Thinking of Adopting? Read This First

Are you considering adopting a child? If you, you probably already know how daunting the thought and planning involved can be. But with a clear checklist of what you need to consider as a prospective adoptive parent, you’ll find that you can do your due diligence and put your best foot forward in the process — one day at a time. Obviously, every individual adoption is unique, but we’ve prepped some of the most important things most parents need to consider when starting out. Here’s the only adoption checklist prospective parents need.

Before applying: Who will you adopt with?

  • First, are you interested in a private adoption, facilitated by a lawyer or an independent adoption agency? This usually can include domestic or international adoptions.
  • Would you prefer to foster-to-adopt through the United States foster care system? The major differences tend to be in price (independent adoptions cost tens of thousands of dollars when you place, though some tax credits may get you much of that money back), and in the purpose of the system.
  • While foster-to-adopt does have many children waiting for adoption, they also have many children who are in the process of being reunited with their birth families. This is not the case with independent adoption agencies; both parties, if they choose to move forward, are expecting an adoption, not a temporary placement.
  • Think about whether you desire a closed or open adoption. The research has shown that there are slightly more favorable outcomes for the birth parents and the children placed into open adoptions, but both open and closed adoptions are available and you know your family situation best. Some agencies only do one or the other type of adoption, so keep this in mind as you research.
  • Some agencies have other requirements, like a documented struggle with infertility or a certain amount of years in a committed relationship or marriage. Some adoption agencies are also affiliated with a religious organization.

Application & home study

Arguably the most work-intensive part of the process, the application and home study will be a little different depending on your state and agency. Overall, a home study provides the state and agency with enough information to feel confident that they are placing a child into good hands when they facilitate your adoption.

For your application, you’ll probably give:

  • Basic demographic information about you and your family.
  • An application fee of some kind to get the process rolling.
  • Signed documents verifying that you understand what will come next in the process.

Once you have applied, you’ll receive a much larger packet of information and paperwork to complete. You may also participate in the following, which are common for adoption:

  • In-person meetings with social workers, either at an office or in your home or both.
  • More documentation, including extended narrative questions about your life, demonstration of your finances, your medical history, and your identity (birth certificates, proof of car insurance, etc.)
  • In-person or online training in understanding the unique circumstances and challenges of children who experience adoption or who spend time in foster care.
  • A preferences sheet or list of child characteristics: this is a long list of conditions, demographics, and other questions about what sort of child you will consider or will not consider. This sheet helps your social worker match you with a child who meets your preferences.

Lauren Jiang, LMSW, who is Director of Permanency & Client Services at Spence-Chapin Services to Families & Children, says the child characteristics checklist can be a bit of a surprise for many clients. “As families undertake this intimate home study process, they may worry that their social worker will judge them if there are certain special needs  or characteristics they are not open to; what I encourage prospective parents to remember is that your social worker wants the same thing that you do, for the right fit match to be made so that children are placed into families who understand their needs and parents are set up to succeed,” says Jiang. “Honest reflection when completing your child characteristics checklist is so important, albeit difficult.”

In many contexts, this will also be the time when you create a profile to introduce yourself to potential birth parents; this is especially common in domestic independent infant adoption. Hal Kaufman at My Adoption Advisor points out that one part of the adoption process that is in their control is their effort on this step: Prospective adoptive parents “can work hard to create an outstanding adoption profile, versus quickly throwing one together so they can check that box on their to-dos,” he says.

Waiting & matching

For many families, their home study is resolved in about 6 months, making them officially “waiting families.” During this waiting time, before you get an important call about a “match,” there are many valuable things you can do.

One of the biggest will be getting prepared to finance the adoption; while adopting from the foster system is not expensive, independent adoptions are a different story.  “The cost of adoption takes families by surprise ($20,000 to $45,000),” says Steffany A. Aye, LSCSW, LCSW, the Founder and Director of Adoption & Beyond, Inc. “Families don’t initially realize that most adoption agencies are not run by the state, nor do they received state funding. Therefore, private adoption agencies are supported like most any other business through fees for services or donations.” Making a plan for an adoption loan, adoption grants, or savings that can be reimbursed through adoption tax credits is an important part of the waiting process for many families. Other important tasks include:

  • If you are adopting an infant, learn what you can about pregnancy, especially if you haven’t experienced pregnancy. You’ll understand more of what the birth mother has gone through or is going through if you match mid-pregnancy.
  • Similarly, read as many books as you can about the developmental stage that you expect the child you will foster or adopt will be in. Read anything you can find about adopted children and how to provide for them well.
  • Meet up with people who have adopted or are adopted and listen carefully to hear their stories. They won’t be universally applicable to your circumstance, but every story will give you a new insight.
  • Accept hand-me-downs and purchase the necessities for a child’s room or sleeping space in your home. Resist the urge to purchase everything you can find for a child until you match since it could take a while. Your agency will have insight into what the essentials are and what you can run out and purchase during the first days after placement.

Matching looks different in different contexts; sometimes matching involves an in-person meeting with an expecting birth mom, while other matches involve meetings with a social worker and a child. Your agency or social worker will clarify what a match looks like and how it will proceed. Once you’ve matched, the next step is a “placement,” when you and the child go home together.

Not every match results in a placement; circumstances and minds can change after your meetings with children or birth parents. Dawn Davenport, Executive Director of Creating a Family, a national infertility and adoption education and support organization, wants people to know some of the facts that people often don’t get straight before they adopt. She points out that many people don’t know “how long adoptions take and how often adoption matches fail.” It’s important to know that one failed match doesn’t have to be the end of an adoption journey, but understanding the way the situation can play out will make you much more resilient if you encounter this setback.

Placement, post-placement & finalization 

Like any parent, you are likely to be a bit overwhelmed during placement and the weeks after a new child enters your home, but try to make the same smart choices other parents do to keep themselves sane: take help whenever it is offered, give your partner time to sleep, and take the sleep you can get. While feeling secure in a new place can take a long time, do everything you can to assure your new child that they are home and comfortable. Adoption is a long-term process, not something that happens instantly.

  • After placement, most states and agencies will have some form of post-placement visit. These are verification visits that prove that everything is going well in the home and that the child is safe and thriving.
  • After a certain number of months (check your state for the exact amount), adoptions must be finalized in court. You and your child will make it all official on a day that many families commemorate as “Adoption Day” or “Gotcha Day,” though whether that day is celebrated based on the court date or on the placement date is up to you.
  • In open adoptions or foster placements, there will be or may be ongoing contact with the birth parents or other family members. Try to put yourself in their shoes whenever possible: what kinds of photos, videos, contact, and notes will give them comfort and positive feelings about their choice to make an adoption plan? Your social worker can also give you guidance, as well as any openness agreements you have signed. Above all, keep up “your end of the bargain” by staying in touch as much as you’ve said you would.

Clearly, there are many ways that adoption can proceed differently from this path, but these are some general thoughts to consider as you begin the exciting and important journey toward adoption.

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