How do you choose? An exercize in placing a child in an adoptive home

I thought I’d give you a tiny little glimpse of what being a child’s adoption/social worker is like, and how difficult the placement of a child into a home can be. This exercise is based on one that an agency I interned at had their prospective adoptive parents do on their first day of pre-adoptive parent training – at any given day, when I worked for the County, I might have up to 4-5 home studies for kid(s) on my caseload. So, the differences and similarities between types of families inquiring after children represented here are fairly realistic.

Keep in mind that as the social worker, you would be making this decision on top of a caseload of anywhere from probably 25-40 other kids (depending on the county/state you work for) and in addition to making all of the legal decisions about this child (foster care, school, and medical issues).

Finally, keep in mind that "matching" is based on how well the prospective parents match the needs of the child, not how much the child matches the needs of the parents. One of the questions I always have is how much workers/decision makers in foreign countries really consider the needs of the child when matching to parents – or, how to make this decision when the children are young and/or the workers don’t really have the time to get to know the child enough to make a match based on their needs.

Here is your child: "Jane"

  • 10 year old child, 1/2 African American, 1/4 Native American, 1/4 White. The Indian Child Welfare Act does not apply.
  • Currently lives in a foster home in the suburbs, but the family is not going to adopt
  • Likes her school a lot – public school in a suburb, about 10% diversity
  • She has two younger siblings ages 2 & 3 who were adopted by a family in the city. Jane wants to keep in touch with her siblings. Right now she sees them once a month and at holidays.
  • She attends a Baptist church that is majority African American and sings in the choir.
  • Jane would like to take music lessons and dance.
  • Jane has an IEP for dyslexia but does fairly well in school overall with additional assistance
  • She has a college-aged mentor, "Tammy," who is African American, who has spent a lot of time with her for the past two years. Tammy often takes Jane to her hair salon and they have their hair done together.

In Minnesota, you make a match based on the following factors:

1. the child’s current functioning and behaviors;
2. the medical, educational and developmental needs of the child;
3. the child’s history and past experience;
4. the child’s religious and cultural needs;
5. the child’s connection with a community, school and church (or synagogue, mosque,
    temple or other religious community);
6. the child’s interests and talents;
7. the child’s relationship to current caretakers, parents, siblings and relatives; and
8. the reasonable preference of the child, if the court, or other child placing agency in the case of a voluntary placement, deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preferences

Here are the four families you have received home studies for. Which one would you choose for Jane? And why? Would you have specific reservations and/or recommendations regarding these families? What kinds of biases do you have?

The Anderson Family

  • Two parent home, both parents work
  • Mom works in the school Jane would attend
  • African American
  • Older couple (50’s)
  • Middle class
  • No other children, couple’s 5 children grown
  • Large extended family with 8 cousins all close to Jane’s age
  • Two sets of grandparents, all in the same area of town
  • Lives in the city, a few blocks from Jane’s siblings
  • Neighborhood and school very diverse – 50% African Americans
  • Attends Pentecostal church with children’s choir

The Brown Family

  • Two parent home, dad works, mom is at-home parent
  • White
  • Couple in their 40’s
  • One child, a boy who is 5 years old
  • No extended relatives in the area
  • Plans to home school Jane
  • Working class
  • Lives in a small town, 3 hours from the city
  • Town has no diversity – Jane would be the only African American in town
  • Family attends Catholic church
  • Mom is accomplished musician, can give lessons

The Connor Family

  • Single parent, working mom
  • Native American and white
  • 33 years old
  • Lives in the suburbs Jane currently resides (20 minutes from the city)
  • Very involved in Native community
  • Does not attend church but is very active in traditional Native American spiritual community
  • Has 13-year old daughter who is 1/2 African American and 1/4 Native American and 1/4 white
  • Family wants to have Jane attend private school with no diversity other than her 13-year old daughter (switch from suburban public school with about 10% diversity)
  • Large extended family

The Davis Family

  • Two parent home
  • White
  • Wife is 29, husband is 35
  • Upper-middle class – both attorneys
  • Both working parents, work long hours
  • Lives in a different suburb about 30 minutes from the city
  • Attends Baptist church, but it is white congregation not black
  • No children
  • Does not have any connection or friends with African American or Native American communities
  • Could offer private music and dance lessons for Jane

Things to consider
Single vs. two-parent home
Other siblings in the home and birth order issues
Visits with birth siblings
Schooling and educational needs
Cultural connections
Church/spirituality needs
Interests (singing, music, dance) of the child
Location and moving – transitions on the child

Okay readers, go for it. Which family would you choose and why? What recommendations, if any, would you make to your family of choice?

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

16 thoughts

  1. For me I would lean towards the Anderson family. Diversity in neighborhood, able to stay in same school a possibility with mom working there(?), close to siblings which are important to her and a large extended family. Religion seems to be the biggest change. I would recommend the family consider trying the child’s church, or discuss the church change with the girl. It’s good that the church they attend does have a choir.
    Second would be the Connor family, but going from Baptist to no church is a very extreme jump.

  2. Has Jane expressed an interest? That supposedly a valid consideration, but it’s not mentioned if she has a preference.
    I’m not sure it’s even close actually. Given the information you provided, Jane should be placed with the Anderson’s. They meet virtually all of the criteria mentioned.
    My biggest reason would be their ability to allow/encourage/develop relationships with Jane’s siblings. The other factors are quite important, but that one sticks out.
    For that reason, I would eliminate the Brown family because they simply live to far away.
    Honestly, depending on how well her current foster placement was going, I’d be patient in terms of placing Jane if the other 3 were the only applicants, or I’d try encourage the Connor family to consider leaving her in public school.

  3. I’m guessing that the only reason the Andersons would not be an obvious choice is that they’re older than the others? Is this a trick question? 🙂
    I don’t think “Jane” at her age would care that much that she’s going from Baptist to a Pentacostal church (maybe because I don’t know the difference… ) as long as she gets to sing in a church…
    I am wondering what I am missing since the Andersons would be my first and only choice. Did I miss the part where you mention that one of them is a convicted sex offender…?
    And the fact that they do not have children near Jane’s age would be negated by the fact that she’d be living a few blocks from her own siblings. Right?

  4. Andersons based on proximity to siblings, diversity of neighborhood, ability to continue choir, and large extended family with cousins near Jane’s age – also nearby grandparents can offer support.
    Would not choose the homeschoolers due to Jane’s affinity for school and IEP. Nixed the Davis’ due to no connection to AA/NA community and the single was second choice – didn’t like that the school was less diverse than her current school.
    OK, now I’m going back to see what everyone else said…

  5. Here’s the difference between Pentecostals and Baptists, as told from the highly biased and incomplete perspective of someone who knows a lot of each, but isn’t Christian and wouldn’t attend these services.
    I think Baptists don’t have a doctrinal belief in “charismatic gifts”. Pentecostalists do… hence, things like speaking in tongues, fainting in aisles, faith healing, convulsions, may take place at greater frequency than in Baptist churches. My stepfamily was heavily involved in a very extreme Pentecostalist church, and they also used to cast out demons pretty much every service.
    Many Baptist churches are heavily racially segregated. The Southern Baptist Convention is where a lot of right-wing politics comes out of, and they’re almost exclusively white. Black Baptist churches have a different Convention or they’re independent.
    Pentecostal churches are sometimes more integrated, depending on region.
    Traditionally, here in the south Pentecostalism has been the religion of the lower class. Baptism is for the middle class. Episcopalianism is for the upper class.
    There’s a lot of variation inside Baptism and Pentecostalism. One of the biggest differences is… is it a white church, a black church, an other (Korean, perhaps) or an integrated church?
    My stepfather told me there was a huge split in his Pentecostal family between the ones who believed you had to be baptized only in the name of Jesus, and the ones who believed you had to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The two sides of the family, if they spoke to each other at all, told the wrong side they were hellbound unless they switched over.

  6. What’d I’d do:
    First – The Anderson family – They seem to have strong family values, Jane could have continuity at her home and be within walking distance of her siblings. They are black and hopefully have a good race understanding.
    Tied for second – The Brown/Connor families. The Browns have a lot of time to devote to Jane but probably little understanding of race, and she might be isolated because they live too far away. The Connor family seems good but how much time will a single parent have to devote to a new daughter and help along the new sibling relationship?
    4. The Davis family – I’m sure they are nice but it seems to starkly different a lifestyle than Jane is currently living.

  7. HAH! I knew you wouldn’t have posted this if it were that easy. I can’t wait until you reveal more… specifically why the Anderson would NOT have been a shoe-in. On the surface, it looks like they would be.

  8. The Andersons, hands down. Looking down the list of “things to consider” they are most qualified, by far.
    Ok, but based on what Mama Nabi said….there’s more to this story.

  9. My first instinct was that the Anderson’s are the best choice strictly looking at what’s presented, but I agree with Mama Nabi that there is more there than meets the eye.
    I think the Brown’s are out as I don’t think there is enough diversity where they live. Also, with Jane’s dyslexia, I would wonder if the homeschooling would be more detrimental or helpful. The wife might have teaching experience though.
    The Conner family looks good. There is not enough African American contact but, that would depend on what Jane wants.
    The Davis family seems to work too much and there’s no diversity.
    So…. what’s the catch?

  10. Well, I would have said Andersons, too, due to proximity to her birth family and cultural connections. But do “cultural connections” fall under the race issues you’re not allowed to consider?

  11. My picks would be in the following order:
    1. Anderson Family
    2. Davis Family
    3. Connor Family
    4. Brown Family

  12. I’m curious too! I chose the Anderson Family as well, even though the whole Pentecostal thing is a bit scary.

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