Adopting a child is a wonderful way to create a family. As you begin researching, it can become really overwhelming. My hope is to break it down into 6 easy categories to make it seem less daunting. You will find as you research that there are many different options and an overabundance of opinions on every aspect of adoption. Take a deep breath and choose the option that is best for you and your family. Only you will know that. What works for someone else’s family is likely not the route you should go.
1. Research and choose a type of adoption.
There are many options to consider when choosing a type of adoption. Here we will discuss the most common types of adoption that you’ll come across in your process. I firmly believe that you will know the exact match to fit the hopes and dreams you have for your family. I’m so excited for you.
Domestic Infant Adoption
Domestic infant adoption is typically performed through an agency where a birth mother/family chooses you through an adoption profile to adopt their child. We chose this type of adoption for our first adoption. We made this choice because we were unable to have biological children and we wanted the closest experience to giving birth to a child. We completed the training and home study and we were matched with a birth mother who chose us from a variety of home studies. We met our son a few weeks later. It will be up to you and your birth mother to sort out the details of your adoption plan. We chose to follow her lead and our birth mom was so warm, welcoming, and resilient.
I could tell you all about our experience, but the truth is yours will likely look nothing like ours. In fact, none of your adoptions will be exactly like the last. I can imagine that’s true of any birth story. If you find a great agency and caseworker he/she will help lead you on reasonable expectations and what to expect from their agency in terms of support. Our caseworker was instrumental in getting us a room to stay in for the night near our birth mom and the baby, but with enough distance to give her the privacy she deserved. Because our caseworker met with our birth mom prior to birth she was able to have her wishes granted and heard.
Adopting a child from another country requires a different type of home study, different paperwork, and more research. You will want to research each country and its government’s parameters for adoption. Many countries open and close their adoptions with the changing world. You’ll want to know what to expect. I suggest that you find a friend, friend of a friend, family member, or anyone else that you can find that has adopted internationally. You’ll want to check into the ethics and policies of the agency you choose and of the country you are looking to adopt from. The international adoption climate, like any adoption, is constantly changing.
Foster Care Adoption
Adopting a child from foster care is a wonderful and trying experience. The entire purpose of foster care is reunification with the biological family. When this doesn’t happen, adoption becomes an option. When birth families fail to meet the expectations of their plan, a judge, with the guidance of the parents, will decide whether to petition for TPR (termination of parental rights). While the process can be heartbreaking, there is also a growing need for families not only to foster but also to adopt children from foster care.
The home study process is similar to the domestic infant adoption process but will require training in other topics. This will depend on your state and your county. If you decide to adopt a child from foster care you will need to make a decision. Is fostering your priority, or is adoption your priority? As I stated above, reunification is the goal of the foster care system. If you are looking to foster with the possibility of adopting, you’ll want to contact your local county agency. With the county agency you will have a typical foster experience and, depending on the parents and the parameter of the case, a judge will help determine whether or not you’ll be able to adopt.
If your main goal is to adopt a child from the foster care system, I would choose an outside agency. You will have a separate caseworker than your child. This, for us, has been a godsend. Your caseworker will go over your specifications with great detail and will only present you with children that meet that criteria. This may not seem important, but if adoption is your goal, they will work to place you with children whose parental rights have already been terminated or are very close.
2. Learn all you can about trauma.
Every single adopted child will experience trauma. This can seem really daunting, but it is true. How trauma affects your child will vary as widely as your adoption experience. I would suggest that you do as much learning, reading, and listening as possible on the subject. A wonderful resource for trauma and adoption is the book “Wounded Children, Healing Homes.” I read it regularly and learn something new each and every time. Educating yourself on trauma whether you adopt a newborn or a sibling group will only help you become a more confident and loving parent. You can find plenty of resources on the topic of adoption trauma with a simple google search.
3. Find a support group.
You will need support. It may be as simple as an attachment issue, a policy question, or the correct form for reimbursements. Your adoption community will become some of your closest friends. Whether you reach out online or in-person, it will be peace-giving to know that you have people that you can turn to. My personal advice is to access both types of support groups. You can do a simple social media search for adoption support in your state. If you struggle to find an in-person local support group, you can contact your case manager or do a search at NACAC (North American Council on Adoptable Children).
Support groups can be a wonderful resource for therapies, therapists, respite care, and a much-needed laugh on a hard day. There will be aspects of adoption that your friends with biological parents just won’t understand. Some things can only be experienced. You will learn to laugh about the most ridiculous of things.
I don’t know how we survived the first years of our adoption journey without our support groups. Online support groups are a wonderful resource for instant advice. If you get into the right group, you’re virtually guaranteed to find someone online at all times day or night. Depending on the details of your adoption, you can find groups that will fit your specific needs whether that be transracial adoption, single-parent adoption, or wherever else you find yourself, it’s out there.
4. Choose a pediatrician.
I would suggest that you find a pediatrician who is familiar with adoption as soon as possible. There’s no need to wait for the child to arrive. Even before adopting a child, a pediatrician can be an excellent resource for processing the known and unknown needs of your potential child. Some people interview their pediatrician, but this is another area where your support group can/will come in handy. Join a support group long before your child comes home. Put together some general questions and be frank. Just ask point-blank what their experience is with adoption and adoptive families.
You will want to build a relationship with your pediatrician in advance. When we couldn’t find solid, concrete answers, we called our pediatrician. We presented what we knew, and she would give us an honest evaluation of what our experience might be. She would support her point of view with statistics. Sometimes things are so new that long-term information just isn’t available at this point. Ultimately, you will have to trust your instincts and make the decision. An experienced pediatrician is an invaluable resource.
5. Find therapists in your area
In cases of adoption that involve an older child or a child from the foster care system, you may need to seek out some sort of therapy or other special services. Most of that information should be available to you in the matching process. This would be a good time to do some research on the therapy and services available in your area. Some services your child may need are Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy, or Play Therapy. There are several reasons that these special services may be needed. You can also contact your school district to inquire about early intervention services available to your child. If you are adopting through the county you live in, your case manager will also have early intervention information. Chances are your child is already receiving some of those services if you choose to adopt a child from the foster care system.
6. Learn about open adoption
You will find that I’m personally a huge fan of open adoption. It has not always been easy. It takes time to get to know your birth parents. The option to have an open adoption will also be dependent on the type of adoption you choose to build your family around. This should be a priority to discuss as you move forward. For our family, the benefits of open adoption have far outweighed the negatives. Open adoption can be a misleading term and covers a vast amount of options. For your family, open adoption may be a photo and a letter once a year. If that’s what feels comfortable for you, it’s ok. You can always add more over the years. It’s far easier to add than take away. Be reserved in your promises and in your expectations.
As with any adoption situation, all three of our open relationships vary greatly. Since we have also adopted from two different types of adoption situations, that is a factor as well. In some of our relationships, we have had to limit exposure to our children due to mental health and addiction issues. Regardless, we always try to maintain an open dialogue. We are careful to never fully cut off a biological parent unless the relationship becomes unsafe for some reason. With all of our relationships, our children’s biological parents have been in our home. We believe that it’s the most comfortable situation for our children. Our kids have blossomed from these relationships.
One of our children is particularly sensitive and struggles with his emotions. Having his biological family involved has boosted his confidence by leaps and bounds. It does get tricky at times because one of our birth families is close geographically, and two are not. We try to even that out with different types of interactions such as phone calls, video calls, and social media messaging. Circumstances also vary with the age of our children. Our oldest child has begun messaging his biological mom via social media. He can currently read her messages himself, then reply. It’s a sweet, simple way for him to feel connected at all times.
Adopting a Child
No matter what avenue of adoption you choose for your family, arming yourself with knowledge, resources, and support will only ease your journey. When adopting a child, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with all the paperwork, training, and expectations that go along with this journey. Don’t overthink it. Trust your heart, trust your instincts, and trust the knowledge you have gained along the way. When in doubt, find an experienced and trusted friend to ask all of your questions. There really is no guarantee that everything will go exactly as planned, so just try to sit back and enjoy the journey. No matter what, your adoption journey will be unique to you and your family. Be sure to celebrate the entire process. Take notes, pictures, and document the big things and the little things. Some day, your child will ask you for those details. Your journey will become your perfect journey. Happy Adopting!