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Understanding Family Structures and Dynamics


©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Adoption can be very challenging and complicated.

At one time, hundreds of abandoned infants needed parents. Due to more widespread use of birth control, decreased stigma for unwed mothers, and legalized abortion, this is no longer the case. If you want to take the traditional route of adopting a child through an agency, you may have to wait several years -- if you qualify. There are other avenues -- private adoption, foreign adoption, open adoption, and independent adoption -- but none is without perils. You'll need to ask yourself how much money you're willing to spend and what you're willing to endure.

Before you begin, contact someone you know who has already adopted. If you don't know any adoptive parents, contact your local library or human services agency for information on a local adoption support group. You will get lots of timesaving information from others who have been through the process. They'll tell you which agencies to avoid and which agencies can best serve your set of circumstances.

Adoption Agencies

If you plan to go through an adoption agency, know that each agency has its own profile of what it considers the "perfect parents." If you don't fit that profile -- and an interviewer can tell with a few pointed questions -- you won't even receive an application. The agency's profile weighs factors pertaining to your age, stability, and parenting ability. If your application is satisfactory, you are interviewed extensively. A social worker is sent to your home, perhaps for several visits, to do a home study, which involves a great deal of questioning about personal information.

Although agencies generally won't arrange for nontraditional parents (older couples, single individuals, gay men or lesbians) to adopt a child, if you're interested in a special-needs child (defined as a child who is older or a child who has a disability), an agency may be willing to work with you.

Agency fees range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.

Private Adoptions

Private adoptions are usually arranged by lawyers who bring together parents who want to adopt and mothers who plan to give up their babies after birth. Before considering this route, be sure you know the law. In some states, it is illegal to have an intermediate party search for the child, even though it may be legal for you to search for the child yourself.

A private adoption is sometimes the fastest way to locate an infant, and it often gives the biological mother a way to learn something about the adoptive parents. However, some agencies say private adoption does not allow for a good home study since this is usually not the chief concern of the lawyers involved. In many cases, the lawyer represents both the adoptive parents and the birth mother, which usually means the birth mother doesn't get proper counseling or legal representation.

Private adoption fees generally range from $5,000 to $10,000 or possibly much more. Additionally, you typically have to pay the birth mother's medical expenses.

Foreign Adoptions

Foreign adoptions are arranged through traditional as well as specialized agencies. You can also arrange them by dealing directly with foreign agencies or intermediaries. Most recent foreign adoptions were from Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Philippines, South Korea, and China.

Because there are more layers of bureaucracy to cut through-lawyers in both countries, both governments, and, most likely, an orphanage-there's a greater potential for delays and problems in foreign adoption. And foreign adoptions can be quite costly -- up to $15,000 or more. Worse, fraud occurs occasionally in the foreign adoption business, and you could lose your money. However, if all goes well, a foreign adoption can be arranged in as little as nine months.

The best route to take for a foreign adoption is to work through well-established organizations. If you're a single or otherwise nontraditional parent, foreign adoption will be more open to you in some countries than in others.

Open Adoptions

Open adoption means something different to every agency. For instance, the birth mother and the adoptive parents can conceivably have an ongoing relationship after the adoption. In most instances, though, open adoption means the birth mother is allowed to write a letter to her child that the adoptive parents will present to the child at a certain time, or an agreement is made to exchange pictures without names and addresses.

Open adoption is easier on the birth mother since her existence is acknowledged. This may help reduce her grief after the adoption because she knows at least a little bit about her baby's situation. When birth mothers have less apprehension, they may be less likely to try to find their children later on.

Independent Adoptions

Independent adoption means you pay the medical and legal expenses for a pregnant woman who wishes to give up her child. While this type of adoption can be fast, allowing you to bypass agency red tape and restrictions, it can be emotionally devastating if the biological mother changes her mind at the last minute. Also, the adoption is not final until a judge signs the adoption papers when the baby is between six months and one year old. Keep in mind, each state has different laws about how long birth parents have the right to change their minds.

Independent adoption can be tremendously joyous if all works out well. You may get to take the baby home right from the hospital, whereas with most other adoption methods you may not see the child before she's one month old. You also have greater intimacy and control since you know the birth mother during her pregnancy. Some adopting couples have actually assisted in the delivery!

The first step in an independent adoption is to find a birth mother. This is easier said than done, but you can start by notifying relatives and friends. Other connections might be social workers, members of the clergy, and doctors. The National Adoption Center can put you in touch with local independent adoption groups. For more information, write to 1500 Walnut St., Suite 701, Philadelphia, PA 19102; call 800-TO-ADOPT; or vist thier website at:

Know your state law. This can't be stressed enough. An oversight with regard to the law can overturn an adoption. How long do birth parents have a right to change their minds in your state? Is it permissible to bring a baby into your state from another? With interstate adoptions, you'll probably need to be in compliance with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. Does the law allow you to have an intermediary (someone to help you connect with the birth mother) in your state? Consult a lawyer to advise you about the law and to do the paperwork.

Costs for independent adoptions can be less than those for private agency adoptions. Usually, you pay the birth mother's medical and legal expenses. Some state laws allow you to pay her living expenses. Whatever you do pay, make sure you document it, because things like new cars for the biological mother may suggest baby-buying to a judge, and that's illegal.

Explaining Adoption

An adopted toddler-like any toddler-will inquire about her origins. Direct answers to the queries of adopted children are always best, but remember that a child younger than three years of age hasn't the comprehension of an older child. Simple, truthful answers to your toddler's questions will satisfy her. "You grew inside your mother, and now you're our little girl," is one example. As your child grows older, your answers to her questions will become progressively more complex.

Other family members -- especially an adopted child's siblings -- should be included in your plan of simple truthfulness. Never try to hide facts about adoption from any of your children. To do so invites misunderstanding and painful future revelations.

By the way, it is critical to obtain and keep as much information as you can about the medical history of your adopted child's biological family. This information is key in predicting, diagnosing, and dealing with any health problems she may have in the future, as well as those of her children and grandchildren.

Families are like the people that comprise them. Each one is distinct and individual. As the definition of what constitutes a family grows, people find new loved-ones to take into their home. Your family, however it appears, will have that mix of joy and difficulties that forges unbreakable bonds.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.



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