adoption: the 411
Now that adoption finalization is near (11 days, yay!!!), many of my friends, co-workers, and acquaintances have been asking more questions about adoption. I’m no expert, and can only answer from my own experience and limited second-hand knowledge from stories from other foster/adoptive parents, blogs, memoirs, and documentaries. For those of you that are among those listed, this post is of little interest to you. You probably know a lot more than I do!
Most common adoption-related questions I am asked:
Where did you adopt from?
People ask this about my daughter when they meet her or see her photos, because of her almond-shaped dark eyes (people assume Asian) and olive-toned skin (people assume South American or Pacific Islander). Only a couple of times has anyone correctly assumed she is Mexican/Latina! But people also ask me this question without ever having seen her… the vast majority of the non-adopting public immediately assumes that I have adopted from a land faraway, even without my daughter’s exotic (to White midwesterners) appearance to go by.
Interestingly, another common assumption is that she is my bio-daughter because she “looks like me” (I’ve gotten this many times, from photos and in real life), but that my husband/her father is of another ethnicity.
Is adopting expensive, or how did you afford it?
Yes, it can be as expensive as buying a new home, for domestic or international adoptions. The exception is adoption from foster care, for which you are given a stipend. If you use the money wisely, it should be enough to cover the cost of added groceries, some of the daycare (definitely not all of it), diapers, other costs of living, etc. You will have some additional costs, but it should be doable for most income levels. Once the child becomes an adoptive placement, your foster care stipend is discontinued, unless your child has special needs and qualifies for an adoption stipend. Your child may also qualify to keep their medicaid, as opposed to switching to your private insurance. Total fees for adoption processing and two copies of a new birth certificate equaled $266 (US).
Which way is the best way to adopt?
Since I can’t afford a second mortgage to pay the very high fees associated with a private domestic adoption ($30,000-$80,000, depending on the health and ethnicity of the child, healthy white babies being in high demand for wealthier adoptive couples who can better afford this route), the best way for me was to take my chances with foster care. The caveat is that you have to accept that the goal for each foster child is always re-unification, and you are expected to be a supportive member of a team that works with bio-family towards this goal. Many children are returned to a bio-parent, sooner or later, and often not to homes considered acceptable for the foster parent who raised the child for the past one or two or three years. It can be devastating for everyone involved. If your sole purpose is to adopt out of foster care, it may be safer to take in legal-risk children (children whose parental rights were already terminated, and no kin placements were procured). These children are almost always over the age of 2 or 3, unless they are part of a sibling group, but they are generally a very safe bet. You will be taking them with the expectation, yours and the state’s, that adoption will occur.
If taking out a second mortgage, or getting ahold of the funds some other way, is doable for you, domestic adoption is a safer bet than through traditional foster care. The parents in this case have selected you from many hopeful families to adopt their child. They sign over their rights and have so many weeks to change their minds. Once that nerve-wracking wait is over, you are generally free and clear to adopt. You can more easily adopt brand-new infants this way. If you’re willing to take special needs children, or children from ethnic groups that are harder to place (black children, usually and shamefully), the costs will be lower, as they are subsidized. If international adoption appeals to you, be willing to pay the equivalent of domestic adoption costs, plus costs of traveling to a foreign country once or twice, plus the work leave in order to be gone weeks at a time. And be prepared to wait years to be matched with a child. Children are very rarely infants by the time they are adopted internationally. Two years or older is the norm. Also, many countries have strict adoption restrictions, such as age, marital status, and even whether or not you are on anti-depressants. Due to instability, some countries may close their whole adoption departments down, right in the middle of your adoption process.
Why does it cost so much???
No idea. I’ve googled the hell out of this question and still couldn’t tell you. $80,000 for one adoption??? I don’t get it.
Why does it take so long?
Because every court date is 3 months apart. Because the judge doesn’t come to work some days, and gives no notice. Because terminating parental rights is forever, and taken very seriously, so much time is spent on it. Because parents are always given many, many chances to show up and do the right thing. Because when you submit simple paperwork to the state, it takes months to come back with a stamp or signature or whatever. Because when one department or agency needs something from another department or agency, chaos ensues. Because there are tons and tons of licensing requirements for foster and adoptive parents. Because workers and auditors and licensers have to come visit your home all the time, and you have to coordinate your schedules and sometimes they get sick, or busy, or whatever and have to reschedule. AND SO ON.
Didn’t it break your heart when your first foster child went home? (I could never give them up, blah blah blah.)
No, it didn’t. His parents never missed a visit, and did everything that was asked of them by the court in order to get their son back. From the start I recognized that they were determined to do anything they could to bring him home. They had courage, civility, and a love for their child that showed in all of their interactions with me, and with workers. I was rooting for them, and happy for them when they achieved their goal. My former foster son is safe and happy with his bio parents now, and that is a good thing. I cried saying goodbye to him, but I knew in my heart he was their son, and I played a special role in his life for a short time.
And finally- you will probably feel so relieved when this is over! Will you adopt again?
Yes, I will feel relieved, you have no idea!!! I will sleep better at night knowing I have the same parenting rights over my daughter as I would if I gave birth to her. I will rest much easier not worrying that a relative can show up and get a lawyer and try to take her away, or if something should happen to me she would get thrown into another foster home. Will I do it again? I don’t know. I have no plans to adopt again at this time, as I am entering grad school. Both pregnancy and adoption hold the utmost potential for heartbreak. If I decided to have another child of my own, either choice would be risky and I wouldn’t make such a decision lightly. For now, I’m on hold for the next three years, getting my daughter to preschool and getting myself into a profession that will give us more options, income and schedule-wise.