So You Want to Adopt? A Beginner’s Guide

Making the decision to adopt is hard enough. Figuring out what to do next can be a bit overwhelming. How should you begin the process?

Common Myths

adopt1Several myths surrounding adoption need to be dispelled. A common one is that you’ll walk into an agency and get a child a short time later. “Adoption is a long, complicated process where the parents have to jump through a lot of hoops that take time and energy,” says Erin Brown Conroy of Portage, Mich., a child expert, author and parent of seven adopted children. “The whole process can be overwhelming, but if you keep your mind on the goal that child in your arms and take one step at a time, then the process doesn’t seem so daunting.”

Another myth is that you should adopt a newborn so you can raise the child properly, says Dr. Stanley Grogg, a pediatrician who teaches at Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and who has helped prepare hundreds of families for the adoption process. “There are many things that you would know about an older child that you couldn’t know about a newborn,” Dr. Grogg says. Certain genetic disorders and the outcome of the effects of prenatal drug or alcohol use may be obvious in an older child while unknowable in a newborn.

Dr. Grogg says that many people think internationally adopted children arrive with several problems. While it is true that early interactions with a child have a lifelong effect, once the child has a consultation and therapy, the long-term complications can be minimal. Not only do internationally adopted children not have major problems, but neither do children in foster care. “Children in foster care are frequently from parents who do not want to care for the child for various reasons,” says Dr. Grogg.

Common Concerns

Now that several myths have been cleared up, you probably have some concerns, like the cost, which varies.

Usually newborns and internationally adopted children are the most expensive, says Dr. Grogg. Prices may range from $5,000 to $30,000. “On the other hand, foster children adopted through state or local social services can be done without significant cost,” he says. “If a family works through a private agency, the costs are likely to be higher.” Children with special needs can have grants or gifts attached to their adoptions to help place the child, adds Conroy.

If you’re worried about the biological parents taking your child away, this should put your mind at ease: Once the adoption is finalized, the court terminates the rights of the birth parents.

adopt2And how long will you wait for the adoption to be finalized? The length of the wait depends on the kind of adoption. According to Dr. Grogg, adopting foster care children usually takes four to 12 months. Newborns can take from one to 12 years. International adoption usually can be completed within two years.

First Steps

To actually begin the adoption process, search for an agency in your area. Agencies “usually hold ‘free’ informational meetings on the type of adoption placements they offer,” says Maxine Chalker, founder and executive director of Adoptions From the Heart, based in suburban Philadelphia. She suggests going to one or many of these to compare information and find the agency that meets your needs.Some things to consider, courtesy of Adoptions From the Heart, are:

  • How long has the agency been in business?
  • How many children does the agency place a year, and what are the ages of the children?
  • What are the qualifications and experience of the agency staff?
  • How and when are fees collected?
  • What are matching fees?
  • What are the agency’s requirements?
  • What are the agency’s policies?
  • Are international placements done by the agency or referred to another?

Remember to take your time and do your homework. “Don’t just go with anybody,” says Conroy. “You’re entering into a close relationship with lots of personal contact, time and resources spent over many months and even years, with follow-up visits required by [some] staes or countries.”

Once you decide what agency to use, that agency will tell you what the next step is. At Chalker’s agency, they utilize applications, interviews, study groups, home visits and educational courses and meetings. If they’re doing an international adoption, there are additional paperwork and procedures to complete. They then wait for a referral from that country and usually complete their adoption overseas.

If choosing an agency isn’t a big enough decision, you have to decide what kind of adoption you prefer. In addition to domestic versus international, newborn versus older child or foster care child, there’s adoption of more than one child from a family, transracial, special needs and open versus closed.

adopt3“Many people make snap judgments about what type of adoption they want to pursue based on what they have ‘heard’ from others,” says Connie Haessler, director of adoption at The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh. “Many times, [these are] the nightmare stories from the media or from well-intended, but not so well-informed, friends or family members. People need to make their own decisions based on information they learn from adoption professionals.”

To help with your decision, Conroy, who’s in the process of adopting an eighth child, suggests asking the following questions:

  • What kind of child do I want to parent or do I feel capable of parenting?
  • How much money do we have to spend?
  • How long do I want to wait for a child?
  • Do I want contact with a birth mother or birth family?