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what makes a good adoption social worker?

(24 Posts)
itsmethechubbyfunster Thu 29-May-14 19:55:58

Hi all.
I really really hope you don't mind me posting here.
I'm a social worker, currently working in adult services, but I have always had a hankering for adoption work.
I am interviewing for a post adoption team next week and it is my dream job.

The difficulty I have is that whilst all my knowledge is 'book' knowledge and from my degree (four years ago) - I do have some personal experience and a little pre qualifying experience but not a great deal - as I've always been in adult services.

I suppose what I'm trying to clumsily ask is: what makes a good adoption social worker? What have been your good experiences, and where were the gaps?


MoJangled Thu 29-May-14 20:29:30

How lovely that you're asking. I wouldn't know as I haven't been allocated a SW yet, but wanted to say good luck!

Italiangreyhound Thu 29-May-14 20:41:19

It's hard to say what makes a good one.

Be nice; be fair; be knowledgeable; be consistent but if you can be flexible without undermining your position that can help.

Easier to say what makes a bad one - or rather less good one - ask a question and then answer it yourself; ask a question but make it sound like a statement so it is confusing; keep on pushing your own agenda that a family would be best suited to a particular child when you do not know the family that well; spring things on people (like asking for information at the last minute or asking for a report to be read in a very short time).

Always remember when you leave the scene and bow out gracefully the family will be left together for life! This means you need to take very seriously doubts and concerns they may have (as well as you may have) because when you are gone they will be facing those things as a family.

Good luck.

64x32x24 Thu 29-May-14 21:08:50

I think if you have a very strong understanding of and empathy with the fact that for the prospective adopters, everything that happens is of monumental, life-changing, life-long importance, then you are on the right track. Of course for you it is a job and every new case is just that, a new case. But for the adopters, it is monumental. And, we usually know nothing, or very little, about how things work internally. So, if you have tricks to help people feel at ease at first meetings; if you are willing and able to hear what people are really saying; and most of all, if you keep information flowing, from first phone calls through assessment through panel through matching through intros to post-placement; then you will be doing well.

One of the hardest things in this process, I have been finding, is sitting at home being in the dark. You don't know if there has been a hold-up or if things always take this long; you don't know if the 'I'll call you tomorrow' message means there is a potential match for you or if it means you need to chat about widening your 'criteria'. You don't know if that meeting that is scheduled will entail decision making (and which decisions?) or if it's only meant for information sharing. You don't know if your SW is actively looking at CPRs for you and drawing a blank, or if she is actually busy with other more urgent stuff at the moment. You don't know if the fact that you haven't been allocated a SW yet means that actually the agency doesn't really want you, or if it is simply due to staffing shortages.
The absence of knowledge makes for blooming imagination! So if you can manage to keep information flowing, even if it is just to explain why nothing is happening at the moment, then you are certainly doing a good job.

Lilka Thu 29-May-14 21:14:42

I think it's great that you're asking smile

Being empathetic and good at listening - really hearing what the family are saying, and taking it seriously. They are unlikely to have experience with social services, and will likely be nervous of you at first, so being able to put someone at ease is important, and speak to them on an equal level. I remember my first adoption social worker who assessed me was great at that - she was always very professional, but it didn't fully feel like talking to a professional, it certainly didn't feel formal, because of her easy friendly manner. She didn't talk jargon, she didn't use phrases that sounded like they were from a textbook, she was able to understand where I was coming from and she never talked down to me or said anything patronising which I have experienced from other social workers, probably unintentionally.

A good understanding of the issues involved in adoption is obviously essential - things adoptive children might face, emotional and behavioural issues, the legal situation now, etc, BUT I think it's important to think outside the textbooks and conventional lines - for instance, I remember when I adopted DS, I pushed to be able to change his first name, and even though it was in his best interests to do so, I still up against some vocal opposition based on 'ALL adopted children x y z and first names shouldn't EVER be changed' and it was very frustrating when I knew I was acting in his best interests. So yes, understanding that all situations are unique and that in adoption there really isn't a 'one size fits all' approach to anything, understanding how personal and different everyone's experiences are, that's important.

Being timely with communication will always be received positively!

As Italian says, listening and taking seriously concerns - whether that's in the matching stage or after the child is home if you're doing post adoption work. If our guts are saying that something's not right, if someone's to the point of ringing for post adoption support, everyone's just praying for an understanding social worker who won't be dismissive, who'll listen.

How would you feel about reading any adoptive parents blogs or books/memoirs? There are a few out there which you might find helpful - people will talk about why they liked or didn't get on so well with their social workers, and their social services experience pre and post adoption, as well as a lot about adoption issues

PureTree Thu 29-May-14 21:24:50


Adult services is very different to an adoption social worker and will be a real change for you! I sure hope you get the post.

Here are my top three tips for a good adoption social worker:

- manage expectations sensitively
- communicate. Even when there's nothing to communicate about keep the lines of communication open. There is nothing worse for prospective adopters than waiting. a phone call from their social worker just to remind then they are not forgotten about is reassuring.
- use your instinct


itsmethechubbyfunster Thu 29-May-14 22:15:17

Thank you so much all of you for taking the time to answer.

It would be a massive change puretree and to be honest I'm terrified!! I know my current job inside out and backwards and (hopefully) i'm pretty good at it but I would be a complete newbie at this!!

I'm not holding out too much hope for this interview - there are so many others out there with loads of experience but I'm going to give it my best shot because it was what I went into social work to do - I just kind of got swept up into Adults after qualifying because that was what my placement was in - and I do enjoy it, love my clients but just can't give up the original dream!!

Again, thanks so much. Really is appreciated.

HappySunflower Fri 30-May-14 00:07:48

I've had quite a bit of experience of post adoption support, most of which has unfortunately not been positive. Because of this I initially hesitated to post but have reconsidered as think it might actually be helpful to you. smile

What has been good
SW working with me to build a positive relationship and gain my trust.
Taking time to understand my daughter's history/ start in life
Building a picture of our family unit and lives together
Looking at attachment, supporting with theraplay ideas to promote positive attachment.

What hasn't been good
She didn't listen to me. I didn't feel valued as the person who knew my daughter best.
I was asked what I wanted to feature within our post adoption support plan. What ended up in it was nothing like what I had asked for, or at all what my daughter needed, so I ended up withdrawing my request/consent for support in the end.
Help with life story work. This has not been good.
It is absolutely vital that life story work is done at a time that is right in terms of a child's development. It is also important that a life story book, or the materials for it, are shared with adopters in a timely way. These items should also be of good quality. Photographs printed on very thin photocopier paper, from a printer low on ink does not = good quality.
A later life letter full of factual inaccuracies written by someone with no knowledge of a child's birth family does not either!
Workshops on life story work, to support parents in how best to talk to our children, about adoption would be great.

I hope that some of that helps.
You are already more suitable for the job than the sw we had, based on the fact that you've posted in the first place.
Good luck! Please let us know how you get on. smile

fasparent Fri 30-May-14 14:23:05

We meet many new adoption and social workers, being FC's for many, many, year's , would not say know the system backwards as are always new changes , are able too work together, share experience and knowledge gained over the years, beneficial too all involved.

FamiliesShareGerms Fri 30-May-14 18:42:13

What biscuits do you like wink

Polkadotpatty Fri 30-May-14 18:57:30

Ha, Families diving in there with the question we're all dying to ask!!

I have had very positive experiences with my SW, so I can tell you what I liked:

Home study and approval panel (SW1): organised, calm, structured questions so we built up trust in early sessions before tackling the tricky things, paid attention to detail. Drank the tea, and even supplied biscuits for everyone when we had a "support network" meeting!

Linking and matching panel (SW2): friendly, warm, funny, highly organised, never made me feel I was pestering her, energetic following up on other people, genuinely excited with me, took my concerns seriously, tracked down further info for me.

Child's SW: passionately committed to the child, volunteered so much info showing how well she knew LO, stayed in touch, was very warm, made it clear she really supported the match, rang me after panel to say how delighted she was.

I met other SW's who made it clear they didn't like the idea of single adopters, and it was tough to feel judged before they knew me - but I daresay it was character building!

itsmethechubbyfunster Fri 30-May-14 21:23:17

I feel like of all the questions I've prepared for, the biscuits one might be the scariest... am I allowed to say all biscuits?! Never met one I didn't like yet! <ducks and hides>

NanaNina Fri 30-May-14 22:59:40

Hi itsme I'm coming at this from a different angle. I worked in a LA Children's Services for 25 years (the last 15 was managing an Adoption and Fostering Team) Retired in 2004 but worked independently till 2009 and then retired completely.

I think you have had incredibly good and thoughtful answers to your post, from the adopters which I'm sure you'll remember. I wasn't totally sure whether you are applying for a post as an adoptions social worker in an Adoption team, or whether you are applying for a "post-adoption" social worker. I hope it's the former.

Thinking of the interview, I picked up that you are feeling like a "newbie" and in a sense you are, but I think you will need to talk about "transferable skills" from the Adult Services team that you can bring to the Adoption Team. A lot of people in interview talk about what they have done in their previous job instead of thinking themselves into the job for which they are applying. This will be difficult for you but you can be honest and say that you know where the gaps in your knowledge base is (bit of jargon there - which I hate incidentally) but they seem to like it at interviews!

Looking at those gaps, I think first and foremost is that you don't have any child protection experience and to be honest that is quite a gap, because you won't have very much idea of the reasons that children get into the LA system and end up with a care plan for adoption. It will be difficult to talk to adopters about these children and the reasons for them being removed from home etc but you can talk about ways of "plugging the gap" by discussions with duty social workers or members of the cp teams (if they have time!) reading files and maybe going out on visits with cp social workers and of course reading around the issues.

Ok then we come to the task of the adoption social worker will I assume be primarily to recruit and prepare/train prospective adopters, and carry out PARs (as they are now called - Parent Assessment Reports) they were Form Fs in my day! Present your families to the Adoption Panel, and be involved in matching, liaising with the child's social worker, being part of the intros and offering support throughout the adoption process, and post approval training and support.

As far as prep/training groups are concerned, you could be an observer at a group carried out by adoption social workers and I think you would soon pick things up, and will be interesting for you to "dip your toes" in so to speak before you are running your own courses, though we always ran courses with 2 of us, and invited children's social workers, experienced adopters, a clinical psychologist etc so you are not alone, but planning a prep group takes an enormous amount of time, take my word for it!

Moving on to assessments, well you begin assessing the minute you first speak to someone who is interested in adoption don't you (I'm sure you do this in adult services) it's 2nd nature isn't it really, it isn't always conscious but nonetheless that's what's happening. I haven't seen the new PARs but I imagine they are much the same as the old Form Fs and there will be a lot of factual information to be collected, but dependent on how the LA organises itself, a lot of the information gathering can be done by the applicants and admin workers.

The real work of the assessment is about working out whether this person, couple have what it takes to become adoptive parents. Applicants are often worried about the assessment and so as others have said you need to be able to put them at their ease (and don't ever let on this is the 1st assessment you've ever done..!) Somehow it's less complicated with a single applicant, because with two applicants you need to be assessing the dynamic of the relationship between the 2 of them, and this can be shown in their body language, how they respond to issues, and how they interact with each other - if one is very talkative, then I would always look at the less talkative one to see if they were comfortable with that or whether they were uneasy - or even embarrassed. I'd be wary of people who claim "everything in the garden is rosy" because it never isn't like that, but you might have to give them "permission" to talk about more difficult stuff............look I'm going on and on here and you probably know exactly what I mean because you are already a social worker and will already have those assessment skills. One thing though which I hope the PARs addresses (and I think it does) is the social worker's analysis of a situation and this was so often omitted. We would get reams of stuff about the information gathered but no analysis and that is the essential skill of assessing. Anyone can collect information, it's what you do with it that matters.

I think there is a definite move towards competency based assessments (there certainly was before I retired) and looking at the skills applicants already have and can evidence, which is really helpful and gives credit to the applicants for their own life experiences, especially child related ones.

I think I've probably said enough! The trouble with interview since equal ops (I much preferred the ones before equal ops!) everyone gets asked the same questions. I found them all rather stilted and we didn't get to know the applicant like when we could ask about relevant issues and sort of draw the applicant I'm not sure if you will get the chance to make some of the points I have raised, that's if you think they are valid of course.

Finally, I might be wrong but I'm picking up that you are a bit apprehensive about this interview and of course that's only natural, but you might need to come across as more assertive than you are sounding at the moment! Be honest about the gaps but talk about ways you are going to fill them. Ask the adoption team for some of the BAAF publications that they get on a quarterly basis (well I assume they do, as we got loads of stuff from BAAF - which I never had time to read!) but their booklets cover a wide range of topics and you could go on the BAAF website and mug up on some issues and "Adoption UK"

Best of luck and be interested to hear how you get on.

HappySunflower Sat 31-May-14 09:19:31

I think it would be helpful for you to read up about the new two stage process as it is significantly different from how things used to be done.
Info here:

Not to pick holes but I have one other thing I'd like to add as I wouldn't want you to get tripped up in interview- the PAR is actually the Prospective Adopters Report smile

NanaNina Sat 31-May-14 13:48:24

Thanks for pointing that out happysunflower about PARs - as I said they were Form Fs in my day and that's a useful link you've provided.

OP another thought - you do sometimes have to "think the unthinkable" because sadly (and very infrequently) children are not safe with prospective adopters. I only recall one case in Brighton and Hove some years ago when a male foster carer actually killed the 4 year old boy on Christmas eve (sometime in the 90s I think) 3 children had been placed with them on the basis of fostering with "a view" to adoption and there had been lots of issues of concern about the 4 year old - bruising to the child on several occasions (explained away by child falling out of bed) burns to his back (he sat by a radiator for too long.........) etc. The social workers were just loathe to believe that foster carers would ill treat a child. The SCR was very critical of the adoption social worker who was believing the explanations given, even when the child's social worker was raising concerns.

It turned out that the male carer had given lots of false information. He said he was at college studying for a degree but this wasn't the case - he was unemployed. Can't remember any more details.

Sharon09108 Mon 02-Jun-14 21:51:38

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

KristinaM Wed 04-Jun-14 00:48:35

Good listening skills. I suggest you go on a short counseling skills course - you can often do these as night classes over a few months

The best worker I have ever worked with was a trained psychotherapist , but that takes years

Honestyand integrity - never BS clients when you don't know the answer . Not lying to clients by omission or commission .

Being clear about when something is your personal opinion, when it's a view based on research and when it's fact.

Eg is " I think you'd be better with a boy " based on

1. Your personal view that a boy woudl get on better with their son, because your own brothers got on well

2. Based on peer reviewed academic research which has shown that same sex placements get better outcomes

3. Your agency's guidelines or policy

4. You're trying to manipulate the client because most of your waiting children are boys .

I know it's post adoption, but that's just an example

Good report writing skills -you need to evidence things

If you get the job you really REALLY need to get some training and do lots of research, if you want to do your job well. The two or three lectures you got during your undergrad degree years ago ain't gonna hack it. You could spend a few weeks just reading the old threads here and you woudl only have scraped the surface .

If you are working in post adoption services , you will need to know a lot about attachment issues . If you will be providing a service to adult adoptees and birth family members, learn about best practice and issues in reunion

You've made a good first step in asking adopters . Good luck with the interview

Lilka Wed 04-Jun-14 02:26:30

Seem to have missed that it was post adoption first time round

Yes, as Kristina said, you need to be very willing to learn a lot more about the issues adopted children and families will come to you with. Attachment, developmental trauma, the effect of neglect/abuse/chaos on the developing brain, effects of alcohol in utero, the behavioural, emotional, social, developmental issues that can result from all this....and also, be aware of post adoption depression as well, and secondary trauma, and parents having difficulty bonding with their children - the parents potential issues as well as the childrens. Oh, and Facebook/social media contact between children and their birth parents, is coming up more and more in adoption, be aware of that issue as well as other reunion issues, because if you support families with kids aged 12+ for any length of time, ill put a large su of money on you encountering it

namechangesforthehardstuff Wed 04-Jun-14 08:06:45

Do same sex placements get better outcomes? ! Or was that just an example?

KristinaM Wed 04-Jun-14 10:09:37

No, that was a fictitious example. I chose it because it's the kind of thing adoption SW say all the time and prospective adopters get upset about, when in fact there is no evidence whatsoever ( that's I'm aware of ) that it's a fact.

You might as well say " I think this child woudl be best placed with a Taurus mother and a Pices father " -it's nothing more than your personal prejudice /hobby horse /bonkers idea. Sadly, but because it's spouted by a person in authority, PA take it as fact and can cause huge distress.

As we say on Mumsnet -the plural of anecdote is not data .

namechangesforthehardstuff Wed 04-Jun-14 19:30:00

Someone on my prep course did say almost exactly that about horoscopes Kristina... smile

flightywoman Fri 06-Jun-14 14:57:57

I'll have a think - bookmarking to come back later!

Our SW was and still is lovely and highly effective.

Our daughter's SW is a nice person, but not very appreciative of timescales, we're still waiting for the life-story book...two years later!

itsmethechubbyfunster Tue 10-Jun-14 21:14:53

Hi all
Sorry for the delay in coming back... thought I'd update you.
Firstly, thanks so much for all your thoughtful replies, it was so kind of you to share your experiences for me.

I thought long and hard about what you all said, and I realised that I would be doing potential clients a disservice by interviewing for a position that I am not ready for.

I thought that the fact that I had knowledge of attachment disorder and passion for the area of work would be enough and I could learn 'on the job' but I don't think it would be fair. (Although in all honesty I think the chances of me actually getting it would have been slim anyway)

So I contacted the team manager and am going to do some shadowing days with the team to build up some experience first, then work towards a move into adoption in 6 months or so...

I think it will be good to wait a bit anyway, the job was post adoption and I would really like to be dealing with matches.

So I'll continue to lurk here (that's as long as you don't mind!)
and might well pop up with some questions along the way!!!

thanks again.//

Kewcumber Tue 10-Jun-14 23:27:13

I know this isn't relevant now but having posted on another thread... I also think not recommending controlled crying as a technique for a newly placed toddler would be good!

Good luck - you sound lovely!

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