As I have stressed in the past the most important part of any international adoption is research. Be informed of what you are getting into; the steps involved, what can go wrong, and the best possible solutions for problems that may arise. The more you know the better your journey will be. Of course a million books, websites and conversations with those who have been there won't prepare you 100%. Take it from me. I know a ton about Russian adoption, but our journey was nearly 2 years long. All of it out of our control.
There is one thing in our adoption process that I could have done better on. Selecting a social worker. I find it only fitting that this should be the "Adoption Retrospective" topic for this week. Last Friday we had our first post-placement visit. Has it been 6 months already? Nope. Only 4. But the report has to be in our agencies hands by Feb 18th and our SW is just that slow. See... I screwed up.
First lets talk about homestudy agencies and placement agencies. A homestudy agency is one that only writes your homestudy. They may also be a placement agency, but may not be yours. Your homestudy agency may or may not even perform adoptions in the country you are adopting from. Such was the case with us. A placement agency is the agency who assists you with the actual adoption; facilitating the referral, travel, and final paperwork.
In our particular instance we selected a placement agency out of our state. With a Russian adoption this is perfectly fine. Not so with other countries. However, it was our responsibility to find our own homestudy agency. AIA does not do homestudies outside of Alaska.
I'll tell you how we went about selecting our social worker. Yes, we selected our social worker and not the homestudy agency. We had basically decided on AIA as our placement agency at that point, but knew we needed to get started right away with the homestudy. I read that homestudies should not be a "get what you pay for" kind of service. Therefore we looked for one with reasonable fees. One evening we were participating in a weekly AIA chat and met Kathou and Paypay. They said they were located in a town about 30 miles south of us. So we asked who their social worker was. They told us. He happened to work with an agency based in our town and they also happened to be the placement agency some friends of ours used for their China adoption. We spoke with the friends who did the China adoption and they loved their agency. They did not use this particular social worker. We were in a hurry to get started so figured that we would give this SW a call. He agreed to come out to our house on January 17, 2005. I assumed that he was coming to give us information. Uh no. He was coming for our first official visit. Thus we started our road to Pickle.
What did I learn? That picking a social worker in this manner is like throwing a dart at the telephone book to find a plumber. I did that once too. Worked out just the same way. Crappy.
I don't want to say too many things about our particular social worker or divulge his name since we are still in need of his services. But let's just say that if you want the complete story you are welcome to email me.
If I could redo one thing in our adoption process it would be the amount of time I spent researching our social worker and homestudy agency. If I had done a little asking about this particular social worker it is likely that I would have been spared a bunch of headache. Since our homestudy agencies social workers are independent contractors I couldn't just call up the agency and say, "hey I want a new SW." Once I paid the man his money I was stuck. I still am.
How does one go about researching a social worker? Yahoo groups. Nearly every state has an international adoption yahoo group. We have one for WA. This social worker's name comes up on occasion and I am one of the first to respond. I have heard great things about other social workers, including the other one that works with our homestudy agency. Lucky me. I would also ask the homestudy agency for references and if they could give you references for families that may have been less than satisfied with their service. Although, it is unlikely that you would get such a reference.
I cannot express how important researching this part of the adoption is. Your social worker is essentially the one to approve you as a parent. If you don't cut it with them you are dead in the water. Also be aware of your family make-up. Do you already have a house full of children. Some are biased against those adding to an already large family. Some are biased regarding religion. Some are biased against race or country you are adopting from. Just be aware. Homestudies are not, and should never be, a get what you pay for service.