Biff from Back to the Future, Buzz from Home Alone, Darth Vader from Star Wars, and Thanos from The Avengers. What do all these movie characters have in common? They are some of the most recognizable villains of all time! They may be some of your favorite villains, but let’s be honest, we wouldn’t want to meet these people in real life. They’re bullies! In real life, we may have been bullied in years past on the playground, in the classroom, by older siblings, and even on social media. Nobody likes a bully! I remember being bullied on the way home from school several times. My dad enrolled me in a martial arts class where I learned self-defense, discipline, and confidence. I never got bullied again.
If you have ever been bullied, you never think about being bullied by an institution and certainly not by an adoption agency! You pursued adoption because you thought that you were doing a great thing for your community. You wanted to make a difference in the world. Or maybe you thought God was calling you to adopt kids. And that may be so. But whatever your motivation, you certainly never thought the process would be so nerve-wracking!
Between home studies, interviews, unannounced home visits, the legal process, and just ordinary, everyday child-rearing, the adoption journey can be quite stressful. At times, there can be such conflict that it may feel like you are being bullied. You may feel like you are being pressured into doing something you weren’t prepared for, or you feel like your concerns are not being heard. You may even feel like your privacy is being invaded. Whatever the case, you feel violated. That’s why a good relationship with your adoption agency is vital. No one can guarantee what the future holds, but whenever there is a conflict, it is important to see things from the other person’s perspective.
From the Adoptive Parents’ Perspective
From your perspective, you wanted to be an adoptive parent, but you didn’t think there would be so much paperwork, that it would take so much time, and that it would be part of such a bureaucracy. Now that you have tested the waters, you are awoken to the reality. The process of adoption can be ugly. Here are some expectations you may have had from an adoptive parent’s point of view:
– Instant family. The first expectation is the amount of time it takes to get a child in your home. Real adoption is not like the movies. A successful adoption takes time. The time to become licensed/certified to adopt varies depending on whether you are adopting internationally or domestically. The time that it takes to be matched to a child will also take time. But it may take more time than you were willing to wait for. Perhaps it wasn’t explained to you what the time frames were supposed to be. If you were told, “We can get you certified to adopt and have a kid in your home in three months,” that agency is making promises they cannot keep. No one agency can give a guaranteed timeline. But they should be upfront and honest with their timelines.
The hard fact is this: if you want a quicker child match, you need to be willing to consider adopting children that are less likely to be adopted. I know that sounds counterintuitive but consider this: the children that need to be adopted the most are children of color, developmentally disabled, older children, teens, and sibling groups. They are the ones that will remain in foster homes and other institutions longer than others. This has long-lasting effects on them and on society in general.
– Problem child. The second expectation is that adoption agencies can find nice, calm children with minimal issues. How nice would it be to adopt a healthy infant with no behavioral issues who has no connections to his or her biological family. That’s wishful thinking. In the old days of adoption, agencies used to try to match children to families according to the way they looked so that assimilation would be easier. Times have changed. Rather than choosing the right child for the family, agencies are now trying to choose the right family for the child. Agencies now realize that families need to have the skills to care for kids who have developmental disabilities, behavioral issues, etc. Finding families who are skilled in trauma and attachment are rare but valuable. The reason you may feel bullied by your agency is because they are trying to match a child you can properly care for with the skills you have.
– Isn’t there a better way to kill trees? In the 20th Century, they promised us a paperless society. Yeah right! It seems like we use more paper now than we ever did! Especially when trying to go through the adoption process! The certification/licensing process is long because agencies want to make sure the homes that they place children in are above reproach and are absolutely safe. Therefore, background checks, home inspections, physicians’ statements, and interviews are all necessary. These things take time. Agencies don’t want to place a child in a home where he or she will be even more at risk! They want to place children in good, healthy, skilled homes. A child’s “forever family” should be a giant leap forward than her previous situation. What an adoptive parent needs to do is ask for a list of all the documents that are needed to complete the process. That way, there will not be any uncomfortable surprises.
– All about the Benjamins! International and domestic infant adoption are expensive! Sometimes, it’s the equivalent to taking out a second mortgage. International adoptions may contain fees for home studies, background checks, application fees, court fees, and attorney’s fees. And this doesn’t include funds to travel to the country you wish to adopt from and the fees to the foreign agency. Ask for a list of these fees ahead of time. The only way to avoid such spending is to consider foster care adoption. The cost in most states to adopt from the foster care system is little to nothing.
From the Adoption Agency’s Perspective
As an agency social worker, we love it when we get a really motivated, skilled, teachable family who wants to adopt. It makes our job easier and more pleasant. But every once in a while, we don’t see eye-to-eye with a family for one reason or another, or maybe there are things going on behind the scenes that families are unaware of. Here are some issues agencies need to deal with from their perspective.
– Rules and regulations. Every adoption agency, whether private or public, needs to abide by rules and regulations. If it seems like your agency worker is coming down hard on you, it’s because the state or federal government is coming down hard on them. If it seems like more paperwork or that there’s more paperwork than ever before, there’s a reason for that, and it’s usually out of the agency’s control. Yes, the adoption process needs to be more person-oriented and certainly more child-centered, and some agencies do it better than others. Technology helps, but paperwork is inevitable.
– Match game. Another complaint that many parents have is that their agency has not matched them with the child of their choice. Sometimes, that is also out of the control of the agency, for one reason or another. But, as stated above, perhaps your agency does not think it would be a good match. Have open communication with your agency so that you can come to an agreement as to what child would be best for you to care for.
– Wrestling cage match. There are times when one child is pursued by multiple families. That’s great for the child! The bad thing is that only one family can be chosen. Your agency should be your advocate and your support when it comes to times like this.
Top 10 things you should do when feeling bullied by your adoption agency
The following suggestions are considered prevention as well as intervention. They are the result of many years of personal and professional experience. Follow these steps so you can potentially avoid a disaster:
1. Do your homework! Research and compare a number of reputable adoption agencies in your state. Make sure they match your values, mission, and principles. There are faith-based adoption agencies, state agencies, private agencies, and agencies that serve developmentally disabled children. Some agencies facilitate adoptions over state lines and others within one state only. No two agencies are exactly the same. Having a relationship with your adoption agency shouldn’t be like signing a multimillion-dollar deal with a sports team. It is an at-will relationship, which means that if there are changes that need to be made, there should be some flexibility on both sides.
2. Read the fine print! Read all notices and paperwork before you sign them. Don’t be caught by surprise. Many attorneys work with adoption agencies so they may be able to help you sort through the paperwork. But if you have a good adoption worker, she should be able to explain all of the paperwork to you.
3. Understand the process. Make sure all timelines and deadlines are disclosed to you beforehand. Make sure you understand all terminology such as “licensing” and “certification.” Make sure you know the difference between international adoption and domestic adoption. Make sure you understand the difference between private adoption and foster care adoption. This knowledge will make the difference between a successful adoption and a failed adoption.
4. Understand all costs, fees, and expenditures beforehand. International adoptions can cost upwards of $60,000 depending on the agency, attorneys, and country you want to adopt from. Domestic infant adoption is not nearly expensive, but there are still significant costs. Foster care adoption costs nearly $0, but there will still be some costs involved. Don’t be caught off guard!
5. Communicate with your agency worker. If you get a great agency worker, that’s great! But if not, you may have to have a conversation, or you may have a great worker with a poor attitude, or there simply may be a personality conflict. Whatever the case, make sure there is open communication flowing both ways. Make sure you tell your agency how you like to be communicated with: text, email, or phone call. This will cut down on miscommunication.
6. Communicate with the agency supervisor. Perhaps there are misunderstandings that a simple answer to a plaguing question would solve. Having a third party mediate a dispute within your agency might work wonders so that both parties know what is expected.
7. Ask for a change in agency workers. Maybe a change in scenery would make things better. Agency workers can make the difference between an excellent adoption experience and a bad one. Personality, experience, and professionalism go a long way. Politely ask for another worker if one is available.
8. Consider a change in agencies. If the culture within your agency is a toxic one, you may consider changing agencies. Consider a change to one with longer years of experience, one that is more person-oriented, or one that is just more professional.
9. Join a support group. Support groups are the current trend in the adoption community. There, you will find like-minded people who can empathize with you, give you advice, and can lend a shoulder to cry on. In an adoption support group, you will also receive training and advice from others who may have had a relationship with the same agency you are working with. Perhaps they can give you a new perspective and send you in a new direction.
10. Reconsider adoption. When all else fails, you may need to do some soul searching and ask the hard question, “Is adoption really for me?” The fact of the matter is that not everyone is cut out to be adoptive parents. This may be a hard pill to swallow, but at this point, it needs to be a family decision.
Your adoption agency should be your coach, your mentor, your advocate, and your cheerleader. Not your bully! Clearly state your expectations and motivations and ask your agency to do the same. This way, you will avoid many pitfalls. Your experience with your agency should be more like Mary Poppins and not The Wicked Witch of the West!
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journeys. He and his wife started their own adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children, 6 of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities, including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.