Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, June 15, 1998

A family story: McLeod social worker helps Hutchinson couple adopt

By Russell Victorian

Dennis and Lisa Nepsund of Hutchinson adopted their son, Michael, when he was 2 weeks old, almost four years ago.

The Nepsunds were new to the area when they began the adoption process. Their new pastor helped them with the first step by contacting McLeod County Social Services.

Jenni Johnson, a county social worker and currently the sole adoptive placement social worker, was soon working with them.

March was national social worker month, which recognizes the efforts of all social workers, although a social worker's efforts are recognized every day of the year by the people they work with, such as the Nepsunds.

Lisa Nepsund said Johnson first informed them of the guidelines of the adoption process.

The next step in the adoption process was attending adoption informational meetings, which Johnson instructs.

"The meetings included speakers, which were parents who had already adopted. They offered a lot of valuable information," Lisa Nepsund said.

The Nepsunds found the information so valuable that they now volunteer to speak at informational meetings. "Without the informational meetings, we would not have known where to even begin," she said.

Meanwhile, information on the Nepsunds was collected, such as a psychological evaluation, criminal background, references, a family autobiography and physical health information, Johnson said.

When they completed the process, the Nepsunds were then listed on the state exchange, she said.

Johnson said the state matches up children with families with the information obtained from social workers, which comes from the potential adoptive parents.

The Nepsunds specified that they were interested in adopting an infant, but did not care whether it was a boy or girl, although they could also have noted that.

They were listed on the state exchange for two years before they were notified that they were about to become parents. But, at the last minute, the biological mother changed her mind.

About a day after they found out, another baby boy was born who was up for adoption. The state called Johnson, and she quickly called the Nepsunds. Another match had been made.

"It seems like that is the way it was supposed to be," said Lisa Nepsund, looking at Michael sleeping soundly on her husband's lap. Her husband smiled and nodded in complete agreement.

After Michael was in the Nepsunds' home, the family was visited by a public health guardian ad litem, a court assigned person who comes to see how the child is adjusting.

That was because the termination of parental rights had not been completed yet, Johnson said. Between his birth and the adoption, Michael spent 10 days in the care of a foster family.

The Nepsunds said Johnson also visited at least monthly until the whole adoption process was finalized.

The Nepsunds have remained in contact with the biological mother. Lisa Nepsund said once a year she writes a letter to Michael's biological mother to update her on how Michael is doing. She also sends her pictures.

Johnson said children who are adopted sometimes are interested in finding out who their biological parents are. If they are placed through McLeod County, Johnson will assist in finding people's birth parents if there has been no contact made over the years.

The person looking for birth parents must be at least 19 years old or the child's adoptive parents have to make the request for those under 19 years old.

"The whole (adoption) process was a positive experience for us," Dennis Nepsund said. The experience will come in handy because the Nepsunds hope to adopt another child before Michael is 5 years old.

The Nepsunds remained on the state exchange list. It has been three years, and they have not been matched with another child, but their hopes are still high.

Dennis Nepsund said he grew up with brothers and sisters, and his parents also were foster parents. Lisa Nepsund had one sibling as well.

"It is important to us to bring Michael up in an environment similar to our upbringing, with other siblings," they said.

The Nepsunds said they also found that adopting through the county was less expensive than adopting through a private organization.

Johnson agreed and said for infants, the county uses a sliding fee scale, where people are charged according to their income.

As a social worker and adoption placement worker, Johnson works with children available for adoption through voluntary or involuntary termination of parental rights.

Johnson also helps families in McLeod County who want to adopt, such as assisting them in completing a home study.

From 1993 to 1997, 15 children were placed in adoptive homes through McLeod County Social Services, she said. Five of the 15 were infants, and the rest were older children.

That number includes children placed in McLeod County adoptive homes or McLeod County children placed in homes outside the county, Johnson said.

In voluntary arrangements for infants, the parents or parent of the child usually lets social services know during the pregnancy. She said she works with the parent or parents to make an adoption plan.

Sometimes the parents want time to make a decision, Johnson said. Those infants are usually put into foster care for a month.

When parents are sure they want to put a child up for adoption, a voluntary termination of parental rights is done through the courts, she said. The child then becomes a state ward, which means they are under the guardianship of the commissioner of human services.

Most adoptive children go through the foster care process, Johnson said.

Then she looks for an adoptive home that would best meet the needs of the child. She said the agency also ensures the potential adoptive family is a good adoptive family.

"Infant placements are relatively quick, but for older children, it (placement into an adoptive home) may take a number of months," Johnson said.

Successful adoptive families have to be flexible, open to services, non-judgmental and have a sense of humor, she said.

How does the exchange take place for adopting parents?

With an infant, the adoptive family will meet with the foster family or possibly the birth parents, Johnson said. Then the adoptive parents may take the baby for an afternoon or a day.

"A lot of times they (adoptive parents) will take the infant home the next day," she said.

It is different with older children, Johnson said. There is more pre-involvement with the potential adoptive parents.

The potential adoptive parents may first meet with the school personnel, therapists, the foster family or others involved with the child, she said.

Then the child will be told and a meeting will be set up for the adoptive family and child to meet, Johnson said.

A number of visits may be set up, she said. "They go into it very slowly."

Johnson said the foster family is key in preparing that child to move on.

Once the child is in the adoptive parent's home for 90 days, the adoptive parents will file an adoption petition, and then the child is adopted, she said.

If a child is adopted into this county from another county, a McLeod County social worker will provide the post-placement supervision, which involves monitoring the placement and assisting the family with needed services, Johnson said.

There are some situations where the family and child do not match, and the family will give up the adoption, she said. That is called a "disrupted adoption."

When adoptive parents are considering giving up the adoptive child, Johnson said the social workers first try to offer whatever services are available to keep the child in the home. In some situations, it just does not work out.

Johnson said there are not many disrupted adoptions because a lot of homework is done prior to the placement to ensure a good match. She only remembered one disrupted adoption in her experience.

In involuntary situations, the court has decided in the best interest of the child that the right of their parents be terminated, she said.

The adoption process is more critical because the children have usually been through a lot more, Johnson said.

There also can be a lot of separation and loss issues, she said. "Even though there may have been major issues in the home, it is what they grew up with. It is all they know, and they often remain loyal to their birth parents."

Similar to foster care, "in all adoptive care placements, we always try to seek relatives or significant persons - people who have been involved in the child's life - first," Johnson said.

There is a need for people to adopt children with special needs, such as children who are older, in sibling groups, or who have special emotional, behavioral or medical needs, she said.

Those who are willing to adopt children with special needs may receive adoptive assistance, Johnson said.

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