Founded in 1982, the Adoption Exchange Association (AEA) was created by three female social workers in response to the cocaine epidemic that began in the 1980s, which led to many children entering — and very few leaving — the foster care system, said AEA’s CEO, Kamilah Bunn.
“There was a real challenge to recruit adoptive families for these children during this epidemic,” she said, “which by the way, is very reminiscent of what we’re dealing with now with the opioid crisis.”
At the first AEA National Conference, which also took place in 1982, social workers came together “to share strategies and solutions to recruit permanent homes for children in the system,” Bunn said. “Through that exchange, or best practices, they were able to go back to their locality and replicate what they had learned from one another.”
Over time, the network of social workers giving peer-to-peer advice grew and now AEA provides continuing education and credentialing services to more than 200 adoption workers at public and private child welfare agencies each year. Approximately 150 professionals attend the annual conference, the latest having taken place April 29–30 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando. Knowledge-sharing among peers remains a focus: Individuals working in the field, versus academics, comprise the majority of speakers at the event.
In addition to learning from one another, for the past two years, attendees have actively participated in a National Match Event. In this program, social workers from around the country present information on specific children in danger of aging out of the foster care system, as well as share information on families invested in adopting children from the foster care system “in hopes of building relationships,” Bunn said, “and finding adoptive placements.”
Why We Like It
AEA’s membership base, Bunn said, is around 95 percent social work professionals and 5 percent students, and growing the student number is a priority. “One of the things we’re seeing, and I think a lot of industries are seeing, is the transfer of knowledge or lack thereof,” Bunn said. With a lot of baby boomers retiring, the question becomes, “What can we do in our industry around workforce development to ensure that we have students that are interested in our fields?” she said. “That are not only interested, but are able to learn about the profession and find mentors and support so we can retain their talent?”
Bunn’s focus is on using the conference to inform students about the various careers in the adoption field, as well as pairing them with mentors for the duration of the event “to support them and give them encouragement and advice, as well as career advice.”
The conference program includes a specific track for students, and those session presenters are often adoption worker retirees who are keen to impart their knowledge on the incoming generation. Much of that takes the form of sharing what to expect — from their first day on the job to “what it’s like to work in adoption, policies that affect our work, and to understand how you as a social worker are a piece of that puzzle. And what do the policies mean in practice?” Bunn said. “When you are leaving college, you might have one idea of what that first day will be like and what that first year will be like. And then you have that immediate shock. So we want to soften that a little bit.
Casey Gale is an associate editor at Convene.