Throughout the year, MARE hosts adoption events statewide to bring together social workers, waiting children and prospective adoptive parents in casual and interactive settings with the goal of facilitating connections. These events include adoption parties, matching meetings and information sessions. Some adoption parties are large and open to the general public, while others are smaller and limited to families who have already begun the licensing process. Some parties are targeted at a specific group of waiting children, such as teenagers or sibling groups. Any child registered for recruitment with MARE is eligible to attend events, however the child and their worker must be pre-registered for the event.
Reasons for Children to Attend Adoption Parties
- For some children, attending a party reassures them that they are not the only child waiting for an adoptive family.
- For some children, adoption parties may demonstrate that their social worker cares about them and is doing everything possible to find a family.
- Waiting children have a chance to meet others who have already been adopted and realize that getting adopted can and does happen successfully.
- Adoption parties provide a great opportunity for siblings who are placed in separate homes to get together for a visit.
- Many social workers find that attending an adoption party with a child has helped them learn more about the child, and opened the door to further conversations regarding permanency.
- Parties give the children a chance to “look over” the families present, think about the type of family they might like and discuss this further with their worker.
- Chemistry plays an important part in any relationship; spontaneous relationships can and do occur at adoption parties.
- Parties can serve as a casual first visit with a family who has already been identified as a match.
- Finally, Adoption Parties work! Nearly every year, adoption parties are the number one way in which MARE connects waiting children with their adoptive family.
How to Prepare Children to Attend Adoption Parties
The child must be both registered for recruitment with MARE, as well as registered to attend a specific event. If a child has a current child profile with MARE, this will likely be used for the booklet that is distributed to families, so please make sure their profile has up an updated photo and bio. Preparation with the child should begin as soon as you know that you will be taking a child to an adoption party. You can use the time driving with the child to the event to review what you have already discussed.
Before the Event:
- Review who, what, where, when and why. First and foremost, the child should understand that they have a goal of adoption and that their social worker is looking for families who may be a good fit for them. Give the child clear information about the purpose of the event and explain that this is one of the many ways that you are trying to help find the right family for him/her. Explain that there will be families at the event who are interested in adopting as well as other social workers and children who are waiting to be adopted. Map out the logistics of the day such as who will be transporting them to/from, where the event is, what they should wear, and the activities planned.
- Communicate with collaterals (foster parent, residential staff, therapist, etc.). Make sure that they understand the purpose of the event and how they can assist in preparing and supporting the child. They may prompt the child to dress in clean and comfortable clothes, make sure he/she is well rested, fed, has medications, etc.
- Explain to the child they do not need to talk about anything or answer questions that make them uncomfortable. Help the child to craft a response if they are asked about something that is not appropriate.
- Focus the child's expectations on having a good time. Explain that this is an opportunity to meet other children, engage in activities with prospective and experienced adoptive families, and spend time with their worker and/or siblings.
- Give the child a “job” at the party. Many social workers encourage their child to check out the families who will be attending, in this manner dispelling the child's anxiety about being on display. Older children can assist staff/volunteers with some of the activities if that makes them feel more comfortable.
- Be honest and discuss potential outcomes. Let the child know that there are no guarantees; that this is a chance for people to find out about adoption and for everyone to have a good time. Discuss what next steps would look like if a potential match was identified.
- Discuss confidentiality. Reassure the child, particularly teens, about confidentiality. Only first names will be used at the party. They should not share personal information about where they live/go to school, their personal history, or any details of their lives they do not feel comfortable sharing.
- Help the child feel confident about him/herself. Talk to the child about their interests and strengths and encourage the child to speak positively about herself.
- Make sure there is an adult the child knows and trusts. Consider asking other staff (or residential staff or foster parent) to assist with waiting children, particularly if you are bringing several children. This will allow you the opportunity to talk to families and other social workers while the child is with someone they know and trust. At some events, MARE provides “buddies” to help supervise waiting children. It is important that every child in attendance has an adult who can speak on her behalf.
- Children should never be forced to attend an adoption party. If they are reluctant and you decide it is not in their best interest to attend, you can attend by yourself or ask someone else who knows the child well to represent them.
During the Event
- Check-in with the child throughout the event.
- Lead by example. Start conversations with families while the child is around and join in the arts and crafts or baseball game to encourage their interaction with others at the event.
- Use this opportunity to improve your relationship with the child. Adoption parties are a good chance to get to know the child better and to see how he or she interacts with other children and with families.
- Make the most of the party. Social workers who are proactive with families have more success at adoption parties! Bring your business cards and consider preparing a presentation board for your agency that highlights the children you are recruiting for. Be open to discussions with parents, other social workers, and volunteers staffing the party. Share your knowledge of adoption with newcomers.
- Follow up after the Event. The car ride home is a good time to begin to talk to the child about their experience at the adoption party, however the debriefing process should continue beyond this. Explore the child's feedback about any families they met. Describe how you will follow up with families who are interested in adopting – be sure children know there is a process involved with many steps and many roles. Help them to understand that matches do not happen immediately, but occur over a span of time.