Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Choosing the Right Adoption Agency for You

In our journey to adopt the second time around, we've looked into many different agencies and situations.  One of the first things my husband and I do when researching adoption agencies or looking into available situations is to ask for a breakdown of fees.   Over the past couple of years I've come across a few situations from a particular agency in my state known for its costliness (among other things) and when I asked for a specific breakdown of fees I was ASTONISHED to learn how much money went towards their "advertising costs."   I also found it ironic that for an agency with such high advertising costs, they always seem to be searching for families to go through their agency by posting situations in online forums.

Take note, adoption professionals:  Please Don't leave messages or announcements in online forums or social media asking if anyone is interested or knows of anyone who is interested in adopting a baby with an approaching due date without an estimation of the costs.  Doing so is like a Realtor posting an ad with a picture of a house which has just been listed and asking all potential homeowners "Is anyone interested in buying this house?"  Of course people are interested in buying the house, but no matter how great the location or how gorgeous the home is, if it doesn't fit into the buyer's budget, then it's just not a realistic option for them to look into!  The real question isn't "Is anyone interested in buying this house?" but rather "Is this house within your price range?"

Similarly speaking, with infertility affecting 1 in 8 couples in the U.S.,  and/or for many families who may not necessarily be affected by infertility but who would love to provide a safe and nurturing home for a child through adoption OF COURSE PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED IN ADOPTING!  So why don't more people adopt when situations arise?  Because being interested is NOT the same as being able to afford the costs of adopting which  is where one of my biggest pet peeves about the adoption process as an adoptive parent lies:  That adoption can be so costly! 

Dear Adoption Agencies with Particularly High Fees, 

Please don't get anyone's false hopes up by advertising situations and asking if anyone is interested, but rather, just come outright and say, "Those of you who have at least $45K in your adoption budget, please inquire- no other families will be considered."  Yes, I realize there won't be as many inquiries, but it will save both parties a lot of time and save prospective adoptive couples (and their friends and families who are so eager to pass along such information) extra frustration and heartache.  
                                                  Sincerely, Me

I understand that medical care and legal fees cost money- I get it- and certainly birthparents may need some financial support during a pregnancy, but I just don't understand how some agencies can feel good about themselves for charging an arm and a leg for "advertising" or other fees.  Do these agencies exist to find homes for children or are they in the money-making business of buying off birthparents and in return selling babies to the highest bidder?  I know that sounds extremely cynical of me, but it's an honest frustration I have.  When I come across such agencies, it makes my husband and I much more inclined to want to adopt a Waiting Child through the foster care system, because the intent of The Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption and other such foundations and agencies is to find families and homes for children, NOT to make a profit.
Speaking of child-centered adoptions, I fully agree with what Dawn Davenport, an adoption advocate and the Executive Director of, wrote in this post:

“OK, here’s the truth: the process of adoption is often messy with lots of ups and downs.  Both families involved –birth and adoptive- are making the biggest decision of their life.   What is right for them and for the child is not always clear.  Absolutes are in short supply.  No agency can make this process seamless, nor should they. You can and should expect, however, honesty, transparency, and communication.

Good agencies are child centered; they are more interested in finding homes for children than children for homes.  Good agencies come in all sizes and flavors, but in my opinion they share the following traits:
  • They stress pre-adoption education.
  • For domestic adoption agencies, they provide pre and post adoption counseling for first mothers, and support her decision either way.
  • For international adoption agencies, they have humanitarian programs in the countries where they work to help the kids that won’t be adopted and help families stay intact.
  • They don’t cherry pick the kids. In other words, they try to find homes for harder to place children.
  • They make a lifetime commitment to you and your child through post adoption services.
A good adoption agency looks more like a child-welfare agency.  It’s worth the time to find that type of agency.”

My husband and I were very pleased with the private agency we went through for our first adoption for the following reasons:

1)      As a non-profit agency it was affordable; not “cheap” but affordable

2)      The agency provides free lifelong counseling to birthparents (if they desire) and

3)      The agency we used does not charge “more” or “less” for children based on race of the child.  I REFUSE to support any agency which charges more for a child based on skin color.  Some would argue that it’s just a matter of economics: white babies are more “rare” than multiracial or minority babies, but there are more multiracial babies and children available or in “supply”; therefore the higher the demand the higher the price and vice versa.  Even so, it just doesn’t seem right to me.

4)      The agency required pre-adoption education stressing the importance that adoption should be centered on THE CHILD and that although birthparents and adoptive parents are crucial to the process, their needs come second to the child’s needs.

After much thought and research over the past couple of years we found another adoption agency which meets the criteria of our first adoption agency: it is a non-profit agency which charges on a sliding scale based on income, they do not charge more or less based on race of a child, and birthparents who go through this agency are provided with ample support- emotionally and financially- and they play an active role in choosing which family adopts their child.  Such criteria meets our definition of an "ethical" adoption agency.  We were approved to adopt through this new agency a year ago and thankfully our Home Study from our original agency easily transferred over which helped to save a TON of paperwork and time on our part!

Another advantage for us as adoptive parents going through this new agency is that the number of families that they work with at one time is substantially lower than our other agency- which has literally hundreds of prospective adoptive couples, which is GREAT if you're a birthparent considering adoption, but not so great when you're hoping to adopt and have to compete with other couples in the exact same situation.  

Criteria for choosing an adoption agency depends on what things are most important to prospective adoptive couples- or birthparents.  Speaking of which, I thought it was very interesting that as part of the application process with our new agency (we are still with our old agency as well) in an attempt to get to know their clients, we were asked to rate the following three statements in order of importance to us:

"____  I want to have a baby in my arms as soon as possible.  I am not as interested in specific characteristics; I just want a child.

____  Birth parents race, intelligence, and general characteristics are very important to me.  I am willing to wait longer in order to find what I'm looking for.

____   Although I am anxious to adopt, cost is very important to me, therefore I am willing to wait for birth parents with minimal financial need."

Such statements can be very helpful in determining what is a priority to you and what kind of an adoption agency would fit your needs.

Other questions to keep in mind if you or someone you know is considering adoption and researching agencies are:

-How long has the agency been in business/licensed?

-Is the agency Hague accredited? (for international adoptions)

-What are the fees?  Are any of these fees refundable? 

-Can the agency guarantee the placement of a child?

-How many adoptive placements does the agency have, on average, per year?

-What is the average waiting time to be matched with a child?

-How many prospective adoptive couples at a time does the agency work with?

-Does the agency encourage closed or open adoptions?

Friday, January 24, 2014

If I Were In Charge of the Adoption Process . . .

If I were in charge of the adoption process (because I'm allowed to daydream, right?) I would develop a "Point System" for Prospective Adoptive Parents as follows:
For every miscarriage or stillbirth a couple has experienced they get 1 POINT.
For every fertility evaluation/treatment or surgical procedure related to reproduction a couple has undergone they get 1 POINT.
For every 2 Years a Couple Has Waited to Adopt they get 1 POINT.  (I would say one year- but as far as adoption is concerned that's hardly "waiting" in my humble opinion; 2 years seems a little more realistic of a waiting time to me before starting to get antsy)
For every child a couple fosters they get 1 POINT.
For every 10 Waiting Children a couple inquires about (because there are thousands of children waiting for permanent adoptive homes; inquiring about these children is the relatively "easy" part, it's being selected as the family best fit to meet the child's needs that is the hard part) the couple gets 1 POINT.
For every failed/contested adoption a couple goes through they get 1 POINT.  And for clarification, a failed adoption is not the same as a disrupted adoption.  To me a failed adoption means that a birthmother chooses to place her child with a family and then changes her mind (either before or after the baby is born)  If the birthmother changes her mind before her baby is born then technically it would be more accurate to call it a failed prospective adoption since there was no actual adoption in the first place whereas  a contested adoption is when a family actually adopts a child but a birthfather comes forward and says he didn't give his consent or in the case of Native American children, for example, the child's tribe contests the adoption because the adoptive family is not of Native American descent.
For advocating and volunteering for adoption and foster care (I'm not exactly sure how to scale this one- if it's number of years a couple has served on a board or number of activities and community outreach events one attends or number of editorials/articles or posts one reads, writes or shares with others) the couple gets 1 POINT.
Now here's what I would do with all of these "points":  Simply add up all of the points the prospective adoptive parents have and whomever has the most points is put at the "top" of the list to adopt a child.  Sounds easy enough, right?

Unfortunately, the adoption process is not easy, nor is it always fair.  And although there may have been a "top of the list" way of doing things years ago, it doesn't exactly work that way anymore.

If a couple is adopting domestically they are most likely at the mercy of a birthmother who has to make perhaps the most difficult and heart-wrenching decision of her life.  Not only that, but I think it's fair to say there's "competition" involved in adopting because the number of couples wanting to adopt FAR outweighs the number of babies and children available for adoption.
If a couple decides to adopt from foster care and fosters a child who is not yet legally free for adoption it is a huge gamble since the purpose of foster care is to support and ultimately reunite children and their birth families IF it is in the child's best interest (and sometimes reunification happens even when it is not in the child's best interest).
If a couple adopts a Waiting Child through U.S. Foster Care then there is no gamble about parental rights being terminated but the adoptive family better be very prepared and equipped to deal with behaviors common to children coming from backgrounds of trauma.  Families who adopt children internationally from orphanages may expect to deal with some of these same issues (reactive attachment disorder, sensory processing disorder, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, etc).
Adoption is not only a gift but a HUGE responsibility.  And anything that requires responsibility also requires patience, determination, (a sense of humor most definitely helps as well) and trust that if you do your part God will do His part, too.
What about you?  If YOU were in charge of the adoption process what would you change?  Would you scale some of the scenarios from my "Point System" differently- more points or less points, etc.?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Two (Short) Must-Reads About Foster Care

I was very touched after a friend recently directed me to a post written by a foster mother appropriately titled "Love is Not Wasted".

Here's an excerpt:

"When I talk to people about being a foster mom, I feel their resistance to loving one of these temporary kids. While we know the truth that as we add more children to our family our love isn’t divided, we have a hard time imagining sharing the love of our family with someone else’s child. If we’re honest, we may even feel that love would be wasted. When we open ourselves up to love, we open ourselves up to pain. This is always true, but that pain feels more like a forgone conclusion when we sign up to love a temporary child. Like pulling our hand away from a hot stovetop, we recoil from that pain even though we know it is good to love. Which is why the emotions of love aren’t enough.
As we experience in marriage, love is a commitment. It isn’t always about what feels good or easy. It perseveres, hopes, and trusts even when times are hard. Especially when times are hard. That’s when the emotions run out and foster mom love looks like changing diapers and sleepless nights and going to meetings and dealing with unpredictable court decisions and teaching someone to eat their broccoli who has never seen a green vegetable before. It short, it looks like being the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting child, a family in crisis, a broken system. Foster moms aren’t magical. We don’t have unbreakable hearts or a different kind of love that protects us from pain. We love and grieve and then love again. We do it because we know that love is not divided. Love is not wasted."

And I found myself nodding my head in agreement at MANY of the points brought up in this essay, "What Foster Parents Wish Other People Knew".  A few of the suggestions which I felt were so helpful (not necessarily because they're things I wish "others" knew, but because not judging/loving the parents of my foster children has been one of the things I've personally struggled with) were listed  under "#4- Don't hate on their parents":

"Abusive and neglectful parents often love their kids and do the best they can, and a lot of them CAN do better if they get help and support, which is what part of this is about . . . birth parents are just people with big problems.   Birth and Foster parents often work really hard to have positive relationships with each other"

And the explanation under #7 -When you say "I could never do that . . . " bears repeating:

"Letting kids go IS really hard, but someone has to do it.  Not all kids in care come from irredeemable families.  Not everyone in a birth family is bad – in fact, many kin and parents are heroic, making unimaginable sacrifices to get their families back together through impossible odds.  Yes, it is hard to let kids we love go, and yes, we love them, and yes, it hurts like hell, but the reality is that because something is hard doesn’t make it bad, and you aren’t heartless if you can endure pain for the greater good of your children.  You are just a regular old parent when you put your children’s interests ahead of your own."