When my husband and I first embarked on our adoption journey, we literally had no idea where to begin. No one we knew had ever adopted and no one we knew had ever been adopted. Our knowledge of adoption was pretty much limited to the old Thomas Meehan musical, Annie, which seemed both inaccurate and extraordinarily unhelpful. While some are called to adoption because they always knew that adoption was part of their family’s plan, we came to adoption after struggling for years with fertility. We stumbled, yes stumbled, into our first adoption fair. I remember sitting in a small multi-purpose room and hearing from adoptive parents, social workers, and even a few adult adoptees. Their words brought us so much hope, so much excitement, and a good deal of confusion. The world was literally our oyster. A child might be waiting for us in Ethiopia or India. An expectant mother might live in the next county or across the country. How could we decide which path would be right for us?
Months of thinking, countless hours of discussion, mounds of paperwork, six years, and two adoptions from two different countries later, I have learned a lot about adoption. For couples who want to adopt, here are a few things to consider and a few tips I have learned along the way.
The first question to consider for couples who want to adopt is, what kind of adoption will be right for your family? In the United States, there are essentially three different types of adoption that most couples explore: international, domestic, and adoption from foster care. Couples interested in international adoption should be open to welcoming another culture, ethnicity, and/or race into their hearts and home. A wonderful thing about international adoption is that it is just that—international. In our family, that means we celebrate Diwali, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then Chinese New Year!
The first step in the international adoption process is to find an adoption agency. Though it is theoretically possible to adopt internationally without an agency, for Hague Convention countries (of which the U.S. is a signatory), there are certain metrics that must be met when bringing a child to the United States for the purpose of adoption. When seeking an agency, find out which program might be right for you and your family. If you decide South Korea is a good fit, which agencies have long-standing programs in South Korea? The longer an agency has operated within a certain country, the more ties that agency has to in-country representatives, who can prove vital in your international adoption process. Different countries have different restrictions on a prospective adoptive parent’s age, marital status, household makeup, and income requirements, so it is important to check with your adoption agency to see which countries might be an option for you and your family.
Once an agency has been identified, couples will work with their social worker to complete their adoption home study. The home study is a requirement across the board, whether couples choose to adopt internationally, domestically, or from foster care. Your home study is a chance to explore your motivations for adoption, what type of child would be a good fit for your family, and what life with your adoptive child would look like. Upon completing the home study, couples are then eligible to begin the dossier process. Like the home study, the dossier is a series of documents and statements that attest to the nature and health of the prospective adoptive parents. Much of the dossier process will feel like déjà vu, but upon completion, your dossier will be logged in with the sending country’s central adoption authority and couples will be eligible to be matched.
Most children available for international adoption are between the ages of 6 months–8 years, with the medium age at placement between 24 months–4 years. Because of the requirements in the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, children available for intercountry adoption must be proven to be orphans and every attempt must have been made to place the child in-country first. As a result, the waiting children tend to be older and have special needs which range from mild and medically correctable (such as hearing loss, vision issues, or cleft lip) to more severe (like cerebral palsy, limb differences, and heart conditions). That being said, sometimes a child’s biggest special need is their age (since many countries consider children over the age of 3 or 4 “special needs”).
Once your dossier is in the central adoption authority’s system, your agency will be able to send you a file of a prospective match. The file will include the child’s medical and social history and photos of the child. You then have a window of time to review your file and decide whether to move forward with the adoption or not. If you choose to move forward, you will work to complete an acceptance dossier, file your paperwork with the U.S. Department of State, and wait for notification to travel. Depending on the country, more than one trip may be required. Once travel is approved, you will fly to meet your child and complete the adoption process in-country. When the child enters the United States, they will be an American citizen. At this point, however, you may choose to re-adopt your child.
The timeline to adopt internationally varies by country and can be anywhere from 1-2 years to over 3 years. With both of our adoptions, the process was completed within a year. The cost to adopt internationally is between $25,000–$40,000, depending on which country a family chooses and the number of trips that country requires.
In the United States, domestic adoption refers to the private domestic adoption of an infant. Like international adoption, prospective adoptive parents will begin the process by first completing an adoption home study. The process differs from international adoption as couples interested in adopting domestically do not need to use an adoption agency. Independent adoption has been on the rise for many years. Some expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents appreciate that the process lends itself to creating stronger bonds between the two sets of parents. Independent adoption is as it sounds, however: prospective adoptive parents are responsible for identifying social workers, adoption attorneys, and anyone else necessary to complete the adoption.
The benefit of working with an adoption agency is that large, national agencies, like the Gladney Center for Adoption, have a substantial reach. For prospective adoptive parents, this means that your adoption profile may get more exposure and you are visible to more expectant parents. Not only that, but a good adoption agency can be full service, supporting both you and the expectant parents through every step of the journey.
For many prospective adoptive parents, the first big step after completing their home study is to create their parent profile. A parent profile may include videos, essays, letters, photos, anything that will help the expectant parent envision what life for the child would look like with your family. In domestic adoption, you may be matched with an expectant mother at any time. Thanks to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), prospective adoptive parents and expectant parents do not need to live in the same state.
Once matched, a good adoption agency or adoption facilitator will work on communication between you and the expectant parents. Prior to being matched, a good idea is to decide what level of communication between yourself and the expectant parents you feel most comfortable with. Open adoptions and semi-open adoptions are more typical these days, but some closed adoptions still occur.
Leading up to the delivery day, your adoption agency and/or adoption attorney will facilitate any financial support the expectant mother might need. State laws vary in the level of support prospective adoptive parents can provide, so check with your adoption agency or adoption attorney. Waiting for placement can be the hardest part of the journey, so be sure you are taking care of yourselves during this time. Some couples may widely share their upcoming new addition, while others may keep the news to a few close family and friends. Failed matches do happen, and it is important to prepare for this. Know the right match will find you and vice versa. And if you choose to celebrate your child’s homecoming after your adoption is finalized, you can have a post-adoption shower then!
The timeline to adopt domestically varies depending on which states you are open to and how aggressive you want to be with your adoption profile. At a certain point, it can be a numbers game: the more exposure you have, the more likely you are to match with an expectant parent that is a perfect fit for you and your family. Most private domestic adoptions are completed within two years, but some may occur as quickly as 6–12 months after home study approval. The cost of private domestic adoption is between $30,000–$40,000.
Adoption from Foster Care
The other type of adoption many couples consider is adoption from foster care. In the United States, there are currently over 400,000 children in the foster care system, 100,000 of which are legally free for adoption. In order for a foster child to be eligible for adoption, his or her biological parents’ parental rights must have been terminated. Not every foster parent expects to adopt their foster child, and there are many wonderful, wonderful, foster families who provide a safe, nurturing, welcoming environment for a child when they are at their most vulnerable. The goal of foster care is always family reunification. If there is a chance for the child to be placed with a relative or for that child to remain within their community, social workers always advocate for this as it is in the best interest of the child. But sometimes this is not possible, so a child becomes eligible for adoption.
The children eligible for adoption from foster care may be in sibling groups. If there is an opportunity to keep siblings together, this is always a priority (if it is in the best interest of all the children). The children are typically older (between the ages of 4-17) and many states have their waiting children profiles online. If you identify a child through an online profile, the next step is to submit an inquiry to that child’s caseworker. The caseworker will review your profile as well as your home study. (A valid home study is necessary for adoption from foster care.) If the match is deemed a good one, the next step is to meet the child and transition them to your home. This may take several weeks (or months), depending on the needs of the child. Once the child is in your home, they must reside with your family for six months before the adoption can be finalized.
Sometimes a child is adopted from foster care after residing with the family as a foster child. This process is a lot less straightforward and a guaranteed adoption of the child is not always the end result. The best part is that adopting from foster care costs you nothing. In many cases, there are incentives and aid for families looking to bring a foster child into their home.
Whether you choose to pursue international adoption, domestic adoption, or adoption from foster care, know that whatever path you take will lead to a forever home for a child in need. And no matter the age of the child joining your family, you will experience those “firsts.” Sometimes a “first” is a first step, or the first time a child removes the hand they used to hold between you when you hugged, or the first time they call you “Mom” Adoption is a beautiful life-long journey, and I would not have built our family in any other way.Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.