Saturday, October 4, 2008

Adoption 101

I frequently get emails from people considering adoption, and wanting to know where to start, how to get going, and what is involved. I keep thinking that I should have something written that I can just cut and paste, but I never do it, and just end up writing it over and over. Recently I got another such request, and decided to post it here, for future reference, and also in case any readers would also like the information.

I will give a disclaimer that this is very basic information. I am giving generalizations, and just general ideas. There are more details to everything here, but it is a good place to understand where to start when thinking about adopting.

There are two basic routes for adoption. Generally, the first decision is to choose domestic or international. They both have good reasons to choose that route.

International adoption is based on individual countries. Each country has different rules, regulations, requirements, and options. You can do a lot of research to find the country that is a good fit for your family.

Generally, international adoptions cost $20,000-$40,000. (Remember there is a federal tax credit of about $11,000 for any adoption). This cost may vary depending on the country, and travel requirements. Babies/children from international adoptions are usually not newborns. The youngest I have heard of was around 4 months. But usually babies come home anywhere from 9 months or older. Again, the age depends a lot on the country.

International adoptions generally have little or no contact with the birthfamily. Open international adoptions are almost non-existent. There is usually an expected timeline, and you have a good idea of how long it will take to bring your baby home. International adoptions are not guaranteed, but the 'failure' rate is much, much lower than domestic. The homestudy is much more extensive than for domestic adoption.

The most common countries adopted from are:
  • China
  • Russia
  • Guatemala (currently not recommended to start an adoption there)
  • S. Korea
  • Kazakhstan
  • Ukraine
If you are interested in domestic adoption, there are 3 basic routes. Domestic adoption is moving more toward open adoption, where there is some sort of relationship between the birthfamily and the adoptive family. Generally with domestic adoption, the birthfamily is allowed to choose the adoptive family, so the 'wait' time could be days, months, or years. There is no way to predict or know when to expect an adoption.

1. Agency adoption. You contract with a private agency. The agency provides your homestudy, birthmother counseling, advertising for a birthmother, and various other services. Agency adoptions generally cost $20,000-$30,000. The fees vary based on individual situations, as well as gender and race. If you are LDS, you can use LDS Family Services as your adoption agency. Their fees are based on 10% of your income, with a minimum of $4,000 and a maximum of $10,000. Agencies work almost exclusively with newborns, although there are a few exceptions.

Agency adoptions are wonderful if you are nervous about interacting with birthfamilies, if you are unsure of the adoption process, or if you would rather someone else 'find' a birthfamily for you. They are often a very fast way to have an adoption (depending on the number of waiting couples vs. the number of birthparents- LDSFS is generally not very fast). Most reputable agencies offer some sort of financial repercussions if the adoption does not go through- they may apply the amount paid to the next adoption, or not require payment until placement, that sort of thing.

Agency adoptions can also be frustrating if things are not happening as quickly as you would like, if the agency is not giving you adequate information, or are causing problems in other ways. It is one of the most expensive ways to adopt, and that is a determining factor for some.

2. Private or independent adoption. In a private adoption, you find a birthfamily, and contract directly with other professionals to facilitate the adoption. This would include hiring an attorney, or possibly two, counseling for the birthmother, notaries, and other professionals as needed. Private adoptions generally cost $4,000- $10,000 (this figure is based on what I have heard, I have no source or statistics for this number). Private adoptions are generally newborns, but there can be older child adoptions if the situation arises.

Private adoptions can be wonderful. It allows you more control over your own situation, more direct access to information, and the ability to form your adoption and relationships as you would like them. It can be much, much cheaper than agency adoptions.

The downside to private adoption is that you are often left on your own. This is fine if you are knowledgeable and confident, but there are no professionals around to guide you, give advice, or act as a go-between for all of the intense emotions of both the birthfamily and the adoptive family. You might have to deal with a lot more 'issues' than you would with an agency adoption. It also can be difficult to locate all the resources that you need. There is also generally no financial recovery to a failed private adoption. Any money paid will generally be lost.

3. Foster adoption. Adopting a child from the state foster care system. Generally this means older child adoption, but sometimes newborns are available. You can choose to "foster adopt", meaning you can foster a child in the system with the hope of adoption. In this route, you would be supportive of the state's goal of birthfamily reunification until (or if) the parental rights are terminated. Or you can choose only "adopt", meaning you will only consider children who are already free for adoption.

Foster adoption can be virtually free. During the fostering time, families are given a stipend to cover some expenses. Different states also offer lifetime medical care, college assistance, and other benefits to adopting from the foster care system.

Foster adoption can be very difficult, since the goal of the state is to reunite the birthfamily, not to place into adoptive homes. It can be a long, drawn-out process. And many times, the children have suffered neglect and/or abuse.

In our family, we used LDS Family Services for our first adoption. We had one failed adoption attempt, and then we were matched with and adopted Abigail. Ours was unusually quick, we started the process in Jan. of 2003, and Abigail was born in Jan. of 2004. Our second adoption we did a private adoption. We found Jack and Aidan's birthmom through a friend of my sister, and we used private attorneys to facilitate the adoption. LDS Family Services did help us with our homestudy and supervisory visits for the private adoption. Their adoption took place in May of 2005. We have open adoptions with Abigail's birthmom, and Jack and Aidan's birthmom, birthdad, and a lot of the extended family as well. Open adoption is something I was nervous about when we began, but is something I have grown to love and appreciate. I would not want our adoptions to be any other way!

I recommend the websites, and adoptive families magazine. I also recommend the books "Dear Birthmother" and "Making Sense of Adoption".

If you have any questions, or wish to correct anything in this post, feel free to do so! I love talking about adoption!


Murmer said...

Hi, I am a lurker to your blog but I have also adopted. I think your post is brilliant and covers many of the main ideas of starting adoption. The only other thing I would add is that you need to consider whether you would be able to adopt a child who is not of the same race or culture as you or if you would prefer a child that is very similar to you. Many international adoptions are transracial but domestic adoptions also ask whether a family is open to or plans to adopt transracially, usually regarding adoption children of african-american decent and that really needs to be considered.

Shanna said...

Murmer, welcome! :) That is a very good point. Both domestic and international options have the transracial element, or the option of finding a child who looks very similar. One of the many soul-searching questions of adoption! :)

Andy and Jessica said...

My cousin is trying to adopt right now, I will have to forward on some of this info. Thanks!!

Opp Family said...

Great idea - and for the record our private adoption was less than what you posted. We paid attorney's fees, hospital birth fees (I talked the hospital down to a lower "cash" rate), homestudy fee through the county ($250), fingerprinting and background check and we have/are getting 100% back as tax credit. Thanks for putting this all in one place!