Do you remember life before smartphones? Do you remember life before the internet? Do you remember life before MTV? Are you old enough to remember life before TV?

What do all of these things have in common?

Visual technology! The visual is powerful! We, as humans, remember some of what we hear, but we remember most of what we see! That’s why a photolisting website is so powerful!

Photolistings are a great way to connect with a child you don’t know. That one visual can make an imprint on your heart that previously had not been there. Reading a profile on paper does not tell you as much as seeing that child’s face. But a photolisting can make all the difference! You can read something in a child’s eye or smile that makes an instant connection.

A photolisting is a website or a page that promotes children who are free for adoption. They usually contain a photo, a short profile, and contact information of their adoption social worker. But there are things that you do need to be aware of when looking at photolistings. Not about the photos, but about the children. So, my advice is to ask the adoption social work some key questions before pursuing that cute little kid in the photo. Here are some questions:

         - Does this child have any special needs?

Most children adopted through the foster care system are adopted by their foster parents or by a relative. There is no need to promote those children because there is a plan in place for their permanency. But sometimes there are children who have special needs and will take a special person with special skills to care for them for the rest of their lives. Therefore, exposure on a photolisting website will go a long way in finding that right family. What type of special needs?

                - Older kids. When we think of adoption, we think of babies. But older children and teens need to be adopted too! The older a child is, the less likely it is that he will be adopted. In fact, if a teen is not adopted by the time he “ages out” of the foster care system at 18 years old, the more likely he will be to find himself incarcerated, homeless, jobless, or more likely to have a child in the Child Protective Services system. Adoption provides stability, direction, guidance, and a home they can always fall back on.

                - Sibling groups. Brothers and sisters need to stay together! Siblings share the same parents, share the same culture, and sometimes share the same trauma experiences. Splitting up a sibling group sometimes does more harm than good. Don’t keep scrolling when you see multiple children that need to be adopted together!

Sometimes a child is listed on a website without their siblings. A good question to ask is: are there any other siblings out there I should know about? Sometimes there are older siblings that are living on their own. Sometimes there are siblings living elsewhere that were adopted by another adoptive family. Why weren’t those children adopted together? Is that other family interested in sibling visits? These are all things that are good to know.

                - Developmental Disabilities. Many children on photolistings have a developmental disability such as Down syndrome, autism, blindness, deafness, or other physical ailments that require full-time care. Don’t let that frighten you! If you have a heart and compassion for these children, there are a variety of resources that can support you as you support your special needs child. Take a leap of faith! You may just be what this child needs.

                - Behavioral special needs. Some children who are photolisted have behaviors that other children don’t have. These behaviors should be disclosed before final placement is made. These are not “bad” kids but kids who have experienced extreme abuse or neglect. If their profile says, “looking for a home with no children,” or “child needs to be the youngest child,” it is for the safety of other children. In the right environment, these children can thrive! It will take patient, skilled adoptive parents, with a good counselor and a good support system!

         - Is this the first adoption for this child/youth?

Surprisingly, there are some children who go through multiple adoptions. For whatever reason, due to unrealistic expectations or behavioral issues or undisclosed mental illness, sometimes adoptive parents get in way over their heads. After adoption, especially for older children, there is a short “honeymoon” phase, where everyone gets along. Then once the youth feels comfortable, more unusual behaviors come out that the adoptive parent was not aware of. This prompts some parents to “undo” the adoption. This is not quite as easy as it sounds because the adoption is supposed to be a final legal act.

         - What is the story behind the photo?

Behind each photo of a child in a photolisting website is a story that may break your heart. They may have been abused by being physically hurt by a father or stepfather. They may have been neglected, which is the number one reason why children are placed in foster care. Exposing children to drugs is usually the reason why CPS labels a case as neglect. This may mean that the parents are using, possessing, or selling drugs in the presence of children. Or it could mean that a mom was using drugs while pregnant. Lastly, is the label of abandonment. This means that the primary caregiver, usually the mom, has either left the children without supervision or left the children in the care of another person and fails to come back to care for their children. In any case, each child has experienced things that most adults have never experienced, let alone, other children. You need to know the original reason that the state took custody and how this child became free for adoption.

         - How many other homes has this little one been in?

You need to know how many homes a child has been in prior to yours. Do you remember your first day of school? Remember how big and scary everything looked? And how you were expected to trust the teacher, even though she was a total stranger? That’s how it feels to a foster child every time they have to move, yes, even when they have to move to an adoptive home. They may not fully understand why their current foster home is not adopting them. They may not fully understand what adoption is. They may have feelings of being unwanted, of being unloved, of feeling abandoned.

So, even though you may feel like this is a joyous occasion, they may not feel the same way you do. It’s just another move to them. It will be up to you to provide love and consistency in order to earn their trust. So, when you look at that photo, know that trust is a two-way street. And know that you have a tremendous responsibility to prove to them that this is the last stop.

         - May I speak to current/previous placements?

When making final preparations to receive an adoptive child, it would be very helpful to glean information from the previous foster home. Ask the adoption social worker if it appropriate to make contact. The previous home can give you information such as: what is the child’s favorite food? What are his bedtime rituals? Who does he do in school? Does he have any medical issues? What are his eating habits like? Can we keep in touch?

         - Will there be a post-adoptive communication agreement?

In other words, you need to ask the adoptions worker, if there will be an “open adoption.” This is when there is continued contact with the biological family for the benefit of the child. This may or may not be the biological parents. But this could also be grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. This is good to know up-front because you don’t want to be shocked at a later date.

         - What is the photolisting process?

Many agencies and states vary in the way they proceed with photolisting. So below is a general outline of what to expect. Consult your adoption worker for more details.

                - Foster care. Virtually all children who are listed on photolisting websites have previously been in foster care. Through no fault of their own, they have been victims of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. These children have been removed from their primary caregiver because their parents have been unable or unwilling to care for them. In foster care, foster parents make these children a part of their own family while the birth parents work toward reunification.

                - Termination of Parental Rights, or TPR, is a legal term that describes what these children’s parents have gone through. For whatever reason, these birth parents have lost custody of their children, either because of their battle with addiction, mental illness, abuse, or a litany of other reasons. After offering services to these parents and every benefit of the doubt, if these parents are unable or unwilling to do what it takes to regain custody, their parental rights are severed. This may be done voluntarily or involuntarily. The time it takes for TPR to occur varies from case to case, but the average time is about 18 months.

                - Free for adoption. Once TPR is completed by the courts, the child becomes “free” for adoption which means that any appropriate adult who is certified to adopt may make inquiries about that child. TPR also means that the child may be promoted through the media either privately or publicly, through radio programs, TV spots, YouTube videos, or photolisting websites.

                - Signed release for media promotion. In order for a photolisting to take place, a court-ordered media release must be signed. This release is drawn up by the state and signed by a judge. This gives the adoption worker the freedom to place photos, profiles, and videos on social media, websites, TV radio, and other promotional material.

                - Photos. Most of these children are photogenic. But sometimes they are not. That doesn’t mean they are not adoptable, they just don’t feel comfortable taking pictures. On the other hand, they may love taking pictures but may present themselves quite differently when you meet them. Again, this should not deter you. It’s all about trust. The more time you spend with the child, the more he will trust you.

                - Profiles. A profile is a snippet of information placed alongside the photo that tells you a little bit about the child. Things such as his favorite TV show, favorite food, goals, and dreams. You should not expect detailed history on this child in the profile due to confidentiality laws. That’s why it’s so important to speak to the adoption social worker. You cannot make an educated decision from a photo and a profile.

         - What is my responsibility? 

In order for you to be considered a prospective adoptive family, you need to do a few things first. Here’s a quick checklist:

                - Find an adoption agency

                - Complete a home study

                - Become certified/licensed to adopt

                - Complete your own profile on an adoption website

                - Let your social worker know which child you are interested in

         - What is the transition process?

Once you are successfully matched to a child whose needs you can meet, the transition process begins! Though this varies from state to state, my suggestion is that the transition should be as follows:

                - Day visit at the child’s home

                - Day visit at the adoptive parent’s home

                - Overnight visits

                - Weekend visits

                - Week-long visits

                - Final placement

Of course, after final placement, the “waiting period” may vary, but it is generally three to six months until the final adoption court hearing.

Adoption is a blessing for all! That first photo you view is your first connection with that child, but it is only the first step in a beautiful process to become a forever family! Remember what author and speaker Josh Shipp, said: Behind every successful youth is an adult who didn’t give up on him. Every youth is one caring adult away from success!

Be that adult!

Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.