I’ve seen adoption both sides: from the eyes of an adoptive parent and from the eyes of an adoption social worker. I can tell you, as an adoption professional, there are great prospective adoptive parents, and there are, well… not so great ones.
1. Be prepared!
ALL adoptive children have special needs. As an adoption professional, I want people who not only want to meet the needs of their family, but also who want to meet the needs of the child. Just the fact that they are being raised by someone other than their birth family, makes them a special needs child. International adoptive children are being raised in a different country, with a different language, probably by people who look very different from them. A child adopted from the foster care system may have undergone abuse, neglect, or abandonment and needs to recover from that trauma. Even in a private domestic adoption, the child may have needs that the parents are ill-equipped to deal with. Good prospective adoptive parents research, prepare their home and prepare other members of the family for the addition of a new child–a child that may have different behaviors than what they are used to. If those parents do their homework to meet that child’s needs, the transition will be much smoother.
2. Be flexible!
The second quality, I as an adoptive professional looks for is flexibility. Perhaps the family is looking for a healthy, white, blond haired, blue-eyed infant, with no birth parental involvement. That’s nice. My questions to those parents is: “Would you be willing to take a sibling group?”, “Would you be willing to take an older child?”, “Would you be willing to take a child of a different race, ethnicity, or culture than you?”, “Would you be willing to take a child with special needs?” The more flexible a couple is, the easier they are to match with a child. The more inflexible, the longer they will have to wait.
3. Be teachable!
A third quality I as an adoption social worker am looking for is teachability: a willingness to learn and open to suggestions. With more and more grandparents caring for their grandkids, social workers are often younger than the clients whom they serve. And though caregivers may have more parenting experience, social workers have more classroom training, more on-the-job training, and more field experience than caregivers. We appreciate the sacrifice that caregivers make, but sometimes caregivers need to actively listen when constructive criticism is being made. Doing what is in the best interest of the child is always paramount.
A nice house or a plump salary or pleasant smile are nice qualities for anyone. What adoption social workers are looking for are inner qualities, however. What we endeavor to do is to match a child with a “forever” family. A family who will be prepared, flexible, and teachable for me will have those same qualities for the child, who could be a handful.