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February 2011 Caseworker of the Month
Amy Alderman, a licensed social worker for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, is our February Caseworker of the Month. She helped facilitate the adoption of an older child with special needs to whom an out-of-state family could give a loving, understanding home.
Finding a good fit
When considering another addition to their family through adoption, Amy and Victor Jenks of McDonough, New York, had an idea of the child they were looking to adopt. They had previously adopted their daughter Taryn, 5, from foster care, giving their biological children Jacob, 11, and Kenley, 4, a new sibling. This time around they wanted to provide a home to another child with the same condition as their son Jacob, who has Asperger's syndrome.
They were looking for a good fit, and what happened next exceeded their expectations.
The help they received from Alderman was essential in bringing 12-year-old Vincent, who had been living with foster parents in Idaho, into their fold.
For many adoptive parents, the process can be daunting. However, Alderman, who the Jenks connected with through AdoptUSKids’ photolisting service, made it look easy. The Jenks said it would have been impossible without the care and attention she gave them.
"Amy was a great source of information for when we had questions, concerns, or anytime we felt nervous about something," the Jenks said. “To have an actual social worker there to rely on, to call, and to email and say, 'Here is our home study. What do we do now?' was helpful. She would email us back, 'Here is the next step, file these papers, come out to Idaho for a visit, if that goes well, we'll do this.’”
The Jenks said it was very easy to work through those steps.
“We went into it hoping for the best and we got it,” they said.
Good fits are also part and parcel for Alderman, who said she likes that her job allows her to work with children and families.
"This is a good fit for me," Alderman said. She’s been with the department for 17 years, primarily working with children and families. She’s also worked in elementary schools and the non-profit sector.
"Every day I have the ability to do something positive for somebody else,” Alderman said.
As for being named AdoptUSKids’ Caseworker of the Month, Alderman said, "It’s very unexpected, but much appreciated."
She made sure to note that families deserve most of the credit.
"It's important to be supportive," Alderman said of the role caseworkers play, but it’s families who do the lion's share of the hard work.
Following a calling
Alderman, 39, came from a family where she had six adopted siblings, so getting to know social workers was part of growing up in her house. From watching firsthand, she learned to respect and admire the work they did. From an early age, she realized it was her calling.
"I just thought it was so fantastic," Alderman said. "I couldn't imagine life without my siblings, and they were there because of the social workers."
For those considering a career in child welfare, Alderman offered this advice, "Ask a lot of questions before you jump into it and make sure it's right for you, because it's not right for everybody.”
Alderman and her husband, Steve, have a seven-year-old son, Bennett. Born in the Bay Area of California, Alderman grew up in Meridian, Idaho. She graduated from Boise State University with a degree social work.
"I think it’s a true privilege to have the opportunity to have a job that allows us to work with such great families and participate in helping children find their safe place in this world," Alderman said.
Making the match
When Alderman first heard from the Jenks' and saw they were on the East Coast, she felt apprehensive. Vincent had already had a bad experience with a family in New York.
"Oh my gosh," Alderman remembers thinking. "Another family from New York."
But after reviewing the Jenks' home study, she realized the potential in the match.
Each family enters the search for bringing a young person into their family differently, Alderman said.
"Usually they fall in love with the picture, or they fall in love with something about the child," she said. "Every family has particular things they’re looking for, and sometimes matching that can be kind of hard."
For the Jenks', it was not only easy, but remarkable how good a fit Vincent turned out to be.
"It's a bit uncanny," Alderman said.
"It was just the right time in our life," the Jenks said of their decision to adopt again. "Because our daughter Taryn came to us at three-days-old, we really wanted to reach out to a child who wasn't little."
Older children, often enough, have more difficulty in finding permanent homes, the Jenks said.
"Teens and pre-teens tend to be an afterthought. Not many people go in to adopt those kids," she said. "Our goal was to try to do that."
Upon learning more about Vincent, the Jenks knew they found something special because the couple's goal wasn't just to have an older child in need join their family. In fact, they were looking for someone specific.
The couples' biological son has Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.
"We knew there are a lot of children out there with Asperger's," the Jenks said. "To be honest, my son really felt like he was alone, in school and in the world. He didn't grasp the concept there were other children out there with Asperger's. We could kind of lend our experience with that to a child with the same condition.”
In addition to having Asperger's syndrome, Vincent was born with a cleft lip and pallet. Victor Jenks was born with the same condition. He had endured the surgeries, and knew what it was like every step along the way.
Even from the start, the Jenks knew they could offer Vincent something few other families could.
"It wasn't a matter of where that child was, just as long as we were a fit for that child," the Jenks said.
"This is going to be the one," they recalled saying when they saw Vincent's photo.
Victor and Vincent bonded almost immediately.
"It was like comparing war wounds," Amy Jenks said. "It was sort of funny to sit and listen to them talk about it."
The ease the Jenks family had dealing with Alderman even inspired Amy Jenks' sister to begin the process of adopting a child.
The nomination letter
We would love to nominate caseworker Amy Alderman. Without her, it would have been impossible for us to adopt our 12-year-old son since we live in New York. She made everything look effortless and put our minds at ease many times.
Amy and Vincent Jenks
McDonough, New York