ADOPTION INFO 2011

I’ve mentioned before that DH and I went to an all-day adoption conference in 2011, after the second miscarriage. I want to type out the notes here for anyone who might be interested in learning more, and for myself, to help solidify the information in my brain.

Below is from my handwritten notes and may contain factual errors—and none of this information comes from my own research or my own opinions.

Adoption changes rapidly so not everything will still be accurate. All caveats aside, I think the notes give a general overview of what can seem like a pretty intimidating world.

It’s a lot of information. You might want to print it out so as not to go cross-eyed reading it on a screen! (Damn, I sound old.)

Finally–have any adoption information you’d like to share with me? Or corrections you’d like to make to info below? Any stories, experiences? Love to hear from you. We are refamiliarizing ourselves with adoption for a number of reasons, which I’ll write about in a later post.

I also want to mention that by far the most inspiring part of the conference was a panel of six adoptees, adolescents, who answered our questions with such grace and heart. Some were international adoptees, others were domestic. They were articulate, funny, wise, kind. This endeavor to have a child can start to seem so abstract—I think those kids brought every one of us in the audience back down to earth and reminded us precisely why we are trying so hard to create families. (I don’t have any notes from that panel because I was too swept up in listening to them.)

FROM OPENING PRESENTATION

  • Critical to find other adoptive parents for mentoring and peer-to-peer support.
  • The Adoption Tax Credit of 12K ended at the end of 2012.
  • Incentive grants exist for post-adoption services.

WORKSHOP 1: INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION 101

  • You will work with 2 agencies, one in-country and one out-of-country.
  • Your in-country agency should work with more than one country because countries often close.
  • Adoption Guide is helpful in selecting an agency.
  • Keep a consumer mindset. Ask the right questions. Ask about fees. Watch out for too-good-to-be-true situations.
  • Agency should have Hague Accreditation.
  • Agency should travel to the countries often.
  • You’ll need to do a home study, immigration paperwork, and complete a dossier.
  • You will get pre-approval through a particular form before doing anything else. (Don’t lie about shoplifting when you were 16 or getting DUIs or anything like that.)
  • The dossier will include a medical report stating good health, employment verification, and birth and marriage certificates.
  • Eligibility can include things like age, arrest history, BMI Index, medical history, marriage length, and how many children you have.
  • Antidepressants and anxiety medications count against you.
  • Hague: 78 countries have signed (as of 2011). It stops trafficking but unfortunately also stops honorable adoptions.
  • Grant $ can be secured from the David Thomas Foundation.
  • The children available for adoptions are generally 18 – 36 months old.
  • Some issues with international adoption: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; developmental issues; counseling and health services are often needed.
  • It now takes 6+ years to adopt from China. Soon it will go up to 10 years.
  • 2008 – 17, 433 adoptions. 2009 – 12, 753 adoptions. 2010 – 11, 059 adoptions. 2011 – 9,000 adoptions.
  • Ethiopia: now reducing adoptions by 90%.
  • China: The parents can be married or single women. No depression meds. Married 2 – 5 years. “WIC” referrals are 3 – 18 mos old, mostly special needs (correctible to life-long) or boys 5 – 6 years old.
  • Russia: Children 12 months +. Mostly boys. No set age for parents. Different rules for different regions (some regions will not allow singles or those with mental health medication history). Takes 6 – 18 months for placement and 2 – 4 trips. In general, a lot of time and money. The children are Caucasian to Eurasian-looking.
  • Ethiopia: Many malnourished children. HIV is prevalent. All-age children, but generally older. Opportunity to meet the birth family. Adoptive parents can be up to 50 years old, married for 1 year with no more than 2 divorces between them. Must make 2 trips. 4 milling Ethiopian children have been orphaned in [unclear timespan in my notes].
  • Korea: Mostly boys. Usually bring child home when he is one and a half years old. They are often put in foster care and get attached to foster family. Will get extensive medical information about the child. Adoptive parents cannot be single and must be married for 3 years at the time of the home study. No more than 1 divorce between them. Must apply by age 42. Short travel required and only by one parent.
  • India: Adoptive parents must be married for 5 years and be 30 – 52 years old. Children often have extreme disabilities, and the adoption process is very slow.
  • Phillippines: Older children. Adoptive parents are mostly Christian, 27 – 47 years old, married for 3 + years. Takes 2 – 3 years for placement.
  • Colombia: Many older sibling groups. Adoptive parents must be younger than 38 for children aged 0 – 3, and married for 3 years. Must make a 6-week trip (one parent can go home after 2 weeks). Referrals take 1 – 2 years.  They tend to have orphanages with more caregivers per child.
  • Closed countries (as of 2011): Guatemala, Vietnam, Cambodia, Krgyzstan, Nepal.
  • Emerging countries (as of 2011): Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Congo, Uganda.
  • Resource: rainbowkids.com.

WORKSHOP 2: DOMESTIC INFANT ADOPTION 101 (with a focus on private/independent/attorney adoptions)

Speaker: An attorney

  • You can pursue international and domestic simultaneously if you have the time and money.
  • There are two kinds of domestic adoption: 1) Private (independent) with an attorney and, 2) agency adoption.
  • First you must get certified to adopt by a court: 1) File petition with court, 2) Get home study, with social worker, 3) Get fingerprinted, 4) Something about child abuse—perhaps this note is referring to disclosing abuse that happened during one’s childhood?, 5) You have 2 months to do this, and the certification is good for 18 months. You can renew certification indefinitely.
  • In other states, attorney can find the baby for you, but in New York, adoptive parents must do it through advertising.
  • Advertisement options: newspapers, 1-800 #s, the web.
  • Advertising $: More is better. Spend at least $500 – $1000 per month.
  • You many wait several months without a call.
  • When you do get the call: 1) Make birth mother feel comfortable. Don’t ask preplanned questions. 2) If you want to remain anonymous for the time being, simply say that this is what your lawyer requires at this time. 3) Have her call your attorney. Say: “When you are ready, the next step is to call my attorney.” 4) Attorney will then interrogate gently about her background, health, insurance, smoking/drinking habits. 5) The birth mother will need her own attorney, which the adoptive parents pay for. 6) Your attorney send her paperwork so that you can receive her prenatal medical records from directly from her doctor. 7) You have her medical records reviewed by a  doctor. 8) Then there is not much to do until birth of the baby, except continue advertising…
  • She can change her mind, so you must continue advertising. You are not adopting the birth mother. Rule of thumb: You accept the first healthy baby that becomes available.
  • Finalize: 2 different types of consent: 1) Extrajudicial consent: In hospital, or anywhere, with birth mother’s lawyer. Birth mother has 45 days; on the 45th day, adoption is final. Should birth mother change her mind after 45th day, she can write to the court to try to have her baby given back to her, but then a “Best Interest Hearing” takes place, in which both you and she are considered equally, and it is very rare the the birth mother will win during such a hearing. 2) Judicial consent: Parental rights are terminated right after birth. No 45-day wait. This will happen in about 1/2 of the cases simply because the birth mother doesn’t want to go to court.
  • Birth father: Most of the time, the birth mother will say that he is not part of this process. But if she lives with him, if he offers her support, if he tells other people about the child, he must be involved. If he is not involved, he can be “unnamed” in the process.
  • Affidavit at birth: Birth mother signs an affidavit swearing the birth father is totally uninvolved. If he is there, he also signs the affidavit.
  • Special birth father situs: If the father is at war, or if birth mother lies about birth father’s interest, then problems can occur. But the majority of birth mothers do not lie about the birth father’s involvement/situation.
  • Hospitals: Most are adoption-friendly, but find out what the policies are.
  • Interstate compact: Within NY, you can drive home from the hospital with the baby. If outside NY, might take a week to come home—you might be in a hotel with the baby in the birth-state for that week.
  • After 45 days: If it is an extrajudicial consent adoption, the actual finalization of the adoption can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months.
  • Advertising $: Plan to spend $18,000. That’s what you would spend at $1000/month for 18 months.
  • Adoptive parents attorney $: $800 for certification + $400 for hearing + $7,000 fee = $7,800.
  • Birth mother attorney $: Approximately $4500.
  • Medical $: Most birth mothers have private insurance or Medicaid.
  • Living expenses $: In NY, adoptive parents are allowed to pay for birth mother’s expenses for a maximum of 3 months. (In other states, there might be no limit.) Generally you end up paying for her expense during her last 2 months of pregnancy and 1 month after giving birth. Some birth mothers ask for living expenses to be paid but others do not.
  • Living expenses $ continued: You can reimburse her lost wages or she can determine a budget based on her rent, food, maternity clothes, travel, and counseling costs. Any $ given before consents is at-risk and you may not get it back. All $ to birth mother goes through attorney; cannot go directly to her. New York is, in general, very protective of adoptive parents.
  • Word of mouth is very helpful when it comes to finding a birth mother.
  • You can post ads on websites, but they are saturated, and birth mothers tend to find all of the ads online to be overwhelming. Your odds are actually better if you place a classified ad in an actual newspaper. Ask the newspaper: “How many adoption ads are you running this month?” You want to be at most 1 ad out of 3 ads for the newspaper that month. 
  •  Your attorney should be available to you most of the time. 
  • Birth mothers generally don’t mind if you have kids.
  • Contact with birth mother: It is up to her how much. Some want a little, some want a lot.
  • When you go through an agency, there is a different certification process. There is no reciprocity between states and you have to start all over in the new state.
  • Best Interest Hearings are extremely rare.
  • 1 in 15 times, the birth mother changes her mind at birth, at the hospital. You can’t contest this because you have no legal rights.
  • New York is one of the easiest states to work with, when it comes to adoption.
  • Renting not owning your home is okay.
  • There is no typical birth mother. They can be teenagers, they can be older. The common thread is usually financial. 
  • You don’t need to hire an advertising consultant. You can easily figure out that part on your own.
  • 18 months is the average wait time but it can range from 1 month to more than 2 years. 
  • Sometimes a birth mother will call an attorney or agency right after the pregnancy test; sometimes they will wait until they’ve delivered.
  • Domestic private, domestic agency, and international adoption are all about the same cost. But with agencies you often end up paying a bit more, particularly when it comes to living expenses.
  • PACAS: Post-adoption contract: 75% of adoptions involve no contract at all. 25% of adoptions involve a contract dictating that you send letters and pictures once or twice a year from birth through year 18. It is filed with the court.
  • Open adoption: Has a wide range of meanings. Don’t presume anything. Find out the specifics as soon as possible.

WORKSHOP 3: AGENCY V. INDEPENDENT ADOPTION

Speaker: An agency

AGENCY

  • Home study: Meet with social worker. Think about what type of child you would like to adopt—age, race. What is your motivation? Is fertility part of it? What is your attitude toward adoption? What are your families’ and friends’ attitudes toward adoption? Think about what others’ attitudes mean to you. Ask yourself: Am I psychologically ready for parenting? How was I raised? What would I do differently?
  • Mental health issues/ crime issues: Doesn’t rule you out. What matters is how you dealt with it.
  • When you think about birth parents, what comes to mind? Would you consider adopting the child of a married couple in their 30s? Would you consider child who resulted from rape or incest? How involved do you want to be with the birth parents? Will you spend holidays with the birth parents? Are you open to drug use in both parents? Are you open to sibling groups?
  • This is the role of the agency—to help you think about the issues above.
  • The agency also educates the birth parents about their options.
  • The agency will assist you with a birth parent letter and a portfolio.
  • The portfolio: A scrapbook of photos along with narrative presenting the adoptive couple. It’s like marketing yourself. When the birth mother comes to the agency, she will be shown multiple portfolios.
  • What to look for in an agency: What state are they licensed in; how many placements per year; does an agency focus on a number of states at once (which is more expensive); is the agency philosophically in line with you?
  • Process: The agency will be working with approximately 15 families at once. There is a waiting list. The agency shows the birth mother portfolios that meet her requirements (must be married; must have kids; etc).

INDEPENDENT

  • You do everything on your own. The attorney is mostly a guide.
  • You must be type-A and aggressive.
  • You can’t be rejected for: age, marital status, religion, or sexual orientation.

AGENCY

  • They do clearances for you.
  • You give them finances and references.

INDEPENDENT

  • Certified by the court. You give the court everything that an agency would give them—paperwork, finances, etc.
  • Word of mouth is still one of the best methods of advertising independently—hair stylists, high school guidance counselors.
  • Start a letter-writing campaign to everyone you know.
  • Newspaper ads still work, especially since there are lots of grandparents and teens out there who do not have computers.
  • Internet allows you to be everywhere at once. Advertise your website. Google ads. 
  • What if birth mother is out of state? Go with the state that has better laws for you.

AGENCY and INDEPENDENT

  • Agency has specific requirements for how portfolio looks.
  • Agency supplies home study as part of their services. Independent–you figure it out on your own.
  • Agency provides counseling for birth parents. Independent–does not.
  • You should be stressed out by either your agency or your attorney—they should be your support.
  • Neither agency nor independent adoption processes involve toddlers or older children.
  • Birth mothers will go for agencies if they want extra support; they will go with independent if they’d rather be left alone.
  • Counseling in an agency adoption can be a safeguard against birth mother changing her mind. 
  • By the same token, in an independent adoption, the birth mother’s attorney can tell your attorney of any red flags.

AGENCY and INDEPENDENT $$$

  • Agency: variable: $25 – 30K
  • Independent: $30 – 40K
  • With some agencies, the majority of fees are paid at the end.
  • With independent, you can set a budget to control costs.
  • With independent, you can advertise only in states in which you will not be paying the birth mother’s expenses.
  • Go to helpusadopt.org for $$ help.
  • You may qualify for an adoption tax credit.

WORKSHOP 4: HOW TO BE SELECTED BY BIRTH PARENTS

Speaker: Attorney

  • Set yourself apart.
  • Don’t read a script when presenting yourself.
  • Birth mom is sick of perfect profiles.
  • Don’t be afraid to be yourself when writing the letter to her.
  • Write from the heart and you will connect with the right birth mother.
  • Newspaper ads are very effective.
  • Your first conversation with her, be human, and don’t ask a bunch of questions. Let your attorney ask the questions.
  • Keep your role in mind—you are the prospective parents; be the prospective parents.
  • The attorney giving this presentation has 24 years of screening birth mothers and she knows that you will find safer birth moms by being your unique self.
  • Newspaper ads: Use unique language.
  • Homestead.com and jellybean.com will post your prospective-parents website.
  • Language such as “We will love your child throughout our lives,” or “We will love your bay the way you want us to,” is generic.
  • The safer birth moms will read all of the ads and they will hear your uniqueness.
  • If you try to be perfect, you won’t be able to connect to her.
  • How do you respond to birth mothers?: Don’t respond. Forward her emails to the attorney and the attorney will screen them. She should be ready to speak to you on the phone within 3 to 5 emails.
  • If you respond to each potential birth mother you will become exhausted and confused.
  • Remember the stigma attached to “giving up your baby” in our culture; birth mothers are a hidden population.
  • The attorney giving this presentation actually does NOT believe in word of mouth. Specifically because of this stigma. But you could try writing something instead of just speaking—write something about your home and life and hand it out to hairstylists, friends, people you know.
  • An agency will charge 5K – 20K just to sign up with them.
  • Private adoptions: 85% of adoptive parents are successful within the first year of active networking.
  • Agency adoptions: birth moms get annoyed with waiting 1 – 2 months to find out about prospective families. They worry about not liking the selection of families once they do find out about the families.
  • In a private adoption, you can have one attorney for certification and court, and another attorney for networking. 
  • Some attorneys will help with every step; others, fewer steps. 
  • 4 most important ways to reach birth mothers: 1) Ads; 2) Internet; 3) People networking; 4) Attorney.
  • Most birth mothers, if they are going to change their minds, they will change their minds before birth.
  • It is good to speak to the birth mom 1 – 2 times a week throughout her pregnancy.
  • Create a relationship with birth mom.
  • Only 50% of prospective parents meet birth mom before birth.
  • 90% go to hospital for birth.
  • Most birth moms want to see the baby and say goodbye.
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