The Check-box Part 1

Lesa Ferguson

Our Media Specialist Lesa Ferguson has been working on forms for Adoption STAR. In this two-part blog series, she writes about her particular fascination with the form element, the check-box.

By Lesa Quale Ferguson

NPR has been broadcasting a series entitled, “Make a Race Card”. They ask for a six word essays on race. I decided to submit because of the work I’ve been doing at Adoption STAR. Here is my Race Card: I advocate for the race check-box.

I have become Adoption STAR’s resident form builder. We are currently undergoing a database change from our old spreadsheet to a new web-based data program. This new program will streamline, simplify and customize the multitude of home study forms, medical records, documents and data that we receive daily from social workers, lawyers, prospective adoptive and birth families. The change will make the Lorax happy. Once we make the change, the new program will help us more effectively match children with families and give us what we need to offer timely support to those already on their adoption journey.

Kristin Ackerman and I are spearheading the change. My job is to merge the old forms into the new. My focus has narrowed from all the different forms and all the questions on all those forms to one – Race? On the old form, clients answered that question into a text-box. A text-box is reserved for unique answers, for clients to answer however they see themselves, and for however they want to abbreviate or spell it. You would think that the text-box would be the most compassionate, political correct and thoughtful of all form elements. But, the text-box can come with its own set of challenges for the adoptive and birth families.

I intend on eliminating the race text-box into a check-box. Time and time again, people have railed against the check-box on census, school, and employment forms. And I understand why. All of the variations and experiences of race is reduced to one small box. But, the reviled check-box can be a springboard.

The usefulness of the check-box can be calculated in time, efficiency, and whether one family is placed and another waits. Let’s say, a social worker is at the hospital with a birth mother who had unexpectedly called the agency. She is in labor and wants to place her baby immediately after birth for adoption. She decides as she is filling out forms and speaking with the social worker that she would like an adoptive family with this qualifier – an African American father and that is how she writes it in the text-box. But, the prospective adoptive fathers have written in their text-boxes such words and abbreviations as A.A., Black, Haitian American, Biracial etc. The social worker calls the agency to have someone pour through the profiles to hand select those families with African American males. Sometimes, the office and that particular hospital can be a hundred miles apart. And this is merely one qualifier, add to this Catholic, Gay, African American father with another child present in the home. And what if, during this very challenging and emotional time in her life, as she looks through the profiles, the Birth Mother changes her mind…

At our agency we have always effectively dealt with these kinds of situations, but with the transition to a new web-based program comes a faster and more “user friendly” solution – the check-box. With a check-box, the birth mother checks off one or more of the seven races listed. The prospective adoptive fathers have done the same. Now the social worker on her laptop brings up a report of all those families with a black male, s/he downloads those PDF profiles and the birth mother scrolls through words and pictures unique to those families.

In these family profiles, she can see how ethnicity and culture play out for this particular family. She may find that when she checked Black, she really meant “African American” because she wanted a man who had faced the racial challenges of this country and so now she can narrow down the list even further. The check-box isn’t the decider; it’s a springboard into family profiles. She decides who is best “qualified” to raise her baby.

We will post part 2 tomorrow.

Read More by Lesa Ferguson: Birth Mother’s Day Celebration ’13: A Recap, Adoption Posse Part 1, Adoption Posse Part 2, Waiting, Waitin Part 2, Tell Us Your Adoption Story, by Lesa Ferguson’s Mother Trudy Cusella – Second Chances

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