Few jobs are more rewarding than building families through adoption. Adoption counselors work with couples experiencing an unplanned pregnancy to explore their options and choose a family for their baby. They also work with individuals and couples to find a child or children to join their family. Adoptions are regulated by individual states and, in the case of international adoptions, by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, the foreign country and, for participating countries, the Hague Convention.
Education and Training
Most adoption counselors have master's degrees in social work, which is two years full-time and three-years part-time course work and an internship. MSW programs cover social policy and practice, the social work code of ethics, assessment and research. Many programs allow you to focus on a specialty, such as child and family social work. During the course of the social work program, you'll also have an internship where you can put into practice what you're learning in the classroom. Practicums related to adoption are usually done through the department of social services or other child welfare organizations.
Adoption counselors are not required to have a license -- LCSW-- unless you are working independent of an agency or seeking a supervisory position. While it's not required, having a license can improve your job prospects and income. Each state has its own laws regarding licensing, but in most cases it involves two years of full-time supervision by a licensed social worker.
Laws and Policies
Each state has laws regarding adoption, including required services to birth parents who want to place their baby for adoption, to home-study requirements to approve families for adoption. It's crucial that you read and abide by your state's adoption laws to avoid mistakes that could hurt children, adoptive families and birth parents. Also, you familiarize yourself with the interstate compact laws that deal with adoptions across state lines. If you plan to help families adopt abroad, you must learn the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and Hague Convention laws that regulate foreign adoption.
Adoption social workers must obtain 12 to 15 continuing-education hours as determined by the state and Hague Convention to maintain your ability to work in adoption. You can earn continuing education in a variety of ways, including attending adoption-related conferences, participating in live or online adoption seminars, and reading new adoption research or news. Some of your continuing education must be Hague Convention-approved if you work with families adopting abroad.
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