you feel provides support to children and families.

Adoption parenting is not a truly selfless act. If it was, it would mean there was no desire to be a parent. However, in the end parenting will involve a level of altruism and a desire to do what is in the child’s best interest, putting the child’s needs above the needs of the parent(s).

Altruism has its place in adoption, but the truth of the matter is that we all need to recognize the challenging landscape of adoption and explore any potential ambiguity and core motivating factors.