Thursday, May 23, 2019

Dumping a Social Worker's Cards on the Table: Adoption Cannot Solve Abortion

"Everyone has strengths within them that can create solutions. They just need some organizing." I repeat this phrase often to my students. I repeat it in discussions about groups. I repeat it in discussions about individual work with clients. I repeat it about work with communities, organizations, and law. I use this statement to preface teaching any framework for helping and change. I hope it stays with them in their work and when they relay their work in public platforms.

It is important that we share the methods behind our work with others. Otherwise, legislators can't be challenged when they claim a bill they've drafted solves problems faced by our clients. And we as professionals can't be challenged when we claim that our observations from practice should apply as law to everyone beyond our caseloads. A lack of understanding of what professional intervention should look like makes it possible for others to believe that adoption is a fitting solution to all problems caused by banning abortion. At least one professional in Alabama testified as such. And lawmakers across the country continue to take this claim seriously. It is a claim that defies a sound, methodical helping process. We must be loudly transparent about the helping process to add it as a tool through which the public evaluates both abortion and adoption policy.

I teach my social work students (BSW) the Generalist Intervention Model which is framed by scientific method. At some point in class, we take on my "GIM Planning Challenge." Each student is assigned a (fake) client and client scenario. Their first task is to identify the top three problems for which the client wants help. We know what the top three problems are based on frameworks like our Code of Ethics and the Declaration of Human Rights and theories like Maslow's Hierarchy and the Transtheoretical Change Model - to name just a few.

Next, students choose an agency type and a job description for themselves as the social worker that is the most appropriate for their client. Finally, students take the three main problems and make goal statements based on the clients needs. At this point, I pause and facilitate discussion on creating SMART goals which we covered during a previous class.

Phase two is my favorite. I dump out a pile of laminated cards with interventions on them. Interventions are action steps that bridge the gap between what a client needs and their goal to fulfill that need. For example, collaboratively researching employers that are hiring could be a great intervention for a social worker and their client at an unemployment agency. I instruct students to go through the pile and pick the most fitting interventions for their "client."


Students will discover that other students may have selected an intervention they want. At this time, the students need to substantiate to each other where they think that intervention belongs, and come to an agreement. At first, students tend to pick interventions they like the sound of and "play devil's advocate" to make it "fit" their client. A student reasons, "Oh. Well the client is autistic. Autistic children can have anxiety that holds them back from things. So I chose counseling as my intervention."

This is the moment for profound learning. I refer students back to their top three problems, their job description, and their agency. I gently challenge, "Are you a counselor? Is anxiety one of the top problems you and your client chose? Let's work this out. The client is brilliant but failing classes. Their mom is exhausted from the labor of tireless advocacy....."

Their eyes flash with that unmistakable signal of understanding. They now have this.
“The client needs the grades they deserve. An IEP can help......” 
“I’m a case manager.... so I could coordinate an IEP meeting.... And, I could go with their mom for support.”
This first moment of realization is contagious. Students all over the classroom begin share their intervention cards and work together. They are driven by an ignited desire to be effective and to enhance client self-determination.

Someone seeking help for homelessness needs housing.
Someone seeking help for hunger needs food.
Someone seeking help for illness needs medical care.
Someone seeking help for unemployment needs a job.

They are well on their way to understanding the difference between an effective helper and someone who just applies randomly Googled solutions. They are also building skills to articulate and scientifically justify the interventions chosen with the client.


One adoption counselor's testimony on Alabama HB 314 stated that adoption solved a list of problems ranging from spina bifida, to prison re-entry, to addiction, to living in a trailer park (cite). It is true these are not the fake case scenarios from my "challenge," nor am I privy to each case. However, my level of confidence in challenging it is really no different than the level of confidence legislators had to use it to make an abortion ban the law of the land.

Children with spina bifida don't need new parents. They need lifelong disability support. Children who live in trailer parks don't need new parents. They need us to stop judging them. Children whose parents are re-entering society don't need new parents. They need parents who are supported in parenting them through effective re-entry support services. Let's challenge this and flesh out the missing variables. One phrase to the testimony was key. 
“In every one of these situations we had not one, but multiple families step up and say that they were willing to adopt these babies born to women in difficult medical and social situations."
This statement is why this testimony did not belong at an abortion legislation committee hearing. The medical and social risks noted were not about pregnancy. Adoption was not an adequate replacement for abortion for clients who did not wish to continue pregnancy. These pregnant people made a choice to give birth - and only then did adoption address the subsequent concerns. These children, once born, had parents who could not or did not want to continue to parent them. And that's why the counselor was able to present adoption as any form of solution.


By viewing adoption as a solution to problems caused by abortion bans, we are ignoring the needs of significant populations. Not every pregnant person wants to be pregnant or to give birth. Not every pregnant person who wants to be pregnant or to give birth can do so safely. Not every person who gives birth because of a ban will want to choose adoption - regardless of how impractical parenting may be at that time. They have a constitutional right to parent their child.

Adoption is not a medical procedure. It doesn't reduce the risks of pregnancy to the pregnant person. It is a decision about parenting a child that is already born. Someone who doesn't wish to assume the risks of pregnancy on their body can't make use of adoption as an intervention.

This problem is not unique to just one testimony. Even on large adoption agency websites, attempts to "counsel" pregnant people specifically about abortion are fraught, in plain text, with information about the parenting decision of adoption. Helping professionals must do our due diligence to make ever step of the helping process clear. This instruction need not end when it reaches our students. How we break down and address client problems can be explained and understood by lawmakers and the public. We need to exercise this level of clarity and transparency for our clients and lawmakers and model how this is done correctly for students. Every single person whose lives our words touch should be able to use our own frameworks to challenge the policies for which we advocate, the services we recommend, and the help we provide. The abortion-adoption conversation is a great place for us to start.

Follow me on Twitter @amandaTDA

No comments: