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Adoption: Surviving Your Social Worker

Read tips on how to deal with difficult social workers.

Adoption: Surviving Your Social Worker

Most adopters are at least a little afraid of their social worker—whether they admit it or not. Most social workers are compassionate people who want adopters to succeed. But they are human, and they have human flaws. Here are a few do's and don'ts on dealing with your social worker as you wait:

  • Don't call the social worker daily or even weekly unless you have a specific problem or issue to discuss.
  • Don't call the social worker early on Monday morning or late on Friday afternoon. (Actually, try to avoid calling anyone at these times—most people are not at their best then.)
  • Don't expect the social worker to be the supreme authority on adoption. Hopefully, she'll have read a few books and know something. But don't depend on her for all information.
  • Do treat the social worker with respect and courtesy at all times.
  • Do try to see the process from the social worker's view—she's in charge of placing children and wants them to go to the best family.

Most social workers are very nice people, but once in a while a social worker can get heady with power and jerk you around a little. Here's an example of minor “jerking around,” although the social worker might not see it that way: It's Thursday and you have an appointment for her to come for a visit next Thursday. She calls you and says her schedule is a mess next week but she has some free time tomorrow (or worse—this afternoon!). So can she come then instead of next week? This means you don't have much time to clean—and you might have thought a week wasn't enough!

So what do you do? If you have a valid reason (needing extra cleaning time doesn't count) for her to not come, then tell her so. If you have an appointment with your dentist for a root canal and don't feel well, that is a good excuse. (Do not suddenly arrange for a root canal to avoid the social worker. Not worth it.) If you have an important business or family event already scheduled, explain this. Otherwise, get out the mop and broom now!

Here's an example of major jerking around: Terri was talking to the social worker at a follow-up visit and holding and hugging the baby. Suddenly, the worker said, “You know, she's not your baby until I say that she's your baby!” Terri burst into tears. The worker then said, “Well, I didn't say I wouldn't approve you,” and Terri cried more. What happened? The social worker approved the family. Either she was having a bad day, or she was on a power trip (or both), but she was unfair to the new mom. Terri told the agency director about it later, and the worker was reprimanded.

Sometimes it's personal. Dana says when the social worker found out that her father was an alcoholic, she insisted that Dana agree to have nothing to do with him after the adoption. The social worker was estranged and unforgiving of her own father's alcoholism. Said Dana, “She had a hard time accepting I had come to terms with my father's problem and argued with me about whether he should be in my life at all.” Dana wasn't about to disown her father, although she'd always make sure her child was safe around him, and she stuck to her guns. The adoption went through.

Adoption Alert

Rarely, a social worker may be a perfectionist who turns down applicants for no good reason. If she does this too much, her adoption agency would go out of business. For this reason, problem social workers usually don't last long with any agency.

Generally, you can put up with minor annoyances. But if things get bad, and you truly believe that a social worker isn't being fair to you, take action. Ask the social worker whether he or she has a problem with your application or if you have caused offense in any way. Tell him or her that you truly want to adopt and you are genuinely committed to being a good parent.

If that doesn't work, you have the option of talking to the social worker's supervisor or the agency director. You may be able to get someone else assigned to your case.

Despite the lapses of judgment I just referred to, most social workers are very nice and normal people! Hold that thought in your mind, because it's the truth.

Even the best adoption agency or attorney finds that sometimes people get angry or feel like they're being left out of decisions. For the large part, this is because the process of adoption is incredibly anxiety-inducing.

Remember, your adoption arranger can't share every minute detail with you. However, if you've heard nothing for weeks or months, it's probably time to give your adoption arranger a friendly call to find out how things are going. Glitches and oversights do take place. Don't expect everything to zoom through, problem-free.

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