Rise issue 07 cover

From the frontline

lady smiling
Katherine Archer is an Adoption Social worker who loves her job. She's especially passionate about legislation changes that have made the adoption process far more open.

What do you do here at Ministry of Social Development?

I'm a senior practitioner social worker for Child, Youth and Family's adoption service, working in Rotorua.

How do you describe your job?

There are five aspects to our role. We educate and prepare prospective adoptive parents. We counsel birth parents, facilitate adoption placements and work in the area of adult adoption information. The last thing we do is report to the court on family and whanau adoption.

What type of adoptions do you work with?

Local adoptions within New Zealand, inter-country adoptions and direct application adoptions, like a private family adoption. This is where a child has been placed within a family network without us being involved. Then the family makes an application to the court, and the courts ask us to provide a report in regards to the placement. We also handle parent/spouse adoptions, where the new husband or wife makes an application to adopt a step child.

What attracted you to working at Ministry of Social Development?

At the Ministry and Child, Youth and Family there are a lot of social workers with wide and varied skills, and I thought it would be valuable experience being part of the organisation.
Adoption Services was also an area I found really interesting. Adoption legislation goes back to 1955, and it was based on secrecy. But practices around adoption have evolved and there is now an emphasis on openness. It is now recognised that basic information about oneself is a basic need in forming a positive and healthy sense of identity. It's great to see the changes in practice, and there is a real sense that the work we do makes a difference for children.

Can you describe a typical day?

I might travel over to Tauranga and work with birth parents and adoptive families. I'll spend time writing up paperwork, and I'll work over the phone. We do a lot of adult adoption work over the phone, but will visit when needed. I'll spend time preparing seminars and facilitating them.
We have seminars for prospective parents, and explore areas such as loss, attachment and identity. Adopted people and adoptive parents attend as speakers to tell their stories of adoption.

What's the best aspect of working on the frontline like this?

We have a really structured role because we work according to the legislation, but we have the opportunity to do some in-depth work. I love seeing the placements where the birthparents have made a fully-informed decision having all the support they need.

Sometimes birthparents decide to parent their own child and we're there to support them through that process. When placement is made it's great to see the relationships between the two families develop. What starts as two families becomes one family linked through the child, because they both have the best interest of the child at heart. Working with adult adoptees and birthparents who are in the process of being reunited is also very rewarding, and this is an area of work that informs our practice in an everyday sense.

What's the toughest aspect?

Adoption is based on loss, and that's true for all parties, so you're trying to help people acknowledge loss. Plus we work according to the legislative act of 1955 which can be restrictive, and it can be difficult sometimes.

How many families/children do you work with?

Anywhere from 25 to 35, depending on travel and location.

Any good news stories you want to share with us?

In the seminars it's inspiring to get adoptive parents who are happy to come and talk to the new prospective parents. It's great to hear them talk about how important it's been for them to have the birth parents involved, how committed they are as adoptive parents to ensuring an open adoption placement for their child, why it's so important, and how well it's worked for their family.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Adoption is an option that can work well for all parties, but it's only one of the possible options. There's also foster care and permanent placements, which can also work out really well. What's central to us in any situation is the best interests of the child.