Welcome to the Maryland Adoption Guide. If you are here, it is probably safe to assume that you are either prospective adoptive parents who are wondering what you need to do to adopt in the state of Maryland or you are an expectant parent who may be considering an adoption plan for your child and would like more information on what the rules and regulations are in Maryland.
To make this guide user-friendly, it is divided into two sections: one for people who are considering adoption as a way to add to their family and one for families that are considering placing a child for adoption. In either case, it will hopefully be a resource that will make a life-changing decision a little less overwhelming.
Hopeful Adoptive Parents: Who Can Adopt in Maryland?
Before even considering adoption, you need to know who can be considered as adoptive parents in your state. In Maryland, there are not many strict rules in place about who can adopt a child. According to Maryland Family Law Code, any adult that is not the child or children’s biological parents may petition the court to adopt a child. If a couple is married, both spouses will be on the petition unless they are separated, one spouse is not competent or the spouse is already the legal parent of the child.
Types of Adoption: What agency will you use?
The next step in adopting in Maryland is to decide what type of adoption will be the best fit for your family. There are three types of adoption in Maryland: public agency adoption, private agency adoption, and independent adoption. Basically, a public agency adoption is one using the Maryland Department of Human Services to adopt a child. In a private agency adoption, you would find an adoption agency that is the best fit for you and will complete the adoption through that agency. If you adopt independently, you will most likely have found a birth mother on your own and will use a lawyer to complete the adoption process. There are definitely differences between the three that will really impact the type of adoption you will have. Let’s take a deeper look.
Public Agency Adoption
In Maryland, you may decide to adopt through the Maryland Department of Human Services. The children available through MD DHS are mostly children who have had their parents’ rights terminated due to unfortunate circumstances. These children range in age and often there are sibling groups available for adoption. But, because of the nature of how they are available for adoption, adoptive parents should be prepared for adopting children with special concerns and needs. According to the Maryland Department of Human Services adoption page, “Adoption Services develops permanent families for children who cannot live with or safely reunite with their birth parents or extended birth families. Adoption is the legal and emotional acceptance into your family of a child not born to you.The child will have your name and the same legal rights as a child by birth.”
What does that mean for adoptive parents? What is the process of adoption through MDHS? Well, when you decide to adopt through DHS, you will be dually licensed as a foster/adoptive parent. That is because, in most situations, the children that are available for adoption come into care as foster placements. While the end goal is reunification with the biological parents, that is often not in the best interests of the child, and then the child would become available for adoption. Generally, the foster parents would be given first consideration when that happens, as the child may have already been living with you for up to 12 months or more.
How do you become licensed as a foster/adoptive parent? In Maryland, you will need to:
-be at least 21 years of age
-obtain a medical clearance from your doctor
-be able to meet the financial obligations you currently have
-pass a health and fire inspection of your home
-have police clearance and fingerprinting of anyone over 18 that lives in your home
-be willing to work in the best interests of the child
If you decide you are ready to move forward, your next step would be to contact your local Department of Human Services and speak to someone regarding foster care and adoption.
The hopeful adoptive parents will need to first attend a two-hour informational meeting that will answer many questions about how the process will work. As you go forward and as part of your home study, you will need to attend 27 hours of training. This is usually divided into eight three-hour-long sessions and some homework. A caseworker will be assigned to you and will do two home visits, which gives the worker a chance to really get to know you and your family as well as inspecting the environment the child will be coming into. Yes, home visits can cause some anxiety but workers are not looking for perfection. They are looking for a home that will be able to provide the basic needs and the emotional support a child or children will need.
There will be needed background checks for the adults in the home and the school records of any children in the home will also be examined. There should not be significant issues with your own children according to the informational handout. Be prepared to have at least three references also.
Your caseworker will know that your main objective is adoption. My husband and I were very straightforward with letting social services know that ultimately we wanted to adopt and so they attempted to place children with us that they thought would be available for adoption. Contrary to what you may hear, it is possible to adopt an infant from social services. Our daughter was placed with us at 3 months old and her adoption finalized three days before her first birthday. However, be prepared that you will be a foster family first.
Adopting through a public agency does not cost as much generally speaking. You will need to hire a lawyer to finalize the adoption. While the child is in your care, you will receive a monthly stipend as well as allowances for clothing, food, and diapers. This varies, but according to the Maryland DHS website, a regular placement stipend is around $800 per month. If you adopt a special needs child, a stipend and medical aid will continue after adoption.
What About a Private Agency Adoption?
Perhaps after thinking about using a public agency to adopt through, you have decided that is not the route you want to take. Another possible way to adopt is to contract with a private adoption agency. In Maryland, private adoption agencies must be licensed through the Social Services Administration. Using a private agency, you will be able to adopt nationally or internationally and the agency will provide all services such as a home study, counseling, and post-placement services. In general, private agencies work with birth mothers and adoptive parents to make matches that benefit both parties.
Besides having a greater chance of adopting an infant, the biggest difference is that private adoption agencies cost money. There is no cap on what a private adoption agency can charge. Although, a fee schedule should be given to you before a contract is signed. It is up to the adoptive parents to decide how much they can spend on the adoption. However, in Maryland, all private agencies are required to use a sliding fee scale to make adoption available to families of varying economic backgrounds. If you are interested in a private adoption, don’t let finances scare you away from the process. There are many fundraising opportunities and grants you may apply for.
In most cases of independent adoption, the birth mother and adoptive family have found each other and have agreed upon the adoption. Perhaps they already know each other. She could be a family member or friend of the family. Maybe the expectant mother saw an adoptive parents’ profile and reached out to them. Regardless of how they met, an independent adoption does not use an agency. If you or the expectant mother would like to partake in the benefits of an adoption agency, you may still choose this route.
In an independent adoption, the expectant parents must agree to the adoption and if the adoptee is older than 10, the child must also agree to the adoption. If they agree, they can include a motion to waive the home study. But, at least three references must be given. You will need an attorney to complete the court process. The lawyers will complete the paperwork, and oversee any reimbursement of funds to the birth mother. In Maryland, birth mothers are allowed to receive reimbursements for any medical, legal, and counseling expenses related to the pregnancy.
Also as adoptive parents, think about the type of adoption you would like… open or closed. If open, how much contact do you wish to have with the birth mother? Your answers to these questions will help you decide what type of adoption and what agency will be best suited to your adoption needs.
Expectant Parents in Maryland: What are your options?
If you are a birth parent, you can decide on the same three routes as the prospective adoptive parents: public, private or independent. You need to choose what will be in your best interests.
If you choose to terminate your parental rights with social services, you will most likely be agreeing to closed adoption and be giving social services agency the right to choose the adoptive family for you.
Choosing a private agency adoption will more often give you more options. You can begin by searching agencies that are licensed in Maryland.
Narrow down the search first for agencies that are close to you, especially if you don’t have transportation. Then you should go through the list and visit each website. Look at the FAQ section. If you like what you are reading, call and talk to counselors for each agency. Examine the services that they offer birth mothers: are there counseling services available both before and after adoption? How do you choose the family that you want to adopt your child? You ultimately have the choice of which agency you feel comfortable with and can give you the experience that you need.
As a birth mother, you also have the option of finding a birth family on your own and hiring a lawyer to complete the adoption. This is called an Independent adoption. It is important to have your own lawyer to be sure that the adoption is handled legally. The lawyers will oversee that your birth plan is followed. For example, part of the birth plan may be to have the adoptive parents at the birth. Or it may be that you prefer the adoptive parents to see the baby after you have time alone. These are all options that you can have written into your birth plan.
You can not be paid to allow the adoptive parents to adopt your baby. However, there are legal expenses that the adoptive family can reimburse you for such as medical, legal, and counseling expenses related to the pregnancy. If you are unable to work due to pregnancy-related issues, you may be able to be reimbursed for reasonable living expenses also. It is important to find an adoption lawyer that has experience with independent adoptions in Maryland.
Resources for Maryland Adoptions
Maryland Adoption Support Groups has a directory of support groups across Maryland for all members of the adoption triad.
Maryland Resource Parent Association provides resources and training for adoptive, foster, and kinship parents. Local Offices for the Department of Human Services offers contact information for the local (county) Department of Human Services in Maryland. This will be the place to start if you are interested in fostering and adoption.
Gina Chesnes lives in western NY and is a mom to 4 children, one who was adopted from the state foster care system as a baby, and Gigi to 7 grandchildren. She was a special education/ elementary education teacher for over 30 years in the same PreK-12 school that her children attended. Gina is passionate about animal welfare and has fostered over 100 cats and kittens…before having to stop because she kept too many! She also loves writing, gardening, traveling, reading, and visiting her favorite place – the Outer Banks. In her free time, Gina writes on education issues at http://oneburnedoutteacher.com/.