We did not begin pursing adoption until shortly after the triplets' first birthday (up until that point we were very busy changing poopy diapers, preparing and serving bottles and trying desperately to catch up on our sleep) and, when we did, our pursuit was for the domestic adoption of a healthy infant through our church (the church "subsidizes" the cost of adoption for its members, charging only 10% of a couple's annual income, making the domestic adoption of an infant (which, on average costs approximately $20,000,) a very affordable option). Obviously the original path that we had chosen took a turn as the two newest members of our family were adopted internationally, were not infants (well, not newborns. . .Joshua was still considered an infant at 10 months old) and both have special needs, BUT we learned a lot along the way and I am happy to pass along information on all of the options domestic adoption has to offer!
First and foremost, there are many different "options" when it comes to adopting domestically. The most commonly pursued domestic adoptions are the domestic adoption of an infant (agency vs. private) and adopting a "waiting child" in the foster care system. I will spend most of my time today discussing these two options.
Domestic Adoption of an Infant
Each year there are approximately 30,000 domestic infant adoptions. There are essentially two different options when adopting an infant domestically. You have the option of enlisting the help of an agency or adopting privately with the help of an adoption attorney (unless you happen to live in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware or Massachusetts where private adoption is illegal). Of the 30,000 domestic infant adoptions that are finalized each year, approximately half of them are agency assisted and half of them are private. The following is a short description of each of these options and their general process:
Agency-assisted Domestic Infant Adoption
Private agencies have the ability to set criteria for who they will serve. Some agencies are more restrictive than others (an example of an agencies criteria might be "must be married a minimum of 2 years, cannot have more than 3 children currently in the home, single applicants not accepted). Once you have chosen an agency, you must first complete a homestudy (required for ALL prospective adoptive families regardless of whether you are adopting domestically (an infant or from foster care) or internationally). A homestudy is very literally a study of your home and family. If you are a very private person, this part of the process might be difficult for you as a social worker is required to look into every nook and cranny of your life! As part of the homestudy, most states require that prospective adoptive parents complete 30+ hours of adoption training. Families will also be asked to fill out a form specifying what you are looking for in a child (race, sex, healthy vs. special needs, which special needs you would be willing to accept, etc). Once the homestudy is complete, most agencies have their families put together a biography complete with pictures and a "Dear Birthmother" letter (this letter addresses the birth mother and essentially gives her information about your family, parenting style/philosophy, your thoughts on children and family, your hopes and dreams for her child, etc.). When a birth mother contacts the agency hoping to make an adoption plan, the agency generally presents her with several different family profiles to review and she then selects the family she feels will be the best fit for her baby. In most cases, once the baby is born and the mother has relinquished her rights, the adoptive family may take the baby home from the hospital. In other cases, the baby may come to them after spending a short time in foster care (this will differ from state to state, depending on what your adoption laws are). Obviously this is the very condensed and simplified version of the process, but it gives you an idea of what the process of adopting an infant through a private agency is like.
Private Domestic Infant Adoption
When a family decides to pursue the private adoption of an infant domestically, it is up to that family to locate a birth mother and develop an adoption plan (usually through the help of an attorney). How does one go about finding a birth mother? Many couples mail their adoption "resumes" to obstetrician's offices or adoption attorneys, advertise in newspaper classified sections, set up an adoption webpage or contact family and friends about their intentions to adopt a newborn in hopes of making a connection. Once the prospective adoptive couple and the birth mother connect, they generally sit down with an adoption attorney and set up an adoption plan. Many adoptive couples will provide food, housing and medical care for the birth mother during her pregnancy. In most cases the baby goes directly home from the hospital with the adoptive family. Again, an oversimplified description of the process, but it gives you a general idea of how adopting an infant privately works.
A few things to keep in mind when adopting an infant domestically:
- Adopting an infant domestically through an agency, on average, costs between $15,000-$25,000. This includes agency fees, homestudy, counseling for the birth mother and prospective adoptive parents, medical expenses (for the birth mother and the baby), travel (if adopting an infant from a state other than your own) and foster care if needed. Adopting an infant privately typically costs between $7,000-$9,000 in legal fees for the adoptive and the birth parents, with additional fees including advertising, the homestudy, medical expenses for birth mother and baby, living expenses for the birth mother and travel (if adopting an infant from a state other than your own). Generally, private adoption of an infant ranges between $20,000-$30,000 with expenses typically being less predictable than adopting an infant through an agency.
- Between the agencies criteria, the birth mother's preferences and your own specifications for a child, the length of time it takes to be matched with a child and complete the process can be lengthy. The domestic adoption of an infant on average takes between 1-18 months once the homestudy is complete.
- The birth parents can change their minds at any point prior to their baby's birth or until the adoption is final. While statistically most birth parent's change their minds prior to the child's birth, many will decide to parent during their time in the hospital immediately following the birth. In some cases, a birth parent or relative will change their mind and decide to parent the child after the child has been placed in the adoptive home, but before the adoption is finalized (although the length of time a birth parent has to change their mind differs from state to state, birth parents generally have between 10 days and 6 months to step forward and decide to parent, so there is always a degree of risk involved).
- If you are adopting an infant in another state, you must clear ICPC (Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children). ICPC is an agreement between all 50 states and the District of Columbia that controls the lawful movement of children from one state to another for the purpose of adoption. Both the originating state (where the child was born) and the receiving state (where the child will live) must legally approve the child' movement before the child can leave the state. This is the case for ALL interstate adoptions in the US (infant and foster/adopt).
Foster care adoption involves adopting a child/children who are currently living in the foster care system. While most children who are adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents or relatives, there are still thousands of children waiting for their forever families in the foster care system. Here are some current statistics about foster care:
- There are approximately 513, 000 children living in foster care in the United States. An estimated 114, 000 are currently available for adoption (meaning, parental rights have already been terminated).
- In 2005, approximately 51,000 children were adopted from foster care.
- 68% of people who adopt from foster care are married couples, 27% are single females, 3% are single males and 2% are unmarried couples.
- The median age of a child in foster care is 10.6
- Race/ethnicity of a child in foster care: 41% Caucasian, 32% African-American, 18% Hispanic, 1% Asian, 8% Other.
- The average child in foster care goes through three different placements and stays in the system for nearly 29 months.
- Each year, about 20,000 children age out of foster care.
The Process of Adopting from the Foster Care System
The first step in adopting from foster care is to locate an agency. In most states, the Department of Public Welfare or Department of Social Services (also known in many states as the Department of Job and Family Services), handles all foster care and adoption cases (you can usually find contact information on your state government's website). In some states, public agencies contract with private agencies to handle foster and adoption cases.
Once you have contacted the agency you must submit an application (this is where you will state your specifications regarding the child/children you are interested in having placed in your home) and complete your homestudy. As with infant adoption, adopting a child from foster care requires you to attend and complete "parenting classes." I often hear people say that, "anyone can have a baby, but to adopt you have to be "taught" how to be a good parent." Although some may roll their eyes (typically those who already have children in their home and feel they are experts in the art of parenting), I assure you that, parenting an adopted child, especially a child who has experienced physical or emotional abuse or trauma, is much, much different than parenting a biological child raised from birth (this will be addressed in another post because it is THAT important). These classes are important and will give you A LOT of insight into parenting a child who has been living in foster care. These classes typically take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks to complete.
After you have completed your homestudy and required training, you wait for a child to be placed in your home (unless you are adopting a child who is already available for adoption, at this point you would be able to submit your homestudy to the child's case worker for consideration). Wait times vary greatly depending on your specifications for a child. Once a child is placed in your home you wait for them to become available for adoption. Once the child is legally available for adoption, the finalization process typically takes 6+ months. If you are adopting a child from foster care who is already legally available for adoption at the time of placement in your home, most states require that the child reside with you for 6 months until the finalization process can begin (this gives the child and the family the opportunity to make sure that the placement is a good fit).
A few things to keep in mind when adopting from foster care:
- The fees to adopt from foster care are minimal to non-existent (most fees can be reimbursed following finalization), wait times can often be shorter than in private or international adoption (although this is not always the case), and there are many young children, toddlers and even infants, available for adoption (although wait times for younger children are generally longer). In many cases subsidies are available for the child's living expenses and medical care even after the adoption is completed (these subsidies generally must be applied for and approved PRIOR to finalization, however).
- When accepting a "legal risk" placement there is always a chance that parental rights may not be terminated and the child may never become available for adoption. There are also many instances where family members step forward to parent the child when parental rights are terminated. When accepting a "legal risk" placement there is a great deal of emotional risk involved. Some families go through several placements before they are able to complete an adoption.
- ICPC (Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children) is also a factor when adopting a child from foster care who is already legally free for adoption.
- AdoptUSKids (Includes a photolisting of kids waiting in foster care. I can literally spend hours at a time browsing the pictures and descriptions of all of these amazing kids. It is my guilty pleasure!)
- The Adoption Guide
- Child Welfare Information Gateway