Are you thinking about adopting a child?

Are you and your husband thinking about adopting a child? There are over 114,000 foster children awaiting adoption in the United States. And while there are many families who could give them a wonderful home, these potential parents may be unsure of where to begin, or may think that the adoption process is too complicated.

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption seeks to educate potential adoptive parents on the importance of adoption and how to begin the process. This article is based on the Foundation’s guide, A Child Is Waiting… A Beginner’s Guide to Adoption.

What is adoption? According to A Child Is Waiting, adoption is the “permanent, legal transfer of all parental rights from one person or couple to another person or couple… Adoptive parents are real parents.” Potential parents may adopt from the foster care system, an infant within the U.S. or a child from another country. Adoptions occur through public agencies, private agencies and through attorneys or other intermediaries.

While there is no set procedure for adoption, given the various agencies and types of adoption, the Dave Thomas Foundation provides these general guidelines to help potential parents begin the adoption process:

Learn about Adoption

Gather information from organizations, such as those listed below in the “Further Reading” section of this article.

Self Assessment

According to the Dave Thomas Foundation, “Children don’t need perfect parents, just one or two loving individuals willing to meet the unique challenges of parenting and make a lifetime commitment to caring for and nurturing their children.” Do you and your husband believe in the importance of adoption? Do you both have patience, a sense of humor, the love of children and parenting, the ability to love unconditionally, awareness that healing doesn’t come quickly, and resourcefulness? Ask yourselves the reasons you want to adopt, whether or not you both are committed as a team, and if your lifestyle allows you the time needed to meet the needs of a special child.

Decide What Type of Adoption You Want to Pursue

Consider what type of child they want to adopt. Think about the potential age ranges and cultural backgrounds, the possibility of adopting siblings, and the possibility of adopting a child with mental or physical challenges.

Investigate Ways to Cover Adoption Expenses Adoption

Fees vary from each state, type of adoption agency, and even the age of the child. But many financial resources are available to help adoptive parents. Many companies now include adoption benefits for their employees. The IRS website provides information on tax credits for adoptive families. Look into possible adoption subsidies with the assistance of your adoption agency or the North American Council on Adoptable Children’s Adoption Subsidy Resource Center (NACAC). Other options include loans and grants (contact the National Adoption Foundation (NAF) for more information), and military reimbursements (see National Adoption Information Clearinghouse [NAIC]).

Select an Adoption Agency

Contact your state’s public adoption agency for a list of potential agencies, gather information for your local phonebook, and even contact local adoptive parent support groups for recommendations. Find out what types of children are placed for adoption, criteria the agency uses for matching, the length of waiting for a child, home study requirements, cost of adoption, and even gather references from other parents who adopted through that agency.

Let Your Agency Know You Are Serious about Adopting

Once you have decided to adopt, set up an initial meeting with the adoption agency to begin the adoption process.

Complete an Adoption Application

Because application fees are often non-refundable, make sure you have chosen the adoption agency that will best meet your needs. If possible, attend an orientation session before filling out the application.

Begin the Home Study Process

The home study is key to the adoption process. The Minnesota Adoption Resource Network defines a home study as, “an education process designed to help your social worker get to know you; to teach you about adoption and its impact on children and families; and to prepare you to parent a child who brings experiences, ideas, a history, and expectations perhaps very different from your own.” The home study may take anywhere from two months to a year, and may require various documentation, personal references and a physical examination.

Take Adoption and Parenting Classes

Many adoption agencies offer classes on parenting adopted children. Gather books and other resources. You can even take an online course through the National Adoption Center.

Begin Searching for a Child

Work with your adoption agency on finding the right child. Other organizations also provide information on children with special needs who are available for adoption. Consider attending matching parties or adoption fairs.

Find the Perfect Match

Once a child has been identified, learn as much about the child as possible through talking with the social worker or foster parents. This is also the time for you to decide if you are prepared and committed to handle any special medical conditions or other issues.

Prepare for Your Child’s Arrival

Consider the following preparations needed for the child’s arrival: health insurance coverage, obtaining the child’s original birth certificate, child care services (i.e. daycare or babysitter), creating a child-friendly home (i.e. creating a safe environment for a child, preparing the child’s room), preparing children already in the home for their new sibling, and obtaining any eligible adoption subsidies.

Bring Your Child Home

Once a child is moved into the home, you will assume temporary legal custody. The agency will then monitor the adjustment period, ranging anywhere from a few weeks to a year. If the placement is a good match, the agency then recommends to the court that the adoption be approved.

File a Petition to Adopt

This step involves the formal petition in court to initiate the legal aspects of adoption. You may even want to consider hiring an attorney to help with this process. You will most likely need the child’s birth certificate; a written statement of desire, suitability and financial ability to adopt the child; a written statement that the adoption is in the child’s best interest; the date you received the child into custody; statement of why the birth parents’ rights are being (or have been) terminated; and a statement of any relationship shared with the child (i.e. aunt, grandparent, stepparent).

Finalize the Adoption

The finalization hearing will attempt to determine that the child has been placed in a loving, save home and is the last formal step in the adoption process. Work with your agency when setting the finalization hearing to ensure you have all the proper documentation in place. Finalization hearings usually occur between 6 to 12 months after the child has been placed in the home, and are held in the judge’s chambers. Generally, the adoptive parents, the adopted child, the parents’ lawyer and the child’s social worker are present at this judicial hearing. Once the judge signs the adoption order, you will be given permanent legal custody and you can begin your new life together.

This article is based on the booklet, A Child Is Waiting… A Beginner’s Guide to Adoption, by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption

Further Reading

A Child Is Waiting… A Beginner’s Guide to Adoption, by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Order your free copy from the Dave Thomas Foundation.