Outstanding Caseworker: Ma Shonn Sullivan
Ma Shonn Sullivan is an adoption assessor in Ohio. A mother she worked with suggested that we feature Ma Shonn on our blog. She wrote:
“From day one, when we inquired on a beautiful little girl on your website, Ma Shonn Sullivan was our contact…We had several phone calls with Ma Shonn and her team, and you could hear in her voice how much she loved this girl and needed to find the best family for her…It was evident how invested Ma Shonn was in this process.
“Finally, we were chosen!! Ma Shonn called with great news, and we cried together! We brought our daughter home in December 2010. To this day, Ma Shonn emails and visits when she’s in the area. We love Ma Shonn and are so thankful for presence in our daughter’s life!”
You found this family on the AdoptUSKids website—and they found you! How did that happen?
The little girl this family adopted—I’ll call her Jennifer—is a very special child who had a lot of things going against her, including being born with fluid on the brain and cerebral palsy and being a quadriplegic. The doctors didn’t expect her to live past her tenth birthday.
When it became apparent that Jennifer’s foster family was not planning to adopt her, I registered her on AdoptUSKids and started searching for families. This family came up, and reading their profile, they seemed like parents who would be committed and help Jennifer thrive. The mom worked with special needs preschoolers, and they have a family member who has special medical needs, so they had a realistic picture of what it would look like to parent her.
As it turned out, at the same time I was looking at them, these parents were looking at Jennifer’s profile on AdoptUSKids! They inquired about her the same week that I contacted their worker to inquire about them.
It sounds as though you got to know this family very well. What did the process from inquiry to adoption look like?
Every matching process starts with a conference call with the family and their worker. It then progresses to visits at homes of the family and the child.
If all continues to go well, we take the child for a pre-placement visit with the family, so that we can observe the child and sometimes meet more family members. Jennifer’s was an interstate adoption, so another worker and I flew with her to their home state. During that visit, we got to spend some time with their extended family, too. It was a beautiful thing to see, because though they had just met her, each one treated Jennifer like she’d always been part of their family.
Once Jennifer was placed with the family, I worked closely with them and their agency to identify resources and brainstorm solutions to challenges they were having. Ten years later, I’m still doing that, to some extent. They send me holiday cards, emails, and pictures of Jennifer on summer vacation. When she’s having it rough or is in the hospital, they let me know, so I can send good thoughts and suggestions their way. But basically, because of this family, today she is shining!
Why do you think this family has been so successful?
I think they’ve been successful for several reasons. They are out-of-the-box thinkers who are always willing to trying new approaches. They understand how to navigate systems and have been very open to looking for specialty services for Jennifer. They’re not opposed to having service providers come into their home to provide services and support to meet Jennifer’s needs.
They also have a very strong support system within their church and family—grandparents, aunts, cousins. That’s really key in the ongoing success of a family. Because when life happens, and people don’t have support, then it becomes stressful.
And—very importantly—these parents were committed to Jennifer from the beginning.
This was my first job out of college. That was 23 years ago, and I never thought that I would still be in the field of child welfare. With any vocation there are always challenges—and rewards. Fortunately, the joys of helping children achieve permanency have far outweighed the challenges. It’s an honor and a blessing to play a role in helping families like this one come together.