If you are just starting your adoption journey, odds are your mind is swirling with questions! The internet can be a great resource, but it can also yield an overwhelming amount of information that may or may not be accurate to your specific situation. Many prospective adoptive parents have questions specifically about whether or not they qualify to adopt, or what are the requirements for adopting a child. While each type of adoption—international, domestic infant, and foster care—has its own requirements, there are some overall requirements that all prospective adoptive parents must meet. Generally, these requirements serve to prove that you would not be an unsafe choice for the placement of a child and that you are able to meet his or her needs. Often, people think that in order to adopt you have to be perfect, wealthy, and paragons of virtue. That isn’t the case, and all kinds of people and families pursue adoption and are successful.
So what are the requirements for adopting a child? Are there specific educational requirements? For prospective adoptive parents, generally, there is not an educational requirement in terms of what level of education you have completed. Most agencies only work with parents who are 25 and older, so odds are most adoptive parents have at minimum completed a high school degree. Some agencies may require that you be college educated, but this varies from agency to agency. If they do, it is because expectant mothers or birthparents tend to highly value education and want their child to have educational opportunities they might not be able to provide. If the adoptive parents are highly educated, it stands to reason that they would place a high value on education for their children and may have access to more comprehensive educational resources.
In regards to any education adoptive parents may have to undergo in order to adopt, most agencies require prospective adoptive parents to complete some sort of training. The training helps them understand the adoption process and touches on some of the unique aspects of parenting an adopted child. If you are adopting transracially, you may be required to take specific courses on the nuances of parenting a child of a different race. These courses are fairly informal and either meet for a few hours in the evening or on weekends or are online training. Even if your agency does not require any specific training, it is in your best interest as a parent to be as educated and prepared as possible. There are a variety of books and a plethora of online resources covering infant adoption and infant care, adoption of older children, and specific concerns for people adopting internationally. There are also a large number of online support groups of varying sizes for prospective adoptive parents and adoptive parents—Facebook is a great place to start looking for those groups. While there are generally no educational requirements for adopting a child, it is in your best interest to learn as much as you can before you bring your child home.
Another one of the requirements for adopting a child is the home study. The home study is, in essence, designed to protect children. Unfortunately, in the past, there were frequent cases of abuse or neglect of adopted children. The home study is designed solely to ensure you can provide a safe home for a child. They do not want to scrutinize every nook and cranny of your home; they just want to get to know you a bit, learn about your ideas of what you will be like as a parent, and also conduct background checks necessary to make sure any child you bring home will be safe. While it can feel invasive and be time-consuming, the odds of someone failing a home study are very slim. The only way to “fail” is if you have a criminal conviction for child abuse or another serious crime, or if you have a home that is not suitable for children. Not because of a few dust bunnies, but because there is no running water or electricity or there are dangerous areas of your home such as an unsecured pool or unsecured weapons. Even if your home itself is not initially up to code, more often than not they will give you a chance to correct any violations rather than just flat-out deny you.
Another aspect of the home study is analyzing your financial stability. It doesn’t mean you need to be rolling in it; it just means you need to be able to demonstrate that you have the means to provide for an adopted child or children that you would be bringing into your home. Generally, this is done by providing letters from employers stating what your position is and what your rate of compensation is. While it may feel strange to be divulging financial information to a stranger, understand that this, much like all the other requirements for adopting a child, is merely designed to ensure that adopted children are entering homes where they will be well cared for. Don’t panic if you have a slightly unusual job or are self-employed. When we were doing our home study, I was working part-time as an independent contractor, living in North Carolina, my bosses were in New York, I had never met them in person, and most of my clients were in the Philippines. I was worried the social worker would think this was unusual, but she didn’t bat an eye. All that mattered was that I was able to get a letter from the company I was contracted with stating my rate and the number of hours I worked per week. You might also be required to provide previous tax returns, particularly if you are self-employed. If you aren’t particularly good at keeping those sorts of things organized, now is the time to start because the paperwork avalanche has just begun!
Other requirements for adopting a child are around getting to know you more as individuals and as a family. The social worker and your agency want to get a good picture of who you are: what hobbies you enjoy, what your relationships are like, and what types of activities you are involved in your community. This serves to establish not only your character in general but also what kinds of children might be best suited for your home. If you live in a two-bedroom house, for example, you might not be a good fit for a large sibling group. Learning more about your interests and personalities also helps your agency begin to build the profile that is shown to expectant mothers, or to other social workers in foster care. Many people think that there is one “right way” to answer all these questions and that they need to seem as perfect as possible. The only right way to answer these questions is to be honest and be yourself!
Your agency may have you create a profile brochure that includes pictures of you and your family. While it can be nice to have some of these pictures be more formal, like holiday card photos or wedding photos, it is also important that you include photos that represent who you truly are and what are your passions. Do you love hiking? Put some hiking pictures in there even if you think you look sweaty and tired! Love spending time with your pets? Make sure you include as many pictures of them as you can. Even if you think you have an obscure hobby, you never know what will connect with an expectant mother. I once met an adoptive couple where the husband was very into model trains—a hobby some people might worry would come across as odd or frivolous. One of the reasons their child’s birth mother chose them was because her grandfather loved model trains and some of her best childhood memories were of spending time with him working on them! Had they hidden their love of locomotives from their profile, they might never have connected with their child’s birth parents.
In general, when you are beginning the process, the requirements for adopting a child can seem overwhelming. Your agency or social worker hands you a seemingly endless list of required documents and steps to complete just to begin the wait to be matched. In fact, this process can seem so intimidating and so complicated that many families never make it past the first phase. If you truly want to build your family through adoption, the best way to survive this phase of the process is to be organized and to take things one step at a time. Don’t compare your progress to others either. Just because your neighbor’s cousins whizzed through the process in a month doesn’t mean you need to. We can’t, and shouldn’t, put the rest of our lives on hold while we are preparing to adopt. Make yourself a to-do list and celebrate when you check off some of the major requirements. And know that if you persevere, even if it takes months or years, you will eventually bring home a child who is perfect for your family.