Okay, so you have decided to start the adoption process, now what? Where do we start?
Trust me, I have been there. In the next few minutes, I will try to break down the steps of the process and create an adoption to-do list of sorts. I will also try to educate you on some of the terminologies along the way. There is a lot to learn, so take a deep breath and make a plan!
- Decide what kind of adoption you want to pursue.
There are several ways in which a family can adopt a child.
Domestic Adoption- refers to adoption that takes place in America. This includes private adoption, infant adoption, and foster care adoption.
International Adoption- refers to adoption that takes place in another country.
- Partner with someone who will guide you along the process.
Whether you choose to work with an adoption lawyer, the county in which you reside, or an adoption agency, this partnership will be invaluable as you navigate the complicated waters of adoption. When selecting an agency, you need to pick one that you connect with and feel as though you have good communication with. There are a lot of options, and you need to be careful to pick one that you feel understands your heart and desires when it comes to adoption. You will be in a very vulnerable place, so having someone that you trust is not just an option; it is a necessity.
If you are adopting internationally, you will want to align with an organization that has a lot of experience working with the particular country you plan to adopt from. The process of international adoption will vary from country to country, and if you don’t have someone who understands the criteria, it may be hard to fully trust the process.
If you plan to adopt an infant domestically, you will need to choose between a private agency, lawyer, or work with their county of residence. Adoption lawyers and private adoption agencies that specialize in infant adoption will be able to guide you throughout the process. Again, I cannot emphasize how important it is for you to establish a good rapport with whomever you hire to help you on this journey. There will be many ups and downs, and you will need a steady hand to guide you along the way. Keep in mind, when you are talking with someone about your heart’s desire to grow your family and entrusting them to find-connect-and-finalize the entire process, you will need to trust them and have open communication with them. It is so important.
If you are planning on adopting through the foster care system, you will have to work with either a private agency that facilitates adoption through foster care or with your county. There are many deciding factors at play, but I want to mention a few.
Financially, if you adopt through your county social services, the cost is virtually free. If you work with a private agency that helps connect children in foster care but legally free for adoption, you will likely pay up to $5,000. Sometimes the cost can be more, but often, even less.
Another thing to consider is that many counties will only offer foster-to-adopt as an adoption option, and a private agency will focus on placing adoption-ready children in the homes of potential adoptive parents. When this happens, the connection is called a match. As long as the child’s parental rights are no longer in place, known as legally free for adoption, it will be a permanent placement.
The third thing I wanted to mention is that a private agency may have more of an ability to take the time to get to know you and offer things like support groups or other services set up to help you have a successful adoption.
- Take a look at the kids.
If you are looking to adopt from foster care, there are many avenues set up to allow you to connect with waiting children. The process of adopting through foster care can take time; there is no schedule for such things. You can connect with kids in person through adoption picnics and events held throughout the year by county children’s services. You can also look at state photolistings. On state photolisting websites, you will see, in real-time, kids that are waiting to be matched with their forever families. It can be very beneficial to read bio’s and see the faces of children who represent the demographic you are looking to adopt from. You can select very specific parameters on these sites, and it will allow you to gauge the number of children who match your ideal match.
- Make some hard decisions.
Before fully aligning with your agency, lawyer, or county, you will need to decide what you are open to. Let me give you some idea as to what I mean. Who are you open to? Will you welcome a sibling group? If so, how many kids max? What ages are you open to? If you want to adopt a child from foster care, it may be helpful to know that it can take a long time if you are waiting to adopt a young child.
With our first adoption (both were from foster care and came as adoptive placements), we were open to a single girl, age birth to five. Our daughter had just turned five, and we waited five months from the time we got our license, and she moved in with us permanently. With our second daughter, we were open to a single girl, ages birth to three. She was three, and we only had to wait for two months until she was permanently ours forever.
In both cases, our adoptive matching happened really fast. It is possible to be matched as soon as you sign the last document and complete your last licensure class. However, in most cases, you will have to wait longer. You honestly just never know.
You will also need to make some hard decisions, whether you adopt domestically or internationally, about what parameters you will be willing to accept in a child. I know this sounds terrible, but you will have to face the harsh reality of what you are taking on when you are adopting. Saying “no” when it comes to a medical issue (mental or physical) is not selfish or heartless. In fact, it may be the best decision you make for that child and yourself. If you have no medical experience and do not feel like you have the capacity to learn how to manage a high medical need child, you should say no to a child who has significant medical needs. If you are able to learn to care for and meet the needs of a child who has medical issues, you may want to open your heart and mind to the possibility of parenting a child who needs medical support. This could be anything from a heart condition to diabetes or anything in between.
Another area to spend time evaluating is the mental health side of a child. In adoption, trauma happens when a child is separated from a mother. Trauma can be caused in utero too. Considering that, you will likely be faced with some mental health needs in the future. That isn’t always the case, but it is very important to keep this in mind as you may need to understand trauma and the effect of trauma on a developing baby’s brain. When looking to adopt a child, it is good to find out as much as possible about the biological family. This information will not only help you know about biological family history, but if a mental or physical issue should arise, you will have a framework to help diagnose or even be prepared for what may show up in your child down the road.
- Training and Licensure
Once you have partnered with your agency, lawyer, or county children’s services, you will begin the process of getting ready to say yes to a child. There are many similarities in the process, no matter if you adopt internationally, privately, or through a county.
You will need to take classes that will help you better prepare for your adopted child. I know the classes can be a bit draining, but there is a lot of important information to be gleaned from them. If you are already parenting a child or children, please try to keep an open mind. Parenting a child who you did not carry, or watch your partner grow, can result in a lack of connection. This isn’t bad, but it is common. Many adoptive parents have to work hard to foster a connection and are surprised when the connection isn’t present even though they desperately longed for this child. In cases of adopting a child who is not an infant, you will be the second, third, fourth, fifth parent to the child. In training, you will be given a wealth of information and scenarios that may be a reality for you once your child comes home to you. It can be a very difficult process, and it will be good for you to remember what you have been taught in training.
- Preparing for your child
Unlike bringing a biological baby home from the hospital, your child will be arriving at a home that must be vetted and inspected by people outside your family. You will need to complete a home study facilitated by your lawyer, agency, or county social worker. Your home study is a packet of information about all areas of your life. Each member of your family, who lives under the same roof as the person/couple trying to adopt, will be interviewed. They may be interviewed more than once; it really just depends on the situation. Anyone over 18 who lives in the home will also be fingerprinted and background checked. You will have to disclose your financial information, like tax filings, bank statements, and all debts. Your home will be inspected by the fire department and social workers. You will also, often, be given the opportunity to create a photo book or some kind of book to be given to the children to let them know a little about who they will be calling mommy, daddy, brother, or sister. The home study seems very overwhelming, but it really is doable.
You will also have to complete a bunch–like a BUNCH(!!!)–of paperwork. It can be very tedious, but it has to be done, and often, there are deadlines that need to be met.
- Once you have completed steps 1-6, you will begin the waiting process. During this time, you will likely experience every emotion in the book. You may have failed adoptions. You may say “no” to a child presented to you. This is all common and completely part of the process. Try to embrace the unknown and trust the process. It can be very uncomfortable and make you doubt your decision to adopt. Stay the course and pray for your child along the way. Try to find joy in the dreams of what will come and peace in the waiting.