I am so excited to have this opportunity to share with you some practical ways to navigate the early steps in the adoption process. If you are reading this blog, you are likely:
— A seasoned adoptive parent, well-versed in adoption-related topics
— Someone who has recently started the adoption process
— A person who is considering adoption but does not know how to begin.
This post is designed to help those in the latter two groups, and for the seasoned adoptive parents reading, please share this post with anyone you know who is ready to take the leap but doesn’t know where to begin.
In my own personal life, I have been studying, learning, and processing what it means to be a follower of Christ. Choosing to defend the orphan through adoption is beautiful and redeeming yet permeated with grief and loss. Those around you may not understand your decision to adopt a child – whether you plan to adopt a baby from China, a five year old boy from Uganda, or 13 year old twins from the state of Georgia. Be encouraged because your decision is pleasing to the Father. He will use this experience to not only redeem one of his beloved children but also to transform your heart in ways you cannot begin to imagine.
When my husband, Ryan, and I decided to grow our family through adoption, we honestly had no idea where to begin. I am a detail-oriented person, and I wanted to learn anything and everything there was to know about adoption as we prayed through decisions on how to proceed. I’m sure I began with a simple Google search, which then led to many late nights researching and learning as much as possible. In the end, I believe the following steps helped us systematically proceed through the beginning stages of adoption.
1. Choose a Country/State
Oftentimes, when you make the decision to adopt and share this with others, people have opinions, sometimes strong opinions about from where you should adopt, what age is appropriate, what gender is best for your family, etc. Not all people will choose adoption as the way their family will defend the fatherless, and in the same way, not all people are supposed to adopt from the same place. We are all part of the body, each having a unique role to play. The body needs each individual part to function in the way it was designed. Hands are not created for breathing, and lungs are not made for walking. The same is true for each family as they decide from where they are led to adopt. When each family prays, researches, and chooses the right country/state for them, the entire body can function more powerfully and productively.
For our family, because our second son was born with a cleft lip, we felt led to adopt a child with a cleft lip/cleft palate. Although parents in the United States do not typically make adoption plans for their children based on the presence of cleft lip/cleft palate, we knew that parents in other countries did. This is what led our family to researching adoption outside of the US. I remember that one of the first websites I visited was the US Department of State’s Intercountry Adoption website. Through hours of reading and researching adoptions in various countries on this website, I learned that each had unique requirements. Adoption from China requirements differ from requirements in Samoa and Poland.
— Number of trips required to complete an adoption
— Amount of time spent in country/state
— Age of the children available for adoption
— Estimated time to receive a referral
— Typical time between receiving that referral and traveling
— Hague versus Non-Hague
I also learned that there are several unique eligibility requirements for families pursuing international adoption, and each country varies in those specifications. These requirements, for example, are unique to each country:
— Minimum and maximum age of parents
— Years married or the allowance of single or LGBT parents
— Number of children present in the home
— Minimum income and net worth requirements
— Health requirements
Adoption for us was such a faith-based experience. When we did not have the ability to live in another country for 6 months or did not meet specific eligibility requirements, we did not feel discouraged. Instead, we were grateful to be narrowing down the countries, knowing that eventually we would find the right one for our family. Our family was open to adopting a child with special needs, which also helped us narrow down which country was right for us. Our research indicated that adopting a child from China made the most sense for us, as we preferred one visit out of the country, and it was relatively short, typically 10-17 days. We met eligibility requirements, and most importantly, more children with cleft lip/cleft palate are available for adoption in China than in any other country. This meant that receiving a referral would be a fairly quick process, which coincided well with our urgency to bring a child home sooner than later. Now that we had decided from where we were going to adopt, we could move to the Step #2: choosing an adoption agency.
2. Choose an Adoption Agency
Your next step is to select an adoption agency (i.e., placement agency) that facilitates adoptions with your chosen country/state. Some countries/states have very few agencies that facilitate their adoptions, while others have numerous agencies. Your family will have unique needs and desires, and those will help guide you as you choose an adoption agency. I highly recommend that you spend time researching in order to make the best decision for your family. Don’t simply select the first agency you see. You will be in a long term relationship with agency personnel during some of the most emotional, amazing, difficult, and extraordinary times of your life. Make sure it is a good fit for your family!
Some questions to consider when choosing an agency include the following:
— Is a faith-based agency important to you?
— What is the standard for communication (e.g., response within 24 hours)?
— What is the average time to receive a referral for a child?
— Does this agency have a reputation for ethical adoptions?
— Do you connect with the people at the agency?
— How does this agency support the children who are never adopted?
— What is the seasoned adoptive parents’ experience with this agency?
— How will this agency prepare you for adoption and support you once the child is home?
To find answers to the above questions:
— Make phone calls
— Complete a thorough search of agency websites
— Talk with the coordinator for your chosen country/state’s program
— Speak with a social worker
— Talk to other adoptive families you know or seek out ones who have adopted from your chosen country.
— Find answers online and through social networking sites.
— Ask agencies for references
— Attend informational meetings at adoption agencies
— Request materials such as DVDs, brochures, and packets of information
For our family, we very much wanted an agency that would pray for us and with us while encouraging us from a Biblical point of view. We desired an agency that would hold our hands while walking us through this process. Communication was also a priority when researching agencies. We connected with the social workers we spoke to, and the agency had a strong reputation for good communication and a history of successful adoptions. We learned that we would likely be matched and home with our child within 12-18 months given our parameters. The agency we chose is very involved with the children who are not adopted and provides resources to orphanages in China. In the end, we felt very confident that we chose the right agency for our family. However, we firmly believe that many other incredible agencies exist.
As you can imagine, researching agencies gave me another opportunity to create a spreadsheet. These are just six of the many agencies I researched when beginning the adoption process. I made sure to document in which states the agencies were located, who referred me to that agency (if applicable), who I spoke to within the agency, the contact number for easy reference, and my overall impression to guide decision making later.
Please know that it is ok if an adoption agency is located in a different state than where you reside. Do not let an adoption agency’s location be a hindrance to you. I will explain more in the next section.
The third step is choosing a local home study agency IF your placement agency is not located in the same state where you reside.
3. Choose a Local Home Study Agency (if applicable)
If you chose to adopt through an agency within your state of residence, they will typically complete your home study.
This is an assessment of prospective adoptive parents to see if they are suitable for adopting a child. However, if your placement agency is located out of state, you will need to identify a local adoption agency to complete your home study.
The country/state from where you are adopting, your placement adoption agency, and your home study agency will determine what requirements are necessary to complete your home study. This will include, but is not limited to:
— Education requirements such as online modules to watch, classes to attend, books to read, etc.
— Number and duration of home visits
— Important documents to support your ability to adopt a child (e.g., copies of financial accounts, proof of employment, medical information, letters of recommendation, etc.)
Once again, make a list of your local agencies, connect with their employees, ask questions, and determine which agency is best for your family. Here are some questions to consider asking as you select your home study agency.
— How long does it take to complete a home study assessment for [insert your chosen country/state]?
— Do you have experience with conducting home studies for [insert your chosen country/state]?
— When was the last time you conducted a home study for [insert your chosen country/state]?
— Have you worked with my placement agency/attorney in the past? If so, when was the last time?
— How much does the home study assessment cost?
— How will your agency support us as we navigate the adoption process, as well as after our child comes home?
Please do not select the first agency you come across or choose the agency that your mother’s best friend’s daughter used. Do your own research and find the agency that works best for you. Use caution when an agency has no experience with your chosen country/state or placement agency, as that can increase the time it takes to complete your home study. It pays to choose an experienced agency.
Consider attending adoption meetings with local agencies in order to learn more about adoption while also getting a feel for their organization. This can be a great way to connect with other adoptive families. Because our primary adoption agency was located out of state, we had to find a local adoption agency to complete our home study. Our experience was very positive, as our social workers with both agencies had great
4. Take a Deep Breath
Ok, your last step is to take a deep breath. Yes, I gave you A LOT of information, and you might be feeling overwhelmed.
Please trust me when I say that you can do this! Thousands of families have navigated the adoption process, and you can, too. I have found that the best way to combat fear and doubt is to remind myself of the Truth:
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
and with my song I praise him. — Psalm 28:7
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
lead me to the rock that is higher than I. — Psalm 61:2
My heart leaps for joy,
I call as my heart grows faint;
But those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. — Isaiah 40:31
Now, take another breath and print out this blog post. I have broken everything down for you step by step, so move forward one piece at a time. We made the decision to adopt on August 4, 2012 but did not apply to our placement agency’s China program until September 7th. I spent an entire month thoroughly researching adoption, countries, and agencies. When we finally made our decision, we had such peace and confidence in our selections.
In summary, once you decide to grow your family through adoption, I recommend focusing on three main decisions.
1. Select the country or state from where you will adopt. Keep in mind all country/state specific requirements and parental requirements, as they will guide you in this decision.
2. Choose the adoption agency that will facilitate your adoption process. Make sure that this agency is a good fit for your family.
3. Select a local agency to complete your home study assessment (if your placement agency is not located in your state). Refer to the above questions to ensure that your home study has the best chance of being completed quickly while also preparing you for bringing a child into your home.
I wish you the best as you begin navigating the adoption process! Your decision will not only redeem a beloved child, but it will also transform your heart in ways you cannot begin to imagine.