In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!

101Careers in CounselingMany couples in the United States are unable to have children (or more children) and attempt to adopt nonbiological children. My brother adopted a child, and my niece and her husband adopted a child. Therefore, my knowledge of adoption is more personal than that of most academic counselors. While social workers have traditionally been the professionals who facilitate adoption, many counselors will counsel with couples wishing to explore adoption.

Issues to Understand

There are a multitude of issues to explore with couples wishing to adopt. First, adoption can take a frustratingly long period of time before couples welcome a child into their homes. Though there is no set timetable, adoption can take a year or more depending on the availability of a child, in-country or out-of-country adoption, the expense involved, legal issues, child-welfare investigation, and so on. In many states, biological parents giving their baby up for adoption may agree to the adoption, but still have a set period of time in which they can change their minds. Counselors counseling couples wishing to adopt must prepare clients for the emotional “roller coaster” adoptive efforts often bring. One of the critical issues for couples wishing to adopt is the investigation into the couple’s background. Stable employment, length of marriage, education, salary earnings, and household debt are just some of the issues an adoption investigation will examine. The most frustrating part of the adoptive process is likely to be the excruciatingly long period of time it takes to complete the process of adoption. Some couples literally wait several years! One of the reasons for this delay is that child protection workers are caught in a double bind: If they place a child with an abusive family, they are criticized for not being careful enough and if they do not place a child soon enough, they are criticized for keeping a child from a happy home. Counselors must prepare and support potential adoptive parents for the challenges and difficulties through this long period of time. Another factor is that adoption can be expensive, given attorney costs, court costs, occasional travel (should the adoption be out of state), and so forth. Because of the difficulty in adopting children in the United States, many couples choose to go overseas as adoption may be much quicker. This being said, families adopting children from other countries will likely pay a high adoption price. In addition, travel to some countries (Asian countries are a common destination) is very expensive because of the distance and lodging.

Best Aspects of the Job

The best aspects of the job include supporting couples through the adoption process, especially when the couple’s persistence pays off in an adoption.

Challenging Aspects of the Job

Adoption is a lengthy, costly, and drawn-out process that can be stressful on the couple who wish to adopt. Couples pursuing adoption are likely to transition through a cycle that may parallel Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief (1969). While many couples will finally see a payoff in a successful adoption, many others will not, and some will discontinue their efforts because of stress and emotional exhaustion. Some couples will break up over the stress of the adoptive process. Another difficulty for many counselors is that many otherwise suitable parents will not be allowed to adopt, including many single parents and gay and lesbian parents. Though single people can and do adopt children, they are a distinct minority. Gay and lesbian couples also adopt children, though many states and regions of the country will prohibit them from doing so either by law or by simply discriminatory practices.

Occupational Outlook and Salary

Because counseling adoptive parents is typically a part of the broader range of a counselor’s job and not often a separate career, occupational outlook is probably somewhat similar to that of marriage and family counselors. Thus, hard figures are difficult to “tease” out of the BOLS-reported statistics. Perusing the previously listed median earnings for marriage and family counselors will provide a rough idea of salary and occupational outlook (BOLS [2010–2011] projects the profession of family counseling to grow by a rate of 12% over the next 7 to 10 years. Median earnings for marriage and family counselors are roughly $45,000, though there may be considerable variation depending on the work setting.)