People want to know how things work. From toys and bicycles to planes and rocket ships, people are fascinated by the inner workings of everyday things we take for granted. This curiosity has given rise to Do it Yourself (DIY) channels on YouTube and home or land renovation TV shows on many cable networks. But how does adoption work?
How does adoption work?
When my wife and I first pursued adoption 25+ years ago, we were young, naïve, and idealistic. We wanted to save the world. There was a thin line between faith and foolishness. We didn’t quite know how adoption worked; we just knew we wanted to do it. But two and a half decades and six adopted kids later, I can confidently say that we know how adoption works. With the rise of the internet, the decreasing stigma of adoption, and more support services for adoptive families, information is simply at the tip of your fingers. Here’s what you need to know.
The Adoption Triad
There are three people (or sets of people) that set in motion a forever family and that make an adoption work. There is the adoptive family, the biological mom and, of course, the child, the three together are often called the adoption triad. Without any one of these, the adoptive family does not exist.
The Biological Mom
The adoption journey usually begins with a crisis. Sometimes this means a child is an orphan, sometimes this just means an expectant mother is considering adoption. The pregnancy may have come at a bad time: homelessness, unemployment, abandonment by the father, an affair, mental illness, or teen pregnancy are just a few obstacles expectant mothers may face. Of course, the pregnancy itself may be a crisis as a result of rape. Whatever the case, the mom has to make a painful—yet powerful—life choice: placing her child for adoption. This choice is not to be underestimated. Making an adoption plan for her child may mean choosing a family who shares her values and beliefs. It also affords her the opportunity to have an open adoption. The biological mom is integral in the adoption process. We had open adoptions with three of our adoptive children and, luckily for us, it has generally been a positive experience. This may not be true for everyone, so it would be best to consider all options available.
The Adoptive Family
Why do people adopt in the first place? Motivations vary from family to family. Some families adopt because of infertility. Others adopt because they want to serve their community. International, or intercountry adoption, can be available to those who have the necessary resources. Perhaps the time is right or there has been a natural disaster or some other crisis that compels people to adopt internationally. A growing trend called kinship adoption includes family members who may feel the need to adopt a relative.
Lastly, there are families that adopt for religious reasons and feel they are serving God. This was our motivation. We were so motivated to adopt, we decided to adopt before trying to grow our family the traditional way. So, we adopted one, had two biological children, and adopted five more (not including the ones we fostered).
The Adopted Child
The adopted child may have the most to gain, or lose, in this process. Most women in a crisis pregnancy have many choices regarding the future of their child. The adoptive family have many children to choose from, both here and overseas. The child may not have a choice and may be reliant on the choices of his or her mother.
The child has often gone through some type of trauma: from experiencing a war or displacement to witnessing domestic violence; from exposure to drugs to being a part of an alcoholic family; from being the victim of abuse or neglect, most adopted children experience trauma in one form or another.
In our experience, my wife and I learned through trial and error, through training, and by learning from other, more experienced parents. In all, we have cared for children with ADHD, conduct disorder, Down syndrome, celiac disease, Grave disease, cerebral palsy, Asperger’s syndrome, speech impediments, and children with substance exposure. It has not been easy, but we have only been successful because of the support we received from others.
The Child Welfare System
Another question might be: Where do the kids come from? Here’s the answer.
These kids come from all over the world There can be anywhere from 87 to 140 million orphans around the world. The lower number refers to children who have lost both parents, with the higher number referring to children who have lost one parent to death. Children may become orphans due to war, crime, disease, or natural disasters.
These kids come from all over the United States. There are many adults waiting to adopt children here in the U.S. You can use an adoption agency or an adoption attorney. They should be able to help you through every step in the process.
These kids come from the foster care system. Did you know that there are over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States? Out of that number, 100,000 are available for adoption. It is important to know the difference between fostering a child and adopting a child. Adopting from foster care can be a long, grueling process. Children enter foster care due to a variety of reasons. Many states believe that the best way for a child to be raised is by their biological parents, so once a biological parent proves fit to care for their child, the child is returned to their care. However, there are some children who cannot reunite with their parents because their parents are, for whatever reason, unable to care for their child. The pros regarding foster care adoption is that it can cost absolutely nothing. The cons are that there is always a risk because until a foster child is adopted, the child could return to their biological parents, be moved to another relative, or be moved to another home.
The Adoption Agency
A good adoption agency should make the adoption process flow smoothly. Adoption agencies often work with both children available for adoption as well as families searching for a child, attempting to find the perfect match between child and families. Preparing a family for adoption can be an arduous process.
Imagine you had a child who needed to live with another family, for one reason or another, and you had a choice as to which family this child would be placed with. Wouldn’t you want to know as much about the family as possible? That’s the purpose of the home study. An adoption agency writes a home study, which is a summary of the adoptive family’s suitability to adopt. It can be reviewed by the state, the foreign adoption agency, attorneys, judges, and possibly the biological mother.
Once a home study is completed, the search can begin. The adoption agency should help with this. If you are a prospective adoptive parent, an adoptive profile of your family can go a long way. This may include a brief summary of your family’s lifestyle, your hopes for the adoption journey, and photos of you and your family.
Your adoption agency will now begin a search for a child that you will be able to care for. The goal is to create a “forever family” so the adoption agency doesn’t want to overwhelm a family with a child whose needs they are not prepared to meet. They want to make sure the match is a good one. The search can be conducted on a number of photo listing websites where you can view a photo of a child available for adoption as well as a small profile of the child. Once you find a child, your social worker can contact the child’s social worker. On the other hand, there may be a child’s social worker searching for a family that can take care of the child they are in charge of.
Social workers on both sides will review your home study to see if your family is a good match for this child. You may think you have a good match from the simple web photo listing,but listen to your adoption agency or attorney. They have much more experience in this line of work, so they may have insights that you as the prospective adoptive parent may not think of.
There needs to be a transition or waiting period between the match and finalization. Parents should help the child understand what this means and perhaps how the new family will interact all together. This often includes the prospective parents and child(ren) meeting and spending time together. In International adoptions, prospective adoptive parents may have to travel to the foreign nation multiple times to spend time with the child.
In our experience, the transition process for our first adoption was smooth. We met our first child in the spring of 1992.We started off meeting the child in his foster home and getting to know his foster family and his neighborhood. The next visit, we took him to lunch. The third visit, we took him for a day visit to a theme park called “Sesame Place” in Philadelphia. The fourth visit was a weekend visit, where he came to our home and we got to experience him in our environment. We learned a little bit more about each other each visit. We learned he was a bit delayed in speech, but well advanced in fine motor skills (coloring and drawing) and gross motor skills (running, catching, and throwing). He had night terrors, feeding issues, behaviors like spitting, and major temper tantrums when he didn’t get his way. We would have never learned all this without these transition visits. We ended up adopting him in the spring of 1993.
The Legal System
We had the good fortune of hiring good, experienced, ethical lawyers who knew the system and made our adoption journey a pleasant experience. But if you want to complete a legal adoption, you may want to consider finding a good, experienced attorney. Why? Not all adoptions require an attorney, however, adoption attorneys usually specialize in adoptions, so are able to anticipate and interpret information. Other reasons may include: making sure that the child has not been a victim of human trafficking, ,making sure that the biological parents’ rights are not being violated, and more. Here are some issues both sides may need to investigate with their lawyer. Please note, the legal process may vary from state to state.
This term (also referred to as TPR) refers to when the biological parents are no longer the legal and custodial parents of a child. Parental rights can be voluntarily relinquished or involuntarily severed. In either case, this legal step must be completed in a court of law and signed off by a judge. Here in the states, in domestic adoptions or foster-care adoptions, a biological parent has the right to object to a TPR by requesting a trial. In international adoptions, different nations have different requirements. If you are pursuing an international adoption, it is recommended that you do research to ensure that the foreign agencies you are working with are legitimate and not a part of human trafficking. One option is to work with a country that is a part of the Hague Convention.
This is a legal document prepared by an attorney and filed with the court to get the ball rolling. It lets the court know your intention to adopt and, in some cases, names the identified child. It will also ask whether you wish to change the child’s name, and if so, what you wish to change it to.
The Adoption Order
This is the final document you will need to finalize your adoption. It is drafted by your attorney and reviewed and signed by a judge. It will contain your name, your child’s new names and the date and location that the adoption was finalized.
The Post Adoption Aftermath
Congratulations, You are an adoptive parent.This is not the end; it is just the beginning. Your state child welfare agency and your attorney should assist you in various changes you will need including Social Security, birth certificate, etc.
You will also need to decide whether to have an open adoption. If so, your attorney will work on a document usually called the post-adoptive communication agreement. This document outlines the specifics of when, where, and how often contact is to be made between the newly adoptive child and the biological family. This is usually done with the best interest of the child in mind, but is usually not not enforceable, depending on which state you finalize the adoption in.
Each adoption is unique and will vary from case to case and from state to state and from country to country. Our experience has been a blessing. Adoption has its ups and downs but not only have our children been blessed by the experience, but so have we.
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journeys. He and his wife started their own adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children, 6 of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities, including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.