By Laura Stevens, MSW, PhD
While most prospective adoptive families are familiar with the need for a homestudy, postplacement services are not as well known and, like the homestudy, are often misunderstood. Postplacement contacts are often viewed with suspicion by parents who want to know just why we are continuing to call, visit, and ask questions.
As an adoptive parent and a social worker, I have been on both sides of homestudy and postplacement services and I know a bit about how they feel. When our first child arrived home from Korea fifteen years ago, I remember our social worker announcing that she would be dropping by to visit and see us in a few days. “How nice,” I thought, “she wants to see the baby”, not realizing that she had every intention of repeating these visits and making me fill out and sign even more papers and reports than the ones through which we had already waded.
Now we introduce postplacement requirements early in the homestudy process. But while it is easy for a family just beginning an adoption to agree to the idea of visits, phone calls, reports, and photos, it is often not until the time of the child’s actual arrival that parents pause and wonder exactly why we feel the need to be a part of their lives. After all, most hospitals don’t do follow-up visits, so is this just one more bureaucratic hoop to jump? Is the placement in any jeopardy? Answers to these questions are reassuring ones – and understanding the purpose of postplacement services help adoptive families take advantage of what these services have to offer.
The Purpose of Postplacement Visits
Postplacement visits are the most salient part of postplacement services. These visits, either at the family’s home or in the agency, are not only a part of WHFC’s policy, but frequently a requirement of the states in which we work. Sometimes, even the timing of the visit conforms to state mandates. Child welfare professionals recognize that the adoption of a child can involve significant adjustments for everyone in the family. Just walking into the home of a recently-arrived child can attest to these changes! The beautiful, well-kept and orderly house that was a part of the homestudy has been transformed to accommodate the toys, equipment, and general chaos that a family experiences in those first weeks after arrival. The best way to help ensure that a family has the resources that they need for as smooth a transition as possible is through a personal visit. Subsequent visits help track the rapid transformations that take place within the family, and allow social workers to continue to plan with the family for services that will be most valuable. In addition, postplacement visits are a natural time to discuss information about the finalization/refinalization procedures in your state and your child’s citizenship status.
Think of the visits, phone conversations, and monthly reports that you share with your social worker as an opportunity to ask questions, describe situations or behaviors that have surprised or puzzled you, or just to relate the best stories of new parenting. Adopted children often undergo a series of adjustment reactions which are perfectly normal for newly- placed children, but are often not seen with children who enter families through birth. Sometimes it is helpful for parents to be able to “check out” a particular behavior or reaction with their social worker. More often than not, the situation will be one that we’ve seen many times, and your social worker will often be able to either provide the help you need or direct you to the appropriate resources. Sharing questions with a social worker in no way jeopardizes a placement. Indeed, it is often a relief for me when families share their concerns, as it helps direct me in the ways I can be of most assistance.
Getting to Know the Child
Just as a social worker gets to know family members during the homestudy, it is during the postplacement period that a social worker gets to know the child. So much of what we tell parents to anticipate upon a child’s arrival is preceded with disclaimer “depending on the child.”. Postplacement services give us an opportunity to learn, along with the family, just who this child is. A host of transition and adjustment issues are made easier with an insight into the child’s personality and temperament. As an example, being able to predict a child’s comfort with a transition into daycare or school, or even the reaction to a new babysitter or a family trip, is made much easier when one can consider a child’s specific personality traits; and this knowledge helps the social worker help the family in making some of these choices.
Reassuring our Partners
Every child welfare organization involved with placing children wants reassurance that a child they allowed to be adopted is loved and secure in their new family. Previous caretakers need to know that “their” child is thriving and is adapting well. Birth parents may also want this important reassurance. For all of these people, post-placement reports are a crucial part of the adoption process.
Learning from the Experiences of Families
Families often have wonderful recommendations for medical, social, or community services along with their own personal family experiences. In many ways, the postplacement period is a time during which adoptive families can “give back” to the agency by relaying the kinds of information that you think we ought to know.
Adoption as a Lifelong Process
While you might be asked to write occasional follow-up reports for your child’s birthcountry for a number of years, the official postplacement period ends after six months. Of course, life as an adoptive family doesn’t have those same limits. Perhaps one of the most important parts of the postplacement period is to introduce families to the availability of ongoing post-adoption services. Cultural and social events, symposia, counseling services, and humanitarian aid opportunities are some of the services that WHFC provides to families after a child’s arrival . As postplacement services help serve as a way of welcoming your child home, we hope to continue to be a resource for you in years to come.