The Start of Your Adoption Journey
This article, as a Pennsylvania adoption guide, is meant to help give clarity on the adoption process for the members of the adoption triad. The decision to adopt, or to place a child for adoption, is one of the biggest you will ever make. It has life long implications for both the child and the parent, so it is so important that you go into this adoption journey with much thought, plenty of education, and wise counsel from professionals and others who have walked this journey before.
1. Number of Orphans, globally who have lost at least one parent? 140 Million.
2. Number of Orphans, globally who have lost both parents? 15 Million.
3. Number of Children in Foster Care in the U.S.? 400,000+
4. Number of Children Waiting to be Adopted in The U.S.? 100,000+
5. Number of Children in Foster Care in Pennsylvania? 13,000+
Types of Adoptions Permitted in Pennsylvania
1. Domestic Adoption (Typically Infants)
2. Foster to Adopt (Typically ages 0-17)
3. International Adoption (Typical ages vary by country)
4. Adult Adoption (Typically age 18+)
5. Kinship Adoption
6. Step Child Adoption
7. Subsidized Permanent Legal Custody (SPLC) – Not technically adoption.
For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing primarily on domestic adoption and foster to adopt.
Who Can Adopt?
Pennsylvania’s adoption laws are actually on the lenient side, relative to other states. Most agencies or counties will expect that those interested in adoption will be at least 21 years old, although there are times where that could be younger. In rare cases, and dependent upon a plethora of different circumstances, a minor (someone under the age of 18) could adopt another minor—a younger sibling for example. Again, this is quite rare.
Prospective adoptive and foster families will also need to submit clearances and background checks and will have to show that each party can take care of the holistic needs of the child. All prospective adoptive and foster families will also need to pass a detailed home inspection, known as a home study, and prove that the couple is in good physical, mental and financial health.
Who Can You Adopt?
Again, Pennsylvania’s adoption laws are not overly strict, meaning, under the right set of circumstances, virtually anyone could be adopted at any age. This includes children in and out of the state and in and out of the country (depending also on the other country’s adoption laws). As Pennsylvania is one of the states that does allow adult adoption, you could hypothetically adopt someone at almost any age, depending on the specific circumstances.
Who Will You Be Working With?
Whether you are considering placing a child for adoption, or if you are thinking about adopting a child, you will most likely have a large group of individuals (social workers, lawyers, adoption & foster care workers, etc) working with you on the adoption case. These professionals are there to look out for the best interest of the child and to help you through your adoption journey. Mentally prepare yourself now to have several different people involved in your adoption case.
Who Is Your Support Structure?
Who is supporting you during this time? Whether you are placing a child for adoption or adopting a child yourself, it is crucial that you have a great support system in place. Who are the friends and family members in your life that will walk with you on this adoption journey? You will need that support, encouragement, assistance, and that friendship. Adoption is tough—really tough—and you need to surround yourself with people who can help you. Don’t overlook this step.
Find Professional Help.
In the state of Pennsylvania, straight domestic adoption is typically for infants. Available children and teenagers are usually in the foster care system prior to adoption. As adoption can be—and usually is—quite complicated, it is highly recommended (and in many cases legally required) that you seek out the services of a professional adoption agency or consultant. These professionals will assist you in every step of the journey.
What Does Adoption Cost?
In the state of Pennsylvania, adopting from foster care is typically a low cost. The county and state pick up the bill for the majority of expenses relating to the adoption. The adoptive parent is typically provided a small daily stipend from the finalization of adoption until the child turns 18.
Domestic adoption, on the other hand, is not cheap. By the time you pay for every expense related to the adoption, you can plan to spend tens of thousands of dollars, in some cases, many tens of thousands of dollars. Thankfully, there are adoption grants, loans, scholarships, and various tax credits available to try to make it more affordable.
Create Your Home Study & Parent Profile.
Completing your home study is a big step in the adoption process. As part of that process, a social worker or adoption agent will make at least one visit to your home, often, two to three visits. During this time, the agent or social worker will walk through the entire house and make sure that it is safe and appropriate for a child. There is a detailed checklist each worker goes through, that in most cases, will be provided to you prior to the day of the walkthrough. Your home study also includes numerous documents about you and your existing family, including clearance and background checks, family profiles, personal financial information, and key medical history. You will also meet with your worker for an extensive interview, in which you will be asked numerous questions about your motivations, intentions, and expectations. Some may consider the entire process a bit intrusive, but it’s all designed to make sure that children are appropriately placed into safe and loving homes.
As you progress through the adoption process, you will work with your adoption agent to create a parent profile. This is a dossier packet that is shown to expecting mothers who are considering placing a child for adoption. The packet includes general information about your family, pictures, family traditions, religious beliefs, and more. It also includes information about your house, community, and extended family. The parent profile is designed to be a detailed overview of who you are and what kind of adoptive parent(s) you will be. This gives the birth mother the necessary data to make an informed decision about who she would like the adoptive parent(s) of her child to be when the baby is born.
What about the Relinquishment and Termination of Parental Rights?
Prior to the adoption being finalized, the birth parents must formally relinquish parental rights of the child. In the state of Pennsylvania, this is usually done in the presence of a judge. After the relinquishment has occurred, and after the adoption agreement has been signed, the birth mother has up to 30 days to change her mind. At that point, provided the birth parent is in good standing, the birth parent may opt to take the child back or seek a new adoptive resource.
In some cases, depending on the specific circumstances, parental rights of a birth parent or parents may be involuntarily terminated if the court believes that it is in the best interest of the child. This would typically only occur if there were documented concerns about the safety and wellbeing of the child residing with the birth parent(s). In that case, the child essentially becomes a ward of the state until an adoption is finalized. During that period, prior to adoption, the guardian ad-litem, the court, and the county will make decisions in the best interest of the child.
What Are Post Adoption Contact Agreements?
As part of the adoption process, the birth parent(s) and adoptive parent(s) may voluntarily enter into a post-adoption contact agreement that details the current and future relationship the adopted child will have with his or her biological family. This is not a standard form agreement, but rather a customized contract that first and foremost serves the best interest of the child. The agreement may talk about visitation and contact via phone or social media. It may contain requirements for photos and letters as the child grows. How open or closed adoption is, is really completely up to the birth parent(s) and the adoptive parent(s). However, in the state of Pennsylvania, the agreement is a legally binding contract that is signed in the presence of a judge. The judge will ultimately make the final decision as to whether or not the proposed agreement is in the best interest of the child. After the agreement has been finalized, it can not be canceled without the judge determining that it is no longer in the best interest of the child.
When Does the Finalization of Adoption Happen?
After all of the proper paperwork has been submitted and approved, the actual finalization of the adoption typically occurs in the county courthouse, and is overseen by a judge who will make the final decision as to whether or not the proposed adoption is in the child’s best interest. Assuming the judge is in agreement, he or she will sign the necessary finalization documents, and you will walk out of the courthouse the proud parent(s) of a newly adopted child. At that point, you may begin the process of getting a new birth certificate and social security card with the child’s new last name (or in some cases, also the child’s new first and/or middle name, if a change was agreed upon). Post-adoption services will also begin after the adoption has been finalized, and these services will vary based on what agency you work with and what the child’s and family’s specific needs are. Post-adoption services will be agreed upon prior to the finalization of the adoption but may be updated as the needs evolve.
What Should Expectant Parents, Those Considering Placing a Child for Adoption Know?
If you have made the decision to place your child for adoption, your first step will be to select an adoption agency or advocate who specializes in these kinds of adoptions. This agency will be with you every step of the way, to help you, support you, and work with you on all the legalities and expectations of a successful adoption.
As part of that process, you will be expected to complete an adoption plan. This is your chance to formally detail what you want for you and your child, before and after the child’s birth. You will make decisions regarding if you want the adoption to be closed or open (or semi-open). You will list what you would like to have in terms of medical care during your pregnancy and after your child’s birth. You will share what type of family you hope will adopt your child. The adoption plan is a critical way to have you think through all the various issues regarding the adoption and put your preference and expectations on paper. Prospective adoptive parents will be able to view the adoption plan to know what to expect moving forward.
After you have completed your adoption plan, you will have access to looking through numerous parent/family profiles. This will give you an overview of the many families currently looking to adopt. The profiles will provide information about the family, community, extended family, traditions, and many other factors that will help you select potential parents that might be right to adopt your child.
While we have sought to make sure that the information we are providing is as accurate and reliable as we can, please do not make any decision without consulting with a licensed professional. Information from this article is presumed accurate at the time of its publishing but is subject to change at any time without any notice. Adoption.org and the author of this article, cannot be held responsible for any consequences of utilizing the information in this article.
Arthur C Woods is an experienced speaker, teacher and writer, covering topics related to orphan care, adoption and foster care. He holds a Masters Degree in Student & Family Ministry and in his spare time volunteers as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) – working with teenagers in the foster care system. Additionally, Arthur serves on the Board of Directors of Camp Orchard Hill, a large youth camp in Pennsylvania. He and his wife (Liz), and their two amazing daughters live in Lancaster Co. PA with their Siberian Husky, Jadis and their adorable cat, Epi. For more information on Arthur visit www.ArthurCWoods.com or shoot him an email at [email protected].