Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sharing our Knowledge: Looking for an Adoption Agency

We're about to enter our third "waiting" month; the baby's room is slowly taking shape, and things seem to be... nice, calm, and happy. It's been an amazing year so far, and I pray that we remain focused on the many blessings to come, no matter how long we need to wait.

Our path to adoption was not an easy one; after being diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure (POF), it took me about a year to grieve our infertility, break down emotionally, give in to His will, and move on to where we are now. Sam, being the "perfect for me" husband that he is, patiently waited as I moved on from overwhelming sense of loss to quiet hope. Once I was ready to look into adoption, I wanted to find as much information as possible on how to get started: websites, books, friends of friends who have adopted... you name it.

So, even though I know there are a billion information sources out there on the adoption topic, I thought it would be good to construct a guideline on how to start this journey, based on our own experiences and research. Consider this Part 1 in what I'm sure will be a developing series for anyone trying to figure out where to start. Since we are working with a private adoption agency, this is where my focus will be.

Which Type of Agency to go with?

The decision to adopt our baby through a private agency was based on several factors:

- We briefly considered international adoption, but soon learned that a prospective adoptive family needs to travel to the child's country of origin at least twice: once to receive that government's approval to adopt a child, and once to pick up your child and bring him/her back home. While we deeply respect families who feel called to do this, we decided there were plenty of children here in the U.S. who needed a family and a home. Also, we decided that travel abroad and associated expenses was not for us (POF = low energy to begin with!). I have read that international adoptions can run from $20,000 up to $50,000 depending on which country you adopt from and which agency you go with; this is a pretty healthy range and gives families more flexibility as far as expected expenses goes.

- We also read about lawyer-facilitated adoptions, where the adoptive couple looks for a birthmother on their own; the lawyer may or may not specialize in adoption. This route allows families to get creative a far a finding potential birthmothers: I read about a couple who literally wore "We're Expecting... to Adopt a Child Soon!" t-shirts during family outings around town, and they found their birthmother this way. I have to say, we wanted to feel a bit more protected; we felt that a private agency with years of experience handling the process would be a better source of knowledge for us, in all aspects of adoption (rather than just the legal part). We also wanted to find an agency that provided counseling services to potential birthmothers, to help them realize the emotions of loss that come with having their child placed for adoption.

-  We met with an agency that specializes in adoption through the state of Texas (adoption and foster-to-adopt), but after learning that a child may be taken away from our home up to 18 months after receiving him or her into our home, Sam told me that he didn't think I would be able to handle this emotionally speaking, especially being our first child. We are considering this route for the future though, since the U.S. foster care system has SO many children starving for love. One major positive: costs are significantly lower (I'm talking as low as $5,000) when adopting a child through the state.

- We also called into some big-name, nationwide adoption agencies that advertise all over the country. The idea of larger exposure (which likely results in being picked much sooner) was very appealing, but given the fact that some states give birthmothers a much longer period of time to change their mind about the process (California allows SIX weeks after the baby is born!), we decided against this approach. Our adoption agency, Adoption Affiliates, is based in Oklahoma and Texas; in Oklahoma, the birthmother must go to court in person to voice her desire to relinquish parental rights; Texas has a "48 hours after birth" stipulation for signing relinquishment papers.

What to Ask Adoption Agencies...
I strongly recommend that families searching for an adoption agency has a list of questions to ask all agencies they contact. In my experience, some agencies are very generous when it comes to offering you information over the phone, while some have to hear you almost beg for information before they give you details. The list below is by no means a comprehensive one, but should be a good place to start:

- Ask for a detailed fee breakdown: We found that agencies that provide you with a detailed description of where your money will go tend to be more transparent and open when it comes to money. Many agencies have hidden fees they will not mention unless you ask many questions; we stayed away from these. In the fee breakdown, the following questions should be answered:
       - Does the agency charge different fees if you adopt a child of a specific race? One agency we spoke with charges 1.5 times more money for a Caucasian child than for a child with full African-American heritage.
       - Most agencies have some type of introductory meeting, where they will meet in a classroom-type setting. What do they charge for this? We saw fees ranging from $100 to $600.
       - What are the expected legal fees? Do they have a lawyer on staff, or can they recommend someone to work with?
       - Who will pay for hospital fees? What happens if the baby is born premature and/or the mother has complications and needs to stay at the hospital longer than expected, who pays for this?
       - Do the fees change if the birthmother is carrying multiple babies? One agency we spoke with charges $7,000 extra per additional baby.
       - Are there any other fees nos listed on the fee breakdown that you need to be aware of?
- Does the agency test birthmothers for drug use and STIs, or do they just ask her about it and trust that she is being honest?
- Does the agency provide counseling for birthmothers before AND after the baby is born? Thorough counseling can decrease the risk of a birthmother changing her mind once the baby is born.
- Does the agency make every effort to find the birthfather to have him sign the relinquishment papers? Many agencies will not bother to do so.
- If the baby needs to go to foster care right after he or she is born, do they have someone on staff who can be the foster parent? If not, do they have someone they work with?
- Does the agency act as an intermediary between birthfamily and adoptive family when it comes to communication between the two?
- What is the expected waiting period, do they have a waiting list?
- There are tax incentives for adopting a child; will the agency be able to help you come tax season?
- Does the agency require the adoptive family to be members of the same church? Sam was raised Baptist and I am Catholic; our application was rejected because we did not grow up in the same church, even though we worship together and have discussed how we will raise our children extensively.

I know this list seems overwhelming; pace yourself! It's not so bad :) Say a little prayer before you start, and have a notebook where you can take notes about each agency you call.

Next post: We found our agency! Now what? (AKA: The Home Study).

(Image credit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/jan/07/child-benefit-who-entitled-what)

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