Erin Smith has been working in the adoption industry since 2008. Being an adoptee herself, she is able to share her personal experience of the adoption journey as she counsels birth mothers. She explains how she came to work at Adoption Advocates, what she loves most about her job, and her aspirations for AAI in the future.
How long have you been working at Adoption Advocates?
I started working at Adoption Advocates as a temp in 2010. I was working at an adoption agency in San Antonio when I attended a training for adoption workers conducted by Janie Cravens. In 2010, when I moved to Austin, I reached out to AAI and was offered a temp job as Administrative Assistant. I immediately fell in love with the staff. I was promoted to Adoption Services Coordinator seven months later and am currently the Director of Adoption Services.
As the Director of Adoption Services, what does your day typically consist of?
My primary role is birth parent counseling – preparing them for the grief process that follows placing. I also work with adoptive parents after they have been matched with birth parents for counseling and case work, letting them know what is going on with the birth mother, discussing processes and next steps.
How did you begin working in the adoption industry?
I did a couple of research projects on adoption in college. I initially wanted to study adoption and policies from an anthropological standpoint and thought I could learn more about the field by working at an actual adoption agency. When I graduated college, I contacted agency directors I had interviewed for my project and let them know I was interested in getting into the field in any capacity. One agency happened to be hiring and brought me in for an interview. I started two weeks after graduation.
Being an adoptee yourself, what advice do you offer adoptive parents and birth parents who are beginning their adoption journey?
I don’t think the advice I offer is different because I am an adoptee, but I do think my ability to speak from personal experience helps me relate to clients a little more and instills trust.
What drives your passion for adoption?
I find it rewarding to work with a vulnerable population like birth parents. Helping them through this difficult process and being the person whom they can trust and talk to is important to me. I love watching the transition in birth parents as they begin to open up and acknowledge their emotions. For each birth mother I work with, I like to take their best quality and attribute that to my own birth mother, whom I probably won’t have the opportunity to meet. It’s a way for me to make peace with my own adoption story.
What would you say is the most rewarding part about your job?
I love when a birth mother calls or texts me or comes in for post-placement counseling and updates me on her life, how she is progressing and starting a new chapter, working through this huge grief experience and making something positive out of it.
How do you manage your work/life balance?
This has never been just a job for me, so it’s hard for me to separate my personal life from my professional life. It can be difficult to decide which text message or phone call can wait until tomorrow to be answered when I’m at home. My boyfriend is good at putting things into perspective when it’s time to create boundaries.
For someone who may be interested, what special skills are needed to do your job?
You have to be a natural conversationalist. One of the biggest parts of this job is not only talking to a complete stranger and building a rapport with them, but also building trust.
What are some of the misconceptions about adoption you would like to see put to rest?
People who are not part of the adoption world still say “give the baby up” when referring to adoption. “Placed” is the word we prefer to use as it attributes to the birth mother a thoughtful decision and not a defeat. If we can educate people on what adoption looks like today, I think they will be able to have more empathy for the triad.
At what do you think Adoption Advocates does a really good job?
Education. Having worked for an agency in the past that did not provide training for adoptive parents, and now working for one that does, I cannot emphasize enough the difference between those families and how much easier our families are to work with. Our families understand open adoption and why it is important for the adoptee and they respect and have empathy for the birth parent experience.
What would you like to see for Adoption Advocates in the future?
I would love if we could focus even more on education, providing training for social workers and medical staff.
Do you have a role model you look up to?
I don’t have one in particular, but I feel extremely fortunate to work for AAI because I admire all of the women I work with in completely different ways, and that is really rare.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time to unwind?
I love to cook and host, bringing my friends together for wine and cheese nights or game nights.
What is your favorite restaurant in Austin?
I’m a total foodie so I have different favorite restaurants for different types of food. My favorite place for pizza is Via 313, my favorite place for fried chicken is Gus’s, and my favorite place for breakfast tacos is Papalote.