Illusions of Clout

November 16- December 16,1999

Once upon a time a birth mother wanted to ask questions of the agency through which she had placed her child for adoption. She was beginning a search for the child, and needed to have some facts. At her support group meetings, everyone told her that the place to begin was with the agency. She was nervous about going alone as the agency was in another state, and asked that someone go with her. An experienced searcher volunteered immediately.

On the day they were to go to the agency, the birth mother, Susie Smith*, wore a comfortable pair of jeans and a sweat shirt for the long road trip. Her friend wore a skirt and sweater and carried a briefcase-like purse. As they entered the building, the birth mother reacted physically to her surroundings, pulling into herself and casting her eyes down. She very much began to resemble the 15 year old she had been the last time she walked those halls. Her friend pointed out a woman who appeared to be an employee of the agency and suggested the mother approach her for information. Susie introduced herself nervously, and, trembling and stuttering, she tried to state her request.

The case worker, a tall woman wearing high heels, looked down on the birth mother, in more ways than one. She said, rather loudly, “Oh, Susie, so you’re a birth mother looking for information?” When Susie gratefully began to nod, the case worker said, coldly, “I can’t give you any” and began to turn away. The birth mother tried again, simply asking that a letter be placed in her file which authorized contact in the event her child ever came looking for her. The case worker sniffed disdainfully, and said that such a thing couldn’t be done.

At this point, the experienced searcher stepped forward, and introduced herself as Mrs. Brown*, “with the Adoption Group From The State Next Door.” Reading the caseworker’s name tag, she said, “Betty*, perhaps we could step out of this hallway into your office so that Mrs. Smith could explain more comfortably what it is she wants you to do.” Flustered, the caseworker allowed them to follow her down the hall and into her cubicle. There, Mrs. Brown explained to Betty that Mrs. Smith had come a great distance to personally deliver the letter which she wished placed in her file and quoted, by statute number, the law which allowed such information to be held by the agency. As the case worker slowly deflated, the birth mother regained her maturity and strength of purpose. Eventually, the letter was placed in the file, and two years later was read by the son who had been placed for adoption.

HINT: There are a couple of aspects to this story. First of all, it is true that some birth mothers, simply by the act of entering the doors of the agency, can actually be regressed to the age they were when they placed their child for adoption. All maturity and self-confidence fall away from them and they lose contact with all that they have accomplished since that time. Secondly, it is true that some caseworkers are needlessly cruel in their dealings with birth mothers who search. Thirdly, it is helpful to visit the agency dressed in “business” clothing and having done your homework about the laws of the state. Preparation and the “illusion of clout” are powerful tools against the arrogance of young caseworkers! By using the simple title “Mrs.” and affiliating herself with a large organization, the searcher was able to command the respect of the caseworker and change the tone of the meeting, affecting the eventual outcome.

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