You are considering adopting a baby in California. Now what? There is a lot of information out there for you to consider that will help guide you to the best fit for your family. In regard to domestic adoption, there are a handful of options to think about. In California, you can choose from adopting from foster care, independent adoption, or working with an adoption agency.
1. Adopting a Baby in California from Foster Care
The foster care system in California is similar to that of other states. Children placed into foster care from negligence, abuse, or exploitation. The state’s priority is the safety and well-being of the child/children. Children in foster care vary in age from infants to teenagers. Once children are placed into foster care, their parents work with the state to create a plan to be reunited with their children. Oftentimes, this plan involves therapy, rehabilitation, and parenting classes. Most children that are available for adoption in foster care are older, but there are times that infants are able to be adopted through foster care.
There are steps to complete to become a foster parent in the state of California. The first thing to do is to reach out to the California Department of Social Services to be connected with a caseworker to create a home study. A home study is a report written about your home and family. To prepare for a home study, most caseworkers will send you a list of requirements and questions that they will go over with you. They will want to know about each adult’s childhood, education history, medical history, relationship, family dynamics, religious beliefs, and other information about your family. The caseworker will sit down with each member of the family and go over everything, ask questions, and make observations. You’ll also complete a background check, be cleared medically, and pass a safety inspection. Once all of these things are completed and official documents are collected (copies of social security cards, birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc.), the caseworker will write everything up into a report.
Another part of the home study is clarifying the type of children you are interested in. If you are hoping to adopt a baby, you will specify that in your home study. Other things to consider are the gender, race, and level of disability of the child. Oftentimes, infants are admitted in to foster care under the age of one. It is rare, however, to have a child so young to be available for adoption. Most of the time, if an infant is placed with you, it will take 6 months or more before getting an idea of whether or not a parent’s rights are terminated. The focus of foster care is to support the reunification of birth parents with children, so long as it is in the best interest of the child.
For those wanting to adopt an infant, foster care can be a challenge. The benefit of foster care is the financial support that is provided. The children receive a stipend while in care to meet their needs, free medical care, and counseling. Adopting from foster care is very inexpensive and usually comes down to just the costs of finalization. The challenge, though, is that nobody is guaranteed to adopt an infant.
2. Adopting a Baby from California Independently
When adopting without using a domestic adoption agency, it is considered to be an independent adoption. With independent adoption, a hopeful adoptive family and an expectant adoptive mom connect on their own, without the use of an agency. Even though an agency isn’t involved, there are things that need to be in place to make sure everything is finalized appropriately and legally. Something unique to California is that it is not required to have a completed home study to adopt a child independently. The home study and fingerprinting can be done after the placement. However, most expecting parents want to place their child with a family that has a home study completed before placement, so they can get a comprehensive view of the family. In California, home studies done for independent adoptions are often less expensive than home studies done through the state. The social worker will also complete the post-placement visits.
Another important component of independent adoption is finding an attorney to finalize your adoption. In California, your caseworker will file a report within 180 days to the court to be able to finalize your adoption. If you are adopting a child from California, but you are not a California resident, you will need to go through the process of ICPC.
The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) oversees adoptions across state lines. To be able to leave the state of California with your adopted child, you will have to file forms and supporting documentation. Other items to submit are your home study, the child’s medical records, Indian Child Welfare Act compliance forms, and more. You can work with an attorney to file these forms if you are not using an agency.
Independent adoptions in California are required to be open adoptions. Open adoption involves sharing identifying information, full names, contact information, and in some cases, your full address. When doing independent adoption, you will not receive the pre-adoption education that you might receive with an agency. Independent adoptions are considerably less expensive, which is an advantage. However, the revocation period for an independent adoption becomes final thirty days after signing, whereas the revocation period when using an agency is ten days. This can be waived if the birth mother signs a Waiver of the Right to Revoke.
3. Adopting a Baby from California Using an Adoption Agency
There are many benefits to working with an agency. Adoption can be overwhelming. There are a lot of legal hoops to jump through, not to mention the emotional toll it takes on the hopeful adoptive families. From the perspective of a birth family, there are many unknowns and fears associated with adoption. Using an adoption agency gives everyone a neutral contact to work through a lot of the hurdles that come with adoption.
If you are hoping to adopt an infant from California, adopting through an agency is a great path to use, as opposed to adopting through foster care. Just like in independent adoption, when using an agency, you can meet an expectant mom and connect with her before the baby is born. Adoption agencies talk to expectant moms directly and get to know their needs, their history, and information about their child. They also get to know the hopeful adoptive family. They work with many expectant moms and hopeful adoptive families and are able to present different couples to each party to support the matching process.
In the case of the Gladney Center for Adoption, there are so many resources for expectant parents. The of the most important resources for expectant parents is counseling. When an expectant mom is making the decision to parent or place her child for adoption, there is so much to consider. With the help of a counselor, she can navigate her options and make an educated decision. Gladney offers counseling services for birth moms and the important people in her life. They also host workshops for birth families. Other services include medical care, financial support, and legal services. Birth families work closely with an options counselor to determine eligibility for financial assistance, schedule and arrange doctor and hospital visits, coordinate legal services for free for the adoption, and connect families with others who’ve chosen adoption for their children.
Destiny, one of Gladney’s birth moms, speaks of her adoption process saying, “I was nervous. It felt weird to me to be married and already have a family and be placing my second child for adoption. It didn’t feel right. They kind of made me feel like it was okay and that adoption wasn’t a bad option.” She goes on to say, “If I ever had questions [they] made me feel super comfortable. What I liked about it was they made [my husband] feel like he was 100% part of the process and they didn’t leave him out at all…. Gladney helped a lot through that whole process. They made it feel kind of comforting.” Using an adoption agency ensures a lot of support for birth families to make such a big decision and feel comfortable throughout the process.
When using an adoption agency, open, semi-open, and closed adoptions are all options. While most birth parents want an open adoption, there are few that are interested in closed adoptions. An adoption agency will guide you through the adoption process from start to finish. If you live in Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, or Texas, you can complete a home study through Gladney. If you live outside of these states, you can complete a home study with an approved agency. Gladney does a great job of letting you know the home study requirements for California, regardless of the state in which you are getting your home study done. As part of the home study, you will also be required to have a home inspection. Home inspections for private adoptions are considerably less invasive than those for foster care.
When adopting through an agency, they provide pre-adoptive training that prepares you for raising an adopted child. These training meetings look different from foster care training meetings, but still cover similar content. While using an agency is a bit more expensive than independent adoption or adoption through foster care, they provide a lot of support that you can’t get anywhere else.
4. Other Adoption Laws in California
In regard to birth father rights, if the birth mother and father are married, the spouse must agree to the adoption. In the case that the birth mother and father are not married, the biological father must establish paternity and show that he is committed to parenting the child. In order to establish paternity in California, a biological father signs a voluntary Declaration of Paternity, asks a local child support agency for action on his behalf, or files a case with the civil court. If the biological father is unknown, every attempt should be made by the attorney, birth mother, and/or adoption agency to identify him. A judge will decide if the appropriate measures were taken to find the biological father.
In California, the Family Code governs adoption. In the case of private adoption, birth parents’ rights are relinquished within a few days. This is irrevocable up to thirty days after the paperwork is signed unless the birth mother waves the thirty days and makes the placement permanent immediately. This paperwork is completed in front of a licensed social worker and two witnesses. Finalization in California can happen as soon as six months. During these six months, the agency or caseworker monitors the child’s progress to ensure safety and well-adjustment. After six months, the adoption can be finalized.
5. Federal Adoption Tax Credit
While the fees for adoption can feel overwhelming and daunting, there is some relief that can come through the government to ease the burden of adoption expenses. After the adoption is finalized, you can apply for the federal Adoption Tax Credit when filing your taxes. The refund is applied to expenses that are qualified. These include adoption agency fees, court costs, attorney fees, and travel expenses. Traveling expenses include transportation, hotel/lodging, and food used while away from home). This tax credit can be rolled over and have six years to claim it. For adoptions finalized in 2019 and with a tax credit claimed in early 2020, the maximum adoption credit and exclusion is $14,080 per child. In regard to the tax credit, there is not a limit to the number of children you are able to adopt.
When considering the different options for adoption, it is important to choose what is the best fit for your family. Ultimately, adoption is a beautiful thing and it’s all about finding a way to get there.