Choosing to build a family through adoption is a wonderful journey. Understanding the laws regarding who can adopt, who can be adopted, and the process to complete an adoption is the first step for any family. Like every other state in the union, Rhode Island has its own set of rules and regulations regarding adoption. Here is everything you need to know about adoption RI.
Where to Begin
In Rhode Island, there are four kinds of adoption possible: domestic, foster, international, and kinship. Families interested in domestic adoption can choose to adopt independently or through an adoption agency. For families adopting through an agency, be sure to ask the right questions to ensure the agency is a good fit. The majority of domestic adoptions are of newborn infants. Adoption RI dictates that interested families must only be older than the child they are adopting, and married couples must petition jointly to adopt. Adoption from foster care requires prospective adoptive parents to be at least 21 years old. They may be married or single and be of any sexual orientation. Children in foster care come from all backgrounds, and school-age children (ages 5–12) are common. At any time, there are roughly 150 children in Rhode Island foster care waiting for their forever home. Prospective foster families must first attend an informational meeting held through Adoption Rhode Island. If interested in international adoption, the first step will be to choose a country and then ensure age, income, and health requirements are met. Children available for international adoption typically have minor to severe special needs and range in age from 8 months to 15 years old at referral. All international adoptions must be completed through a Hague-accredited adoption agency. Rhode Island has no specific laws regarding kinship adoption.
Regardless of whether a family chooses domestic, foster, or international adoption to formally begin the adoption process, a home study is required. A home study is a compilation of documents about the prospective adoptive parents. During the home study, a state-licensed professional will meet with the family to help them navigate what kind of child would the best for the family and to prepare the family to welcome an adopted child. Home studies also include background checks and police clearances. In kinship adoption, the home study process for adoption RI may be waived.
Once a family’s home study is complete, they are eligible to be matched with a child. In Rhode Island, it is illegal to advertise to birth parents, but families pursuing domestic adoption may use either an adoption facilitator or an adoption agency to identify a birth mother. Families will work with the birth parents to establish if the adoption will be open or closed, plans for relinquishment, and birth mother expenses. There are not many specific laws in adoption RI regarding financial payments to the birth mother, though direct cash payments are not allowed. Families residing in Rhode Island who choose to adopt from foster care will wait for a match following the completion of their home study. The Rhode Island Photo Gallery is a great way to identify waiting children. Additionally, Adoption.com has a photolisting page of children available for adoption in RI. The waiting period may take a few weeks or up to two years depending on a family’s openness. Once a referral is received, the family will arrange a visit with the child through the child’s social worker. This first visit will only be a few hours.
The international adoption process is slightly different in that following the completion of their home study, families will work to complete a country-specific dossier. A dossier is like a more in-depth home study the contents of which will be sent to the child’s country of origin. In most countries, agencies will facilitate a match through a “matchmaker,” though sometimes a family may identify a waiting child through a site such as RainbowKids. The timeline for a referral varies upon the country, though most timelines range from one month to two years. Once a referral is received, a family will evaluate the file and see if it is a good fit for their family. If so, a family will complete the acceptance paperwork then work with their agency to file for the child’s visa.
Domestic adoption RI follows the birth plan agreed upon by the birth parents and the prospective adoptive parents. Prospective adoptive parents may be in the room when the child is born, and placement may follow shortly thereafter. The adoptive parents may leave with the child and but should remain in state for 15 days. If adopting from out of state, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) will allow the relocation of the child once clearances are obtained. It is important to remember that placement and the relinquishment of parental rights are two different things. In all cases of adoption, the birth parents’ rights must be terminated for the adoptive parents to legally become the child’s parents. In domestic adoption RI, consent to the adoption is given 15 days after the birth of the child. Consent becomes irrevocable after six months, at which time, the final order of adoption will be submitted to family court. A challenge to the consent may be brought during this six-month window, but family court has the right to deny the challenge if the court views the challenge to not be in the best interest of the child. There is no putative father registry in Rhode Island.
Families pursuing foster care can expect their adoption to occur over time. Following the initial meeting with the child, visits will increase in frequency and duration leading up to an overnight visit and a full weekend stay. On placement day, the child will move into the home. Parental rights have been terminated already for all children eligible for adoption in the foster care system. Likewise, in international adoption, children eligible for adoption have been legally found available for adoption. Once travel approval is granted by the child’s birth country, families will obtain the necessary visas and prepare to meet their child. While in country, families will complete the adoption and visa process for their new child. Upon entry into the United States, the child will become a U.S. citizen.
Finalizing the Adoption
Following the placement and relinquishment of the child in domestic and foster care adoption in RI, a period of six months must pass before the adoption may be finalized in family court. During this time, a social worker will schedule at least two visits to the family to assess how the family and child are adjusting. The post-placement reports will be included in the documents submitted to family court, and the social worker submitting the documents will make a recommendation to the court that the adoption be finalized. Families who adopt domestically or from foster care across state lines must adhere to the post-placement reporting and finalization in their home states.
Families adopting internationally will follow a slightly different process in that in most international adoptions, the adoption is completed in court overseas in the child’s home country. For adoptions completed overseas, the child will enter the United States on an IH-3 visa. In some instances, such as South Korea, the adoption is not finalized in-country, in which case the family will need to pursue a readoption of the child once they return home. In this case, the child will enter the U.S. on an IH-4 visa. Regardless of whether the adoption was finalized in-country, many families still choose to readopt as readoption provides their child with a state certificate of foreign birth. Like domestic and foster care adoption, post-placement reporting will take place with a social worker, though countries vary in the length of time post-placement reporting is required.
One of the most daunting prospects of adoption is the cost. Families adopting domestically can expect to pay facilitator or agency fees, social worker fees, legal fees, and birth mother expenses. These expenses may include pre and postnatal medical care, legal fees, counseling fees, and living expenses. The total cost of adopting domestically is roughly $20,000-$30,000. Families pursuing international adoption can expect to pay between $30,000-$45,000. Expenses include agency fees, in-country fees, orphanage donations, and travel costs. For families adopting from foster care, there is no fee to adopt a child in state care in Rhode Island.
To offset costs, many families choose to host fundraisers, garage sales, or apply for grants. Remember when applying for grants, or even when fundraising, families should share their story. Why adoption? Why this child? What makes your family’s journey different? Still worried about financing an adoption? Thanks to the 2013 Adoption Tax Credit, families can claim $13,810 per child for qualified adoption expenses. Families adopting domestically or from foster care may “claim as they go,” while families adopting internationally must wait to claim the Adoption Tax Credit until their adoption is finalized. Families then have five years to claim the full $13,810 amount.
Whether domestic, foster, international, or through kinship, adoption is a beautiful way to build a family. Have you experienced adoption in RI? Did you choose domestic, international, or foster care? Any tips or advice you can share?