Deciding to build your family through adoption is an exciting step. At first, it can be difficult to understand who is qualified to adopt, the types of children available, and the process of adoption. Here is everything you need to know about adoption in Utah. Whether you choose to adopt domestically, from foster care, or internationally, the journey will be an amazing one.
Qualifications to Adopt
The qualifications for adoption in Utah vary depending on if a family chooses to adopt domestically, from foster care, or internationally. Families pursuing domestic adoption need only be 10 years older than the child they are interested in adopting. That said, many agencies have age restrictions and encourage prospective adoptive parents to be at least 25 years old. Prospective foster parents must be at least 21 years old. Both prospective foster and domestic adoptive parents may be single or legally married. A married person may not pursue an adoption without the consent of their spouse unless they are legally separated. Unmarried, cohabitating couples may not adopt. Families interested in international adoption typically have to be 25 years old and many countries restrict the maximum age at which parents may adopt. For families pursuing international adoption, the first step is to decide which country to adopt from, and then make sure their age, marital status, income, and health standing meet the requirements for their country of interest. In all cases, prospective adoptive parents must have both a stable income and a stable home environment.
Types of Adoption
Outside of stepparent and kinship adoption, there are three different types of adoption in Utah—domestic, foster, and international. The children available for adoption vary depending on which program a family chooses. In domestic adoption, prospective adoptive parents will work with an agency to identify a potential birth mother. Neither the agency nor the prospective adoptive parents need to be based in Utah as adoption across state lines is possible through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. Families interested in adopting from foster care will work with an adoption office in Utah. There are an estimated 2,350 children currently in Utah’s foster care system due to abuse and neglect. Of these, approximately 15 percent have had their parental rights terminated and are eligible for adoption. There is a particular need for families open to adopting siblings, teenagers, minority children, and children with special needs. Prospective adoptive parents interested in international adoption will typically work with a Hague accredited international adoption agency. Children range from 15 months–15 years at placement, depending on the child’s country of origin. Sibling groups are possible in certain countries, like Colombia. Heritage adoption is also possible, wherein one parent is from the same country of origin as the child. Children available for intercountry adoption typically have minor/medically correctable needs to more severe/lifelong special needs. Sometimes a child’s greatest special need is their age or that they are a member of a sibling group.
Beginning the Process
Once a family decides what type of adoption they wish to pursue, the next step will be to complete a home study. A home study is essentially a compilation of documents designed to demonstrate the type of home and environment a family would provide for an adoptive child. Included in a home study is a background check, child abuse and neglect clearances, fingerprinting, letters from employers, physicals, references, and statements of financial standing. A state-licensed social worker will meet with you in your home at least once and conduct an interview. The interview will involve questions like your motivation to adopt, parenting styles, discipline practices, and a discussion of what type of child you hope to adopt. The social worker will then compile a complete report and submit the report for approval. In every state, home studies are valid for only one year, so if your adoption process takes longer, a home study update may be required.
While the home study process is taking place, prospective adoptive parents will begin a series of pre-adoption education classes. There are no specifications for domestic adoption, but typically agencies require at least 20 hours of training. Families pursuing international adoption will need to meet both state and Hague Convention pre-adoption education training minimums and families adopting from foster care will need to complete Utah’s 32 hours of “pre-service” training in order to become a licensed foster family.
The Adoption Process
Once a family has completed their pre-adoption education training and has received their home study approval they will be eligible to receive a match with a child. In domestic adoption in Utah, it is important to remember that only licensed agencies may be paid for matching services. It is possible to use a facilitator or a lawyer, but neither may be paid for the services of identifying a birth mother and securing a match. Advertising for adoption in Utah is also illegal unless it is done so by an agency with a valid license. That said, families may choose to work with either their agency or an adoption consultant to create a parent profile.
Once a birth mother has been identified, prospective adoptive parents can expect to pay for the birth parents’ adoption-related expenses. These may include legal fees, medical expenses, counseling fees, prenatal costs, food and clothing (related to the pregnancy), travel expenses, and temporary living expenses both pre-and postnatal. According to the adoption laws in Utah, all adoption-related expenses are viewed as “allowable charitable acts.” Before finalization of the adoption occurs, all expenses must be reported to the court. When the child is born, consent may be given at any time after a waiting period of 24 hours. Consent must be given either before a judge or in front of a person for a licensed child-placing agency. Once consent is given and signed, it not revocable. Upon receiving consent, adoptive parents may return home, provided they did not complete the adoption across state lines. If they did, then the adoptive parents will need to wait for a few days (typically a week) before the ICPC clearance comes through and they may return home.
Families adopting from foster care in Utah are encouraged to first complete the home study process, the “pre-service” education process, and to receive their license before beginning the process to find a child. The family’s social worker will begin a search for a child or sibling set who may be a good fit—both for the family and for the prospective adoptive foster child. Utah uses a child welfare organization to post listings of waiting children. Once a child is identified, a committee will meet to determine if the family is the best fit for the child and vice versa. It should be noted that the priority of the child welfare organization is to ensure the well-being of the child and to place their interests first and foremost. If the match is approved, a period of pre-placement will begin. During this time the prospective adoptive parents will have several visits with the prospective adoptive foster child. Each visit will increase in length, typically culminating in an overnight visit. At the end of this pre-placement time, the child will move into the family’s home and a period of post-placement visits will commence.
Families adopting internationally will complete their home study and then begin work on their dossier. A dossier is a lot like a home study and is designed to illustrate what a prospective adoptive family is like to the sending country (i.e. the child’s country of origin). Once the dossier is completed, it will be translated, and then sent to the prospective adoptive parent’s country of choice. The country’s central adoption authority will then log the dossier, evaluate it, and approve the prospective adoptive parents for adoption. At this point, the family is fully eligible to match with a child. Once the family is approved to adopt by the central adoption authority, the family’s agency will meet with them to discuss what type of child they are open to adopting (gender, age, special need). The agency’s “matchmakers” will look through the central adoption authority’s database of waiting children and, once a child is identified who meets the family’s criteria, the match will be “locked in.” Prospective adoptive parents will then work with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to complete the necessary paperwork to obtain a visa for the child. Upon completing the paperwork and obtaining all the necessary clearances, the family will travel to meet their child. In some countries, the court process of the official adoption will have occurred prior to the adoptive parents traveling (such as in India), other times the court process will occur while the family is in-country (such as China). Families will then travel to the U.S. Embassy in-country and obtain their new child’s visa. Upon entry into the United States, the child will automatically become a U.S. citizen.
Post-Placement Process and Finalizing the Adoption
Upon returning home, adoptive parents will need to complete a series of post-placement home visits. Families who have completed an adoption in Utah can expect at least three visits from a state-licensed social worker over the course of six months. Families who have adopted from foster care will need to meet the same guidelines. If families adopted across state lines then the adoptive parents must follow and meet the post-placement reporting guidelines of their home state. Families who completed an international adoption will need to meet both state guidelines and the reporting guidelines of their child’s country of origin. International post-placement reports may last anywhere from two years to until the adopted child turns 18 years old.
Once the post-placement reports have been completed, families who adopted either domestically or from foster care may finalize their adoption. The adoptive family will file a petition with the court and an adoption finalization hearing will be scheduled in the family’s local district court. The adoption finalization hearing is a quick process, usually under an hour, during which the family will be asked why they wanted to adopt and if they are able to give the child a good home. The judge may ask a few questions about the process and then will issue a final decree of adoption. The final decree of adoption completes the adoption process and confirms the adoptive child as a legal member of their new family. Once the adoption is finalized, an amended birth certificate will be issued for the child and a new social security card supplied.
For families adopting internationally, if the adoption was completed in a Hague accredited country, the adoption was finalized overseas. Families adopting from a non-Hague accredited country, like South Korea, will need to complete a readoption process, such as detailed above. Regardless of whether the child is from a Hague or non-Hague country, readoption may still be a good idea as readoption guarantees that the adoptive child will be “entitled to all the rights and privileges as if born to them.”
One of the challenges that many prospective adoptive parents face is the cost of adoption. Domestic adoption in Utah is estimated to be between $20,000-$40,000 and international adoption is typically between $30,000-$45,000. Families adopting from foster care can expect to pay between $1,200-$1,800 in legal fees for the adoption of their child, but these fees are usually reimbursed by the Utah Adoption Subsidy program. Still worried about the cost of adoption? Thankfully the Adoption Tax Credit is available to all adoptive families. The ATC was $13,810 per child in 2018. Families adopting domestically may claim the credit a year after the expense has occurred, regardless of whether the adoption has been completed. Even in the event of a failed adoption, families may still claim the full amount, provided the costs they incurred were equal or greater to $13,810. Families adopting internationally will have to wait to claim the ATC until their adoption is finalized.