Adoption isn’t as easy as one, two, three, but the whole alphabet is involved in the process. The more you know about the concepts for which each letter of the alphabet stands, the easier it will be to understand what is happening in a given adoption situation. The knowledge of these letters provides decision-making power.

A is for adoption. If you are going to adopt or place a child for adoption, you need to know what adoption is as well as what it is not. Adoption is a legal process which involves a permanent change in a child’s family status. It is not a temporary fix for a birth parent. Through an adoption, a child obtains new parents in the eyes of the law. Adoptive parents are substituted in place of the biological parents. A child will always be related biologically to the woman who birthed him and the man who fathered him, but he no longer has any legal connection to them following an adoption. The adoptive parents take on all the rights and responsibilities of caring for the child as if he were their biological offspring.

B is for bonding. A legal bond between a child and his adoptive parents is created instantly with the act of entering a final judgment of adoption. A different kind of bonding, where there is a link of trust between the adoptee and his caretaker, is not one act but a process. That process takes time and may occur slowly depending on the age of the child and what the child has experienced prior to the adoption.

C is for consent. A birth parent voluntarily placing her child for adoption will be asked to sign a document evidencing her intent in writing. This document is called a consent; it may also be referred to as a surrender since the birth parent is surrendering the right to parent her child. Because the document is used in legal proceedings, legal requirements must be met for the execution of the consent. These requirements may include a required number of witnesses to watch the birth parent sign or a requirement that the document be notarized. The time frame in which the consent may be signed is also often constrained. For example, for a newborn’s adoption, a waiting period following delivery may be imposed before the birth mother is legally authorized to sign her consent. Such a limitation allows a woman time to recover from the rigors of childbirth before taking action with life-altering consequences.

D is for drugs. One of the reasons a birth mother may opt to place a child for adoption is that she is battling substance abuse. If she uses illegal drugs during pregnancy, her baby will be exposed to whatever substance she has taken. A drug screen might be run during the pregnancy if the birth mother obtains prenatal care. Nevertheless, drug screens are not a routinely run test for pregnancy Medicaid patients; an OB-GYN may specifically order such a test to be run. Couples desiring to adopt newborns must determine what amount, if any, of drug exposure to the baby they would be willing to consider.

E is for emotion. Although adoption is a legal process, it is not a clinical and sterile one. Adoption inevitably involves the emotions of the participants. Prospective adoptive parents ride an emotional roller coaster as they wait for a match; then they wait to see if the match will be successful. Birth mothers also experience emotions; these emotions are often heightened by the hormone hurricane of pregnancy. Even if a birth mother knows in her head that a placement is what is best for her child, she is still human and must deal with the emotional consequences of her decision. Tears are often shed in an adoption; they may be ones of joy or they may be ones of heartbreak.

F is for fees. In addition to exacting an emotional cost on prospective adoptive parents, an adoption journey imposes a financial cost. Fees must be paid to the adoption entity for services rendered in connection with the adoption. Agencies typically charge on a flat fee basis. Under this financial arrangement, a price for services is fixed at the outset and is paid regardless of how much, or how little, work the adoption entity performs. On the other hand, attorneys may charge for their services on an hourly basis. The bottom line for the total amount of fees will depend on the actual work done on the case; the more work that is done, the higher the fees are. Under an hourly rate scenario, it is impossible to know at the outset the exact dollar amount of fees required to handle the case.

G is for grief. Every member of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptee) experiences a loss as the result of an adoption. The birth parents grieve the loss of the opportunity to parent a biological child. The adoptee grieves the loss of the opportunity to be raised by (and perhaps have a connection with) his biological family. The adoptive parents grieve the loss of having the opportunity to raise a biological child.

H is for home study. When a child is adopted by parents who are not closely related biologically, a background investigation of the prospective adoptive parents, called a home study, is required before placement may occur. The law assumes that blood will take care of blood, but there is not necessarily such incentive when the child is not a blood relative of the adopting parents. Therefore, adoptive parents will be thoroughly vetted by a licensed individual or entity to establish for the court that there is no concern with placing a helpless child in their custody. Is the couple financially capable of caring for the child? Are there concerns for the child’s safety due to a criminal record or child abuse history of a prospective adoptive parent? A favorable home study is a green light for a child to be placed in the home.

I is for interstate. Adoptions involving a child from one state being placed with prospective adoptive parents in another state are called interstate adoptions. All states are parties to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, also known as ICPC, which requires that both the sending state (where the child is coming from) and the receiving state (where the child is going) review and approve the paperwork before the child leaves his home state. It is illegal for the child to be taken from the home state for adoption prior to such clearance having been received.

J is for judge. Court proceedings are required for an adoption to be finalized. A judge presides over these legal proceedings and enters the final judgment of adoption. For most judges, an adoption is the only happy type of hearing ever handled.

K is for kin. Some adoptions involve relatives adopting a family member such as a grandchild or a niece or nephew. When kin adopt, a home study may not be required. The kin are still biologically related to the child following an adoption, but their legal relationship to the child changes. A grandparent adopting a grandchild, for example, becomes the child’s parent as far as the law is concerned.

L is for law. Adoption is a matter of state law. Each state has its own laws governing how an adoption must be handled in that state. Accordingly, there are 50 different ways of handling an adoption in this country. How adoption occurs in one state is not necessarily the way it will happen in a different state.

M is for matching. A birth parent who opts to pursue an adoptive placement must determine how the prospective adoptive parents are to be selected. The selection process, known as matching, allows the birth parent to have as much or as little input as she desires. Should the birth mother wish to make the selection herself, she may be given profile books to review which provide pictures of and information on couples available for her consideration.

N is for name. Adoptive parents may not birth a child, but they may still enjoy choosing his name. The adoption process allows an adoptive couple to select a desired name and have the child legally given that name by court order. A new birth certificate reflecting the child’s adopted name and showing the adoptive parents as his mother and father is issued following finalization of the adoption.

O is for open. In arranging for an adoption, the adoption entity will address the issue of contact between a birth parent and the adoptive couple. In cases where direct, ongoing contact is contemplated following placement of a child, the adoption is known as an open adoption. The frequency and type of contact will vary from case to case depending on the desires of the particular parties. If no direct contact is desired, the adoption is called a closed adoption.

P is for paternity. A birth mother does not get pregnant by herself. Thus, any adoption must address the issue of a child’s paternity. The birth mother may or may not be able to identify who the biological father is. Even if identified and contacted, that man may deny paternity. In some instances, more than one man may be a possible biological father. There are both legal and practical reasons for addressing the issue of paternity. A state’s adoption law specifies how a biological father must be dealt with for an adoption to go forward. Adoptive parents want to learn what they can about the biological father in the hopes of obtaining medical history on him and his family.

Q is for questions. Everyone involved in an adoption has questions. Asking questions is important because it allows the person asking them to gather information to assist with their decision-making process. A pregnant woman asks questions so that she will have information on the adoption option; this information enables her to make an informed decision on the best option for her child. Prospective adoptive couples ask questions to determine what they can expect ahead in the adoption process and if an offered opportunity is right for them to pursue. Adoption entities ask questions to ascertain what a prospective adoptive couple wants and what a birth mother needs. The only stupid question is the one that remains unasked.

R is for revocation. Under certain circumstances, a birth parent may be able to revoke, or take back, her consent to the adoption after the document is signed. State law specifies what those circumstances are, if any, and the required steps for any allowed revocation. The ability for a birth parent to revoke adds risk to any placement opportunity for a prospective adoptive couple.

S is for supervision. After a child is placed for adoption with a non-relative, a supervisory period occurs prior to finalization of the adoption. The supervising individual or entity, typically whoever conducted the preliminary home study, will be responsible for follow up to determine how the child is faring in the adoptive home. Is adequate care being provided? Is bonding occurring?

T is for termination. A child cannot have two sets of legal parents. Thus, for the child to be adopted, the parental rights of the biological parents must be severed. This termination of parental rights makes the child legally available for adoption. Termination is effected by court order.

U is for unexpected. The way an adoption case plays out is not scripted. Every case is different, and unexpected events often occur. The baby may decide to make an early appearance. This is due to dates that are merely target dates, and only a small percentage of babies are born on their actual due date. Unexpected, last minute placements can occur. “Stork drops” happen when a birth mother shows up at a hospital to deliver and decides at that point, with no prior preparation, that she wishes to make an adoptive placement.

V is for vital records. While the final judgment of adoption signals the end of the adoption court proceedings, additional paperwork is required. An application must be made to the state’s department in charge of vital records (sometimes referred to as an office of vital statistics) for a new birth certificate for the child. The final judgment of adoption is evidence of the legal recognition of family connection while an amended birth certificate is evidence of the child’s birth, legal parentage, and name.

W is for waiting. More couples wish to adopt than there are babies available for placement. Accordingly, a prospective adoptive couple may wait for some time before a placement opportunity arises. The process is not simply filling out paperwork, passing a home study, and then automatically receiving a child.

X is for X-rated. The circumstances under which a child is conceived are not always pleasant. A placement decision may be made by a birth mother because her pregnancy was the result of a rape, an extramarital affair, or trading sex for drugs.

Y is for young. Most people think of a baby or young child when adoption is mentioned. While an infant adoption is a common type of adoption, an adoptee can be any age—even an adult.

Z is for Zofran. Pregnant women often experience morning sickness and nausea during pregnancy. Zofran may be prescribed by an OB for a birth mother who suffers from these symptoms. A review of prenatal care records obtained by the adoption entity will indicate the medications which have been prescribed for the birth mother, whether Zofran or other drugs. Being aware of what medications a birth mother has taken, or at least has been prescribed, gives a prospective adoptive couple an idea about the birth mother’s health and that of her unborn child.

Just as knowing one’s alphabet lays the foundation for one to read and write, knowing the ABC terms of adoption gives prospective adoptive parents a foundation for maneuvering through the adoption process. Knowledge of the terms and concepts in the adoption process enables couples to get through this exciting but emotional time with a greater sense of understanding and a better ability to make good decisions. Learn those adoption ABC’s!

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