Thinking About Adoption? Here's What to Know

If you're considering growing your family via adoption, you'll want to be as prepared as possible for what can be a complex and time-consuming (and often expensive) process. Experts share their top tips for how to

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There are many ways to expand your family and for many, adopting a child is a chosen path. But adoption can also be complex. There is a lot to navigate and many decisions to be made along the way.

It also doesn't end on the day of the adoption finalization. "It's a lifelong journey that you will walk with your child and possibly with their birth family," explains Nicole Witt, executive director of The Adoption Consultancy.

Before you embark on this adventure, it's important to make sure you are informed and committed; as Witt says, "the path can be tough, but it's hard to imagine something that's more worthwhile."

If you're considering adoption, here's how to prepare and what to consider.

The different types of adoption

There are several different ways to go about adopting.

First, there is voluntary domestic adoption. "That is when a birth parent becomes pregnant or is already parenting a child, and recognizes that she may want to place that child for adoption for various reasons," explains Michelle Hoevker, program director, adoption and foster care with Presbyterian Children's Homes and Services.

In this situation, adoptive families and birth parents often work with an agency to help facilitate this process. There are other situations in which people come across a birth mother looking to place her child for adoption on their own and hire a private adoption attorney to facilitate the process.

There is also international adoption, in which you can adopt a child from another country. "This typically involves adopting a toddler or older child," says Witt, who also notes that "some countries only accept applications for children of a certain age, sibling groups, or those with special needs."

China's program is currently paused due to COVID-related travel regulations; some countries including Russia and Guatemala that previously had robust programs have been closed to U.S. citizens for years. However, countries including Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Colombia, Bulgaria, South Africa and Haiti are currently accepting applications.

Another option is foster to adopt, in which you may choose to provide a home for a child who is "in foster care for some reason, like trauma or abuse," as Hoevker explains. The goal of foster care is primarily to be able to reunite the child with their birth family, but if that family isn't able to meet the requirement for reunification, then a birth parent's rights may be terminated and the foster parent may become eligible to adopt the child in their care.

Recent reports estimate that there are close to 424,000 children currently in the foster care system, with an average age of 8. More than half of the children in foster care in 2019 had a case plan goal of being reunited with their families, and more than 71,000 kids were waiting to be adopted after their parents' rights were terminated.

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Before you begin

Those looking to adopt should first consider what is leading them down this path. "Sometimes it's because a couple has struggled with infertility," says Hoevker. In this situation, she encourages people to make sure they are truly in a healthy place to move forward with this process. "It's important that they reach some level of acceptance on their grief and loss related to infertility, so that they can really accept and love a child who was not born to them," she says.

Next, you want to spend time educating yourself as to what type of adoption you'd like to pursue and what the process is like. It can be helpful to speak with friends who have adopted, or adoptees themselves, to get their perspective.

Because open adoption (which allows some level of contact agreed upon between the birth and adoptive parents, whether through letters, phone calls or visitations) is the preferred method of domestic adoption these days, it's good to inform yourself about that process too. There are many books (try The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole) and websites out there with information on the process, which help explain why experts believe this is healthiest for the adopted child.

You should also learn about how to discuss adoption with your child. And if you are considering adopting a child of another race, you'll also want to seek information about how to find ways to celebrate the child's culture and honor their background.

"Adoption is nuanced and will affect most adoptees throughout the rest of their lives, so it is very important for adoptive parents to be willing to do the work," says Melissa Guida-Richards, an adoptee and author of What White Parents Should Know About Transracial Adoption. "All adoptions start with a loss of one family and adoptees deserve a right to the truth about their adoption story, access to their original birth certificate, and connection to their birth culture and language."

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How to find an agency

Adoption laws vary by state and there is a lot of legal paperwork involved in the process. Thus, you will need to work with a qualified adoption agency or adoption lawyer to guide you throughout the process.

"I recommend gathering information on multiple agencies and finding the right one for you," suggests Rory Hall, executive director with Adoption Advocates. Some things to consider include how long they've been in business, their costs, qualifications for families and average wait time. "Look at what kind of support and education they offer, especially for expectant parents," Hall adds.

Online reviews can offer a glimpse into how an agency operates, and Hoevker recommends attending orientations put on by an agency you are considering to get a sense of how they operate.

There are agencies dedicated to infant adoption, older child adoption and international adoption, so you'll want to find the one that fits your preference. If you're opting for fostering or looking to foster to adopt, you'll start by contacting your local Child Services office.

November is National Adoption Month, and PEOPLE is celebrating by highlighting the many extraordinary ways families can grow via adoption, featuring real stories from celebrities, everyday parents and adoptees, as well as information on the varied ways to adopt. For more heartwarming, heartbreaking and happy-ending stories, visit our Adoption page.

The first steps: Getting approved

Before adopting, you will also need to have a home study performed, in which a licensed social worker will complete a report to send to the government. "A home study is an in-depth evaluation, which includes interviews, as well as medical, criminal, and child protective service clearances," explains Khadija Walker-Fobbs, chief strategy officer at Judson Center. This will also involve a few home visits in which a social worker will make sure that the home is safe to raise a child in. This is a requirement for those looking to adopt in all 50 states and your adoption agency or lawyer can advise you on how to connect with a social worker to do this.

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The financial commitment

Foster adoption is typically free or very low cost. "In some instances, there are even financial benefits for the child, including healthcare and college tuition," says Witt.

Agency-led international adoption and domestic newborn adoption can range anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000. These prices include the marketing and outreach that your agency will perform to help connect you with a birth mother, as well as stipends to help the birth mother with rent, food, clothing and maternity leave. It also includes the legal fees associated with finalizing an adoption. International adoption will also include expenses for travel and an in-country stay, while you wait for paperwork to be filed.

"Some people do fundraising, savings, loans and apply for scholarships to help pay for the higher cost," explains Leanda Weimer, an adoption social worker with All God's Children International. And Witt explains that there are resources available to help defray the costs, such as the $14,000+ adoption tax credit and employer benefits, as well as grants you can apply for through adoption charities, such as Help Us Adopt and Gift of Adoption Fund.

How to make a compelling adoption page

Adoption agencies often have adoptive parents put together a booklet or web page about themselves that will be presented to the adoptive parent. "This is basically a scrapbook that the expectant moms look at to select the adoptive family," says Witt. It includes photos and information about you as a potential adoptive parent.

When making this page, it's important to paint an authentic picture of who you are. "Include your daily life as much as you feel comfortable," says Weimer. "Be real, be honest and open on what people might be inquisitive about," she explains, noting that expectant mothers want to see someone's everyday life, where they work, their extended family and pictures of their homes. "They should be able to envision that child living with you," she says. Your agency will often give you some tips on what to include in your profile.

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Tools for those considering adoption

There are a variety of books, websites and videos out there that can help adoptive parents prepare for the process.

Anna ten Bensel, an adoptee currently going through foster parent training in the hopes of adopting with her partner, has found Your Adoption Finance Coach to be helpful. "YAFC is a free tool used in budgeting, planning and educating families on the adoption process and connects future parents to additional resources," she explains.

There are also videos online, such as Khandy Bryant's YouTube page, which walk people through the various steps of adoption, such as how to adopt as a single parent, how to avoid adoption scams and how to navigate comments people may make about your adoptive family.

You can also learn from the experience of a person who was adopted. Guida-Richards shares her journey on her website, Adoptee Thoughts. And services like Adoptive Learning Partners offer classes to help adoptive parents prepare for everything from navigating transracial adoption to talking to your child about being adopted.

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