Most prospective adoptive parents feel some degree of nervousness at the beginning of the adoption process. For prospective adoptive parents with disabilities, there can be an additional layer of apprehension. People with disabilities often ask if they can adopt a child or if they will face significant barriers when trying to adopt.
The good news?
“As long as someone has plans to make the appropriate accommodations in order to parent, we are able to approve them,” says Jennifer Bliss, LCSW, LPCC, PsyD, Director of Adoptions & Foster Care at Carrot partner Vista Del Mar Child & Family Services, the oldest adoption agency in Southern California.
This Disability Pride Month, we spoke with Bliss about what prospective adoptive parents with disabilities should keep in mind when starting the adoption process and what support to look for from their adoption agency.
Carrot: What impact does disability have on someone’s ability to adopt?
Jennifer Bliss: There are some misconceptions out there that people with disabilities have a lot of barriers to being able to adopt. I think once people start the process, they realize that adoption agencies are there to be facilitative and work out paths that make sense to open up doors to adoption. We also work to arm prospective parents with the tools they need to have a successful adoption and parenting experience.
How do adoption agencies help prospective adoptive parents with disabilities move forward in the process?
Everyone comes in with their unique skills and obstacles, whether it’s disability or concerns about the number of rooms in their house. Usually there’s something to work out with every adoption. When it comes to disabilities, we handle it the same way. We look for answers that make sense. Because these applicants are used to finding solutions to effectively function in their everyday life, they usually come to us with great ideas. For someone in a wheelchair, there are baby cribs that accommodate being able to lift a child when you’re in a wheelchair. The majority of the time, there are solutions out there that allow us to make a plan, then we incorporate these accommodations into the home study that licenses the family to adopt. My advice is to talk openly with your social worker about your concerns and ideas. See your social worker as a teammate in problem solving. Know that we’re there to help.
What would you say to a prospective adoptive parent who’s concerned that expectant parents wouldn’t choose someone with a disability?
With anyone hoping to adopt, there is a fear of “what if someone doesn’t choose me?” Even someone without a disability has those fears. Someone might wonder, “Am I going to get chosen as a single person?” Or, “I live on a farm. What if that isn’t something expectant parents are looking for?” Whatever it is, everyone comes to the table with insecurities. It is the same with expectant parents considering adoption. They have their own worries about being judged by prospective adoptive parents. But what makes somebody choose a family is unpredictable. It could be anything from, “They have two golden retrievers, and I always grew up wishing I had golden retrievers” to ”They are 49er fans, too, maybe it’s meant to be.” The prospective parent having a disability takes a back seat. As much as applicants might focus on their disability, they’re coming to the table with so much else as well. There are probably 20 things that the expectant parents will look at when they make their choice.
Do you have any additional advice for people with disabilities interested in adopting?
People come in concerned, but overall I haven’t seen people with disabilities struggle any more or less to build their family through adoption. They stand out for who they are. But we do believe in transparency. We’re talking as if disabilities are always obvious, but there are plenty that are not obvious. In those situations, it’s the best ethical practice to make sure the expectant parent or parents know fully about the condition and the accommodation that’s been made. The expectant parent needs fully informed consent when making this choice, and that includes relevant information about the prospective adoptive parent(s) they have selected. The only time I’ve seen it break up a match was when they didn’t disclose early on in the relationship. In that circumstance, the expectant parent wasn’t focused on the disability, but that they waited so long to tell her. She thought they had built an open and honest relationship, and that cracked the foundation of what she thought was a trusting relationship.
What has been your personal experience working with prospective adoptive parents with disabilities?
We often ask expectant parents, “what drew you to this family?” Many years ago, I worked with an adoptive parent who was a professor at Stanford. She was in a wheelchair because she had a spinal column injury as a teen. After the adoption, when I asked this question to the birth mother, she said “Look at her life. That is a strong, resilient woman. After becoming injured, she continued on to find success, and that kind of fortitude is the kind of parent I want my child to have.” It was how she overcame her setback, the obstacles of her disability, and all she had accomplished in its wake that led her to be chosen.
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