Every child deserves a safe and loving family.
Heartbreakingly, here and around the world, situations arise when permanently staying with biological family isn’t a possibility for an infant or child. Adoption is an encompassing picture of hope, but we can’t ignore that it’s born out of the loss of a first family, whether the adoption is domestic, international, or through foster care.
As an adoptive mother, I’m privileged to parent two children who weren’t born to me. I don’t take it for granted. Our family grew through birth and adoption: international adoption (Joseph was one year old, adopted from West Africa) as well as a domestic special needs adoption (Eliza was three weeks old, adopted from the U.S.).
More than 81 million Americans say they’ve considered adoption, but only a sliver follow through.
Many prospective parents contact me asking about adoption. It’s overwhelming, and they don’t know where to begin. I hope this primer can help interested families get started on a path to adoption.
Families grow through adoption for an array of reasons and in a variety of ways. Many people ask if we struggled with infertility, and my answer to that is 1) None of your business. 2) If you absolutely need to know, the answer is no, we did not. We chose adoption first. There are many other valid reasons to adopt a child.
No matter how my children joined my nest, they are my own. Each child has different needs and wants and strengths and weaknesses. It’s my role to love my kids and support them through all of it.
Truly, each adoption process, like each family and child, is unique.
The Three Types of Adoption
Typically (but not always) domestic adoptions are adoptions of infants. They are private (not through the state), which means the birth parents (or at least the birth mother) has made a plan to choose adoption for the child. Licensed agencies and social workers throughout the country facilitate these adoptions in conjunction with attorneys. Many times, families sign on with an agency, do a home study, and create a photo book for expecting mothers. Birth and adoptive families work together to decide how open or closed they want the relationship to be.
Adoption consultants can be hired to work with multiple agencies, which typically speeds up the process for prospective families. Domestic adoptions can range between $25,000 – $40,000 with many of the fees going to agencies, social workers, and care for birth mothers, and attorneys. Some families work directly with attorneys without an agency.
Our experience: While our daughter was a domestic (in-country) adoption, we didn’t follow this traditional path. She was a “waiting” three-week-old, which means there were no potential available families at the agency her birth mother had contacted. She would have likely gone into state foster care if the agency wasn’t able to place her. We did our home study through a local licensed social worker not tied to any agency, which was much more affordable.
This is the toughest type of adoption to explain because it varies between countries and their specific laws and requirements. The best way to summarize it? It’s complicated. Laws are constantly changing, and ethics hang in the balance. However, just because it’s complicated, doesn’t mean there’s not a need, and doesn’t mean it’s not worth the paperwork.
There is a great need for families for children who can’t be unified with their first families, many of whom are languishing in orphanages due to their special needs.
Usually, international adoptions are those of older children or sibling groups. The process usually takes one to two years from start to finish, and potential parents must be committed not only to the process but to entering into the pain of a child who has lost not only their first family but their first culture, too.
The beginning of the international adoption process is the same as a domestic process (home study, fingerprints, social worker approval) but you also must apply and file adoption approval forms through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as well as documents and approval in the country from which you’re adopting. International adoptions can range between $20,000 and $30,000, and require travel visits.
Our experience: Again, we had a unique situation with the adoption of our son, too. Though we had to complete all of the necessary paperwork, we did not go through a specific agency to help us. His birth country is now closed, though the laws continue to change and it may be open again soon. Some agencies are experienced, ethical, and well-researched, but since we had personal connections we trusted, we worked directly in-country. That’s really not the norm, though.
More than 100,000 children and youth in foster care are waiting for the love and security that a permanent home provides. When a child can’t be reunified with his biological family (the goal of foster care), he becomes a waiting child. Though it is possible to adopt a baby from foster care, the children who are available for adoption generally range from toddler to 21. (The median age is eight years old, according to AdoptUsKids.org)
The Dave Thomas Foundation estimates that about 23,000 children age out of foster care without finding a permanent family.
Because all children in foster care have experienced some form of trauma, parents who adopt from foster care undergo specific training to understand the effects of trauma to help children heal. They also need an approved home study from a licensed social worker.
Since foster care is through the state, it is very low cost — the typical total ranging from completely free to around $2,000. There are also adoption subsidies (monthly checks) available through DHS. Many children adopted from foster care are able to attend any state school tuition-free, too.
Don’t Stop Just Because of Finances
What prevents all those families interested in adoption to actually move forward? Lots of times, the reason is money. Fees for international and domestic adoption are incredibly high, and most of us ask: WHO could afford that?
A quick Google search will show lists of organizations and nonprofits that offer adoption grants (some, like Katelyn’s Fund, are even based in Iowa), and interest-free loans. Entire books have been written about creative ways to finance adoptions without debt.
Where there’s a will, I truly believe there’s a way. It’s about priorities. We took extra jobs, cut down on spending, and thought creatively about ways to earn extra money. In my family’s experience, we were also grateful to receive some very unexpected financial gifts in both adoptions, too.
There are many ways to support adoption without adopting, and it is not the right path for everyone. But if the only piece missing from the puzzle is financing, don’t let that prevent you from pursuing adoption.
Anytime money is being exchanged, there’s possibility of unethical practices and procedures. Do your research. Then do more. Ask questions. Push for answers. Ultimately, the safety, health, and well-being of the child or children should always be the top priority. Keep an eye out for anyone in a vulnerable position (birth parent, child, maybe even yourself) being manipulated or taken advantage of.
(And, if you’re adopting to fill a void you believe only a child can fill, please consider going to counseling first. Or, if you see yourself as a superhero rescuing a child, realize that’s also an unhealthy way to view adoptive parenting. Your little one deserves all of you, and it’s unfair to place unrealistic expectations on him or her.)
Take the Next Step
If you’re feeling the pull toward adoption, just take the next step. Call a social worker, take a foster care class, rent a book from the library, or have coffee with a friend who was adopted or has adopted.
Whatever path you take, adoption is a beautiful way to add to your family.
Sometimes, you just have to take the next step.