Adoption 101

Each year, 127,000 children are adopted in the U.S., according to 661386>the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse.

On Thursday, The Early Show kicks off a six-part series called "Exploring Adoption."
Thursday's segment focuses on the basics that anyone thinking of adopting a child should know.

Adoptions can be formal or informal. "Formal adoption," says the clearinghouse, "occurs when a legal recognition of a parental relationship is made. Informal adoption is "when the birth mother allows another person (or persons), usually another family member, to take parental responsibility for her child without obtaining legal approval or recognition of that arrangement."

Most adoptive parents, the organization adds, are 31 to 40 and members of two parent families, but a growing number are 41 to 49, the organization adds.

Thomas Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption, an adoption research, education and advocacy organization, tells co-anchor Hannah Storm his first first tip is for prospective adoptive parents is to "persevere, be patient and do their homework." He's referring to the interviews, background checks, paperwork and bureaucratic process involved with adopting a child. "Any difficulties and stress or strains that you have been through will disappear with the first hug," he says.

"I am an adoptive father and I can vouch for what every adoptive parent says, which is they can not possibly love that child more if it was a biological child of theirs," says Atwood, who adopted his son, who is now 13, when he was less than a month old.

Why people adopt

"The reasons people adopt vary," Atwood explains, "but the most common reason is to love and parent a child. The other is compassion -- to give a better life to a child in need. The compassion aspect enters into foster care."

Different Types of Adoption

There are three types of adoption: infant, foster and international.

Infant:

The domestic infant adoption has the reputation of being difficult. "Maybe it isn't as difficult as you think," Atwood suggests. "You really need you to do your homework. Maybe it isn't as difficult as you hear."

People who want to adopt a child can go through an adoption agency or an attorney. Atwoods says the person or agency you consult will tell you if your profile is one that a birth parent will be interested in.

Birth parents are very involved today, he notes. They will pick the parent with counseling based on age, income, length of marriage, stability of marriage, siblings and pictures of the home. The attorney or agency will also tell you how long you may have to wait.

Foster care

These children are usually older (on average 8- or 9-years-old). Infants are rarely available through the foster system because they don't usually get removed from their families that quickly and there is a bureaucracy to go through, which takes time.

Atwood shares that his brother and sister-in-law are adopting a foster child who they have had since he was an infant. He's now two.

There is a process that foster children need to go through before they are available for adoption. Parental rights need to be terminated. Sometimes the government can move very slowly.

"The typical way to adopt here is to be a foster parent of the child, with the hope and plan to adopt," Atwood notes. "But there is some uncertainty. The foster child may be reunited with the birth parents and the foster parents may never see him or her again."

To those who are concerned about adopting children who are in foster care, Atwood says, "Most children who are adopted out of foster care do just great and make the transition well. Many of them have been through a lot and maybe lived in several foster care places. They have been removed because of neglect, abuse or abandonment, but it's not something that love and wisdom can't overcome." He encourages people to think of adopting foster kids.

International

Roughly one in six adoptions in the U.S. each year involve children from other nations.

"Some couples turn to international adoptions because they know they will be able to adopt a young child, not always as young as an infant, but frequently between 9- and 18-months-old," says Atwood. "One aspect that attracts many people is the relative certainty that they will be able to adopt." They also can get a good idea how long they're going to have to wait to get a child.

Parents who are concerned about how much they would have to be involved with the birth parents if they adopt domestically, find less involvement with them a good reason to adopt outside of the U.S. Also, an older couple may do so because they don't want to wait or they don't feel confident in their ability to adopt an infant domestically.

There are many more couples that want to adopt infants than there are available infants in the U.S., Atwood points out. But abroad, it's the opposite. There are more children available for adoption than there are people willing to adopt.

However, he cautions, there can be surprises. For example, Romania had allowed thousands of children to be adopted in the past, but has now shut down adopting outside of their country. It's an issue of national pride. "There are people who oppose international adoption, who think it's better for a child to be in a desperate situation and an institution in their own country than to be adopted by loving parents," Atwood observes. Romania was told that if it did not shut down the adoptions of Romanian children by foreigners, it wouldn't be allowed into the European Union, Atwood reports. "They will couch this as protecting children from trafficking (stealing), which is rare and has been known to happen in developing countries," he adds.

It's important for people who want to adopt internationally to do their homework. Atwood suggests doing research on the U.S. State Department Web site. They can check what he called 'adoption fliers' for each country, and the different requirements. Also, his organization has a very helpful Web site.

Virtually are all international adoptions are handled through adoption agencies, as opposed to private attorneys. Prospective parents should research the agencies.

The tops countries where international adoptions occur include China, Russia, Guatemala, South Korea, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

Atwood says Russia currently has some instability in its adoption system. "Russia has been encountering some political opposition internally," he says. "Its international program is in some state of uncertainty at this time.

"It can happen that parents can move along with a country, then all of a sudden they suspend the program and the parent is left with uncertainty. By this time they may have a picture of the child on their refrigerator."

Privacy

"The most common practice in infant adoption is for the birth mother to be involved and have a meeting or two with the prospective adopting parents," sas Atwood. "A less used practice is for there to be an exchange of identifying information between the adopting parents and the birth mother and for there to be involvement throughout the child's life."

He says some states have legal agreements with respect to the birth parent(s) having ongoing contact, and other states don't. "There is an issue here where you need to consider that the adoptive parents are the family and you should not create a second class status for adoptive parents," Atwood asserts. "The law has respected them as the parents for decades in adoption policy in this country and that's the way it should be and what has made it so successful. The children need to have that security of knowing who their real parent is."

Telling a child about being adopted

"Adoption is normal and healthy, so we want to give that impression to our child from the beginning," Atwood says. "We talked to our son about it to him as a baby, so we would be comfortable with the word 'adoption.' It's very rare nowadays for adoptive parents not to tell their children they are adopted. Don't force it on them. Follow their lead and be honest and loving. They will get what they need in that way."

Atwood says adoptive parents should be respectful of birth parents and appreciate what they have done. "What the mother has done is a loving act," he says. "She was a good mother in making that decision. It wasn't abandonment. She couldn't give the loving stable family she wanted her child to have."

What if years later, the child wants to seek their birth parents?

"This is as personal as it can possibly be," he says. "Some children care a lot about who their birth parents are. Others don't, and then there are those children who have feelings in between.

"The bottom line, as I see it, is that, because of the diversity of personal views, we need to have a policy based on mutual consent among all parties. Public policy should not enable one party of the adoption to force themselves on another party of the adoption. There are ways of enabling adoptive children to connect with their birth parents through a mutual consent registry where both contacts inform the government they would like to be in contact. Every state has at least that and some states go further. A few states allow unconditional access to birth parent information. These states are Oregon, New Hampshire, Alaska, Kansas and Alabama.

Costs

Infant adoptions in the U.S. can cost from $10,000 to $35,000. The most typical costs run $15,000 to $25,000. Some adoption agencies have sliding scales based on the income of the adoptive parents.

International adoptions are $15,000 to 40,000. Average costs, including travel expenses, range from $18,000 to $28,000. Some countries require that both parents fly to the country where the child is from. Sometimes more than one trip to a foreign country is also necessary.

"Adoption agencies are almost universally involved in the social services of serving children and families," Atwood notes. "Although the fees can sound high, adoption agencies don't make a lot of money. They have services to cover, such as salaries and expenses. These are social workers, who don't make a lot of money.

The cost to adopt through foster care is essentially $10,000, which the adoptive parent can consider free because the government subsidizes the adoption by paying the fees. If a foster child with special needs is being adopted, there will be additional expenses, which the government may subsidize as well.
Some parents who are considering adoption are concerned that the child may be addicted to drugs because of the birth mother. Atwood says the adoption agency that is supervising the adoption gets as much information as available and delivers it to the adoptive parents. He says, "Adoptive parents should ask those questions and be as realistic as they can be and ask themselves, 'Am I called to do this? Can I handle a child who may have inherited a drug-related problem?' It's really up to them. People shouldn't feel obligated to take on that challenge if they don't feel they can handle it."

Atwood says it's important to check out the adoption agency and look at several. "There is a state licensing authority that can tell (prospective adoptive parents) if there have been any complaints. Call the Department of Social Services at the state level. The most important tip in selecting an agency is references. You want to look around and get references from other adoption parents. Look at several agencies. No wishful thinking allowed. People get all excited about adopting and they are full of love and it's easy for that to overcome common logical thinking. Ask questions. Don't base decisions on wishful thinking."

Atwood calls attention to the "at risk placement" that is often done these days. This is when a child is placed with a family before the revocation period isn't over and the birth mother still can change her mind. "When you work with the birth mother beforehand, you have to be prepared that she can change her mind, even after she places it with you," he says. "Typically, the birth mother has less than 30 days to change her mind. When we adopted our son, it was more common that the agency would not place the child until the revocation period was over."
  • Brian Dakss

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