So you are thinking of adopting….now what?
Thinking of adopting? There are so many things to consider and questions to ask yourself that it can seem overwhelming. Where do you even start? Here are some basic tips to get you going.
First, the adoption journey is not for everyone. If, after doing your research, you decide that adoption is not the right path for your family, do not feel upset or discouraged. Adoption is not for everyone, just like pregnancy, fertility treatments or any other method of expanding a family are not for everyone. No method is better or worse than any other, just different, with each having its own set of benefits and challenges. You need to be very honest with yourself about your why. Why do you want to adopt? There are as many reasons to want to adopt as there are reasons for expectant/biological mothers to place children. You just need to have a very personal reason that will be your strength as you make this journey because the trip may be very long and difficult.
That being said, I’ll assume you decide that adoption is for you. There are some major decisions you need to make while thinking of adopting. Do LOTS of your own research. This info is from my own research and experience, but your circumstances may be different. When beginning the process, you will have a lot of decisions to make. The more open you are to a variety of situations, the faster you will be matched with an expectant/biological mother (in theory).
The basics- Choosing the type of situations to which you are open may be one of the few things you can control in this whole process. A lot will be out of your hands, but you need to decide if you are open to boys or girls, the age range you would accept, if you will take siblings/twins/triplets, and if you open to a child with special needs or that had substance exposure before birth. Special needs and substance use sound scary but there have been many advances in medicine that allow a variety of conditions to be fairly easily managed with the proper care, so do not automatically mark these as a “No” or “Never”. Do extensive research while thinking of adopting, talk to medical professionals, adoption professionals, and adoptive parents and decide what is best for your family. Also decide on your budget. Yes that sounds awful and the gut reaction is that finances shouldn’t factor into your decision, but be reasonable, responsible, and realistic about the amount of money your family can afford. Fundraisers and grants will help boost your own savings, but don’t base your entire budget on those resources. There are many ways to adopt and the costs can be as low as $0 or as high as $45,000.
International/domestic/foster-to-adopt- Once you have decided the basics, you need to decide the best route to find your child. The 3 main ways to adopt in the U.S. are international, domestic, or foster-to-adopt.
- International adoptions are usually for older children (6 months to 10 years) who are in orphanages. The biological parents will most likely not be the people deciding if you are a match for the child. You will be given the opportunity to accept specific children that match your search criteria, so you will have information about your child and often have photos of him/her before you ever get to meet. Many countries have fast track programs for families open to adopting a child with “special needs”. The definition of “special needs” varies by country and can range from having a cleft palate to more serious conditions. Many conditions are very treatable in the U.S., but maybe not so much in the child’s home country. The waiting period and expense for international adoption also varies by country. International adoption requires you to use an accredited adoption agency that works with the home country and a lot more paperwork and process than other forms of adoption. A home study is required, as with all types of adoption, but also extra background checks and clearances. The birth parents parental rights are terminated before you return to the U.S. and, in many cases, the child is fully adopted in the home country with little to no additional steps required in the U.S. Unfortunately, there are potential pitfalls unique to international adoption that can include unethical situations in the home country (like human trafficking basically), political turmoil that can close the adoption system and borders completely, misrepresentation of the child’s health, and having little to no information about the biological family. Average costs are $15,000-$45,000.
- Domestic adoptions in the U.S. are usually newborn adoptions where you are united with the baby at, or shortly after, birth. Laws vary by state regarding how you can be matched with an expectant mother (i.e. if you can advertise yourself). Most people work with an adoption agency or private attorney who will do the legwork to help you find a match. If you choose to use an agency, make sure they are licensed in your state or can work with you if not. Some agencies/attorneys will accept out of state families, but you have to be willing and able to travel to their state (or wherever the child is) for placement, which sometimes means a stay of 1 week to a few months after birth, depending on that state’s law. If you choose to use an attorney, make sure they are very experienced in adoptions. Adoption is a very different area than other types of law and you need someone who knows the law and the Court process. Agencies tend to have a wider reach with advertising for expectant mothers, while attorneys may work with fewer families hoping to adopt, so there are pros and cons to each. Most agencies and attorneys offer resources to both the adoptive family and the expectant family, like counseling . You will decide which types of situations you would accept (i.e. substance use while pregnant, family history of mental illness, biological father knowledge/involvement, etc.) and what level of contact you are willing to maintain. Most adoptions are now considered “open” but that is just a verbal agreement between the families of how often and how they will stay in contact going forward. This can be letters, pictures, phone calls and/or visits. Do not agree to a level of contact that you are not truly willing to honor once the adoption is final. You may have to take educational classes related to adoption and you will have to pass background checks and have a home study. You will create an online profile and/or a profile book that will tell all about your life that will be shown to expectant mothers/families that meet your search criteria and the expectant mother will decide which family she feels is a match. You will be contacted by your agency/attorney with the details and you will decide if you want to move forward. A meeting may be arranged with the expectant mother before the match is considered official. Once a match is official, you wait until the time of birth or placement, then you travel when the call comes. Your worker/attorney will let you know what to expect and what Court proceedings are necessary. The major drawback to this type of adoption for the matched family is that the expectant mother may choose to parent (aka “a disruption” or “failed match”), so you will not have a child and can potentially lose some or all expenses paid for placement. An expectant mother/father has every legal right to decide to parent before the consent for adoption becomes irrevocable (usually 3 days to a month, but vary by state) and, while a disruption is devastating to the adoptive family, the expectant mother/father has reasons for deciding against placement and has to do what she/he feels is right for her/him and her/his family, as do you. You may be matched within a few weeks or it may take several years. Typically, the more open you are to a variety of situations, the faster you will get a match, but by “faster” that can still mean a year or more. Costs can be $5,000-40,000, most situations with agencies are $25,000-30,000.
- Foster-to-adopt is the 3rd major type of adoption in the U.S. The foster care system procedures and regulations vary by state, but in general, children are removed from their original homes because of abuse or neglect, and these children range in age from birth to 17 years old. Newborns may be removed from the hospital and placed into foster care if drugs are found in their systems or if the family leaves the hospital without the child of their own choosing. Children placed into foster care go to foster care homes that have been pre-approved by the state. Potential foster parents have to take educational classes related to child care and parenting, have background checks and a home study. A child remains in a foster home until the Court decides if the child will return to the biological family (birth parents or other family relation) or the Court terminates the parental rights of the birth parents. A child cannot be adopted from foster care until the parental rights are terminated, which can take a few weeks or a few years. Social workers from your state assist you along the way. Costs are minimal for this type of adoption, usually $0-2,500, depending on your state. A monthly stipend may also be provided by the state to assist in providing for the child’s needs for a varying length of time. This type of adoption has the lowest financial cost to the adoptive family, but children are often older and may have special emotional needs to be considered that require special care and the time to final adoption may be long.
In short, there are many ways to expand your family through adoption. Look at your current family circumstances and your goals and desires and do a lot of research. Then you can make a great decision that you feel very comfortable with! Expect a lot of paperwork, a lot of too personal questions from virtual strangers (the social/adoption workers), some disappointments and potentially a lot of expenses, but when you have that child finally in your home, all that falls aside and you are a FAMILY! God will send you the right child at the right time. He did for us, the very day we had actually gotten so discouraged that we decided to put adoption on the back burner and just let whatever happened happen (3 days later, we had a son). It’s wonderful and so worth it!
Congratulations and good luck!