Before Choosing the Adoption Option
What Experts Say You Should Know
Choosing to become a parent is one of life’s most important decisions. And, like a growing number of Americans, you may be considering adding to your family through adoption. If so, you probably have lots of questions. Issues such as where to begin and how to proceed are paramount.
Are You Adopting for the Right Reasons?
Adoption is a personal choice and can be difficult, expensive and time-consuming, not to mention emotionally and physically draining.
Andrea Marceca Strong, a private practice attorney from York, says the main thing you want to consider when adopting is what you want from the process. “Whatever your reason, you’ve decided you want to move forward with this. You want a child no matter what that child looks like, no matter the ailments, no matter the issues that come along. You just want a child to love,” Marceca Strong says.
Recognize that adoption means becoming a child’s lifetime parent and guardian. Discuss your decision to adopt with family members, therapists, clergy and family counselors—anyone who can help you navigate your decision. Make sure all your questions are answered and that in the end you are comfortable with your decision.
Is Adoption Something You Can Afford?
Opening your home to a new child is an incredibly selfless act, but it can also be very expensive. You can spend anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 to add a new member to your family. Potential adoptive parents need to be aware of all costs and legal expenses, remembering there may be medical and other “hidden” costs, as well.
Foreign adoption is far more expensive than domestic adoption because of the numerous legal issues and travel costs involved. According to Marceca Strong, agencies charge varying fees, some even offering packages. “Make sure whoever you use breaks down the costs for you. You need to know what you are paying for. And watch for hidden fees.”
Employers sometimes offer employee adoption assistance as a benefit, which is worth investigating. Also important to know is that adoptive parents can take a tax deduction for any costs spent toward an adoption. (See IRS Web site, tax topic 607.) If necessary, discuss your situation with a professional financial planner.
So, I Can Afford It. Where Do I Begin?
Your process now depends on the type of adoption you are seeking. Domestic, international, foster and step-child adoptions are each handled differently.
Marceca Strong says it’s important to research and find agencies or lawyers who can best suit your needs, and can answer all your questions without any up-front charges.
Another suggestion Marceca Strong makes is to send out a mass e-mail to everyone you know and include with it a mini-profile of what you are looking for. “You may find that your neighbor’s niece wants to give her baby up for adoption and you know her and you may want to adopt that child,” she says.
Finally, whether you are seeking to adopt domestically or internationally, Marceca Strong recommends going to a reputable, licensed agency or lawyer who you have extensively interviewed.
The Adoption Itself: Domestic, International or Foster?
The question of determining the child that best fits into your family is one of the most difficult and complicated decisions you will make.
International adoptions traditionally occur with the help of an agency. Independent, domestic adoptions can occur with or without the use of an agency. While many prospective parents do much of the legwork themselves, attorneys can act as go-betweens and can advise you on things such as your home study, which is required for every adoption.
Each case of adoption is unique. Laws vary depending on the state or country where the adoption is taking place. International adoptions oftentimes have age and marriage restrictions, and they must comply with federal law—including new homeland security restrictions. Parents may also have to go through a “re-adoption” process within their state of residence once the international adoption is complete.
Current statistics show that a growing percentage of adoptions are from foster care families and stepparents. Rachel Kuhr of Jewish Family Services of Greater Harrisburg, Inc. says approximately 85 percent of her adoptions are through foster care. “A lot of people just cannot afford to adopt overseas or privately, and they choose to become foster parents. Sixty percent of children who come into foster care are under the age of 8, and about two-thirds of them are adopted by their foster parents,” Kuhr says.
The Home Study: Be Prepared
The home study helps the courts determine if a stable environment exists for a family to receive an adoptive placement and is required for every adoption. The cost of a home study can vary greatly so, again, be sure to do your homework.
The home study report must be completed prior to adoption and describes the prospective parents’ childhood, education, career, marriage/domestic partnership, experiences with children, parenting philosophy, home and neighborhood, finances, health and the type of adoption situation. Numerous documents are required for the home study, so you should have everything from your birth certificates to your letters of recommendation available for review. Home studies are confidential and are not shared with birthparents.
Post-placement reports must also be completed and submitted to the court before any adoption can be legally finalized. In Pennsylvania, three post-placement reports are required before placement.
A growing number of stepparents are choosing to adopt their spouses’ children. Tom Clark, an associate with the law firm of Colgan Marzzacco, LLC in Dillsburg, deals with many of those cases. While not wanting to play counselor or push parents down a certain path, Clark cautions them against making a decision they may regret, especially when it comes to waiting too long. “Sometimes people wait [to adopt] only to come back five years later and say, ‘We should have pursued an adoption.’ That’s the biggest thing I caution people about,” he says.
Jeff Engle, managing partner of Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC, of Millersville and Harrisburg, also deals with many parents who want to sever relationships with unsupportive and uninvolved biological parents and establish legal and parental rights with a new spouse. “This is done not only to protect the rights of the party, but it does provide for some constancy and permanency for the child,” Engle says.
The Birthmother: How Much Contact
The amount of contact you choose to have with the birthmother is up to you. You can have an open relationship or no contact whatsoever.
Engle says that privacy laws exist to protect child, parent and birthparent, but believes children should have access to information about their ancestral background and health history if possible.
Marceca Strong says the number one request she gets is for health history. “I obtain from my birthmothers as much history as I can and give it to the adopting couple.”
According to the National Adoption Law Center, a small percentage of adoptions are disrupted, meaning the birthmother attempts to change her mind or have contact. However, Clark says that once parental rights are terminated, there is virtually no chance for a biological parent to interfere in the life of an adopted child.
Parental rights can be terminated 48-72 hours after birth. In the case of a foster or stepparent adoption, a birthparent’s rights can be terminated after there has been no contact for six months.
And Clark says Pennsylvania is an adoption-friendly state. “My overall experience is that judges do have at heart the best interests of the children.”
More information about Pennsylvania law can be found at www.adoption.com.
Be Prepared for a Child’s Emotional Conflicts
All adopted children come with pasts, and whether they were relinquished at birth or later in life, they may feel an inherent sense of loss. Adoptive parents must be capable of understanding these and other issues a child may experience.
Take the time to research these issues. Although some may sound serious, they can be dealt with. Knowledge is power, and you can make a huge impact in your child’s life by being informed.
Lynn A. Gladieux is a freelance writer living in Oley, Pennsylvania. She is a wife and mother of three.
Are You Emotionally Ready?
Adoption is a very personal decision. And in order for the journey to be successful, both spouses must be fully prepared for the outcome. No spouse should feel pressured or pushed, and if one partner is not ready, it might lead to problems down the road.
If you have just suffered through the heartache of infertility, you must allow yourself time to grieve. Are you ready to give up those dreams of feeling the baby growing inside of you? Are you ready to grieve that loss?
If you are adopting an older child, you must fully weigh the consequences of adopting an older child and the responsibilities that entails.
Being emotionally ready to be an adoptive parent will ultimately be essential to the future relationship with your child and how that child will feel about himself.
While exploring adoption, you may become frustrated, sad and confused. You could also feel excited. Be prepared for those emotions, but be sure you are ready to work through them as well. But remember that in the end, only you can decide if you’re ready to take that next step.