Friday, February 22, 2008

Adoption Photolistings

Anyone want to talk about photo listings? How deeply ambiguous I am about them! I look at the listings for my state fairly regularly. I'm not sure why I do, but I do.

On one hand I know why they exist, and I accept it. There are kids who need families and the best way to recruit a family is for them to feel a connection to a child, and a photo and a paragraph seems fairly effective. We have all fallen in love with a listing, looked at the eyes in a photograph and felt that we were making real eye contact, that somehow that child was looking back at us. Something in us clicks and we think, "This child could be mine."

And that is what they are supposed to do. Not having photolistings at all seems like a bad idea. They are too good a recruiting tool.

On the other hand, I don't think anyone is completely comfortable. If you haven't noticed that Adopt Us Kids bares a significant resemblance to Petfinder or Autotrader, well, you are just not paying attention. I told Evan that I had looked for the boy I had been emailed about but that I couldn't find him. He asked how I could find him and I explained about Adopt Us Kids, how I could search by state, age, race, even by the level of difficulty. At first he simply didn't believe me. Then he was appalled at the idea of potential adopting parents trolling through the site considering kids like used cars.

And then there are the practical problems. Photolistings never have all the children who qualify to be there. Of course there are any number of kids who are technically available for adoption but who are not being made actually available now. There are kids in treatment centers and teenagers who have agreed to "independent living" as a their plan. Even taking that into consideration though, there are still kids who really could and should be available to be adopted who are not listed. And there are listed kids who have been adopted and not removed from the site. Some states of course do better than other.

And yet, it is all about finding kids homes, right? If it works, isn't it worth it?

I don't know. This is not a post in which I am going to come out a defend a clear position, but I am really interested in what those of you who have gone through the process think about it.

Would it be better if there were only a few children (maybe even already adopted children) whose profiles where publically available? Perhaps that would allow people to understand the range of children that need homes and inspire some to investigate further. If that is a good idea, then who should have access to full profiles? Should parents with adoption homestudies have passwords? Or should the only people who have access be social workers and matching specialists?

I am wondering about that last option. If it was adequately supported it might be the most respectful to the kids, and better for the potential adopters. You would not have to look at hundreds of profiles, ask about kids who turn out to have already been adopted, submit your name for children over and over. In my imagination matching specialists would send parents several profiles, and probably more than one set of parent would get each profile. State committees could still select a family from a selection of interested families.

Would something like this be better? Or is the only problem with the current public photolisting system the fact that they are not kept up-to-date?

And what of those of you who are foster alumni, how would you have felt about being publically listed?


  1. I don't like photolistings. I think it would be better if only caseworkers and matching specialists had access to them. Perhaps allowing potential adoptive parents to view online profiles of specific children (if they have been matched or are being matched, etc) would be OK.

    But I hate they way they are set up now and I think if I was one of the children on the photolistings, I would be terribly offended.

  2. I found my son on the photolistings. But they creep me right out. I always felt weird printing out those profiles (which tell so little about the kids). I don't know of a better solution. I do, however, think that you should have an approved homestudy before being allowed to view the photolistings.

  3. One of the things the photolistings do is allow prospective adoptive parents to do part of the social worker's job - looking for good matches and advocating for themselves and for the children. In a perfect world, I think that parents wouldn't need access. They would have honest conversations with the social worker and fill out forms specifying what their preferences and concerns are. They would feel comfortable expressing their limitations in terms of who they think they could parent, without worrying that they will be tagged as 'difficult' or 'too picky'. The social workers would take the time to go through the listings and look for kids that might be good matches. They would contact those kids social workers for more information. Instead of showing parents every available child they would be able to show them only a few that seemed like real possibilities. They would do this relatively efficiently, so that neither parents nor children had to wait longer than necessary for a placement. In a perfect world, I think that social workers would be better able to do this task than parents, and that it would be better for the kids if their information was only made available to those parents that might be a match.

    Having said that - this is not a perfect world. And if you made the rule right now that photolistings were only available to social workers, I think it would be much harder to create good matches. Social workers would not have time to do the work, so they would look at only a few listings that were easily available. They would suggest matches that might not be appropriate. They would get busy with the kids already on their plate and not have time to spend on possibilities. We would end up with fewer matches being made, and a smaller percentage of those matches being based on the real preferences of both parents and children.

    This is NOT a slam on social workers - I'm not questioning their ability to do a good job at this, I'm questioning their time and their workload. If we funded this project so that social workers were not so overloaded, then I think this could be a good solution. Then again, there are an awful lot of things in the system that could be improved with more funding.

    Whether this advantage in terms of matching justifies the loss of privacy to the kids, I'm not sure. I don't think there is any question that there is a loss here, though.

  4. I don't even think I can come up with an adjective strong enough to describe what I think about how often we say, "X would be great for the kids, but we don't have the funding."

    I'm not saying it isn't true, just that I am ashamed that it is.

  5. MN has a system similar to what you mentioned. It is called the State Adoption Exchange and only the workers are given access to it. Both children and the families that are hoping to adopt them are posted. HOWEVER, it is not updated frequently and, according to several adoption workers I know, the county workers rarely look at it and rarely keep the kids in their caseloads posted on it much less look for parents. It is sad because there is this tool that would work if it was updated frequently but it is not. So we are stuck with photolistings. I look at them all the time too. For the first time ever, I inquired on sisters this week. The picture was taken during the summer and kids in our state usually wait forever (meaning years) before actually getting listed on the photolisting. The paragraph was just vague enough to suck me in and make me wonder about these girls...

  6. The photolistings were one of if not the hardest part of the adoption process. It was heart wrenching and we both hated the entire concept of saying yes or no to each face looking back at us. The paragraphs are fairly ambiguous to protect the child's privacy and so you never feel like you know enough to know anything. There were times that we felt emotionally drained and guilty.

    I can't even imagine what it must feel like to be listed and know that strangers are looking at it and judging your worthiness to be matched with them.

    Little Man was matched with us by his county social worker. She read our homestudy and judged us worthy. While it is easy to take comfort in that, there were social workers who read and found us not worthy.

  7. Yondalla said...

    "I don't even think I can come up with an adjective strong enough to describe what I think about how often we say, "X would be great for the kids, but we don't have the funding.

    I'm not saying it isn't true, just that I am ashamed that it is."

    So very true. And so very sad.

    There is a part of me that thinks that if I had a big pot of money to spend on foster care, this would not be how I would spend it. Not that it's not a worthwhile thing to fix, but that we would get more value out of other things - better transition and independent living programs, or more support for foster/adoptive parents, or more resources for struggling kids.

    But the truth is that funding doesn't always work by priority; in fact it's probably the exception rather than the rule. And if that's the case, then just because it wouldn't be my first priority and it isn't currently realistic doesn't mean it's not worth thinking about, or even trying to make happen.

  8. Prior foster kid here... It's bad enough when we are moved around, discarded by foster parents, tossed around like hot potatoes by social workers and so much more... To think of myself being listed on a site with my details in the same ways that they do dogs on petfinder and the like... would have been yet another blow to my already tattered soul.

  9. I don't know why this just now occurred to me given the main topic of your blog, but one thing that particularly creeps me out about photo listings (particularly in my southern/midwestern home state) is the way you can see these kids being shoved into gendered narratives. So it's always that some 4-year-old girl loves Spider-Man BUT ALSO SHOPPING and I know so much of this is spin, but it's deeply saddening to me.


Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.