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Adoption 101

Many people consider growing their families by adopting a child. If you'd like to learn more about the adoption process, this article is a good place to start. It explains the types of adoption prospective adoptive parents can use, the adoption process, and post-adoption resources to help families succeed.

The Decision to Adopt a Child

As with many of the most difficult decisions people make, the decision to adopt a child can be the most rewarding. Welcoming a new person into one's heart and life is usually the easy part if the parent(s) are emotionally ready for adoption. Dealing with time-consuming legal requirements and bureaucracy is the hard part.

The keys to successful adoption?

  • Knowing yourself is the first critical step: Understanding your goals, your financial resources, your energy level, and your needs for work-life balance, will be vital to making the decision.
  • Choosing the right type of adoption is your second important decision. Every adoption (and parenthood itself) has some risk. Some of these risks differ by type of adoption.
  • Working with a reputable adoption agency or adoption lawyer will help the process progress smoothly - usually. If and when things do go wrong, you will have the support you need to weather the challenges.

Choosing the Type of Adoption That's Right For You

Young, healthy, married couples will find all types of adoption open to them, if the home study process finds their home to be a good environment for children. But older prospective adoptive parents, single people who want to adopt, people with health issues, or same-sex couples may find their options limited by agency or country restrictions.

Independent Adoption: In an independent adoption, the birth mother (and possibly also the birth father or birth families) chooses the adoptive parent(s). The birth mother may be working with a private adoption agency, or she may be working with a law firm that specializes in private adoptions. A birth parent may respond to an advertisement placed by prospective parents seeking a child. Or a birth parent may ask a family member or friend to adopt their child.

When the birth mother has an adoption plan and controls the adoption process, she chooses who can adopt (as long as they pass a home study). It could be a single parent or a same-sex couple. She can also choose closed adoption or open adoption — that is, whether and how much access the birth parent(s) will have with the child after the adoption is finalized.

Independent adoption is almost always domestic adoption, though some people work with foreign lawyers to do independent international adoptions. Be very careful in vetting the lawyer in this case. Some prospective adoptive parents have found themselves facing criminal charges for buying children.

Private Adoption Agency: Many prospective adoptive parents choose to work with a private adoption agency. Some agencies have very strict requirements: parents need to be of a certain religion, a certain age range, or married. Some do not allow same-sex couples to adopt, or single people. Other private adoption agencies have few restrictions for adoptive parents, other than that they are able to provide a good home.

Some private adoption agencies do only domestic adoptions. Some specialize in international adoption from certain countries. Some agencies do both domestic and international adoption. If you are looking for a good agency, as other adoptive parents for a referral.

County and State Adoption Services: There are children in your state and county who are waiting for parents. The Waiting Child adoption list is often run by the state Department of Human Services and child welfare workers. On the waiting child list you will typically find:

  • Older children
  • Sibling groups
  • Special needs children (children with disabilities or medical conditions, for example)

These children may be in the foster care system and available for Foster-Adoption placement. This option lets prospective parents get their feet wet by becoming foster parents first before they decide to adopt. They understand how to parent their foster children before they sign on for a lifelong commitment.

The county and state want to ensure children's needs are met and adoptions are successful. Waiting children may come with a financial subsidy and adoption support services, especially if they have a difficult medical history or emotional issues

Risks Associated with Domestic and International Adoption

Domestic adoptions aren't subject to widespread legal challenges today, largely because of parental rights lawsuits decided in the past. It's not impossible for birth parents or birth relatives to try to revoke an adoption, but if you work with a reputable agency or law firm, that is unlikely to occur.

International adoption became increasingly common in the 20th Century, often as a result of war. Prospective U.S. parents turned to Korea, China, South and Central America, Russia, Romania, Uganda, Congo, Ghana, and other nations for adoptable children.

The risk factors for international adoption vary among countries and adoption agencies. The greatest risks are typically these:

  • Changing adoption laws in the country of the child's origin: A country may institute or change the length of a waiting period, or period of residency in the country. It can even choose to end international adoption at any time.
  • Incomplete adoption records: Parents may receive an inadequate or incomplete medical history and family history. Even the child's birth date and age may be inaccurate. Adoptive parents may be unprepared for the child's true needs when they arrive.
  • Child trafficking: There have been a number of adoption scandals over the years involving the abduction from or sale of children by their parents. The best way prospective parents can avoid such disasters is to work with a reputable adoption agency or to do a thorough background check on any foreign lawyers you employ.

The Adoption Process

There are a number of steps to the adoption process.

  • Choosing an agency or adoption law firm and completing an application
  • Getting an adoption home study completed by a social worker
  • Passing a background check
  • Choosing a child or being chosen by a birth parent
  • A waiting period
  • Traveling to the foreign country if you are adopting internationally and there is a residency period
  • Getting visas for adopted children
  • Birth of the child (which may be a shared experience with the birth mother in some adoptions)
  • Birth parent relinquishment of parental rights

Post-adoption Support

About 1%-3% of adoptions fail after they have been finalized. That's a very small number but it represents a lot of anguish for the adoptive families involved. State child services agencies, private adoption agencies, and fellow adoptive parents all want to help adoptive families to succeed.

You will find post-placement support available to help you and your adopted child, including:

  • Support groups for parents and adoptees, including groups specific to your child's country of origin
  • For domestic adoptions and foster adoptions, you may find subsidies to help with the cost of physical health care and mental health support services (especially for special needs children)
  • Tax credits for qualified adoption expenses

For More Adoption Information, Talk to an Adoption Lawyer

Choosing to adopt is the beginning of an exciting and somethings frustrating journey. If you'd like legal help, talk to an experienced adoption attorney who can guide you through the adoption process.

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