Adoption can be one of the most rewarding and overwhelming experiences of your life. Without a doubt, it will change your family forever. Adoption may be the perfect choice for your family but it may not be the best option for every family. The adoption process is a rollercoaster of emotions, paperwork, and love. The whole process can seem extremely overwhelming but in the end it will all be worth it if you do decide that adoption is the best route for you and your family.
We wanted to go over the most frequently asked questions about adoption from those considering adopting because power is knowledge. If you fully understand the adoption process than it will make it that much easier to decide if this is the path you would like to go down. First ask yourself, “Is adoption right for me? Remember, it’s equally important to explore the other side of the question: “Am I right for adoption?”
Who can be an adoptive parent?
Most people are eligible to adopt, regardless of whether they are married or single, their age, income, or sexual orientation. Determining eligibility to adopt is based on a process of mutual assessment and preparation by the prospective adoptive parents and social worker or agency, called a home study, which will be explained in detail further into this blog. You can be experienced parents with children in your home, or first-time parents or even have grown children. Having a disability does not automatically disqualify a prospective adoptive parent. If considering international adoption be aware each country has specific requirements and restrictions. Prospective adoptive parents are usually in the 25 to 50 range, but age requirements can be even more flexible depending on the age of the child. Many countries permit older adoptive parents adopt older children.
Who Are the Children Waiting for Adoption?
More than 101,666 children currently in fostercare are waiting for permanent homes in the United States. Most are school-aged children or older or may even be a sibling group that should stay together. Many have emotional, physical, or learning disabilities. More than half of the children come from minority cultures.
Most children waiting for adoption live in foster or group homes because their parents were unable to care for them. Often, personal and family problems made it impossible for the parents to maintain a home for their children. Some of these children have been abused, neglected or abandoned. Not all children seeking homes are older children. There are also many adoption agencies that only work with infant adoption which is when the mother determines that she is not ready or able to parent and chooses to place her child for adoption. We will go into detail about infant adoption later in the blog.
Can the Biological Parents Come Back to Take a Child?
In order for a child to be officially adopted, the child’s birth parents rights have to be relinquished either voluntarily or through the courts. For many older children needing homes, the child may already be legally available for adoption before a placement occurs. In domestic infant adoption, that is not the case. Each state has different laws regarding the relinquishment of parental rights. Many states have a revocation period, the time after placement when birthparents can change their minds. Here is a great blog post from an adoption professional and new adoptive mother about why the revocation period is important. In the event that a birthparent changes their mind after placing the child in a home, this is call a disruption and happens in only a small percentage of adoptions. It is important for prospective adoptive parents to remember that this may be the most difficult decision someone is making and the revocation period is a time for birthparents to be absolutely certain it is the right decision for them.
Can I Adopt a Child of Another Race?
Yes. In October, 1995, the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) became effective. This act and subsequent revisions bar any agency from discriminating because of race when considering adoption opportunities for children, if the agency receives federal funding. Another law affecting transracial adoption is the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which establishes provisions for the placement of Native American children. It is vital to not go into considering transracial adoption as being “color blind.” Here are some additional resources to explain why:
Can I Adopt a Child in a Different State?
Yes. The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), passed in 1998, requires state agencies to speed up a child’s move from foster care to adoption by establishing time frames for permanency planning and guidelines for when a child must be legally freed for adoption. Among the new law’s provisions:
- shortens the time-frame for a child’s first permanency hearing;
- offers states financial incentives for increasing the number of adoptions;
- sets new requirements for states to petition for termination of parental rights;
- reauthorizes the Family Preservation and Support Program.
How Long can it Take to Adopt?
The timeframe to adopt an infant domestically in the United States includes many different factors. Most prospective adoptive families are able to go from the application process to being “in the books” which means they are ready to be shown to expecting parents in about 6 months.
The wait after going in the book can range from a few days to a few years. The wait time can be affected by many factors, one of the largest being how open the adoptive family’s profile is. The wait time also depends on what type of adoption you are pursing, the agency that you are working with, and how many placements that match your key are being made.
There are two stages in the adoption process: pre-placement and post-placement. Placement is when the child enters your home, pre-placement describes the time before and post-placement the time after. There is a pre-placement waiting period for all adoptions. The time frame, like the cost, varies with the type of adoption being pursued. With a completed homestudy in hand, the process to adopt a child with special needs can often proceed quickly and be completed within a few months. On the other hand, for families who are only open to Caucasian infants with zeroe prenatal drug/alcohol exposure, the wait can take much longer with 3-5 years passing between going in the books and a placement.
After placement, your agency will have to supervise your family for a legally-mandated length of time before finalization can occur. Typically this post-placement time period will be no less than six months from the time of placement.
What Is a Homestudy?
The home study is a written document your caseworker writes about your family and includes basic information drawn from interviews with your family and information provided by third parties. Generally, a home study includes:
- Family background, statements, and references
- Education and employment
- Relationships and social life
- Daily life routines
- Parenting experiences
- Details about your home and neighborhood
- Readiness and reasons about your wanting to adopt
- Approval and recommendation of children your family can best parent
Here are some suggestions regarding the home study from adoption social workers.
How Does Foster Care Differ from Adoption?
Foster care is meant to be temporary shelter for a child with the end goal focusing on reunification. When reunification is not possible, the child awaits adoption.
Foster parents may be able to adopt the child in their care if the child becomes available, through a foster-adopt program with their agency. In fact, most adoptions in the United States are by children’s foster parents. Beginning as a foster parent is also one way that you may be able to adopt a healthy infant or toddler. But you are not required to be a foster parent in order to adopt.
Adoption happens when a person is granted legal and permanent parental custody of a child along with all rights, responsibilities, and filiation. The adoptive parents take on all responsibilities of raising the child. Adoptions can occur between family members or strangers. Adoptions can happen privately or through public adoption agencies, adoption attorneys, or through an adoption facilitator.
How Can I Adopt an Infant?
Depending on several factors, such as your openness to race and disabilities, you have a number of options available for adopting infants or toddlers. They include agency adoption (both public and private), private adoption, identified adoption, inter-country adoption and foster adoption.
Whatever option you choose, you will need to complete the homestudy process to be eligible to adopt. We suggest that you contact a number of agencies to learn about their procedures for approving families for adoption. Building Your Family offers great tips when contacting agencies to find the right fit for your family. Remember, it is important to obtain fee information in writing from any agency, attorney, intermediary or consultant before starting the process.
Why should I use an adoption agency instead of an attorney or a facilitator?
Adoption agencies can be public or private. They are regulated by state law and are overseen by a licensing department that ensures that they follow the laws of the state. Some states even require adoption agencies be involved in adoption procedures regardless of an attorney or facilitator being used. Using an adoption agency cuts out the middle man. Facilitators are normally people who are not licensed or regulated to do adoptions. Facilitators act as intermediaries between prospective adoptive parents and expecting parents, they must outsource the Home Study and use an attorney to finalize the adoption, which often results in high fees. Using facilitators in many states is illegal. Attorneys also must outsource their home study services and many do not provide counseling to expectant parents. Attorney’s fees can be unknown since they usually charge an hourly rate as opposed to a fee for service like most agencies. Using attorneys to facilitate adoptions is also illegal in several states. The financial benefit of using an agency is that in the event of a disruption, most agencies have policies which count the fees you have already paid towards another placement whereas facilitators and many attorneys consider the fees earned and families would need to pay again for another match.
What will it Cost to Adopt?
The total fees for an adoption consist of multiple elements. Each adoption is unique and the fees vary. It is important to be aware of all of the costs related to an adoption and you must make sure that the entities you compare are quoting all fees involved, not just their service fees. Adoption costs may include:
- Adoption professionals’ service fees
- Marketing expenses
- Home study fees
- Expecting mother expenses
- Legal fees
- Travel expenses
Is There Financial Assistance to Help Me Adopt?
Since we just mentioned above how expensive adoption can be, we wanted to reassure you that there are ways to raise money for your adoption through fundraising, grants, financial assistance and tax returns.
A growing number of companies and government agencies are offering adoption benefits, which can include a financial reimbursement for legal expenses, agency fees, medical expenses, post adoption counseling, and other expenses, as well as paid or unpaid leave time and help finding resources and referrals. Check with your employer to find out your company’s policies.
Federal legislation was passed in June, 2001 that increases tax credits and exclusions for all adoptive families. The Hope for Children Act taking effect on January 1, 2002 provides an adoption tax credit of $10,000 for all adoptions from 2002 and thereafter, and a tax exclusion of up to $10,000 for employer-provided adoption benefits, effective in 2003. Learn more about tax benefits for adoptive parents visit the IRS. Resources4Adoption is another great spot to find all the available adoption grants and loans.
Most children registered with agencies as having special needs have already been classified as eligible for financial assistance, also called subsidies. Sources of assistance may be federal or state funds. It is important to discuss subsidies with your social worker and local department of social services and to have a written adoption assistance agreement prior to adoption. Many children many also receive medical assistance in the form of a Medicaid card. A child’s eligibility for adoption assistance is based on the child’s need and not that of the adopting parents.
Remember that you will have Support throughout the Process
Not only is your social worker going to help you through the whole adoption process, but they should be there right by your side after the adoption as well. They will be able to provide you with names of other adoptive parents or suggest different adoptive parent support groups in your area. Some agencies will pair a waiting family with a “buddy” family who has already adopted a child with similar circumstances, while other agencies sponsor their own parent groups. If for some reason you have trouble finding adoptive parent support groups in the area that you live, The North American Council on Adoptable Children provides a searchable database of parent support groups throughout the United States and Canada.
Most importantly, it is key to remember that adoption is not a one size fits all process. Each family will need to decide what the best path is for them.