This National Adoption Awareness Month, the Of Capes and Combat Boots Facebook page has featured posts about the whos, whats and whys of adoption. (“Like” the page now to ensure you don’t miss the videos, testimonies and other social media content that is not posted here on the blog!)
For 17 days now, we’ve been Celebrating Superheroes-in-Waiting and the 132 million children around the world just waiting for a family to call their own. And TODAY, after sharing the need and the heart behind adoption, we show you how to start.
There are three main types of adoption: international, domestic and foster-to-adopt. (For information on kinship adoption, check out https://www.childwelfare.gov/.)
On Thursday, guest blogger Ariele O’Brien shared her story of adopting twins from the foster system and offered tips for getting started on the foster-to-adopt path.
Tomorrow, our friends at Great Wall China Adoption and Children of All Nations will be sharing their tips for starting the international adoption process.
And today, our sweet friends at Amazing Grace Adoptions, the agency we used for our second China home study and the home of one of my very favorite social workers of all time, teach us what to do and how to start a domestic adoption.
Because thousands of precious birth mothers and U.S. superheroes await.
GETTING STARTED WITH DOMESTIC ADOPTION
By Guest Blogger Hayley Walston, adoption counselor at Amazing Grace Adoptions
What is the difference between domestic adoption and adoption through the foster care system?
One of the main differences between domestic adoption and adoption through the foster care system is the circumstances around the placement of the child. In domestic adoption, birthparents voluntarily make an adoption plan, whereas through foster care, children are removed from their biological family. Most domestic adoptions are infant adoptions. As an agency, we work with women who are pregnant and seeking to make an adoption plan for their baby. We will occasionally work with a mom who is wanting to place her child who is a few months old or a toddler. Most often this may be due to lack of support from family, friends and the child’s father.
What is the difference between adopting through an agency versus a facilitator or attorney?
Agency - All licensed adoption agencies are individually licensed by the states in which they provide adoption services. These agencies must meet licensing standards according to each state and then meet these requirements on an on-going basis, either by annual or biennial licensure visits. An agency is able to provide home study services and post placement services, as well as placement services. In an agency adoption, a counselor will meet with the expectant mother in person and provide free counseling to assist the mother in making her own permanent plan for her child, either parenting or adoption. Through a licensed agency, both the expectant mother and the prospective adoptive family have their own advocate and receive in-person services.
Facilitator – Most facilitators are not monitored, governed or regulated by any set standards or state laws, as they are not licensed by their individual state. Many facilitators work with expectant mothers and families who do not reside in their state. This typically means that they are not able to meet in person with the majority of their clients. They are not able to provide home study services or post placement services as they are not licensed by the state. They may provide advertisement services and “matching” services. Generally, there tends to be higher expenses associated with adoptions through facilitators. The use of facilitators has drastically increased over the last few years due to the widespread use of internet advertisements and domestic adoption support groups on the internet. It is appealing to adoptive families to use facilitators, as they often advertise short wait times for a placement. It is appealing for expectant mothers because they often advertise the payment of pregnancy related expenses. In adoptions through facilitators, there may be a need for several different adoption entities, including an agency to complete the family’s home study and at least one attorney to complete the legal paperwork.
What is the process?
Choose an adoption agency.
Once a family decides which agency to work with, they submit an application. The application is typically reviewed and the family is approved to move forward to the next stage, which is the home study stage. As a home study is mandatory for the legal process of adoption, many documents are required: verification of income, medical reports, financial statements, reference letters, criminal background checks, child abuse clearances, autobiographies, adoption training and more! During the home study stage, the family will meet with a social worker from the agency. One of the visits must occur within the family’s home. The number of visits will vary depending on the requirement for the state of residence of the family. In our state of North Carolina, at least three visits are required.
Once the home study is completed, the family will join the agency’s waiting list. During the wait, the family’s profile book (a book compiled by the family with pictures and information about the family) will be shown to expectant mothers whose situation is one that would match a family's profile on the waiting list. These situations include the race of the child, prenatal substances, special needs, level of openness, etc. The expectant mother may choose to meet the family. If so, there will be a meeting with the prospective adoptive family and the expectant mother. This meeting may occur at the agency office or in a neutral location. If the expectant mother desires an open adoption, there is usually a state form and/or an openness agreement that is signed by the adoptive family and the expectant mother prior to the placement. The birth father may be part of this meeting and agreement, as well. There may be more than one meeting before the birth of the baby.
In some adoption situations, the family may go to the hospital and in some, the family may meet the baby at the agency’s office. Many women choose not to have the adoptive family present at the hospital. Depending on the length of the revocation period, this time would be the only time that the mother would have with her infant before the child is placed with the prospective adoptive family.
If an adoptive family adopts a child outside of their state of residence, the adoption must go through the Interstate Compact on Placement of Children (ICPC) process. This is a federal law that applies if a child is to cross state lines for the purpose of adoption. This federal law was put into place to ensure that the child is not being trafficked. Until this process is completed, the family is required to stay in the state of the child’s residence, which could take one to two weeks. Once ICPC approval occurs, the adoptive family is able to travel back to their home state with the child.
What is the legal process for domestic adoption?
The legal process varies from state to state. In most states, a mother cannot sign legal paperwork until after the child is born. Some states have a minimum number of hours/days after the birth of the child before the mother can sign. Some states also have a period of time called a revocation period where she can change her mind after signing the legal paperwork. For example, in North Carolina, a mother can revoke her relinquishment up to seven days after signing the legal paperwork. In some states, she does not have a revocation period, meaning that the legal paperwork is irrevocable once she signs.
What about the father?
In most states, the biological father does have to either voluntarily relinquish his parental rights, or his rights will need to be terminated through a legal process. Some states have a putative birthfather registry, where a man can register his name if he thinks he has fathered a child. If his name is not listed on the registry, then his rights can be terminated. If the mom does not know the birth father’s name and/or address, then sometimes an ad must run in the newspaper to serve notice to the father of the adoption proceeding.
What are the different types of adoption?
There are three different types of adoption: open, semi-open and closed/confidential.
Open – In an open adoption, adoptive families and birth families have direct contact. This could include phone calls, emails and visits. Typically in an open adoption, an openness agreement is signed between the adoptive family and the birthparent(s) outlining what type of contact they agree to and how often. Open adoptions are each different. In some, the adoptive family and birthparent(s) may spend holidays together, and in others, they may only see each other once a year. In open adoptions, identifying information is exchanged between both parties.
Semi-Open – In a semi-open adoption, the adoptive family and birthparent(s) have mediated contact with each other typically through the adoption agency. Any pictures, letters and gifts are sent through the agency. Also, any meetings with the adoptive family, birthparent(s) and child is scheduled through the agency and a member of the agency is present. The meetings are typically at a neutral place.
Closed/Confidential – In a closed/confidential adoption, the adoptive family and birthparent(s) do not exchange pictures or updates. Typically in a closed adoption, the birthparent(s) do not want to choose the family.
How long does it take?
There are several stages in the adoption process. The first stage, the application and home study stage, can take a few months to one year depending on how quickly a family completes the required paperwork and training for the home study.
The second stage is the waiting stage. This is the stage that most families ask about and is probably the hardest stage of all. Some families may wait a few months and then some may wait two years or longer. Most families will wait between 12 to 18 months for a placement. There are several factors that play into the length of time a family may wait. These include what a family has stated they are open to, including: race, substance use, special needs, level of openness and age of the child. In domestic adoption, the family is the one doing the waiting. They are waiting for an expectant mother to choose life, to consider adoption, to choose their family from profile books and then to choose to follow through with her adoption plan after delivery. This time can be very hard for families because there is very little that they can do and they have very little control over this time. One thing that families can take comfort in during this time is that the Lord is sovereign and He will bring the right child into their family in His perfect timing.
The third stage is the legal and finalization stage. This stage can take a few months to one year depending on the legal circumstances surrounding the adoption. This amount of time will widely vary based on the state’s process, as well. The adoption typically cannot be finalized until the biological father’s rights are terminated.
Why are there fees in private domestic adoption?
Most licensed private agencies do not receive government funding for the provision of counseling and adoption services. This is due to the fact that the children that are placed with a private agency are not in the custody of the state child welfare program. Therefore, adoption fees cover the professional services that are provided free of charge to all expectant mothers. The fees also cover the professional services provided to all adoptive families by the social worker, office staff and all legal services provided by an attorney for the legal processes required for each adoption. Because counseling and services to birthparents through a private agency are free, adoption fees that families pay help to cover some of the costs of these services, as not all expectant women served make an adoption plan.
There is a wide range in average costs in domestic adoptions, from $20,000 to $100,000. This range depends on whether a facilitator is used, if it is an inter-state adoption as well as birthparent expenses. In some cases, families may be asked to help with pregnancy-related expenses including housing, bills, food and medical expenses. The maximum amount allowed does vary by state. It is important that any pregnancy/birthparent expenses paid are not in exchange for the mother’s consent to the adoption. This is illegal and is baby buying. One safety precaution is the agency or adoptive family could pay the vendor directly or give the birthmother gift cards for food or gas instead of cash.
Amazing Grace Adoptions & Orphan Care is a licensed child placing agency in North Carolina and Florida that serves birthparents, orphaned and vulnerable children and adoptive families both domestically and internationally. Visit them on the web at http://www.agadoptions.org/.