JFS social worker opens a window on adoption

JFS social worker opens a window on adoption

Agency professionals help families prepare for placement process

Speaking to a rapt audience of colleagues at the Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, social worker Nancy Rosenthal talked about what she describes as one of the most rewarding aspects of her job: helping to find loving, stable homes for children who don’t have one.

A social worker in the agency’s department of children and family services, Rosenthal is certified to deal with adoptions and runs courses on the subject.

In the past year, she has done home studies for five sets of applicants, and post-placement visits with three others.

“It’s always so heartwarming when it works out,” declared Rosenthal at the March 28 meeting at JFS headquarters in Elizabeth, part of a regular series in which staffers share their expertise. “It’s just a wonderful thing.”

JFS doesn’t arrange adoptions, though it could. Instead, the agency provides pre- and post-adoption counseling and conducts home studies to vet those involved in the process. If requested, it will connect them with lawyers or organizations that work with placements.

JFS is one of the handful of agencies in Union County certified by the state to provide those services, and through its affiliations, can put applicants in touch with programs across this country and in Europe, Asia, and South and Central America.

Tom Beck, JFS executive director, told the gathering, “We could handle both sides, but we choose not to, because it could involve a conflict of interests.”

A major mitzva

Rosenthal explained the home study process. Applicants are given questionnaires detailing their legal and financial situation and their capacity for parenthood, followed by the home visit. “The process can take a long time, and you have to be willing to really open yourself up,” she said.

“Some people get very nervous about the visit,” Rosenthal said. “They fear getting a ‘no.’ But I’m really not coming to see your house.” A home doesn’t need to be luxurious or surgically immaculate to provide a safe haven.

The agency charges around $1,800 for a home study — “competitive,” Rosenthal said. If the process takes longer than a year, an update is required, and that costs another $500. Once an adoption has taken place, she does post-placement visits to check that everything is going all right. Those cost $375 per visit, and how long they continue depends on the requirements of the placement service involved.

A colleague asked Rosenthal how often applicants are rejected on the basis of the vetting process. It almost never happens, she said, with evident relief. “Some people screen themselves out. Generally, they realize that it’s not going to work out for whatever reason, and they don’t go ahead with the application.”

Some but not all of the agency’s clients are Jewish. And while Rosenthal said some Jewish babies are put up for adoption, the religion of the adoptees is seldom an issue. “A couple who wants a Jewish child can have the child go through a conversion,” she said.

While Jewish identity might be less of an issue in other denominations, she mentioned that the local Orthodox community has also been very open in its acceptance of adopted children. Judaism recognizes adoption as a major mitzva, she pointed out, and cited the essay by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz in the March 22 edition of NJ Jewish News (“The Jewish imperative for adopting a child”).

“Whoever brings up an orphan in their home, it is as though they gave birth to him,” he quoted from Sanhedrin 19b. He concluded by saying, “Every stable family should consider the opportunity to welcome the most vulnerable humans on the planet by giving homeless children a home and family.”

The number of adoptions has declined — in part of because of improvements in fertility treatments, and in part because of rising costs and greater financial insecurity. Fewer people are seeking foreign adoptions because some can take so long and because of the cost involved. Contrary to what some people believe, there are many children and babies available domestically — especially for parents who are not specific about race or who are willing to take a child with health issues.

As joyful as it is to see parents and children brought together, Rosenthal said, there are major challenges involved. The agency offers counseling for parents and children, and many adoptive families, she said, belong to support groups.

One of the most common questions is whether and when and how to tell a child he or she is adopted. Racial differences, attachment issues, and fears of abandonment can all stress the relationship.

But, as one of Rosenthal’s colleagues put it, what parents don’t encounter challenges and quandaries in dealing with their children? It is part of being a parent — complete with heartache and joy — and that is just what these clients hope to experience.

For more information on JFS and its adoption services, contact Rosenthal at 908-352-8375 or nrosenthal@jfscentralnj.org.

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