From marrying and having children to hanging with (or avoiding) relatives and making friends, how we determine the folks we count as family is as varied as our society. This means we can establish our family through multiple ways -- such as adoption, an increasingly mainstream choice.
In fact, within the United States in 2009, 2.3 percent of men and 1.1 percent of women were looking to adopt, and 1 out of every 3 women has at least thought about adopting. Even today's major U.S. companies have given a nod to adoption; an estimated 50 percent have implemented some form of assistance [source: Adoptive Families Magazine].
However, as common as adoption may be, there are still several prevailing myths related to the adoption process -- be it from fictional accounts or more sensational stories grabbing news headlines. When you compound these myths with the number of decisions and steps during the adoption process, it can be stressful for those people seeking to grow their family.
One way to kick some of that stress to the curb? Get the facts. Read on for the ins and outs of the adoption process.
With the spotlight seemingly always on celebrity adoptions -- especially celebrities adopting abroad -- you may think that most adoptions are international, but both domestic and international adoptions are common. In fact, annually, about 25,000 to 30,000 infants are adopted in the U.S. That number buries the total of all intercountry adoptions, considering that, in 2008, those totaled 17,438 [source: Adoptive Families Magazine]? So how do they vary?
First, remember that the decision is personal -- whether to adopt here or from an eligible international area, such as Asia, Latin America or Eastern Europe. It's only then that other factors come into play, including cost. Domestic adoptions are usually less expensive -- around $20,000 to $25,000. Intercountry adoptions typically range from $25,000 to $35,000, depending on travel and fees [source: Adoptive Families Magazine].
Processes also vary. For domestic adoptions, you can usually use an agency or lawyer. For intercountry adoptions, though, you typically work with a U.S. private, nonprofit agency that partners with an organization in the child's country.
Although timelines have a wide range, as well, waits are far from the mythical "forever." Instead, an international adoption can come in at fewer than two years, a domestic adoption of an infant averages around two years, and adoption of a domestic child from foster care can vary from about two months to a year [sources: Adoptive Families Magazine, Cody Epstein].
When seeking a private adoption, you can take three routes -- using an agency, a lawyer or a combination of the two.
Agencies set criteria on who they accept, and you'll have to apply. If you're accepted, you wait to be matched or selected by a birth mother affiliated with the agency. You get the full range of adoption services and support throughout, but the agency's criteria and birth parents' involvement in the selection can create an unpredictable timeline.
With an adoption lawyer, you and your lawyer seek out the birth mother on your own. This could be through mailing resumes to obstetricians, advertising or creating a Web site. That said, although you're in control and outside of agency restrictions, costs and time can vary. Also, adoptions via a lawyer are illegal in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware and Massachusetts.
In a hybrid of the two options, sometimes you can use a lawyer to help find the birth mother and an agency to complete the remainder of the process. This can help connect you with those additional agency services, such as home study assistance (which we'll discuss more in an upcoming section) and counseling.
More than 500,000: That's the number of U.S. children in foster care. Of the 500,000, 129,000 of them are eligible for adoption, with just 20 percent having been connected with an adoptive family [source: Children's Rights].
Although the goal of foster care is to be able to return the child to the birth parent(s), that isn't always possible. And when that's the case, potential parents are able to serve as foster parents and then adopt, or adopt right away.
If you'd like to enter into the process, you will connect with a public agency and complete an application. Prospective parents enter an orientation and prep class and start a home study. A family caseworker partners with you during the process, and a child caseworker, representing the child, seeks you out.
Adopting a child from foster care is a different world when it comes to costs and timelines. Low fees, from $1,500 to $3,500, are basically erased by government assistance. You may also qualify for ongoing government-sponsored subsidies. And although your application, home study and wait for a child matching your requirements may vary, once a birth parent loses parental rights, adoption finalization can run about six months [source: Adoptive Families Magazine].
If you're a private person, you might find the adoption process a little uncomfortable. You'll have to share a great deal of information about yourself, your family and your home life during a home study, also known as a family profile. The home study is a final written document prepared by a social worker as one of the last pieces of the adoption process. And however nervous it makes you, the results are rarely negative -- it presents the chance to learn about adoption and, ultimately, serves as a protective measure for the child.
So what's involved in a home study? Typically, through written documentation, interviews and at least one visit to your home, your social worker pulls together a document that outlines specific details on you and your family, such as financial well-being, references, the neighborhood you live in, health history and family history. As you start the home study process, if you have any concerns about your status due to things like financial challenges or a criminal record, get those out in the open at the beginning.
If cost is a hurdle in your adoption journey, you may not be aware of some of the financial assistance, such as military subsidies and employer benefits, that's available. And although this assistance might not get you over that hurdle completely, just knowing what's out there can help:
- Employment benefits: In the work world, the trend is heading toward providing some sort of adoption assistance. This may come in the form of paid leave time, help with the adoption process or even coverage of some of the related costs.
- Subsidies and reimbursement: Especially when related to a child with special needs, such as a disability, subsidies or reimbursements are usually available through federal and state assistance. This financial support can be in the form of a one-time reimbursement or ongoing help.
- Tax assistance: You may also be eligible for either federal or state tax assistance. Refer to your state's individual guidelines, and check the Internal Revenue Service Web site for federal regulations.
If you've ever needed specialized medical attention, you probably sought out a specialist. Well, when it comes to your future or new child's health, you can do the same thing.
Physicians who specialize in adoption medicine have unique experience in coordinating care for adopted children, both domestic and international. Often, the adoptive child has received very little prior care, and there are poor medical records and no family history to work from. He or she may also have lived in more trying circumstances, suffering neglect or contracting uncommon illnesses, such as tropical diseases.
These doctors are well-versed in the conditions of orphanages abroad. They're knowledgeable about the referral process for unique needs and can implement future care with an eye on the past. They can also assist with pre-adoption counseling, such as reviewing the child's health and available records.
To connect with a physician specializing in adoption medicine, you can call your area hospital, check with a local adoption agency or refer to the adoption and foster care information on the American Academy of Pediatrics Web site.
When you adopt a child from another country or with a different ethnic background as yourself, your family becomes multicultural or multiracial -- meaning that it's not just an identifier for your new family member, but also for the entire family. As you consider if this is the right path for you, there are some questions to ask yourself, such as:
- Are you OK with possibly being labeled "different"?
- What will you say to people who may be negative toward you?
- Do you have access to different cultural events or a network to help connect your child with his or her heritage?
- Do you have a support system?
- Does the child have siblings? Can you adopt them?
After you have moved down the adoption path and are getting settled in, two ways you can authentically help your child is to truly believe you are the best parent for him or her and have a zero-tolerance for any negative remarks directed at your family [source: Child Welfare Information Gateway].
Cultivating Your Child's Culture
So how can you help your child maintain his or her culture? Here are a few tips to get started:
- Start your child learning his or her native language early.
- In fact, learn the language as a family.
- Learn all you can about your child's culture, from history to food.
- Involve the entire family in cultural activities.
- Even if your child doesn't express an interest in learning about his or her heritage, continue to learn on your own. You will then have answers for your child should that interest develop.
If there's ever a time to put yourself in someone else's shoes, adoption is it. By understanding some of the effects adoption may have on a child, you can move forward with his or her needs in mind.
For example, your child may be experiencing emotions of loss and grief. Maybe your child is wondering why he or she is adopted. Even missing pieces of his or her past, such as medical history and family details, can be unsettling.
What can you do to help your child overcome or manage the questions he or she may have and how can you combat self-esteem issues that might develop? As it turns out, there are options available to you, and your adoption agency may actually provide them. You can (and should) use assistance from counseling or support groups.
After the long journey of the adoption process, you finally get to take your child home. But the transition home can take time, and you may even find yourself feeling overwhelmed at first.
So, as you make that transition, consider the following. First, if you have other children, they may have some initial conflicts or feelings of jealousy. Second, it also will take time for your new child to adjust to your family. Third, your new child may be experiencing emotional issues related to being adopted or even from negative experiences prior to joining your family.
Keeping these things in mind, it's important to tread lightly, perhaps taking some time off from work and slowly easing into your new family life. Put an emphasis on enjoying the slow process and celebrating the successes. Also, if you worked with an agency -- or even if you didn't work with an agency, you can seek one out -- there are post-adoption services, such as counseling, classes and other education, available to you.
As overwhelming as the adoption process may seem, there are plenty of resources to get you up to speed. Here are a few:
- Adoptive Families Magazine: The publication's site provides helpful information on the adoption process.
- AdoptUsKids: AdoptUsKids seeks to bring foster and adoptive families and children together, as well as educate the public. This site includes photos of foster children waiting for adoption and informational materials.
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: This comprehensive site is provided through the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It includes in-depth information in regard to child welfare. It also contains a complete section on adoption -- from the adoption process, adopting special needs children and resources to post-adoption services, information for birthparents and adoption laws.
- North American Council on Adoptable Children: This council emphasizes the adoption of foster children and children with special needs. Visit the site for detailed information on how to adopt, post-adoption support, subsidies and educational materials.
- Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption: Refer to this site for free resources, educational information and details on how the foundation is working on behalf of children in foster care.
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- Cody Epstein, Jennifer. "Starting the Adoption Process." Parents. 2004. (June 21, 2010) http://www.parents.com/parenting/adoption/facts/starting-adoption-process/
- Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption. "About Us." (June 29, 2010)http://www.davethomasfoundation.org/About-Us
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- Poremba, Sue. "We're Home! Now What?" (June 22, 2010) http://www.iparentingadoption.com/articles/general/we-re-home-now-what-4557/