Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Adoption Basics: the 3 main paths
You guys know I love adoption. I'd like to explain adoption to those who may not be familiar with it. Maybe once they have a greater understanding of how it works, they will consider adopting, too. Feel free to share!
There are 3 main paths to adoption: Domestic Newborn, International, and Foster Adoption. There's also a fourth, less common, adoption route, and that is private adoption of an older child. This can be due to a the disruption of a previously adopted child who is not doing well in their current family (sometimes called "rehoming"), or can be due to changed circumstances in a birth family. Regardless of the reason, it is handled legally in the same way that domestic newborn adoption is handled.
This is one way parents can bring a baby home from the hospital (or in some states, babies are discharged to a "holding" family that cares for them until the birth parents can no longer change their mind and reclaim their child. This is a brief period of time). Domestic newborn adoption involves a home study, creating a "profile" to show to pregnant women, and then advertising and waiting. An adoption consultant can help shop your profile around to multiple agencies, for more exposure. Some families' wait is very short, and some families never get a match. Most families wait several months, at least. Gone are the days when families "took a number" and got matched with the next available kid when their turn came up. Now, birth mothers and birth fathers look at several profiles and decide which family they want to raise their child.
If you go this route, you'll need to make decisions about what race, gender, risk factors, and special needs you are open to parenting. You'll also learn about the ICPC, which has to do with adopting across state lines. You'll pay homestudy fees, agency fees, attorney fees, travel fees, and possibly consultant fees. In some states, you may be asked to pay the birth mother's living expenses during her pregnancy.
You'll need to determine what degree of openness you wish to have with the birth family. Some adoptions are fully open, where both parties have contact information, and there's a regular exchange of photos or even get togethers as the child grows. Some adoptions are partially open, and contact is filtered through the agency, or parents choose to email photos at birthdays and holidays, but don't feel comfortable with the birth family having their physical address. Other families are not comfortable with continued contact, and do not wish to commit to a relationship after the birth.
International adoptions peaked in 2004 & 2005, and have been steadily declining ever since. Part of this reason, of course, is financial. During economic hard times, it's more difficult to come up with the thousands of dollars that the international adoption process costs.
Sending countries open and close their doors without warning, so some people are scared off by the idea that international adoption is too risky, meaning they may invest a lot of money and ultimately never get to adopt a child. This was the sad reality for parents caught up in the Vietnam and Russia closures. Guatemala and India used to be popular sending countries, but their programs have experienced shutdowns. Kyrgyzstan has recently reopened, Kazakhstan is closed. The list goes on and on. Many parents choose China because it's been a very stable sending country, with a clearly defined process, for many years. Other parents decide to try new programs (such as the ones popping up in Africa) in the hopes of getting a healthy baby without the wait of an established program.
International adoption involves a homestudy, immigration approval, submitting a dossier to the sending country, and walking through the steps required by that country.
My experience is with China, so other countries may vary a bit. China allows PAPs (prospective adoptive parents) to choose their child from a photolisting OR they can be matched by their agency. Although China had a surplus of healthy baby girls at one time, it's adoption program is now special needs only. However, special needs mean different things to different people. China classifies any health or physical issue as "special needs." Many parents find that a surgically correctable need is easily manageable. As you know, our Chinese girls have limb differences, and this has been a very easy "special need" for us, particularly because we live close to a Shriners Hospital, where they receive excellent care at no cost to us.
Often parents are surprised to learn that a condition they or one of their biological children has would have classified them as "special needs" in China, and they realize that they are already equipped to deal with that need, so they adopt a child with the same issue (thalessemia, dwarfism, etc.). Other times, parents work with certain types of special needs, and are completely comfortable handling those in their family (hearing loss, developmental delay, etc.).
Parents adopting internationally can usually choose the gender and age of their child. You generally cannot adopt a baby younger than about 9 months old, due to the amount of time the process takes, and the Hague Convention requirement than a home be sought for the child in country first. Countries with more than one ethnic group usually do not allow families to state an ethnic preference. Most countries give you a "referral" for a specific child prior to travel. A few countries expect you to travel "blind" and find an acceptable child once you get there. As you can imagine, "shopping" at an orphanage is a heart wrenching experience.
Families adopting internationally will pay homestudy fees, placement agency fees, immigration fees, fees for translation of their documents, and various fees required by their sending country. The largest chunk of cash, however, comes in the form of travel expenses. With more and more countries requiring either 2 (and sometimes 3!) trips or a 4 week "bonding period," travel fees add up fast. Airline tickets run over a thousand dollars per person for many international destinations.
When we originally went through foster licensing in 2008-2009, I thought of foster adoption as "the cheap route" to the kids I wanted. However, I've since come to see it as a ministry, and I would love to be in a position to foster sometime in the future.
If you adopt using this route, you need to be prepared to love and let go. Foster care's first goal is reunification. However, many times this is not possible. The next option is relative placement. Sometimes relatives don't step forward to care for a child or sibling group until it's obvious that the case is going to adoption. This can be heartbreaking for PAPs who have gotten attached to the child/children in their care. Families hoping to adopt from foster care will be asked what level of "risk" they are willing to take in this regard, but there are no guarantees. Generally, families who want babies will have to accept some risk, and families who want no risk will have to be willing to adopt a slightly older child, as it takes time to terminate parental rights.
Children are available from newborn on up, and you will be asked about your age, gender, and race preferences. You will be asked what special needs and risk factors you are willing to consider. Sometimes there's a known history of drug and/or alcohol exposure in the womb, sometimes the child is removed from a parent that is mentally incapable of parenting. It's easy to say yes to a cute little baby, but you need to understand the long term ramifications of these issues.
One huge advantage to foster adoption is that it's the least expensive option. Your homestudy services will be provided without significant cost to you (you may have to pay fingerprint fees and such). You will have to pay to furnish the child's room and make your home safety compliant (we had to buy a locking cabinet for the garage, and another fire extinguisher). You do not usually have any attorney fees or court costs. Most families receive a stipend while fostering, and in special needs adoptions, they continue to receive a stipend after the adoption is complete. There are also college scholarships specifically for kids who spent time in the foster care system.
In many areas, there is a shortage of foster parents, and willing homes are always full of children. However, this is not the case in all areas at all times. We found this out the hard way, being licensed for an entire year without a single placement. We were licensed for 1-2 children, 0-4 years old, so it wasn't a matter of us being "too picky," either. Generally, families willing to take in teens or difficult to place children (medically fragile, or behavioral issues) are always in need.
Choosing your adoption path is the first of many decisions you will make along the journey. Once you get the ball rolling, you may even find, (as we did) that you need to change paths. Remember that adoption is a process, and you will experience personal growth along the way as you make choices and learn new things.
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