• November 2018
  • Vol. 19, No. 9

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A Message of Thanks and a Call to Reduce the Need for Adoption

Written by Jerry Milner.

A successful adoption is a wonderful thing that should be celebrated. During this adoption month, I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to all the committed professionals that work hard every day to help find children and youth that cannot be returned home a safe and loving forever family.  I know how hard the work is because I used to do it, first as an adoption case worker and later as an adoption supervisor. Although it has been many years, I often find myself reflecting on my time working on adoptions. After the smiles for the joyful times I remember the challenges. Recruitment was an ongoing struggle, there were simply not enough available families, and it was especially difficult to find families that were willing to open their homes to older youth. These challenges remain.

When I think about my time as an adoption worker I also recall time spent reading case files to learn as much as I could about the child or youth to help find a family that would best meet the child's needs. I also remember hoping to come across record of an overlooked relative, or a relative that perhaps was unable to be a resource for the child at some earlier point, but could now step up and fill the gap. Unfortunately, I do not recall that situation occurring. What I do recall in reading case files is the feeling that there were missed opportunities to help struggling parents, too few or the wrong kinds of resources to help hold families together, and children who moved from placement to placement. I remember reading about a lot of suffering, often prolonged.

As a field we did not know as much about the trauma of family separation. We were overly focused on physical safety to the detriment of social and emotional well-being, and as we still do now, we too often confused poverty for neglect. I find myself asking a lot of what ifs about certain adoption cases. What if we were able to help the family sooner or in different ways? Could the need for adoption have been avoided in the first place?  Knowing what we do now, I am incredibly optimistic that we can reach a point of practice where there is less cause for concern that we have not done enough.

Although this may be an unusual adoption month message, I firmly believe that doing better begins with working to reduce the need for adoption in the first place. A robust national focus on primary prevention will help us strengthen families and keep them together, lessening the need for adoption. Where birth parents and children cannot remain together, a clear national priority on kinship care, relative placement, and guardianship can help reduce the need even further. Where placement with a relative is not possible, a national commitment to community-based foster care would also help mitigate trauma, by keeping children in their communities, schools, and connected to all that is familiar.

Even where adoption is necessary, where safe and appropriate, we can also take steps to keep birth parents involved in their children's lives post adoption as additional caring adults. We must operate with the principle that when it comes to family and support—there is never too much. Even a parent that is unable to be involved in a child's life for some period of time can become an invaluable resource and support. For our older youth, some of whom have spent unacceptably long periods of time in care, we know the draw of family remains strong.  We should honor that every way we can and continue to do all we can to repair, support, or build the relationships that all youth and young adults need to be successful adults.

So, let's celebrate, but at the same time let's also do everything we can to lessen the need for adoption.

To learn more about National Adoption Month, visit the National Adoption Month 2018 website at

https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/nam/?utm_source=CBX&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=nam18

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