When it comes to occupations, adoption careers are a job like no other.
For one thing, there’s no one degree program that prepares one for all the varied responsibilities of the job; if there were, it would require advanced course work in child development, sexuality, psychology, law, social worker, theology, counseling, nonprofit management, obstetrics, business and technology. Most states require a minimum of a college degree in a human services field, but it only takes a few days in this field to realize that there’s way more involved in doing good adoption work than just knowing the basic tenets of social work.
The Job Requirements
To work in adoption, you need to be wise, caring, empathetic and street-smart, with strong communication skills and a good sense of humor. You need to know how to change poopy diapers in public places without gagging, even when the baby isn’t yours, and how to read people who are in the midst of personal crises and may not be able to communicate their needs effectively.
You have to be able to testify in court and travel at a moment’s notice and read medical records and deliver maternity support to bad neighborhoods and do crisis counseling and assess paternity issues (and more.) You’re privvy to the intimate details of other people’s sex lives and you’re bound to HIPPA regulations and you’re charged with the responsibility of evaluating other people’s fitness for parenthood, whether or not you yourself have ever been a parent.
Ethical adoption work is always nonprofit, so working in adoption means you won’t get paid anything near what you probably deserve. (In reality, though, money is rarely the driving motivation for anyone who seeks a career in adoption for the right reasons.) Good adoption agencies are mindful of trying to shield their employees from endless after-hours client demands and unnecessary weekend work, but the truth is that adoption agency staff are on-call 24/7, since babies can come at any time and the best interests of children necessarily come first… always.
If there’s one thing people always say to you when they find out you’re working in adoption, it’s “ohhhh, what a WONDERFUL job, making people happy.” (It kinda says a lot about the public’s limited perception of adoption, doesn’t it?)
It’s true that the working in adoption does bring great joy to infertile couples seeking to become parents– when the outcome is what they’d hoped it would be. However, those infertile couples come to us with enormous losses of their own, which invariably weigh heavy on our staff, as well.
And in the process of placing children with them, the work we do causes birthparents to incur enormous losses that can bring with it lifelong grief, which is also ours to bear.
Burnout is an occupational hazard, and job turnover can be frequent, because it takes a deep personal commitment to work in adoption for years on end and a strong emotional constitution to weather all the ups and downs. When you have a career in adoption, your work is never “finished.” You can never possibly “do enough” for the clients that you serve, because adoption issues continue to arise all across the lifespan of every adoptee and both their families, and the agency’s concerns for “their kids” is unending. (See why we say that nobody good stays in adoption just for the money?)
The Compensation Package
There are perks, of course. You meet fascinating people. You get to work in an office filled with baby pictures, which bring a smile to your face everyday. At Abrazo, our kitchen is frequently filled with treats sent by grateful clients or with wine and snacks leftover from orientation weekends. (Abrazo’s director does have an obnoxious habit of regularly raiding all the cherry-flavored jawbreakers from the candy bucket, however.) You get to know the judges at the courthouse and the doctors at the hospital and the deputies at the county jail, and you know your way around all those buildings, just like you own the place.
You get to play with other people’s kids, and if you work for Abrazo, you go to Camp for free each summer. (Sure, you’re still on the clock, but hey, it IS still a pricey dude ranch weekend!) You get to go to trainings and conferences in and out-of-state at the agency’s expense. And any frequent flyer benefits you accrue in the course of your work travel are yours to keep. You get a starring role in every client’s life story, and you have an endless supply of agency t-shirts to show for it.
You become like family with your coworkers– for better or worse– since they are the only other people you can share news about your clients with, due to confidentiality standards. Working in adoption means your family and friends get used to having to reschedule plans with you at a moment’s notice because of your job. And while you cannot “take your work” (nor the babies) home with you, you never get away from it, really, either, because your clients’ concerns on always on your mind (and your clients also have an amazingly resourceful way of finding you on social media or emailing you after hours, even when your agency policies prohibit you from sharing your phone number with clients for this very reason.)
Working in adoption is the wrong job for anyone who’s looking to get rich or famous. It’s an often stressful, rarely predictable and sometimes litigious occupation, with ever-changing state regulations and perplexing political implications, and it often requires you to bear witness to some of life’s most wrenching decisions.
Yet working in adoption is also one of the most meaningful, life-changing vocations one can ever undertake, and even on our worst days, those of us who have longtime adoption careers cannot imagine ever doing anything else for a living, because our work truly matters and we’re blessed to know it.