Diseases & Conditions
Nearly 70,000 children are adopted in the United States each year, including 8,000 international children and 10,000 children with special emotional or physical needs.
Adoptions may be arranged independently or through an adoption agency. An independent adoption usually requires the participation of an adoption attorney or counselor, physician, or minister. Adoption laws vary signiﬁcantly from state to state. Adopting between states or from a foreign country also is possible, but it is more complex. Many prospective Caucasian parents want to adopt healthy babies who come from a similar background, but in the United States there are very few healthy Caucasian infants available. Most Caucasian infants are placed through agencies and independent adoptions.
African-American, Hispanic, and mixed-race infants are available both through public and private adoption agencies. However, the adoption of Native American children of all ages by non-Indians is strictly limited by the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act (P.L.95-608).
Many children with special needs are available for adoption. These children may be older; they may have physical, emotional, or mental disabilities; or they may have brothers and sisters who should be adopted together. Usually children like these are being cared for by the state and are placed in foster care. Both public agencies and some private agencies place children with special needs.
Families can get help in adopting a child with special needs from national, regional, and state adoption exchanges. Adoption exchanges and agencies usually have photo listings and descriptions of available children, and many now provide information about waiting children on the Internet. In many cases, adoption subsidies are available to help parents pay for the legal, medical, and other costs that can occur when caring for a child with special needs.
Some parents may prefer to give a home to a child from another country. Most foreign-born children adopted in the United States come from Russia, China, Korea, India, and countries in Eastern Europe, Central America, and South America. More than 700 private U.S. agencies place children from foreign countries; a few countries allow families to work with attorneys rather than agencies.
However, it is not necessarily easier to look outside the borders of the United States for a child. There are strict immigration requirements for international adoptions, as well as substantial agency fees and transportation, legal, and medical costs.
Prospective parents should consider the emotional and social implications of adopting a child of a different nationality. Agencies seek families who will help a child learn about and appreciate his native culture because it is part of who he or she is.
Types of Agencies
An “agency adoption” is allowed in many states, and includes adoption through a local public agency or a licensed private agency. Many states also allow a couple to use an attorney or other intermediary; some states allow the use of adoption facilitators. Adoption laws vary from one state to the next. An adoption across state lines must comply with the laws in both states before the child can be adopted. The Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children governs how children can be placed across state lines in every state.
Agency adoptions offer the most assurance of monitoring and oversight since agencies are required to be licensed and follow certain procedures. A couple who chooses an independent adoption by an attorney at least is assured that the attorney must follow the standards of the Bar Association; some attorneys who specialize in adoption are members of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, a professional membership organization with standards of ethical practice. Adoptions by facilitators are the riskiest since they involve the least amount of supervision.
Not so long ago, almost all U.S. adoptions were anonymous, but today many couples prefer open adoption. In an open adoption, there is an exchange of information and contact between the birth and adoptive parents. This is becoming more popular because keeping adoption a secret from an adopted child is generally not a good idea.
Fees and waiting times for infants vary tremendously, depending on the type of adoption involved. Public agency adoptions are often less expensive than private agency or independent adoptions, although private adoptions may take less time. Costs of adopting a healthy infant in the United States through a private agency range from $15,000 to $30,000. Foreign adoptions can be expensive as well; families pay between $10,000 and $20,000 in fees, and that may not include travel and living expenses while in the foreign country.
It is not expensive to adopt a child with special needs; often the agency has a sliding fee scale, and there may be little or no cost. After the adoption, the child may receive subsidies to cover medical and other expenses, although the family is still likely to incur costs for ongoing care.
Couples should obtain a written disclosure of all adoption fees and costs before going ahead with the adoption.
Who Can Adopt
Agencies recognize that many different kinds of people can be loving, effective parents. People considering adoption should be stable, sensitive, and be able to give a child love, understanding, and patience. An adoptive parent may be married or single, childless or already a parent. It is possible to adopt even if a person has been divorced, has had marital problems, received counseling, or has a disability—if the person can still care for a child. Agencies usually ask for proof of marriage, divorce, or death of a spouse, and applicants are generally asked to have a physical examination to document that their health permits them to care for a child.
The adoptive parent does not have to own a home or have a high income in order to provide permanence, stability, a lifetime commitment, and a chance to be part of a family. Children need one or more caring and committed individuals willing to meet their needs and raise them in a nurturing family environment.
More and more agencies and some foreign countries place children with single applicants, who have been proven to be as mature, independent, and supportive as couples. In fact, single adoptive parents are often the placement of choice for children who have trouble dealing with two parents due to a history of abuse or neglect.
For many infant adoptions in the United States, however, agency criteria for applicants are more restrictive. Often agencies will only consider couples married for at least one to three years, who are between ages 25 and 40, and who have good, stable jobs, although some agencies accept applicants who are older than 40.
Some agencies are more restrictive, requiring that the couple:
. • have no other children
. • are infertile
. • have one at-home parent for at least six months after the adoption.
In some states a minor is allowed to adopt. A few states have special requirements for prospective adoptive parents: a certain age differential between the child and the adoptive parents; the adopting parent must live in the state for a certain period of time before being able to adopt; or the prospective adoptive parents and adoptee must live together for a period of time prior to the adoption. In most states, adoption by “preferred” relatives or stepparents is simpler; waiting periods, home studies, and even the adoption hearing may be waived.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires state agencies to speed up a child’s move from foster care to adoption by establishing time frames for permanency planning and guidelines for when a child must be legally freed for adoption. The bill also removes geographic barriers to adoption by requiring that states not delay or deny a placement if an approved family is available outside the state. The 1995 Multi-Ethnic Placement Act bars any agency that receives federal funding and is involved in adoption from discriminating because of race when considering adoption opportunities for children.
Gay men and lesbians are adopting children both at home and abroad, as well as considering the adoption of younger children through private and international adoptions. The Family Pride Coalition and the ADOPTION RESOURCE EXCHANGE FOR SINGLE PARENTS (See Appendix I) can provide more information about single parent and nontraditional adoption.
When considering an option, a social worker will visit the couple’s home to assess the potential adoptive parents physically, emotionally, and ﬁnancially. This home study usually involves a series of meetings to provide more in-depth information about adoption and help prepare an applicant for parenting an adopted child. Social workers want to be sure that a person or couple can provide a safe and nurturing environment for a new child in their home.
The home study process varies from agency to agency. Some conduct individual and joint interviews with a husband and wife; others conduct group home studies with several families at one time. Most ask applicants to provide written information about themselves and their life experiences.
There is a waiting period for all adoptions. The time frame, like the cost, varies with the type of child being adopted. The wait is typically between two and seven years for a healthy infant. Children with special needs can often be adopted quickly, within a few months, if the prospective family has a completed home study.
Once an adoptive child is placed in the home, a legal application must be ﬁled for an adoption with the court. After the child has been living in the home for some time, a social worker will visit the home again for a follow-up visit. After the adoption petition has been ﬁled, a court hearing is held to review the case and grant the ﬁnal adoption decree.
In order for a child to be adopted, the birth parents have to relinquish legal custody. With most agency adoptions, a child is already legally free for adoption before a placement occurs. While cases where parents change their minds (usually before an adoption is ﬁnalized) are highly publicized, they occur very rarely.