Thank God for GPS! Where would we be without Siri or Google Maps? They talk to you and guide you to where you want to go. These little assistants are invaluable when it comes to traveling to a place where you have never been. Prior to GPS, there were good ole-fashioned maps! You needed to prepare so you weren’t folding, searching, and fumbling while driving. Of course, there was always the option of asking for directions from the guy at the gas station. Without some sort of invaluable navigational tool, you may get lost, head in the opposite direction, or miss the exit completely. The same can be said when adopting a child; you will need a guide. Consider this your guide to reach your goal of adopting a child!
Before we start our journey, let’s define a few terms that are used in the adoption community.
- Adoption. Adoption is the legal and custodial transfer of rights from one set of parents to another. Adults interested in adopting can choose international, domestic, foster care, or kinship adoption.
- Foster Care. Foster care is the temporary care of a minor child to provide safety, nurturing, consistency, and stability. In the United States, there are over 400,000 children in foster care at any one time.
- Orphan. A conservative definition of an orphan is a minor child who has lost two parents to death. By that definition, there are about 15-18 million orphans in the world. However, a more liberal interpretation of the word “orphan” defines it as a child who has lost at least one parent to death. That would bring the count to about 140 million orphans in the world!
- Birth Family. This term is used in the adoption community to refer to the biological parents of the child who is to be adopted. “Birth dad” or “birth mom” refers to the biological father or mother, respectively.
- Forever Family. This refers to the adoptive family. This term of endearment became popular, especially for children in foster care, because very often kids get bounced around from one foster family to another. It refers to the last stop on the bus, or the last family a child would live with.
- Gotcha Day. This refers to the day that the adoptive child first comes into the home of the prospective adoptive family. It is sometimes celebrated the same as a birthday.
- TPR. Also known as Termination of Parental Rights, TPR is a legal term that refers to the day that the court legally severs the rights of the biological parents in domestic or foster care adoptions. This can be done voluntarily or involuntarily.
- CPS. Also known as, Child Protective Services, each state in America has its own version of CPS. This entity is responsible for removing children from abusive or neglectful homes and placing them in foster homes, which ultimately can become adoptive homes.
- Adoption Day! This is the last day the child will spend as a foster child or an orphan. It takes place in a courtroom, is presided over by a judge, and all the papers are reviewed and signed by all parties involved including the adoptive parents, the judge, and the attorneys.
Before any big trip, there needs to be preparation days, weeks, perhaps months beforehand! Where shall we go? What shall we do? Where shall we lodge? How shall we travel? And perhaps the biggest question: How much will it cost? Preparing to adopt a child takes no less strategy and preparation! The more prepared you are, the better for all involved, including the adoptee. Making an educated decision is essential! Perhaps, we can encourage preparation by asking some questions:
- Why do I want to adopt? When we go on vacation, we always have different motivations: to visit family, to get rest and relaxation, or for fun and entertainment. Motivations for adopting a child vary greatly from person to person. Some want to respond to a natural disaster that has occurred in some parts of the world, like a major earthquake, mudslide, or tsunami. These events cause death and destruction and leave many children orphaned across the world. Others want to simply make a difference in their community, and they feel adopting a child is the best way to do that. Some couples struggle with infertility and want to build their family through adoption. And still, others feel their calling is from God and choose to follow their faith by caring for children who need a home.
Whatever your motivation, please realize that a child needs adults, not the other way round. Many, if not all, adopted children have experienced abuse, neglect, abandonment, war, poverty, and homelessness. They need an adult who will meet them where they are to give them a home and help them recover from whatever trauma they have experienced.
- Where do I want to adopt from? Whenever preparing to travel, we need to decide where we want to travel. European vacation? A quick trip to Mexico? Perhaps a trip to Florida or California. Or maybe just a “staycation” where we stay home and catch up on some needed rest and relaxation. Adopting a child is not too much different in terms of travel. Here are the different destinations you have the option of adopting from:
- International Adoption. Also known as intercountry adoption, this is when a U.S. citizen proceeds to adopt a child from another nation. There is lots of paperwork, background checks, and travel involved, therefore it is not a quick process. International adoption is more of a long-distance trip, rather than a quick trip to the corner store. The most adoption-friendly nations to work with are Ukraine, South Korea, Kenya, Mexico, and India. These nations have a friendly relationship with the U.S. and do not have as many restrictions as other nations do. In the past, Russia used to be one of the prime countries to adopt from; however, the ever-changing political structure of the world and other reasons have slowly caused adoptions from Russia to grind to a halt. Adoption from China is still possible but has many restrictions.
- Domestic Infant Adoption. Also known as Private Adoption, is when a qualified person or couple chooses to adopt a child here in the states. Infant adoption is a popular trend in America, especially, when there is an identified child involved; it seems like the way to go to build a family. This is a particularly popular idea when adoptive parents are struggling with fertility.
- Foster care adoption. Adopting a child from the foster care system is still necessary for this day and age. As stated earlier, there are nearly half a million kids in foster care, through no fault of their own, due to abuse and neglect. They need a forever family who will give them the stability they need to recover from the trauma they have experienced.
- Who do I want to adopt? Adopting a child is not quite like choosing a mate for life, but pretty close! On the other hand, it’s not like going to the grocery store to buy a box of cereal! Great commitment and wisdom are needed to have a child placed in your home. A good attorney or experienced adoption agency is needed to make this choice. Remember, the best match is when we choose the right family for the child, not the right child for the family.
- Infant Adoption. In many cases, prospective adoptive families know who they want to adopt. Perhaps it’s the child of a family friend or an acquaintance who is unable or unwilling to care for the child. On the other hand, perhaps you want to adopt a total stranger. In that case, you need to go through the matching process, which is explained below.
- Kinship Adoption. Remember those trips to Grandma’s house? Kinship adoption is a permanent trip! Also known as relative adoption, kinship adoption is trending in the adoption community! This is when a person, like a grandparent, uncle, aunt, cousin, or older sibling undertakes the task of adopting a child who is blood-related. This is a win-win situation because the child is already familiar with you, your home, and your rules. The transition is smoother than when a total stranger adopts.
- Teenagers. Though most people want to adopt cute little babies, older kids—especially teenagers—need to be adopted! Think about it: unlike infants, they do not need to be changed, they can make their own breakfast, they can clothe and can even bathe themselves! They can even help you set up your own social media account! Teens need homes!
- Sibling Groups. Brothers and sisters need to be adopted together. The last thing we would want to do is break up a sibling group. Sibling groups of 2, 3, or even 4 should be adopted together whenever possible.
- How many resources do I have to adopt? You would never plan a trip with an empty bank account. You need to be prepared for the costs involved when planning to adopt.
- International Adoption. This unique type of adoption can cost upwards of $60,000! International adoption has become very expensive over the last few years for many reasons, but children around the world still need to be adopted.
- Domestic Infant Adoption. These adoptions can cost anywhere between $20-$40,000 depending on the state, the adoption agency, and the attorney’s fees.
- Foster care adoption. The best part about foster care adoption is that the costs are next to nothing! And even if there are expenses incurred, you can get reimbursed through the state.
The Big Trip!
Once you have fully planned out your adoption experience, it’s time to meet your adoptee! What does that journey look like?
- Matching. Many adoption agencies have profiles for both children who are available for adoption and also for adoptive parents. Child profiles are listed on “photolisting” websites and give you a brief snapshot of the child, photo, age, and what they are like. A couple or family profile promotes you as a family. It includes your family photo, what your family lifestyle is like, and what type of child will fit best in your home. The adoptive family and the social workers decide together whether a child will be a good match.
- Transition. For international adoptions, the adoptive family should be prepared to travel to the child’s nation of origin to spend time with the child, get to know the culture, and speak to the orphanage the child currently resides in. All of this is done to get to know the child better. For domestic adoptions, a longer transition is possible. Day visits, overnight visits, and then final placement ensures that there will be no disruption from the home. Many states require a minimum amount of time, such as 6 months, or trial period before adoption finalization.
Post Adoption Services
The adoption experience doesn’t end at the adoption finalization hearing at court. It’s not the end of the road. It’s just the beginning! For many adoptive families, there is a “honeymoon” period—a time of relative calm and stability. Afterward, there can be some behaviors that didn’t manifest at the beginning that start presenting themselves. Many adoptive families find that their child needs counseling to deal with their trauma. Your child may also need early intervention if your child starts to present some developmental delays. Lastly, you may need a support group to lean on. These groups are all over the country and are just a way to share your burdens with someone else. In any case, it is important to develop a support team that will assist you when times get rough. You don’t have to do it alone. Ask for help!
Adopting a child is no quick trip! It is a long-distance epic journey! One with long-lasting, perhaps eternal implications. Adopting a child, taking that child into your home, and making him or her a part of your family takes planning, patience, wisdom, and help from others in order to be successful. Enjoy the journey! It will be a blessing for both you and your child!
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journeys. He and his wife started their own adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children, 6 of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities, including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption are a passion and calling for Derek and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.