I had the pleasure of speaking to a total stranger this evening about fostering and adoption. She has always felt that, when the time came for her and her husband to begin their family, she wanted to adopt. Her husband is coming around to the idea (isn’t that always the case whenever the baby fever hits us, ladies!). She started searching the internet for information on the adoption process- and she was quickly overwhelmed. “Hey, anyone who’s ever done that feels the same way, girlfriend!” It’s a mess. Even from the 30,000 foot view, it’s impossible to decide where to begin. So, I did my best to guide her to a more manageable altitude.
First, ask yourself if you want to foster or adopt. Fostering means that a child will come into your home and you have no idea how long you’ll get to keep them. Their length of stay could range from overnight until forever. Your advantage is that you’re in the position to determine if you want to terminate their stay. (Aren’t all parents!) But, seriously, if it’s not working out with that child, you can call your caseworker and have them moved to another home. Now, fostering might lead to adoption, but if you choose the fostering route, you have to prepare yourself for that moment when the judge might order that they have to go back to live with their birth parents. It can be heartbreaking. But, then there’s the possibility that you might get to adopt them, so that’s exciting. In other words, just in case your emotions aren’t screwy enough, you’re signing up to let the government mess with them, too.
Adoption means that you’re becoming the legal parent of a child, as though you had given birth to them yourself. It’s a big decision. You’re not “dating” this kid, you’re committing it all upfront that you want to be their forever parent. Don’t make this decision lightly and don’t go into it thinking that you can change your mind after the fact. Actually, you can change your mind after the fact and your kid can be up for “re-adoption”. It’s really a thing, and it’s really sad to me when that happens.
(I’m basing this next paragraph on how things are done in Arkansas. Remarkably, not all states are alike in the way they run their foster system.) If you choose fostering, you can go either directly through the state (which I don’t recommend, but it works for some), or you can go through a third-party fostering agency. Either way, you technically are part of the same foster system, but with the third-party agency you are much more likely to work with friendly faces and people who give a care. Additionally, you have the benefit of having extra caseworkers (which doesn’t mean more people breathing down your neck, but that you have more people to keep up with your child’s case and to make sure everything is in order.)
If you want to go the adoption route, then you’re still sitting at at least a 60,000 foot view asking yourself the question, “Where do I even start?” I’d recommend deciding if you want to adopt domestically or internationally, that is, whether you want to adopt from the United States or from another country.
If you want to adopt from another country, you HAVE to go through a licensed international adoption agency. I stress, again, that you MUST go through a licensed international adoption agency. To not follow this procedure could end you up in a serious legal mess with charges of human trafficking and whatnot. So, if you want to adopt internationally, contact a licensed international adoption agency, and be certain that they are actually licensed to manage adoptions between the US and the country from which you are trying to adopt. And pay close attention to the adoption laws in both countries. Bringing a human across the borders between countries is a serious thing. Make sure you’ve got all your boxes checked.
If you decide you want to adopt domestically, I congratulate you on making it this far. You have made it through the uncertain descent through the clouds and you are beginning to see signs of the ground below. But, your decision-making process is far from over. Now, you must decide which route you want to go to adopt domestically. Once again, going through your state’s foster system is an option, as they also manage the former foster children who have become adoptable. At this point, you can no longer work with a third-party agency- you must work directly with the state (insert a montage of emoticons ranging from sad face to angry face to woman smashing computer).
Ok, I’m calm again.
Another domestic adoption option is to advertise yourself as potential adoptive parent(s). This involves a lot of social networking, like telling every single person you meet that you want to adopt and answering all their privacy-violating questions like why you don’t just have kids of your own and so forth. Every year, I reckon there are numerous souls for whom this works and, in the end, you might be one of those lucky ones. (Geez, that sounds a little cynical. Honestly, I wish that this way worked for each and every couple who wanted to adopt. They’d be happier, which means there’d be more chocolate for me.)
If you want a little more professional reassurance, you can contact an adoption lawyer, that is, a lawyer who has a strong case history of matching birth mothers with adoptive parents. Still, you’re being “advertised”, waiting for a birth mother to decide that you’re the right soul to raise her bun, but it’s less of a shot in the dark than advertising for yourself.
If you want even more reassurance that only a professional can provide, then you can contact an adoption agency. Keep in mind there are a plethora of adoption agencies out there. Some have a broad clientele base (Dillon, Bethany, Gladney) and others are more specified (for instance they only work with members of the Catholic Church). Be sure when you’re doing your research into adoption agencies to only look at the ones who are licensed to work in your specific area (city, state, etc). And, also, if you do fit into a narrow clientele base (say, you’re an infertile couple who are members of the Church of Christ who are looking to adopt your first baby who you’re hoping has special needs and is bi-racial), then you’re going to find that some agencies more specifically fit your needs than others. This can also be true of finding financial assistance. Look at it this way- if you were a high school senior who wanted to major in biological oceanography and wanted a scholarship playing ice hockey, then you wouldn’t apply to Oklahoma State University. So, think about who you are and what you want, and look for adoption agencies that cater to those things.
At this point, you’ll begin your final descent onto Mount Paperwork. My advice is: make copies of all documents. This might potentially save you hours of hand cramps. Also, be prepared to be fingerprinted more times than a felon and to have your entire life scrutinized under a magnifying glass. One day, you’ll enjoy privacy within the confines of your own family, but now is not that moment. And, to those of you who have already visited the invasive microscope of fertility treatments, just consider this an extended layover on your one-way journey to the total loss of your privacy.
Now, there are still a million questions you haven’t even answered, like are you willing to adopt a child with fetal alcohol syndrome, or do you have all your vaccinations to travel to the country in which your adoptive child resides? But, take comfort in knowing that you’ve made significant progress in your adoption journey. Some- most- never make it this far. Way to be a trooper.
*** Because you can spend anywhere from $0 to $75,000, it is important to keep your financial capabilities in check. In order from least expensive to most expensive (generally speaking) would be: fostering or adopting through the state, adopting by advertising yourself as a potential adoptive parent, adopting through a lawyer who advertises you, adopting domestically through an adoption agency, and, finally, adopting internationally through an adoption agency. There are numerous ways to subsidized the financing of your adoption. You can apply for financial assistance, which looks similar to a scholarship. As mentioned above, be specific on your searches to find financial assistance, and also do your due diligence to verify the validity of such offers. You can also fundraise, which, yes, can mean having a bake sale, or opening an Etsy shop, or raffling off a handmade quilt. Be creative and fun and more people will want to support you in that. Also, check with your employer to see what kind of adoption benefits they offer, as well as any kind of legal plans you might be able to sign up for, as legal fees can be responsible for a large portion of the financial burden. Finally, going through your state’s foster system will cost you virtually nothing, aside from some document filing costs (and maybe taking personal time off work to contemplate the question “What is wrong with these idiots?”)
I hope this has been helpful. I seem to recall writing something like this a few years ago, but who knows where it ended up. Oh, wait, I might’ve forgotten to make a copy before sending the original to DHS who lost it. I’m sure I got a hand written letter in the mail six months later informing me of their mistake and requesting I overnight them a duplicate…