Adoption agencies and lawyers are readily and widely available in the state of Virginia. While most are clustered in denser populated areas like Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Virginia Beach, you can find adoption assistance almost anywhere in the state. Here are some things to know about the adoption journey in Virginia. 

If you’re an expectant mother, it’s important, in any state, to receive counseling and support from an adoption agency. This support can help you decide whether to abort, parent, or place your child for adoption. Social workers should tell you about the pros and cons of each choice rather than pushing you to make a certain choice. All three options are hard. Remember, you are in the driver’s seat. Counselors are provided to help you make the best choice for you and your baby. 

Any moral adoptive parent will tell you this: we do not want our future baby’s birth mother to have felt like she was coerced into adoption. To prevent feeling coerced, apply to get counseling. If you don’t like the adoption agency you’re working with, feel free to switch. Pressure can be used as a coercion tactic. If you choose adoption, with today’s open adoption climate, everyone in the adoption triad wants to feel at peace with this choice. 

Another thing to know about Virginia adoption is the particular window in which you have to change your mind about placing your child for adoption after the birth of your child. In some states, it’s 48 hours; some others are up to two weeks. Virginia is ten days. 

Adoption Lawyers

It’s important to know that a regular lawyer or family lawyer might not have the training to provide excellent care and support for you during the adoption process. They are often trained in the law, not in mental health or counseling. You will need an adoption competent lawyer for the legal aspects, which an agency can refer you to, but for the decision-making process and grief counseling, you will need counselors that are trained in this area. A lawyer rarely can be that for you. Even the smoothest open adoptions can still have grief involved. Expectant moms and birth moms deserve that support long after the adoption is complete. Personally, I would strongly suggest working with an adoption agency that is Lifetime Healing certified. Lifetime Healing is a support system created by a birth mother. It’s now being called “Knee to Knee” but the seal on their website still may say “Lifetime Healing.” Just ask your agency if they provide that support. It should include access to your social worker and monthly in-person support groups. 

Adoption Agencies

To find an adoption agency, Google searches or Google maps can assist in locating one nearby; although, the one nearest you may not be the best choice. Word of mouth can be important to hear from others about their experiences. You may want to travel up to an hour, for example, to work with an adoption agency you trust more. You may not have to drive every time you have a meeting—social workers often can drive far to meet their clients at coffee shops or even have in-home visits. Social media can come in handy to find reviews on agencies as well. You can try using Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc. I would also suggest following some birth mothers on Instagram to hear their stories. Birth Mothers Amplified is a great podcast where birth mothers share stories and answer questions regarding their individual adoption experiences. You can find them on Instagram or YouTube

Many birth mothers do not share their stories online because some are afraid of judgment, but the ones that do are a great source of information. You can use hashtags to find them or check out this short list of women: BigToughGirl (Ashley Mitchell), FromAnothaMotha (Kelsey Van der Vliet Ranyard), and Dominiquebwhite (Dominique White). 

For hopeful adoptive parents, the same advice goes as well: search online for agencies near you, or the ones you find trustworthy farther from you, based on reviews, and word of mouth. You do have the option to choose an out-of-state agency, but if you want to remain in the state, it makes certain aspects of adoption easier. For instance, you won’t have to fly anywhere, which keeps travel costs down. Your agency will work with you through your adoption journey and refer you to a trusted, adoption-competent lawyer to handle the legal aspects of the adoption. Single or married people may adopt in Virginia, and same-sex couples may adopt as well. It may be helpful to follow the Instagram accounts of people who have already adopted. Consider checking out whitrunyon (Whitney Runyon), mrsperreault (Macie Perreault), and heloge (Hannah Eloge). It’s important to do a lot of research and not simply rely on one or two Google reviews as they can be unreliable. Usually, Google reviews make up the best and the worst representations of the agency—the people with average experiences are less likely to go online and post a review. 

Domestic Infant Adoption

The domestic infant adoption process includes adoption education, the home study, and the creation of a family profile book. Your agency will take you through the steps of adoption and should answer all your questions. Adoption is complicated, so keep a binder for all the paperwork and stay organized. For your home study, which is the study of your home itself as well as the people in it, you most likely will be taken through a series of interviews and home visits—which can include background checks and fingerprints. Your agency workers will try to get to know you, and then, you can be accepted into their waiting family pool. To enter the pool after your home study is approved, you will need to have a family profile book for expectant moms to look through. Each agency has their own version of what should be included in this book. It will consist of family statistics, stories, a letter to the expectant mom, and photos or videos (online). These books are usually printed through a service like Shutterfly. Expectant moms will view only the profile books that match their preferences. For example, if you choose to adopt only a child of a specific race, your book will not be shown to certain expectant moms. You will select your own preferences regarding race, medical issues, drug exposure, etc. 

Once you have been matched with an expectant mom (if she has chosen your profile book), you will meet with her and possibly the birth father, if he is still involved. The agency will facilitate the meeting, so you’re not on your own. Depending on how long the expectant mom has to go in the pregnancy, you may meet with her a few more times prior to birth. This is really a process of getting to know each other since you will be intertwined for life from now on. You will share a special bond, and if you select to have an open adoption, you will stay in contact in some form or another. Open adoption contact can be through photos and letters, or FaceTime, or in-person visits. Openness is something the expectant mom and the adoptive parents have to agree on. You will sign a “PACCA” (post-adoption contact agreement) to understand your roles in communication with each other. Normally, adoptive parents can be nervous about this but come to find their fears are never realized. Openness is not as scary as it seems, and many families enjoy opening the adoption even further than what the original document states. 

Our son’s open adoption, for example, has changed naturally over the years. We began by emailing photos once a week. That exchange morphed into emails plus occasional text messages. When we decided we were comfortable with her coming to our home, she started having in-person visits here. We now follow each other on social media and see each other a few times a year in person. It’s the natural evolution of a relationship, which can look different for everyone. 

Lots of families wonder what can make them more appealing to an expectant mom so they’re chosen faster. There really is no right answer here. Different moms want different characteristics. Some will only place their child in a family with no other children; some don’t mind having other siblings already. Some will bond over something important to them, like a certain type of dog the family has. It seems trivial, but things like that create inherent bonds, and there’s no way to know what will attract a mom to your family. Surely though, all expectant moms want to be treated with respect and dignity. They will gravitate toward what is right for them and who is the most genuine. If you’re flaunting your wealth or claiming things that turn out to be false in person, you’re not doing yourself any favors. She will want to feel she can trust you, and that you’re a family she’d enjoy visiting. Some families match in three months; others in three years. 

Failed Adoptions

In Virginia, as with any state, there can also be “failed” placements or disrupted adoptions. This is when a hopeful adoptive family and expectant mom are matched, but then the mom chooses to parent the baby and backs out of the adoption. This is her right and can happen at any point prior to birth and ten days after birth in Virginia. It’s helpful to refrain from thinking of this as a “failure” because it’s never a failure for a mother to parent her child. This can be hard for hopeful adoptive parents, but it does happen quite frequently. We experienced a disruption while waiting for our second adoption. We still have not adopted a second time and continue to wait. It’s just the way it goes. We were very fortunate the first time to adopt without disruption, but our second time around has proven much more complicated and lengthy. Hopeful adoptive parents need to be strong and consider their marriage strong to get through these difficulties together. There are many reasons for a disruption including the birth father coming back into the picture or the expectant mom’s friends or family convincing her not to place the baby. She can also decide on her own not to place the baby if she feels empowered to parent. It may not be any fault of the hopeful adoptive parents, although it can feel personal.   

International Adoption

In Virginia, you can also adopt internationally. You can have a Virginia-based agency complete your home study and then work towards an international adoption with an agency here or elsewhere. International adoptions have declined drastically in recent years due to red tape and countries closing their international adoption programs, but it can still be done. The process can be longer and more expensive and usually results in the adoption of a toddler rather than a newborn. Consider the other factors here, too, such as travel time and travel cost. Some countries require parents to travel multiple times to the country prior to bringing the child back to the United States. Also, it’s unlikely to have an open adoption or even meet the birth mother. 

Foster Care

If you are considering foster care, visit the Virginia Department of Social Services website for information on this route. Foster care is its own entity and does not necessarily lead to an adoption. Parents should sign up with the expectation of fostering only, and if the right fit comes along, which could be after several placements, or never, then an adoption can take place. There are hardly ever newborns in foster care. You will likely be fostering a child over the age of 5. The purpose of foster care is reunification with the birth family. Only if reunification fails after many attempts will the child be legally available for adoption. It’s also important to know this is the friendliest option for your budget as foster care usually entails less in fees. Single and/or married people may be foster parents. There are about 5,000 children currently in Virginia’s foster care system. 

There are many ways to adopt a child in Virginia. To learn more about expectant parent resources, visit Ashley Mitchell’s organization’s site here. To learn more about domestic adoption, visit an adoption agency site such as this one. To learn more about resources for birth mothers, please visit Brave Love’s site here. To learn more about all sides of the triad, visit AdoptWell. 

Kristin Anderson is an adoptive mother who lives with her son, husband, and two crazy dogs. She loves open adoption and is always looking for ways to help in the adoption community. You can find her blog at Looking for Little One.