This month we talked to Sophia Gardner, LMSW, Coordinator of Permanency Services, about her work.
When did you start working at Spence-Chapin?
I started working with Spence-Chapin in October 2016.
How did you become interested in adoption?
I am the eldest and only biological child in a transracial family of eleven kids, so adoption is something that has been intricately woven into my life for a long time. Learning about and understanding the experiences of my siblings’ early lives left me with a strong desire to work in child protection. When I first began thinking about my career, I was drawn to building systems for family-based-care in countries that are continuing to utilize institutional care. And in general, I was attracted to family preservation and strengthening. I transitioned to New York City after spending time in India while completing my MSW and was thinking about how I could apply my skill sets to domestic work. Transitioning into adoption work felt very natural and sometimes I look back and wonder, how did it take me so long to get here?
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
For me, the most rewarding part of my job is the direct work that I do with families. So much of the home study experience is education and families come to adoption with a wide range of knowledge and understanding. It’s inspiring to educate families on themes like openness, identity development and being a transracial family. In particular, the arc I witness with families or individuals from when they come into home study, with an often-rudimentary understanding of these themes, to when they begin to connect the dots, to understand that everything we’re doing is child-centered, is incredibly meaningful.
What does your typical workday look like?
Something that I love about this work is the variety of what any day could look like. Primarily, I’m meeting adoptive families during their home study process, either in our office or in their home. Because the home study requires a home visit, I do a lot of traveling around New York and New Jersey. When I’m not supporting a family directly – either through home study, post placement, training or resource distribution – I’m typically writing, in a meeting, or working with my team members to brainstorm how to approach a particular scenario.
Is there a particular family that you’ve worked with that has affected you in any way?
I really love working with our international adoption kinship families. Often, in a kinship adoption, families are coming to us after experiencing a loss in the family. They need to adopt a child whom they are already related to in some way because the child is now in need of love and protection. These families are often in a place of grief, and because they are relatives of the child, may feel the home study process is particularly cumbersome. I feel a great responsibility to those families to work with them so that they can understand that adoption themes will still be present in their home, even with the familial relationships. To see families understand each theme you’re discussing and have them walk away feeling empowered, and not encumbered, is very special.
Has S-C changed you in any way? Prior to joining Spence, all my experience in adoption was in international adoption. Working across all our programs, it has been so wonderful to be exposed to the domestic side of the work that we do. I have so much respect for the work our social workers do with our birth parents and have loved being able to educate our families about open adoption.