Anyone who knows me knows I would like to adopt when I am older and financially stable. Anyone who knows me also knows that I am a Type A personality who obsessively plans for the future, whether that entails looking for real estate on Zillow to assess market prices, constantly updating my list of potential baby names, or talking to friends about potential future living arrangements. Because I think so far ahead, I have undoubtedly looked up the eligibility requirements for adopting domestically as well as internationally.
When I first started researching adoption, I was frustrated by what I found. Financial requirements? Marital requirements? Home studies? That sounds ridiculous! If a girl could get pregnant at 16 years old and be able to keep her baby, despite having no assets, no husband, no home assessments, and no background checks, how come I would have to jump through all these hoops to adopt a child? I thought for years about how deterring it is to place all these barriers in front of prospective adoptive parents before allowing them to adopt. I even questioned my path: why would I spend the time, money, and energy to adopt a child when I could probably just get pregnant and have a baby nine months later? Unfortunately, many women and couples are unable to just get pregnant and have a baby without complications. Many women (such as I) have no desire to be pregnant or give birth. Many women (such as I) feel a strong calling to adopt and do not want to abandon that calling just because it is the harder route. For a lot of people, adoption is the path they have chosen, either by circumstance or choice. So, with that, here are some reasons I have found from my research on why it is so hard to adopt in the United States.
A Thorough Application Process
Right now, I am currently in law school. Along with always wanting to adopt, I have seriously considered working in children’s court as minor’s counsel (representing the interests of the children) or county counsel (representing the interests of The Department of Child and Family Services). The cases that go through children’s court usually involve the physical abuse, neglect, or extreme emotional abuse of minor children by their parents. This summer, I have been interning for an organization that works as minors’ counsel, and I have learned so much.
The relevant point here is that, according to U.S. law, every person has the inherent right to parent their child as they fit, but at the same time, there are minimum standards put in place to ensure the child is in a safe environment and all their basic needs are being met. There is a stigma around foster children (and even some adopted children) stemming from the idea that they are “broken” or “damaged” or “have serious issues from their trauma.” While I would not say they are broken or damaged, many foster children and some adoptees struggle to heal from their past–especially if their past entailed abuse of any kind.
Many adopted children must process the trauma of being abandoned emotionally and physically by their birth parents. Even if adopted as a baby, trying to figure out how and why your birth parents would surrender you haunts many adoptees in their formative years. Now imagine having to not only heal from that trauma but also having to heal from the trauma of your adoption falling through, whether it be because of abuse, financial instability, etc. That is a lot for any child to handle. The last thing a child who has previously been abandoned needs is to be abandoned again.
While initially overwhelming, the thorough background check, paperwork, and home studies ensure that the prospective family can provide what all foster children and adoptees need: permanency. Although they are arguably too thorough, the lengthy application and approval process maximizes the probability that the children will grow up in a safe, stable, loving environment.
A few years ago, when I started to investigate adoption, I asked my parents about their experience. They praised the adoption agency they used, stating the agency was very transparent with them and did most of the work for them. They also said the paperwork was a lot. When I asked about the cost associated with adoption, I remember being shocked by what they said. The number was a lot higher than I anticipated. However, in more recent months, I have looked up the costs associated with adoption, and it is not as surprising as it used to be.
One of the biggest concerns people bring up regarding adoption is the cost. For many domestic adoptions, adoptive parents pay for the birth mother’s medical expenses related to pregnancy and the birth. Many adoptive parents also have to pay adoption agencies or lawyers who guide them through the adoption process. Parents adopting internationally must pay costs related to picking up their child (usually in their birth country) and naturalizing them as U.S. citizens. In short, there are quite a few costs associated with any method of adoption. However, although saying adoption is expensive may be a true statement, it overlooks two considerations. First, the financial range of adoption varies greatly. For example, adoption from the foster care system sometimes does not cost anything. Second, the cost of adoption is generally comparable to the costs of pregnancy and childbirth. According to Business Insider, the average cost to have a baby in the United States without complications is $10,808, which can increase to about $30,000 when factoring in pregnancy-related costs. Meanwhile, the Child Welfare Information Gateway says independent adoptions (involving attorneys and not an adoption agency) run between $15,000 and $40,000. Domestic adoptions involving an adoption agency run between $20,000 and $45,000, and international adoptions run between $20,000 and $50,000. Thus, adoption is expensive, but pregnancy and childbirth are not much less expensive.
Either way, a lot of people work together to make adoption possible. Unlike in pregnancy and childbirth, where it is mostly doctors and the birth mother working to unite a baby with their family, there are more people involved in adoption, such as attorneys and adoption agents as well as sometimes birth parents and medical professionals. While birth parents pay exorbitant costs to medical professionals, adoptive parents pay other professionals for their services, such as handling appropriate paperwork and finding a child for them.
Being pregnant requires a woman to be within a certain age range and physically able to carry a child. Other than that, however, there are no other factors. When adopting, there are much higher standards put into place to ensure permanency. There are strict age and financial requirements. Many times, there are even requirements regarding an applicant’s health, marital status, and sexual orientation, as well as the other children the applicant has. For instance, when trying to adopt from China, an applicant must be either a single woman or married to their spouse for at least two years (five years minimum if either spouse has been previously divorced). Additionally, neither parent can have a severe facial deformity, be blind, or have certain illnesses (read more about this here).
Obviously, many people who do not meet these standards have children and are good parents. In this regard, adoption is difficult because the parents must be able to prove they can provide for their child, whereas birth parents do not have to do this. This ties back to the idea of stability and permanency. Adoption agencies and birth parents all aim to place the child in a home where they have the best chance of thriving with permanent parents and financial stability. Yes, arguably, some of the requirements for different countries and different adoption agencies are a little weird and maybe even unfair. But, the general idea of having minimum standards for prospective adoptive parents has proven helpful.
Matching Prospective Parents With Their Child
Perhaps not the main reason, but an added bonus adoption offers is that parents can choose some of their child’s characteristics. For instance, many of my friends do not want newborns, so they decide to adopt an older child. Thus, the adoption agency would hopefully find them a child within the range they are looking for.
The process of matching prospective parents with their children is another unique feature of adoption that makes it more complicated. Unlike birthing a child, adoptive parents can indicate preferences such as the general age of the child, the sex of the child, and whether they would be willing to adopt a child with special needs. While this an obvious benefit for parents who either do not want to raise an infant or have a strong sex preference, the extra step of finding a child who matches the preferences listed by the parents lengthens the process. Additionally, adoption agencies would like to make sure the child would be a good match for the prospective parents. This further relates to permanency. Everyone aiding in the adoption process wants the family to work out in the long run. Even though it makes the adoption process longer and more complicated, matching families is another way to maximize the probability of permanency for the child.
The NBC show Parenthood follows an older couple and their four middle-aged children navigating the ups and downs of parenthood. In Season 2, one of the four children, Julia, and her husband Joel try to have another baby. When they realize health issues are blocking them from this, they decide they would like to adopt. The series highlights the excitement and pain Julia and Joel face as they try to adopt.
Eventually, the dream of having another baby fades into the hope of having another child- Julia and Joel finally adopt a nine-year-old boy at the end of Season 5. It appears waiting for placement, for the baby to be born, and for the adoption to finalize is so long that Julia and Joel give up some of their preferences to expedite the process. Even the television format, the beginning of Season 2 to the end of Season 5, is meant to mark a pretty lengthy passage of time. While their waiting is hard to watch at times, the absolute happiness and excitement Julia and Joel experience on the date of Victor’s adoption are unparalleled. The show makes it obvious that the waiting is difficult, but the reward of adoption is worth it.
Ultimately, from what I have heard, waiting is the hardest part of the adoption process. According to American Adoptions, 75% of families complete their adoptions between 1 to 24 months after activation. International adoptions take between 24 to 48 months on average. Adoption from the foster care system usually takes 4 to 12 months. Just like with a pregnancy, the waiting is difficult, but adopting a baby can take much longer than nine months. However, just like with pregnancy, the result is worth it. In all television shows depicting a woman giving birth, there is anger and screaming and crying during labor, but instant relief and happiness when the baby is born. Metaphorically, adoption is the same way. The waiting is stressful and disheartening at times, but the result of having your child placed in your arms is beautiful and joyous.
I would be lying if I said adoption was easy. It requires a thorough application, a home study, character references, and quite a bit of money. Additionally, there are eligibility requirements and a matching process that birth parents do not have to deal with. However, the end goal for any adoption is permanency. The rigorous process to adopt maximizes the probability that the child will adjust well to the family and receive the stability children need. Of course, parents are important, but adoption is mostly about the child. Just as most parents would do anything for their child, this is just a sacrifice all adoptive parents must make. Trust me–it is worth it in the end.Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.
Katie Kaessinger is an international adoptee from China now residing in Southern California. After graduating from the University of California, Irvine in June 2020 with her BA in English, Katie started law school at the California Western School of Law. Katie hopes to be a family lawyer and specialize in child advocacy and dependency to work with children in the foster care system and adoptees as well as foster and adoptive parents. In her spare time, Katie enjoys listening to and writing music, singing, drawing, playing with her pets, and spending time with her friends (with a mask on and from six feet away!).