You keep seeing social media posts about adoption. You hit the “love” emoji when your friend just finalized the adoption of their child. You read about the multitude of children around the world in need of loving, permanent families. Your heartbreaks. The thought enters your mind, “Maybe I should adopt?” Even though you come up with a thousand excuses as to why this might not be the right time for you to adopt, you still keep going back to it. Adoption is tugging at your heart. You think about it upon waking and before your eyes close to another night’s sleep.
If this is you, please know that you are not alone. It is very normal for prospective adoptive families to think about it for years before actually taking the first steps. If this is you, then perhaps, the time is exactly right for you to start the process of adoption. No time is perfect, of course, but when something has been on your mind for years and just won’t leave, maybe it is meant to be.
If you are married, start having conversations right away. Engage your spouse in what your heart is telling you. Both spouses must be on board, but it is acceptable and normal for one spouse to feel hesitation. Spend time together discussing all of the positive and negative ramifications of adoption. Both spouses need to be open about this. If a couple starts the adoption process not seeing eye-to-eye on it, chances are they are not ready—at least, not yet. After all, adoption is life-changing!
What are the first steps to adopting a child? As a child welfare professional of over 18-years and an adoptive parent, the best advice I give to anyone considering adoption is to do their research. Learn about trauma and how it impacts child development—from in the womb and beyond. Seek out local resources and agencies regarding the needs of children (in foster care) in your community.
There is a plethora of articles, blogs, and information available on the internet regarding adoption. It is wise to get a full picture of it—meaning, to read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Sure, reading blogs written by adoptive parents is a wonderful way to learn about how adoption impacts families, but it is equally (if not more) important to read the perspective of adoptees.
Another first step to starting the adoption process is to understand what adoption is. Adoption is the transference of custody of a minor child to an adult guardian. It is legally binding. Adoptees are granted as heirs to their (adoptive) parents as a biological child is. Adoption is permanent and life-long; as if one was born to a family.
Besides the legal-sounding definition, adoption is also life-changing, difficult, joyous, full of loss, evolutionary, and so very complex. Although there are moments that are happy and tender, there are also moments of pain and grief. It is important to recognize that adoption is not always going to feel good—for you or for the children you adopt.
Another valuable aspect of learning about adoption is to understand the perspective of biological parents who chose to make an adoption plan for their children. Biological parents are very important members of the adoption triad: adoptive parents, adoptees, and biological parents. Exploring their feelings of loss, grief, confusion, hopefulness, and joy will help you to better understand your role in the entire process and how you can facilitate an open, healthy connection between members of the adoption triad.
The knowledge you gain from reading about the experiences of members in the adoption triad will assist you in determining the type of adoption that might best for you. That may sound odd, but all of the wisdom gained by investigating the perspective of others definitely helps! When you are ready to begin the process, it is time to move into selecting the type of adoption that will be the best fit for your family. Adoption can be achieved through the following: international adoption, domestic or private infant adoption, relative or kinship adoption, and adoption from foster care.
Determining the type of adoption that you are going to move forward with is important because of the differences in the process. International adoption, domestic/private infant adoption, and adoption from foster care all go through agencies. You may or may not need full agency involvement with adopting a relative unless the child you are adopting is currently in foster care. Often, (private) relative or kinship adoptions can go through attorneys. For relative/kinship adoption, you will still need some limited agency involvement as most courts require an approved home study with background screenings. Home studies will be discussed later on in this article.
Now, here comes the fun and slightly scary part. After you have decided what process to adopt you are going to take, it is time to start telling people – but do so with a filter. It is wise to alert your family members and close friends. The reason being is that you will need support throughout your adoptive journey – before and after the adoption is finalized. Do not be afraid to tell them. Most will be supportive, some may not.
It is super important to educate people close to you about adoption. If you have friends or family members who have already adopted children, they will be your biggest allies and teachers. Keep those people close to you. They will be your “go-to” people for connection, learning to have a lot more humor than you once thought you needed, guidance on a variety of issues that will come up, and your source for prospective babysitters and childcare.
Others may not react with the same excitement and feelings that you desire for them too. Do not let that get you down. Sometimes, the people closest to you are also the most protective and reserved about adoption. I’d like to think that their feelings about adoption truly come from a place of concern, and for the most part, I believe that to be true. However, despite the openness and adoption-positive language that is more prevalent in our culture, there are still many folks who literally just do not get it or only want to focus on the stories that are hard to stomach. Case in point, some horror movies, and crime-themed television shows are based on “orphans” and others who come from an adoption history. This is a shame.
When my husband and I first told a family member that we were taking classes to become foster parents and would possibly pursue adoption, if able to, this family member’s reaction was, “You’re not going to get one of those ‘meth babies,’ are you?” That was it. No questions were asked other than that one. Not even a peep of excitement or hopefulness was mentioned. We were floored and upset. Our gut reaction was to say, “Well, we might take all of the ‘meth babies’!” However, we did not say this. Instead, we took the time to explain how and why babies come into foster care, the goal of reunification, and the reason why we were feeling led down the path we were on. Now, after many years and three kids later, this family member is supportive and loves our children.
Do not let someone else dictate this road for you. It does not belong to them. Adoption does not happen in a vacuum. Yet, it can be isolating. People will ask questions that may seem offensive, but try not to automatically go on the defense. I’m a firm believer in “knowledge has power.” The more you can educate others with the truth, the better off everyone will be. If people choose to walk alongside you or choose to walk away, adoption can still affect everyone involved. You will learn this as you go along. This will be one of the many reasons why you move from being an adoptive parent to an adoption advocate.
The next first-step in adopting a child is to find an agency to work with (if you have been told that you need one). There are many adoption service agencies actively working around the world. The best way to identify the right one for you is by calling, asking questions, reading agency reviews, and asking others who have adopted through the agency you are interested in.
Each agency typically has its own process—application, some training (if applicable), home study assessment, matching or placement on a list, placement of a child with post-placement services, and finalization of the adoption. Be prepared for a lot of paperwork. I’ve often said that if one is fairly uncomfortable about telling his or her own story, then going through the process of being approved for adoption will definitely be challenging. It is vital to remember that agencies are given one of the most important tasks in caring for children—the task of seeking and approving families to take in the most vulnerable citizens in our world. This is something that should never be taken lightly!
After you select an agency or decide to go through your local child services department, you will be asked to attend training and/or begin the home study process. Do not worry! Social workers do not enter your home with white gloves on to check for the amount of dust you have on a bookshelf. Yes, they will and should do full walkthroughs of your physical surroundings, and, yes, you definitely need to clean that dust off of the bookshelf; however, the goal of adoption social workers is to assess your suitability for adoption.
The home study is essentially a written biography of your life, including background screenings, employment history, personal references, financial and health history, home, marriage, your understanding of the impact of adoption, and your thoughts regarding child development and discipline. Being assessed for a home study takes time and often people want to rush the process, but remember, agencies are tasked with a very important role.
Once you have an approved home study, the next step is waiting. Yep. That is basically it. You may wait for a foster placement or for a profile to come available through the foster care system. You may wait for matching with a domestic infant placement or with the country you desire to adopt from. There is a lot of waiting involved but good things do come to those who wait.
While you are waiting, go back to the beginning. Do more research. Take additional training. Read books written by all members of the adoption triad. Gather your support network and keep them informed of where you are in the process. Do not give up. Instead, dig in. Keep praying and keep learning. Children are always worth the wait.
So, what are the first steps to adopting a child? As you can see, there are many “first steps.” You may bounce between various steps—trying one avenue and end up doing another. Along the way, your eyes will be opened and your heart will be challenged. You will meet (whether face-to-face or via the internet) many others out there who are currently navigating adoption or are veterans at it. You may also face many disappointments and failures. These could come from case goal changes with the foster care system, biological parents choosing the parent (which should be celebrated), and adoption disruption.
Adopting a child is not a black-and-white experience. It is not a step-by-step process that directly leads from point A to point B. Instead, adoption lives in the gray. Along the journey, you will have to take huge leaps of faith, navigate many pitfalls and overcome several mountains. It is definitely an experience unlike any other, but it is also a sacred experience that ends up with children finding the love they so desperately need in this world.
Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.