Arkansas is a beautiful, landlocked state in the southern region of the United States. Though only the 33rd most populated state, there are many children available for adoption and in the foster care system. It can be difficult to understand who can be adopted, who qualifies to adopt, the rules and procedure for adoption, and what birth parent expectations for adoption might be. Here is everything you need to know to complete a successful adoption in Arkansas.
Types of Adoption
In the state of Arkansas, there are essentially three types of adoption prospective adoptive parents pursue: adoption from foster care, domestic, or international.
According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, there are more than 5,000 children in the foster care system in Arkansas, but only 1,600 foster families. Children in the foster care system have been removed from their biological parents or legal guardians due to abuse, neglect, and/or alcohol or substance abuse on the part of their caretakers. Sibling groups, older children, and children with special needs are in particular need of forever homes. Families interested in adopting from foster care will work with the state public agency, Department of Human Services/Department of Children and Family Services, or DHS/DCFS, to complete their adoption.
Families interested in domestic adoption in Arkansas typically adopt a newborn baby and work with either an adoption agency or independently with an adoption facilitator and an adoption attorney. Adoption across state lines is possible thanks to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, or ICPC, so it is not necessary for a family to reside in Arkansas in order to adopt from the state. Children available for international adoption are typically older and between the ages of 15 months to 8 years old at placement. The age of the child(ren), and the potential for sibling groups varies by country. Most children eligible for intercountry adoption have minor or medically correctable special needs or more severe lifelong special needs. In some countries, a child’s age (typically over 5) is enough to qualify them as special needs.
Who Can Adopt
Depending on the type of adoption a family is pursuing, there are different qualifications for adoption in Arkansas. For adoption from foster care, prospective adoptive parents must be at least 21 years old, have no more than 45 years age difference between them and the child, and have no serious health conditions that would prohibit them from raising a child. Applicants may be married or single. The prospective adoptive parents’ home must be large enough for every occupant to have at least 50 square feet of space and children of the opposite sex must have their own bedrooms if they are age 4 or older.
For domestic adoption in Arkansas, there are no age requirements, but most agencies will have an age and marriage length requirement in place. Singles are welcome to adopt. The prerequisites for international adoption vary by country and many countries have age, income, health, educational, and martial requirements. Interested families should consult their adoption agencies, or visit the U.S. Department of State for current country adoption regulations.
The Adoption Process
Once a family decides on what type of adoption they wish to pursue, the next step will be complete a home study. A home study is essentially an investigation into the type of home and environment that will be provided for the intended adoptive child. Included in a home study are background checks, employment letters, physicals, and reference letters from family and friends.
During the home study, a state licensed social worker will meet with the prospective adoptive parent(s), typically three times, to explore their motivations for wanting to adopt, walk through the home to make sure it is safe, and talk to the prospective adoptive parent(s) at length to make sure they are prepared to parent the type of child they have identified to adopt. Families adopting domestically or internationally will identify and work with a state licensed social worker to complete their home study, but families pursuing adoption from foster care in Arkansas will typically work directly with the state public agency, DHS/DCFS. Once the home study is approved, families pursuing domestic and foster care adoption in Arkansas are eligible to be matched with a child. Families adopting internationally will have the additional step of assembling a country specific dossier before they will be eligible to match with a child.
For foster care adoption in Arkansas, most families will identify a waiting child from the Arkansas Heart Gallery or wait for a child to be identified by DHS/DCFS. Once a child is identified, a committee will meet to determine if the child is the best match for the family and vice versa. Timelines for referrals vary but it is important to remember that the main goal of DHS/DCFS is “to find a family for the child, not a child for the family.” However, it is possible to work with a private agency to identify a waiting child, particularly if a family is adopting from foster care across state lines.
Most families adopting internationally will need to use an adoption agency to complete their adoption. When selecting an agency, it is important to ask the right questions to make sure the agency is a good fit for the family. The adoption agency will guide the family through dossier compilation, and then translate and submit the dossier for approval by the sending country. Once the family is approved and “logged in” to the country’s central adoption authority, the family becomes eligible to receive a match. Typically an agency has their own “matchmakers” in the country who will identify a child of the age, gender, and special need(s) a family has requested, but it is possible to identify other waiting children through sites like Rainbow Kids. Once a referral is received, a family will evaluate it with their agency and an international adoption specialist, then make a decision. Should the family choose to move forward they will complete the referral acceptance paperwork then begin the child’s visa process with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. At the same time the child’s country of residence will begin the court process so the family may adopt their new child.
For domestic adoption in Arkansas, families may choose to use an adoption agency or an adoption facilitator to identify prospective birth parents. The issue of advertising is not addressed in the statutes of Arkansas law, so prospective adoptive parents may choose to market themselves in any way they wish. Once a birth mother has been identified, the adoption agency or state-licensed adoption attorney will work to negotiate the terms of the adoption. In Arkansas, there are no specifications given for birth mother expenses but prospective adoptive parents can expect to pay for any prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care. They can also expect to pay reasonable living expenses, counseling, and attorney representation for the birth mother. Before an adoption hearing is held in court, a full list of all payments made in connection with the adoption must be presented.
Prior to the birth, the birth mother and prospective adoptive parents will make a plan so both sides will know what to expect on the big day. Consent may be given any time after the child is born, but must be done either in a court of law or in the presence of an individual authorized to represent the court.
If the birth father is known, he must consent to the adoption if the couple is married. If the father is unknown, there is a putative father registry in Arkansas which will allow the birth father to receive notice of any legal proceedings pertaining to the child, provided he has registered. But just because a putative father shows interest does not mean consent is necessarily needed. In order for paternal consent to apply, the putative father must show he has a personal and/or financial relationship with the child. Consent to the adoption may be withdrawn within 10 calendar days of the child’s birth or within 10 calendar days of signing, whichever is later. Consent becomes irrevocable once the final adoption decree is entered into court.
Finalizing the Adoption
Adoption in Arkansas may only be finalized after the termination of parental rights and after a state license social worker has conducted at least two post-placement visits to ensure the child is adjusting well to their new home. Depending on circumstances, families may need to obtain an Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, clearance, or an ICPC clearance. If a child is adopted across state lines, the family must wait to leave Arkansas until receiving ICPC clearance, then follow their own state laws with regard to finalizing the adoption. On the day of finalization, families will appear before the court with their new child and attest they will care for the child and provide a safe environment for them to grow up. Any child over the age of 10 must consent to the adoption. The judge will then issue a final adoption decree and reissue a birth certificate naming the new family as the “natural parents.”
The process of international adoption is slightly different in that most adoptions are finalized in the country with a local court or the country’s central adoption authority. Sometimes, the new family is present, like in China, and other times the adoption is completed without the family even being present, like in many parts of India. All families will travel to meet their child in the country, spend a few days at the child’s orphanage, then travel to the U.S. Embassy in the country. At the embassy, families will receive their child’s visa (either an IR-3 or IH-3) and will be cleared for entry to the United States. Upon entry to the United States the child will automatically become a U.S. citizen.
For those families whose adoptions were not completed overseas, such as South Korea, then the family will need to undergo the process of readoption upon returning home. Regardless of whether the adoption was completed overseas or not, readoption may still be a good idea as it ensures vital statistics will have a record of your child’s foreign birth.
For domestic adoption in Arkansas, at least two post-placement visits are required. States vary in regard to their post-placement visit requirements, so if a family adopts across state lines they will need to follow their own state’s mandates. Regarding post-adoption contact between the birth and adoptive families in open adoptions, the statute is not addressed under Arkansas adoption law and thus solely depends on the birth mother and adoptive family. Families adopting internationally will need to meet both Arkansas post-placement requirements and their child’s country’s post-placement requirements. Country specific post-placement reports can last anywhere from a few years to every year until the child is 18 years of age. Though they can be a hassle, it is important to complete them in a timely manner as post-adoption reports demonstrate to the sending country that their children are happy, healthy, and safe.
For many prospective adoptive families, the cost to adopt a child is a concern. As domestic and international adoption can range from $30,000-$50,000, financing an adoption can be tricky. Thankfully, there are grants and adoption loans available for families in need. Fundraising and crowdfunding is another great way to ease the burden of adoption costs. For families adopting from foster care, there is no fee to complete a home study—if the home study is conducted by DHS/DCFS. Additional subsidies are available through DHS/DCFS to offset the costs of medical reviews and legal fees to finalize the adoption. All families can take advantage of the Adoption Tax Credit, which in 2018 allowed a credit of up to $13,810 per child. The credit may be applied all in one year or over the course of up to five years. Domestic adopters may “credit as they go” and apply for the credit the year they begin their adoption, even if the adoption results in a failed adoption. Families adopting internationally must wait until their adoption is complete to claim the Adoption Tax Credit.
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