This is Part Four of a series on Adoption called Everything I Want You to Know About Adoption. To see the links to each individual post in this series, click the “adoption” tab on the nav bar at the top of the blog, or click here. Beginning with this post, I am going to cover a series of Adoption FAQ’s. If you have a question about adoption, feel free to ask. I promise to answer it in this series.
FAQ Disclaimer: Please note, the answers to this question and all FAQ’s in this adoption series are my opinion or stem from my experience and/or the experience of other close friends and family members who are also adoptive parents. I am not certified by any adoptive or governmental agency to process adoptions. Adoption experiences differ from family to family. Adoption laws differ from state to state and country to country. Please double check anything I tell you with a qualified adoption attorney or adoption agency, as adoption laws change constantly.
The adoption process can be overwhelming and confusing, no doubt about it. It’s no wonder this is the number-one question I get on adoption. This post is an attempt to break down the information for those prospective adoptive parents who want to explore adoption, but have no clue where to begin.
Know Your Options
There are several adoption avenues available in the United States, each with their pros and cons and their own set of requirements. The very first step in the adoption process is to gather information about the various options:
Domestic Adoption, through a licensed, private agency: This is where you go to an adoption agency and the agency finds a child for you. I have many friends who have adopted using this method.
Domestic Adoption, through a local public agency (also known as foster care, child welfare or social services): This is similar to private agency adoption, but you go through governmental agencies instead. My sister adopted her son using this method, through her county’s foster-to-adopt program.
Domestic Adoption, independent: This is where adoptive parents and birth parents locate each other themselves (allowed in most states) or adoptive parents utilize an adoption coordinator/facilitator (only allowed in a few states) or adoptive parents use an adoption attorney as defined by the state law. We adopted our son, Elijah, using an adoption coordinator in the state of Florida.
International Adoption: This is where adoptive parents adopt a child from a different country. This almost always requires an agency that specializes in international adoption. For international adoptions, your state laws, laws and regulations of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS, formerly INS), the U.S. State Department, and the laws of the specific country will apply. This is how we adopted our daughter, Elliana. I tell her story here, here and here.
Consider the Following Questions:
1. What is the age of the child you hope to adopt? You can often adopt newborns through domestic adoption, but not through international.
2. How much can you afford to spend on adoption? Generally speaking, private agency adoptions and international adoptions are the most expensive, followed by independent adoptions, and finally, local public agency adoptions (which are often free and provide government assistance to the adoptive parents). In 2001, Elijah’s adoption (independent through an adoption coordinator) cost approximately $15,000. In 2007, Elliana’s adoption (international from Guatemala) cost approximately $35,000, which included travel expenses.
3. What race or nationality do you want to adopt? Don’t feel guilty for exploring this question. Adopting international children or children of different ethnic origins from the adoptive parents carries with it its own set of issues for the children and the parents. It’s vital to educate yourself before you decide, because not all families are equipped to handle this.
4. In choosing a country, how long are you willing to wait? How many trips are you able/willing to make to that country? How long can you stay when you do travel? Each country has different requirements regarding all these factors.
5. Are you open to high-risk children or children with medical conditions? My heart hurts to even write this, but high-risk children (abused, neglected or exposed to drugs during pregnancy) and medically challenged children are often the hardest to place and, therefore, the easiest and least expensive to adopt. Like interracial adoption, you should not feel guilty for asking if this type of adoption is right for your family. Adopting a child with known medical or social limitations carries with it a special set of challenges. It’s important to educate yourself on what those challenges may be before you make this decision.
6. Do you want an “open adoption” (where the birth family and the adoptive family know, on some level, the identity of one another) or a “closed adoption” (where the two families do not know each other’s identity). Different countries and agencies may only provide one or the other.
7. What level of risk can you tolerate? Generally, in international adoptions, children are not considered “adoptable” until all parental rights are terminated—so the risk of a biological parent later claiming his or her parental rights for the adoptive child are very low. But in domestic adoptions, most states have a waiting period (which differs from state to state) whereby the birth parents can reconsider their decision to place their child for adoption for a certain period of time. The longer the waiting period, the higher the risk to the adoptive parents. Agency adoptions provide the most governmental supervision and oversight (lower risk for the adoptive parents) whereby independent adoptions through attorneys and facilitators provide the least amount of governmental oversight (higher risk). That’s not to say all facilitators are high-risk. They’re not. We adopted Elijah through a private adoption coordinator, and everything was completely ethical. It’s just important to thoroughly investigate before you proceed through a private adoption situation.
8. What type of adoption is available where you live? Since adoption laws in the state where you live govern your options, it is essential that you know what types of placements are allowed or not allowed by your state’s laws. If you pursue an adoption across state lines, you must comply with the laws in both states before the child can join your family.
9. Do you meet the requirements set by the private agency, the laws of your state or the country from which you hope to adopt? Many countries have age restrictions and health restrictions. Some states or agencies require you to be married, some do not. Some private agencies or states prohibit lesbian and gay adoptions. Some agencies will only accept families of certain a certain faith. Some will require that you have no other children living in your home or give preferential treatment to childless couples. Agencies and foreign countries are generally upfront about their requirements and usually require only a quick internet search to discover what those requirements are.
Talk to Other Adoptive Parents
In exploring these questions, I found it very helpful to talk to other adoptive parents about their experiences. Most adoptive parents I’ve met are very willing to give information to other prospective adoptive parents. Ask them if they can spare some time to discuss adoption with you. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, either. How much did it cost? Why did you choose that country? What challenges did you face? Were you happy with your agency? Most adoptive parents understand the value of going into the process with eyes wide open. If the adoptive parents don’t feel comfortable answering a question, however, then respect their privacy and move on.
In considering the experiences of others, use common sense. Remember, all families and adoption situations are different. Just because someone had a positive or negative experience, it doesn’t mean you will.
Read, Read, Read
At the very first stage of the adoption journey, I would highly recommend reading this book:
It was, for me, the most informative book I read on adoption. It gives a great overview of all the adoption options, as well as the pros and cons of each. But it also walks you through all aspects of adoption in an easy-to-follow, and often entertaining way. I’m all about “easy-to-follow” and “entertaining.” I have other books I’d recommend later in the journey, but for now, this would be my number one pick.
Trust Your Gut
As you gather information, you will start to have a gut feeling about what route will work best for you and your family. If you don’t feel right about a certain agency, then don’t proceed. If you feel confident and secure in pursuing a “higher risk” adoption, then by all means, move forward. Trust that inner sense. I believe it’s one of the many ways God leads you to your child.
Q4U: If you are an adoptive parent, what avenue did you choose to adopt your child? Why? Do you have any questions for me you’d like to see in the FAQ’s?