Monday, March 17, 2008

How'd I get my job?

KG left a comment asking me to share how I got my job and maybe give a few pointers. Wow--I feel honored to be asked! I'm afriad my story won't be much help to those hoping to work in adoption because in my case it was a total God thing.

Since 2001, when we adopted Taevy from Cambodia, I've been pretty involved in the online international adoption community. And I also am one of those people whose favorite hobby is just to learn about new things. So when we adopted, we didn't just adopt. I took it on as a whole new area to learn about. I read. I researched. I made graphs and tables. I gobbled up information from every source I could find. And then Taevy came home.

When Taevy came home, after several months, it became obvious that she had issues. There were sensory issues and attachment issues and even some post trauma issues. That is a LOT to learn about! While I was learning I also wanted to share everything I learned with other people. I had to get the word out about these kids and stop the myth that infants never have attachment issues! So I was involved. =-)

Then Cambodia shut to adoptions and I got very involved for a while with the effort to open the country back up with new and ethical adoption policies (through an org called RathCare). After that I was on the board of a few humanitarian organizations for a while. I don't know...I was on the email lists and I was vocal and I had a opportunities came to me throughout the years.

I made no bones about the fact that I hoped to be involved with helping people adopt. Even if the only way I helped was to share advice and my own experiences, that was okay by me. I hoped for more, but the main thing was that I was getting to live my passion.

Shortly after we brought Taevy home my adoption coordinator for her adoption left the agency we adopted through with plans to begin her own agency. She asked me to join her. Can you say DREAM COME TRUE?!?!?! It really was. I was still working full time as a teacher at the time, but was so excited to be able to work with families in a more professional capacity. Through that organization I got to help start programs in Cambodia (still opened at the time), Vietnam, Haiti, and Bulgaria. I worked with families in every program we had instead of just one country. I also created all of our educational materials and travel materials.

Although this sounds so cool (because it was) it was also a huge burden. I had a new baby at home, a full time job, and then another full time job with the adoption agency. I wanted to work in adoption so bad that I sacrificed my family and myself to an unhealthy level. I was getting maybe 3-4 hours of sleep at night, on a good night. I didn't spend the time I needed to with my baby WHO HAD ATTACHMENT ISSUES! Time with my hubby? Forget it. I didn't set business hours so I got calls at all times of the day and night--even in the middle of the night. I learned that some adoptive families will take as much as you will give them. And I gave them everything I had.

Eventually Samren came home and he was sick. Very sick. And I had no time for him. And I was tired of being treated poorly by adoptive families. If you want to work in adoption be prepared to be treated poorly by families. For me, this included actually being cussed out. That was the last straw for me. I was burned out. I resigned in 2003 so that I could care for my sick son and my sick (in a different way) daughter and I didn't know if I ever wanted to work in adoption again.

At the same time, my passion for orphans didn't leave. I still managed to volunteer for humanitarian organizations, and stay involved in the community. Fast forward to 2006...

We began our quest to adopt 2 children from Africa. First it was Liberia but then we switched to a brand new program, with a tiny and new agency, in Ghana. I started to see things with the program in Ghana, and with the way that the agency was run, that brought back all of those "working in adoption" feelings. I saw what I considered to be mistakes. I saw things that I considered to be unethical. And I wanted to change it! But first I wanted to get our own little boy home.

One night out of pure frustration I wrote an email to Merrily Ripley (the director of AAI). I told her that I didn't know if she ever thought about Ghana before, but that Ghana could really use an experienced and ethical agency like AAI. There are a million orphans in Ghana and I didn't feel that they (or adoptive families) were being served well by the options available. I wrote to Merily as an adoptive parent. I wanted to adopt again from Ghana and the second time I wanted it to be through a good and experienced agency!

As it turned out Merrily said the thought was "interesting" and asked me to tell her more about Ghana. So I shared what I knew. And then I found out that Bright was possibly very sick in Ghana and hopped a plane with 4 days noticed to help my baby get better. When I got to Ghana Bright was okay (sick, but not dangerously so), so I was able to look into things a little bit more for Merrily. Still...I was just doing volunteer work. It truly never occurred to me that such a well established agency would EVER offer me a job.

God intervened again and before my 3 week stay in Ghana was over, Merrily traveled to Ghana to check out the possibilities! At that time she mentioned that she wanted to think about me "staying involved for a long term basis." Still in my mind I figured she must be talking about volunteering (which I was happy to do). Eventually she made it clear that she was offering more than a volunteer opportunity and the rest is history!

God worked it all out well before I caught up to His intentions! And this time, it really is all that I hoped it would be. I work for one of the most ethical and experienced agencies out there. I work with amazing families who don't take advantage of me. And I have learned to limit my "work" so that my family still takes priority.

How do you get a job working in adoption? I don't know. I've just been incredibly blessed 2 times to have the opportunity.

Tips for those who want to work in adoption (for what they are worth from this total NON expert!)....

  • You will not make good money. You will not make good money! You will NOT make good money! Don't expect to meet the median income in your state. If you are offered really good pay, consider where the agency's focus is. I would almost worry if I was offered great pay!
  • If you are working from home, SET BUSINESS HOURS! You've just got to. Even if they aren't advertised, set times after which (or before which) you will not answer the phone. Of course you're going to break your own rules sometimes, but at least have the rules! I email at all hours of the day and night as it suits my schedule but I don't let myself feel bad if an email takes a day (or two) to reply to. I don't answer the phone when it isn't business hours unless I want to AND unless it works for my family for me to "check out" for a few moments.
  • If you are looking for a job in adoption my best advice is just to put your name out there and get involved as much as you can. Volunteer. Offer advice online. Get your name known. Build a reputation for yourself (hopefully a good one).
  • Don't ever sign up with an agency that you don't feel good about! Been there, almost did that! I wanted to work in adoption SO BAD that I almost broke my own code to do it. I was offered a chance to work for an agency starting up a Vietnam adoption program about 1 month before I was offered this job with AAI. At that point I really wanted to be working in adoption again--bad! But when I researched the agency I didn't like what I saw. And to make matters worse, I didn't feel comfortable recommending Vietnam adoption to families when I knew that I couldn't choose it as a country for our own family because of concerns with corruption in the entire country program. I imagined myself telling families that Vietnam was a good option even though I didn't personally believe it to be....and I said no. And I felt better immediately. And God provided the right job out of the blue a month later.
  • I think that maybe life experience counts for as much as formal education when it comes to adoption work. If you have the formal education I'd suggest getting as much adoption-related life experience as you possibly can. I think it's only because of the life experience the Lord put in my path that I have the job I have.
  • The only other advice I have, if you want to work in adoption, is to put your resume in with lots of agencies. Jobs seem to pop up only periodically. When one pops up, if your resume is already there, you're a set ahead of the game.

That's about all I've got in the advice department. I've been incredibly blessed to be given the opportunity to work with AAI. I truly love my job. I love "my" families and the kids they adopt. I love the people I work with. No job is perfect but this is the happiest (job-wise) I've ever been. I didn't do anything to deserve this job more than anybody else. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time.



KG 12:27 AM  

Wow, you're fast!

What you wrote IS indeed very helpful, and I really appreciate it. The social work degree is definitely nice to have, but it's still the same old thing with no one wanting to hire you without a few years of experience, a master's, or whatever else it may be, and that's for any job much less the ones that I actually want! Especially with the turn the economy is taking, social services are getting cut left and right and I'm finding any full-time job elusive. I've applied for posted positions and have had them disappear because of funding cuts before they can even look at my application. So it's been a bit frustrating, and I'll take all (and I mean ALL!) the advice I can get.

I am a Christian (born and raised and a regular church goer) but not of the Evangelical variety. I interned with an evangelical agency, which was great, but they require actual employees to sign a statement of faith, which I would not feel comfortable doing as some (but not all) of their beliefs were contrary to my own. I also did not feel comfortable expressing my own faith within that setting as I was chastised early on for attending an Ash Wednesday service that some employees were not happy about! So while the agency was otherwise wonderful, it taught me that I need to be in a setting that I can also be comfortable with in regards to my faith.

I am a bio child of a multiracial international adoptive family, with older child and pretty significant attachment issues as part of the deal, so while I haven't experienced the parenting end, I've definitely lived a lot of it.

This is getting way too long so I'll just thank you again and leave it there! I am in Minnesota.

A. Gillispie 8:17 AM  

Hey KG--I'm glad if anything was even a bit helpful to you! Sorry about the misunderstanding with Christianity. It was something I read on your blog. Just didn't want you to feel excluded if you weren't a Christian!

MN....I don't have any adoption contacts there. Darn! Looked up a list of agencies on the internet and you sure have some good ones though, and many more than we have here in Oklahoma. Good luck dear!


HollyAnn 8:05 PM  

I wish I had read your post when we opened up 3 years ago! :) You have some great pointers for people...great advice!