When you decide to pursue adoption, there are many choices you will need to make along the way. Will you choose to pursue an infant, toddler, or older child? Will you decide to go international or stay domestic? Agency or private? The beginning of any adoption can be flooded with decision after decision, some of which can feel overwhelming at times. One collection of decisions will be your preferences for the child you want to pursue. You may decide to look online, find a waiting child’s profile, and instantly start that particular child’s adoption. But, many times, people allow other things to dictate who they may add to their family. You can absolutely choose a variety of preferences when you are looking to add to your family via adoption. Here are some of the preferences you may need to decide.
You will have the ability to decide (roughly) what age you think would be the best fit for your family. If you choose an infant adoption and wish to pursue a child who will be a newborn, domestic adoption is more than likely your best option. International infant adoptions are not overly common, though they are possible if you are open to multiple other needs or diagnoses. If you are open to a toddler-aged or young elementary-aged child, you would most likely have quite a few international options, plus domestic foster care would be a great choice as well. Older children will be available anywhere – they are often the overlooked and easily discounted ones on waiting lists. If you are considering an older child, any country that you qualify for will have availabilities. These older children have, most likely, been waiting for a family for a very long time.
Another consideration many agencies have is the birth order within your own home. Many agencies take a contractual stand that your adopted child must maintain the birth order within your home already. This means that you need to adopt a child that is younger than the children already in your home, so the birth order of your current children will not be disrupted. Though this isn’t a hard and fast “yes or no” for all agencies, it is for many. The ones who do not have this rule may be able to see past disrupting birth order, especially if you are an experienced adoptive family already or if developmental age and chronological age do not match your children.
Country of Origin
A “preference” of your child’s country of origin is not often a typical preference listed by potential adoptive parents, but it does affect one of the very first choices you will make. Do you want to pursue an international or domestic adoption? Domestic means that you are choosing a preference of your country of residence and will be open to your country’s foster care and private infant adoptions. If you choose international, your choices will be narrowed based on each country’s predetermined set of parental qualifiers.
For instance, Bulgaria requires parents to be at least 15 years older than the child you plan to adopt, and medical conditions are on a case-by-case basis. For China, potential adoptive parents must meet the financial income requirements, not have a specific list of medical conditions in their history, and be between the ages of 30 and 49 (can be up to age 55 on a case-by-case basis). For Colombia, families must be between the ages of 25 and 60, and couples must be married or document cohabitation for at least three years.
Each country has its own requirements; therefore, your eligibility will determine which ones are open to you.
Sibling Group or Individual
Another preference given to prospective parents during the home study process is whether or not they are open to a sibling group or multiple unrelated children. A home study must be written, and parents must be approved for the maximum number of children they are willing (and able) to adopt. So, suppose a family is open and willing to consider adopting a sibling group. In that case, their home must prove that it has enough capacity for multiple additional people, and their financial stability must be proven as well. A home study that is only approved for an individual child needs to be changed to add the potential for siblings or unrelated children and will need to go through the updating process. When discussing the first few decisions of adoption, be aware that this decision, deciding how many children you would be willing to bring home, needs to be made upfront, or you’ll have to update your home study at the cost of a few hundred dollars.
While deciding this particular preference, you also need to decide what you honestly think your family can handle. Each child comes with their own past, their own trauma, and their own needs. Knowing if your particular family can take on multiple children should be thoroughly thought through and discussed together. Even chatting about your family’s limitations would be beneficial with a family or adoption therapist.
Boy or Girl
Another preference typically able to be chosen is whether you would like to pursue a boy or a girl. However, while a preference can be stated, it may not always be able to be fulfilled. I have seen other preferences “trump” this particular one, but it is something that agencies and NGOs consider when trying to find a match for a family. Your agency may also want you to consider the current children in your home and whether a boy or a girl would be a good fit. They may also want you to consider not choosing a gender preference for your home study to help make it easier to find a match for your file.
A big choice needing to be made by potential adoptive parents is the choice on accepted special needs. When we started our adoption journey, we filed with an agency and began our home study. Part of the home study included a long list of needs and diagnoses that we needed to simply mark “yes, would consider” or “no, would not consider.” The difficulty of a list like this is that for each “no” we marked, I felt the pang of that “no” being a “no” to a specific child. It was painful and felt wrong, yet I knew we were doing important work. We knew we wanted to pursue a deaf child (since I was an American Sign Language interpreter within our local county already), but everything else on the list felt so confusing. Choosing “yes” to deafness was our only constant. Without this list, our family may be matched with a child beyond our abilities to care for, either physically, emotionally, or financially. This list forced us to look within ourselves, analyze our own limitations as individuals and as a couple, and see where we could grow as people. This medical condition list monopolized our minds for weeks, forcing us to continually contemplate who and what we thought we could consider as a family.
It was also recommended that we bring this list to a medical professional (preferably one at an International Adoption Clinic at a local hospital) to go over each diagnosis and need with us. There were many we sat with, staring at a Google definition of, unable to decide if we were ill-equipped or not to care for a child with that diagnosis. Speaking to a doctor really helped clear our minds and alleviate a lot of our worries.
The needs list was divided into multiple sections, labeled as differing severity. I remember being shocked at some of the things listed under the severity labels; deafness was listed as “severe,” but to us, it was moderate at best. But that’s the difference with each family–what a family can handle (in terms of what additional needs will enter the home) varies so greatly. We felt very equipped to handle deafness and had many resources, mentors, and peers ready at the waiting. But, for some of the other disorders and diseases listed, we had no idea where we would even start.
Things have changed for us over the years. What once scared us no longer does. To be candid, an HIV diagnosis was a “no” for us eight years ago. We thought it would be dangerous to the children already in our home, so, to protect them, we had to check the “no” box. But, now, after many years of watching and learning, I can safely say that, when we adopt again, the HIV box will be a “yes.” It no longer scares us due to the stigma around it, and I know we would have resources to help us navigate the path before us. There are many things on that initial list that would be a “yes” now. We have grown, learned, and experienced many things while raising our son with disabilities, that many of those listed diagnoses don’t seem so impossible anymore. Education has really broadened our understanding and capabilities in that respect.
Some things, when deciding preferences for special needs, you may ask yourself may include “What does my insurance cover?”, “Is our home suited for a child with a physical disability, or would we need to renovate?”, “Is a good children’s hospital nearby?”, “Can our local school district fully support a child with a disability?” Be ready to answer the tough questions within your own family unit like, “Can we handle this?”, “What would it look like for us if they need lifetime care?”, “Are there residential facilities for disabled adults that would be a good resource for us down the road?” Meeting adults with disabilities would be a wonderful way to start to normalize disabilities within your own life.
Knowing that you have the power to choose your preferences based on what you feel equipped to handle can give you peace of mind, but also know that many times children come home with diagnoses not listed on their medical reports. My son was labeled as bilaterally and profoundly deaf in the country. Two separate doctors wrote his medical records. And, once our son was home and received tubes in his ears, he is now 100% hearing with zero hearing loss. So, even when you say “yes” to a disability, it may very well be a “no” in reality, and vice versa can also be true. There were many diagnoses that we did not say yes to that our son has been diagnosed with. So, although you may pick your preferences for what special needs you feel your family can care for, there is always an element of surprise when it comes to adoption.
When you begin the process to adopt, there will be many opportunities for you to make choices. Choices about who you envision your future child to be and what you envision your family to look like will encompass your thoughts. But, going in knowing that your preferences are merely that – preferences – will help you remember that adoption never happens exactly as planned. Your reality may end up being very different than you thought it would be, and that is okay. You have to go into your journey knowing that the preferences you list are simply a guide. You may set up your home study to accept a sibling group, but you may actually only come home with one child. Anything can change; even your preferences say the opposite. But, your adoption process will give you the opportunity to make these statements and to give you the power to choose what your current family would be able to handle safely and happily. You have the ability to choose preferences in adoption but know that anything can change at the drop of a hat.Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.
Kristina Frazier: I’m Kristi—Mama of 4, adoption advocate, and wife to my high school sweetheart. I’m just here surviving off of sweet tea and sarcasm, sharing all the feels of life with some honesty, a little bit of humor, and a whole lot of Jesus.