Are you thinking about adopting a child and wondering whether or not you are qualified for this lifelong commitment? It can feel a bit exciting and overwhelming at the same time and for those not familiar with adoption, words like home study, adoption fees, background checks, and years-long wait times can sound pretty intimidating! While the technical requirements are many, they are doable and the complex process of adoption can be navigated so long as you do your research and seek assistance. Most importantly, you should do some soul searching and make sure that adoption is something that you are truly ready to pursue—learn all about it, talk about it with family, friends, and those in the know so that you will be truly ready to offer a child what they need most—a safe and loving forever home in which they can thrive.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Determining eligibility to adopt is based on a process of mutual assessment and preparation by the prospective adoptive parents and social worker or agency, called a home study. Most people are eligible to adopt, regardless of whether they are married or single, their age, income, or sexual orientation. Having a disability does not automatically disqualify a prospective adoptive parent. Some countries have specific requirements and restrictions for families who want to adopt from those countries. Faith-based agencies may also have specific requirements for families adopting through their agencies.”
Let’s get this one out of the way first. Like that unidentifiable vegetable sitting on your plate that looks anything but appetizing, it’s no secret that adoption comes at a cost and is not a part of the process that anyone wants to focus on. The sometimes high fees associated with private adoption, especially, is often listed as the number one deterrent for prospective adoptive parents who want to adopt but aren’t sure how to finance the adoption.
In the Adoption.com article “Average Cost of Adoption,” author MK Menon suggests that “it’s hard to pinpoint the average cost of adoption without specifying what type of adoption it is. Generally speaking, one can expect to spend a few thousand to $40,000 dollars on adoption.”
Adopting a child from foster care is typically funded by the state with little to no fees. In the event the adoptive parents choose to work with a private agency during the process, these expenses are oftentimes recouped through government programs once the adoption has been finalized.
Whether you choose to adopt domestically privately or through foster care and/or go the international route, there is financial assistance available. Adoption.com offers a wealth of information on its Affording Adoption page. Prospective parents can also learn more about the Adoption Tax Credit here.
One of the most common questions people have about adoption revolves around the issue of age—on the part of the prospective adoptive parents as well as the children available for adoption. According to the Adoption.org article “Is There an Age Limit in Adoption?,” “The United States has very few restrictions that would not allow an older adult to adopt. However, as with adoptive parents of any age, the prospective older adoptive parent will be evaluated for mental and physical capability during the home study process and a complete physical will be required. This is to ensure that the older adult is healthy enough to raise a child.” Concerning the lower age of the spectrum, author Virginia Spence further states, “the youngest age that a prospective adoptive parent must be is 18; however, the age qualifications vary slightly from state to state.” For state-specific information, you can search here.
So far as qualifications regarding marital status are concerned, for the most part, any single adult or a married couple can be eligible to adopt. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Twenty-four States (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin), Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands specifically require that a ‘husband and wife’ petition jointly. The other States use more gender-neutral language in their statutes. In Arizona a married couple must be given preference for placement of a child over a single person when all other considerations are determined equal.
“…In addition, a stepparent can adopt the child of his or her spouse if the spouse has legal custody of the child. …A parent can usually adopt a stepchild without the spouse (the birth parent) joining in the petition, as long as the spouse consents to the adoption.
“…In Vermont, a person may adopt the child of his or her partner. In approximately 11 States, American Samoa, and the District of Columbia, there are no additional conditions specified. … The word ‘approximately’ is used to stress the fact that the statutes are constantly being revised and updated. This information is current as of December 2015. In North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas, any adult may adopt. In Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Vermont, and Washington, a single adult and married couples jointly may adopt. In Vermont, any adult and a prospective adoptive parent’s partner may adopt. … In some States, married persons may adopt singly if they are legally separated or if their spouse is legally incompetent.”
As part of your home study, you will be required to complete and provide a current health physical documented and signed by your physician. No, you will not be required to run two miles, do 200 sit-ups in under 60 seconds, or have the body of an Olympian. Your medical history, however, will be taken into account by your social worker as a determining factor in your ability to safely and successfully parent a child.
Physical. A typical physical examination will include your health history, lifestyle review, family medical history, your height, weight, and blood pressure, and as determined from your family medical history, additional testing if deemed appropriate. The Adoption.com forum, “What Sort of Physical Does the Foster Adoptive Parent Go Through?” touches on the questions and answers other parents have shared.
Mental. Similar to your general physical, you will be required to make an appointment with a licensed mental health provider in order to determine whether or not there are any mental health issues to consider.
These tests are not meant to scare away or deter prospective parents, but rather to ensure that a child will be entering a safe environment in which he will be able to be cared for in a loving and healthy manner.
The process of training to become an adoptive parent or foster parent varies by state. According to Child Welfare, prospective parents must complete family preparation offered by the department in the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Most adoption facilitators both for domestic adoption as well as international adoption will advise you on what programs you will need to complete ahead of receiving your adoption referral.
Adoptionlearningpartners.org offers links to both domestic training courses as well as more than 20 hours of Hague-aligned training for international adoption.
Have A Heart
The qualifications for adoption don’t all center around floor-to-ceiling checklists and neverending paperwork—one of the most essential qualifications to adopt is to make sure to have your really big heart at the ready. Opening your home to a child—whether from infancy, toddler age, older child, or teen—requires the same amount of love, attention, time, patience, and understanding.
Becoming an adoptive parent is not easy. Being an adoptive parent is not easy—after all—it’s parenting, which is not easy! Children who have been adopted are special kids. I remember a woman telling us, when my husband and I were adopting, that they (adoptees) are survivors and they are strong. Both statements are true. They are survivors, having had to grieve the loss of their birth family and potentially spend time in institutional care or foster care be it for days, months, or years. In those situations, especially, children are forced at an early age to become independent and self-sufficient. Oftentimes, this results in what adoptive parents perceive to be closed off behavior accompanied by power struggles as a child has grown used to being on their own. In some cases, this is seen in an adopted infant who sleeps through the night because she is used to crying out but knows that nobody will be coming to soothe her in a crowded orphanage, whereas her non-adopted peers are used to a parent racing into a nursery seconds later. In other cases, a child may not look for or accept help eating their food, dressing, or even putting themselves to bed because they’ve become used to doing these things on their own. They may not seek comfort after falling down and scraping a knee because they may be afraid of negative consequences to follow. They may not reach out for as many hugs and kisses because these are things that were never offered before.
As an adoptive parent, it will be your job to show them your purpose and place in their life. Your role will be one of love and comfort—even if these are shut down at first. Don’t give up! While you may not get to hugs and kisses right off the bat, no matter your path to adoption or your child’s path to you—building trust and bonding should be your priority. Children who are adopted are just as much in need of and long to be loved as anyone else and are fully capable of reciprocating in massive bear hug amounts. And while many adoptees, especially those who have spent time in institutional or foster care are strong, it’s because they had to be strong to get by. Strength is a great quality to have at any age, but letting a child know that until they are grown, you are here to be strong for them, is what parenting is all about.
Foster Care and Reunification. Something to keep in mind is that even when a foster family is being considered to adopt a child in their care, foster parents must actively support reunification efforts to reunify the child(ren) with their birth parents so long as that remains the child’s permanency plan, as has been determined by the court and public agency responsible for their custody and planning. Foster parents must be prepared for the possibility that the child(ren) they hoped to adopt may be returned to their birth parents or placed with other relatives. This is typically determined prior to designation by the court of the placement as adoption.
Probably one of the most important qualifications for adoption is the art of learning to be patient. First, as a prospective adoptive parent researching adoption and learning the different pathways to the in-the-trenches of adoption paperwork parent who must deal with mountains of paperwork and legal documents only to be surprised with a new twist or change that needs to run through the cycle before the end of tomorrow’s business day in order to get you to the next stop. Once the paperwork is in, patience really comes into play as you now have nothing to do but twiddle your thumbs and wait. And wait. And wait while your paperwork is being processed and your request for adoption is being considered to see if there is an appropriate match.
And now that you’ve been matched and your child is home safe and sound with you happily ever after—it’s time to buckle up! Your adoption experience has truly just begun and will change each year as your family grows together and your child’s understanding (not to mention your understanding) of your family situation changes and develops—and she goes through all of the normal stages of childhood development. Let’s not forget those!
Bottom line is if becoming a parent requires a heaping plate of patience, becoming an adoptive parent requires a heaping plate of patience with an additional side of patience to go.
According to Travel.state.gov the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is the federal agency that determines a person’s eligibility to adopt overseas. The website states that you may not bring an adopted child (or a child for whom you have gained legal custody for the purpose of immigration and adoption) into the United States until USCIS has determined that you are eligible to adopt from another country. Adoptive parents also must meet certain requirements to bring a foreign-born child whom you’ve adopted to the United States.
Additional qualifications include meeting your state’s requirements. For more information go to the Child Welfare Information Gateway website.
Basic requirements include:
– You must be a U.S. citizen.
– You must be at least 25 years old if you are unmarried.
– If you are married, you must jointly adopt the child (even if you are separated but not divorced). Your spouse must also be either a U.S. citizen or in legal status in the United States.
– You must meet requirements that will determine your suitability as a prospective adoptive parent, including criminal background checks, fingerprinting, and a home study.
Now that you have an overview of the most common qualifications associated with adoption—are you ready to get going? Don’t be discouraged if you’re unsure whether or not you hit each checkmark perfectly, rather communicate often with your adoption professionals to ensure you have the most up-to-date and accurate information for your particular situation so that you can get to the most important part—beginning your new life with your adopted child!
Ready to get started? Please visit Adoption.com’s “How To Adopt A Child Guide“ today!
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Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.