For months you have been trudging through paperwork. You have asked employers, doctors, and friends for forms and letters of reference. You have met with your social worker, taken pre-adoption parent training classes, and inspected every fire and radon alarm in your house, all in the pursuit of your home study. Then the day finally comes. Your home study is approved! You are eligible to be matched with a child. But how long will it take? Will it be a quick process, or will it take months or even years? The answer is, it depends.
For families pursuing domestic adoption, the timeline from home study completion to matching with an expectant mother varies widely. Several factors influence wait times, including whether a family uses an agency or pursues an independent adoption, how much a family chooses to advertise, and how flexible a family’s adoption plan is. Upon the completion of the home study, the first thing a prospective adoptive family will do is create a parent profile. A parent profile is used to show expectant parents who you are as a family, what your interests are, and why you are choosing adoption. Creating a good parent profile can go a long way in reducing wait times so be sure to take your time when crafting your profile. Be honest, write in your own voice, and write from the heart.
Parent profiles alone don’t necessarily lead immediately to a match, so some families work with an agency to boost their exposure. Depending on whether an agency is local or national, wait times will vary. National agencies have a broader reach and have a larger network of contacts. That said, local agencies may have connections within the community that may prove beneficial.
Other families may choose to adopt independently with the aid of an attorney and/or an adoption facilitator. Most states allow independent adoptions, excluding Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and North Dakota. Independent adoption allows for more flexibility than agency facilitated adoptions and may lead to expectant mothers viewing a family’s profile sooner. In some cases, a family may choose to show their profile to an expectant mother even before their home study is approved. When adopting with an agency, families are not permitted to show their profiles until their home study is complete. Even after that time, some agencies have a waiting list, so wait times may be increased.
Even if a family is working with an agency, many choose to network independently or work with an adoption consultant. As with anything, the wider the net is cast, the more quickly the results will come. Prospective adoptive parents can create websites or social media campaigns. They may choose to place ads or create adoption cards to place in local businesses and health care facilities. They may even hire a videographer to create a video for expectant parents about their family. Networking is key, and many agencies and facilitators will do this on a family’s behalf, but if a family chooses to engage their personal and professional networks, the networking efforts will be doubled. A good tip? Be sure to keep your advertising up to date to ensure expectant parents know a family is still looking. But remember, states vary in the type of advertising allowed and who is permitted to advertise, so be sure to check with your state laws for current guidelines.
Lastly, how flexible a prospective adoptive parent’s adoption plan is can influence wait times. Are you open to either gender? What about race? Are there non-negotiables with regards to the expectant mother’s medical history or substance usage? A family open to adopting only a Caucasian girl may wait longer than a family open to either gender and any race. The first family will only be exposed to expectant mothers who meet the family’s requested qualifications. The second family will be exposed to a greater pool of potential matches.
Do you want an open, semi-open, or closed adoption? Are you willing to negotiate anything? A family who is more flexible in their adoption plan will match sooner than one who is not. But don’t be afraid to state your preferences. You want to match with a child who will be the right fit for your family, so be sure to discuss your adoption plan in depth with your adoption agency, facilitator, lawyer, or consultant.
Several factors can affect wait times between home study approval and matching, but advertising and openness are two of the greatest indicators. Once an expectant mother identifies a family, it becomes an adoption opportunity. The family will evaluate the match and if they agree, the agency, facilitator or lawyer will move on to a contract. The current wait time from home study to matching in domestic adoption is between 1 and 24 months.
International adoption works slightly differently in that, after completing their home study, families must work to complete a country-specific dossier. A dossier is a collection of documents, similar to a home study, which have been notarized, apostilled, and authenticated. A dossier will also include the approval of USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) for a family to adopt a child internationally. Once a family’s dossier has been logged in, the country’s central adoption authority will approve the family for adoption. At this time, a family is eligible to be matched with a child.
Unlike in domestic adoption, all international adoptions must be facilitated by a Hague accredited adoption agency. Advertising is not possible, so families must rely on their agency’s matchmakers to facilitate a match. Once a home study is approved, families will work through a medical checklist of special needs they are open to adopting. It’s important to be open and honest with yourself as to the level of care you and your family are able to give. Because of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect to Intercountry Adoption, attempts must be made to place the children domestically before they are eligible for intercountry adoption. As such, most children available for intercountry adoption have special needs (which range from mild/medically correctable to more severe and lifelong medical difficulties) and are older. For foreign-born nationals or families on the Heritage Track for a specific country, special needs adoption often does not apply.
Depending on whether a family is open to different genders, ages, and levels of special need, wait times from dossier submission to match can vary between 0 and 36 months in international adoption. A family waiting for a girl under the age of 2 in China may wait 3 years, whereas a family open to a boy under the age of 3 in China may match within a few months. Wait times also vary between countries. Families adopting from countries with more established adoption processes, like China and India, can expect to receive a match more quickly than a family adopting from, say, Ecuador, where wait times can exceed three years. Other countries, such as South Korea, have a fairly straight forward matching time of 1–4 months. It is important to remember, too, that it is possible to receive a referral and reject it. Often a family may choose to reject a referral after having the file evaluated by a medical professional. Though difficult, it is important to find the right child for you and your family.
Wait times for foreign-born nationals or families in the Heritage Track for a country are often longer than those families open to adopting children with special needs. Countries like Colombia, South Korea, and India, all offer Heritage Track adoption. It is possible, too, to match with no wait time through a site like RainbowKids. RainbowKids has photo listings of over 4,300 waiting children from all around the world with special needs. Once a family identifies a child, they will work with their agency to facilitate the adoption of that child.
Adoption from Foster Care
Similar to adopting a waiting child through international adoption, for families interested in adopting from foster care, there is little or no wait thanks to the photo listing pages available on different networks. Once their home study is approved, families can identify a child, and then send a request to the child’s social worker. If a child is not immediately identified by a family, families can register with photo listing networks and list the age range of the child they wish to adopt and if they are open to sibling groups. Caseworkers for the waiting children can then use this information to find the match. Once a specific child is identified, a family’s home study will be evaluated, and a committee will decide if the family is the best match for the child. If they are, then a match will be made, and the family will be selected to evaluate the child’s full file. If the family approves, then the caseworker initiates an introduction of the child, and the family’s home becomes the permanent placement of the child.
All the children listed on the website are available for adoption and have had their parental rights terminated. Thanks to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), families can adopt across state lines. Even though it may not be necessary, it is still a good idea to create a parent profile if you are adopting from foster care. This will give the prospective adoptee a chance to learn about you and your family and to see photos of their new home.
Surviving the Wait
One of the most difficult things about the adoption process is surviving the wait. From the initial process to waiting for a match to waiting for the child to be born or to travel, adoption waiting is tough. Between your home study approval and matching, there are things you can do to help survive the wait. Think about preparing yourself, your home, and your family to welcome your new child.
Once a child comes into your family, you will take a back seat. Before matching, take the time to get in shape, get your personal finances in order, and create a will. Take a “babymoon” with your partner or some friends. Find time to pamper yourself, and enjoy the time you have. Start a journal, and record your journey to your new child. The entries can make a beautiful addition to your child’s life book when the time comes. If you are adopting internationally, learn about your child’s birth country. Seek out cultural activities, try your hand at cooking a traditional meal, or learn some elementary phrases. Read books on adoption, find a pediatrician, and locate early intervention programs. Research child care options in your area, and educate yourself on your employer’s family leave policy for adoption.
Keep track of and organize your adoption paperwork. Keep an eye on your home study approval date. Home studies need to be updated annually, so unless your adoption is completed within the year of your home study approval, you will need to follow-up with your state-licensed social worker. Apply for grants. It takes a village to raise a child, and that same village can support you in financing your adoption through fundraisers, garage sales, and crowdfunding through sites like AdoptTogether.
There will be times when family and friends ask too often, “Has there been any news?” and times when they don’t ask enough. If you haven’t shared the news of your upcoming adoption, strategize who you will tell and how. I will never forget the night I “broke the news” to my parents that my husband and I would be adopting from China. Adoption was a foreign concept in my family, so during our wait, we educated our parents and family members on what the process was like and what our child’s needs might be.
And find support. The journey of adoption is unique in many ways. Whether you choose to build your family through domestic or international adoption or from foster care, the path is different. Online networks are a wonderful place to begin, and Facebook, in particular, has many groups for waiting parents of domestic and country-specific adoption. It can be very comforting to share your story with those who are walking the same path. And the best part? They will be able to share and offer advice through your travel and your first year home, and for many years to come.
Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller, and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.