Adopting Through an Agency

Your guide to choosing an adoption agency and bringing a baby home.

Selecting an Agency

There are several steps you must complete for any type of adoption through an agency. In addition to the four basic procedures described below, other procedures may be necessary, depending upon your particular needs and those of the child and the birth parents.

There are both private and public adoption agencies. A private adoption agency is supported by private funds and should be licensed or approved by the state in which it operates. A public agency is the local branch of your state social service agency. Most public agencies handle only special needs adoptions -- not infant or international adoptions.

Using a private agency

To obtain the names of local private agencies, look under "Adoption Agencies" or "Social Services" in the Yellow Pages. You can obtain a free copy of your state's agency listing from NAIC. If you have Internet access, you can visit the NAIC Web site at access the National Adoption Directory online. You should check with your state adoption specialist, the Better Business Bureau near the agency, and the state Attorney General's office regarding any complaints that might have been lodged by other adoptive families. You may also wish to check with local adoptive parent support groups for their recommendations of reputable agencies.

Private agencies handle both domestic and international adoptions. You will need to decide which kind of child you want to join your family.

Make sure you ask any agency you might work with what its fees are and what the schedule is for paying them. You should also ask what services are and are not covered by the fees. Most will allow you to pay fees in installments due at particular points during the adoption process. If the fee policy is clear from the beginning, any misunderstandings about payment will be less likely.

Using a public agency

You can find an appropriate agency listed in your telephone book in the government section under a name such as "Department of Social Services" or "Department of Public Welfare." Each state organizes its agencies somewhat differently. They may be organized regionally or by county. To begin, call your county office and ask to speak to the adoption specialist. If the county office cannot help you, ask to be referred to the regional or state office.

In general, public agencies will accept adoption applications from families wanting to adopt older children, sibling groups, or children with special physical or psychological needs. Many of the children waiting for placement from public agencies are children of color.

Adoption services through a public agency are usually free or available for a modest fee, since the services are funded through state and federal taxes. Federal or state subsidies are sometimes available to assist families adopting a child with special needs. If a child has no special needs, adoptive parents may only be asked to pay legal fees, which are often quite reasonable. In some cases, subsidies may even be available for the legal fees, too.

Children in the custody of a public agency were either abused, neglected, or abandoned by their birth parents. Abuse and neglect can leave physical and emotional scars. It is important to discuss all aspects of a child's history with the agency social workers and to discuss the availability of counseling or other services, just in case they might be needed, before deciding to adopt a child with a traumatic history.

Foster Parenting

Another parenting option available through public agencies is foster parenting. Children are placed with foster parents to give birth parents a chance to improve their situations. Birth parents are offered counseling and services during this time. Foster parents receive a monthly stipend for a child's living expenses. In general, the goal of the foster care program is to reunite the child with his or her birth parents if at all possible. However, there is a growing trend toward freeing children for adoption (that is, terminating the parental rights of the birth parents) as quickly as possible to prevent years of drifting in foster care. Recent federal legislation has mandated courts to seek termination of parental rights when a child has been in foster care for 15 out of the past 22 months unless there are extenuating circumstances.

More and more foster parents are adopting their foster children. This is particularly true for foster children of color or those with special needs. In almost all states, the vast majority of children adopted from the public foster care system were adopted by their foster parents or by their relatives.

Recently, some states have changed the way they perceive their parenting programs. They consider foster parenting and adoption to be a continuum of service, rather than two discrete functions. As a result, agency personnel may ask you at the time of application if you want to be only foster parents, only adoptive parents, or foster/adoptive parents. Foster/adoptive parents are willing to be foster parents while that is the child's need and understand that the agency will make all efforts to reunite the child with the birth parents. However, if the child is freed for adoption, the foster/adoptive parents may be given priority consideration as his or her potential adoptive parents.

It will take some soul searching on your part to decide whether foster parenting is an appropriate option for you. If you can stand some uncertainty, it is a viable option, especially if you have your heart set on a young child and you do not have the funds for a private agency or independent adoption. You must be able to maturely face the prospect of a child being reunited with birth parents, feel sincerely that reunification is indeed in the best interest of the child at that time, and be prepared to handle the grief that would accompany such a loss.

If you are considering this option, discuss becoming a foster/adoptive parent with the agency social workers and other foster parents who have adopted their former foster children.

The Procedure

1. Complete the application and preplacement inquiry. When you contact an agency, you may be invited to attend an agency-sponsored orientation session. Here you and other applicants will learn about the agency's procedures and available children and receive the application forms. The agency will review your completed application to determine whether to accept you as a client. If accepted by a private agency, you will probably have to pay a registration fee at this point.

The next step is the preplacement inquiry known as the "home study" or the "family assessment." The home study is an evaluation (required by state law) of you as a prospective adoptive family and of the physical and emotional environment into which the child would be placed. It is also a preparation for adoptive parenthood. It consists of a series of interviews with a social worker, including at least one interview in your home. During this process, you will, with the social worker's assistance, consider all aspects of adoptive parenthood and identify the type of child you wish to adopt. Some agencies use a group approach to the educational part of the adoption preparation process because it creates a built-in support group among adoptive families.

Many of the questions asked in the home study are personal and may seem intrusive if you are not expecting them. These questions are necessary for the social worker's evaluation of you as a prospective parent. Some of the questions are about your income, assets, and health and the stability of the marriage (if married) and/or family relationships. Physical exams to ensure that you are healthy are usually required. Some states require that prospective adoptive parents undergo a fingerprint and background check to ensure that you do not have a felony conviction for domestic violence or child abuse. A home study is usually completed in a few months, depending upon the agency's requirements and the number of other clients.

2. Be prepared to wait. Adopting a child always requires a waiting period. If you want to adopt a Caucasian infant, be prepared to wait at least one year from the time the home study is completed, and more frequently two to five years. It is difficult to estimate the waiting period more specifically because birth parents usually select and interview the family they wish to parent their child. Applicants wishing to adopt African-American infants may have a shorter wait, probably less than six months. If you want to adopt a child with special needs, you can begin now to review photolistings to learn more about waiting children and to look for children who might be right for your family. International adoptions, on the other hand, may take a year or more but the wait and the process will be somewhat more predictable. For any type of adoption, even after a child is found, you may have to wait weeks or months while final arrangements are made.

3. Complete the legal procedures. After a child is placed with you, you must fulfill the legal requirements for adoption. Hiring an attorney may be necessary at this time, if you have not already retained one.

Usually a child lives with the adoptive family for at least six months before the adoption is finalized legally, although this period varies according to state law -- unlike some international adoptions, however, where the adoption is completed before the child leaves his country. During this time before the adoption is finalized, the agency will provide supportive services. The social worker may visit several times to ensure that the child is well cared for and to write up the required court reports. After this period, the agency will submit a written recommendation of approval of the adoption to the court, and you or your attorney can then file with the court to complete the adoption.

For international adoptions, finalization of the adoption depends on the type of visa the child has, and the laws in your state. The actual adoption procedure is just one of a series of legal processes required for international adoption. You must also fulfill the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's requirements and then proceed to naturalize your child as a citizen of the United States.

Source: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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