How to Become an Adoption Expert

Our new Expectant Parent Social Worker Alecia Zimmerman, MSW discusses training and becoming an adoption expert


Since my first day of working at Adoption STAR, I have had nonstop training and education. I was hired to be the Expectant Parent Social Worker. My duties primarily include working with expectant parents providing counseling, referrals, and support throughout their pregnancies. My previous experience was working with people with developmental disabilities and assisting people getting the supports they need to live independently. Being an advocate for expectant parents is also a proud role I fulfill.

The terms “expectant parents” and “birth parents” are sometimes used interchangeably. Expectant parents are the people who are either pregnant or the expectant father. Expectant parents become birth parents once their child is born and an adoption plan is in place. I work with expectant mothers and these days it is not uncommon for an expectant father to be involved in making an adoption plan. To further my training, on February 1st I braved the lake effect snow and drove to Rochester to sit in on a training called “Understanding Infant Adoption” as part of the Infant Adoption Training Initiative (IAATP). Tailored to New York State law, the training provided an overview of the process of making an adoption plan.

No two birth plans are alike and while it is difficult to detail a “typical” adoption plan, there are some core concepts that are found throughout each adoption story. At Adoption STAR, no expectant parent is ever too far away for us to provide services. In person meetings is always preferable but we make efforts to be as helpful as possible over the phone, through emails, and even text messages- whatever is easier for the expectant parents. Being a constant support for the expectant parents is key.

Another core concept we have when working with expectant parents is providing transparent information and education about what they can expect for their adoption plan and what they will need to do. Much of the paperwork is the same for all expectant parents. Making an adoption plan a very emotional decision and it is a legal decision with real effects. Education is a large part of everyone touched by the services of Adoption STAR. Expectant parents, adoptive parents, and the staff are expected to be active in understanding the aspects of adoption.

Choice is one other very important concept. Expectant parents always have the final decision when it comes to their child and adoption plan: they choose where and how the delivery will take place; they have the option to choose the family who will be adopting the child; they can choose how much contact they have with the adoptive parents and child; and they can choose to parent the child when the baby is born. As a social worker, it is important to me that the expectant parents are fully aware of how their choices may impact their life and the lives of others. All choices should be made within the best interest of the child.

The professionals outside of Adoption STAR who work with expectant parents also play a critical part in the adoption story. The energy of the training group consisting of caseworkers, social workers, and nurses was exciting. The group seemed incredibly knowledgeable within their respective fields and they all asked in-depth questions about adoption. To hear the questions of the people who may encounter a woman wishing to make an adoption plan helps me to understand what other trainings might be helpful in the future. It is also exciting that the possibility of working with such passionate professionals is within my reach. Strengthening the relationship between Adoption STAR and caring professionals is also within my scope of work.

So why would an employee of Adoption STAR sit in on a training about the foundational concepts of adoption? For me, it was a well-packaged review and reinforced core concepts. Many of the topics discussed during this training I had learned during my first two weeks on the job. That day was the first time I had the chance to be the “adoption expert.” Someone had a question regarding the transition of parental rights between the birth parents and the adoptive parents and I was able to respond with the answer. Briefly, the transfer of rights does not happen until the birth parents sign legally binding surrender documents. I may not know every aspect of adoption law in New York State but little moments like this help highlight the importance of thorough training for any profession.

To say the training was helpful is an understatement. I believe that all professionals should make a concerted effort to continuously learn about their field of practice. Not only do laws and regulations change, societal perceptions change with time. Without understanding how people perceive adoption, how can we provide relevant training? The way adoptions were handled 30 years ago are different than they are today and the “Understanding Infant Adoption” training showcases those changes.

Read More on Infant Adoption and Expectant Parents: What is the Infant Adoption Awareness Program (IAATP)?, Birth Parent Overview, Adoption Support, Unplanned Pregnancy Help and Support, Expectant Parent Frequently Asked Questions, Getting Started with an Adoption Plan