Five Things You Need to Know When Preparing to Adopt

For the past 21 years, November has been recognized as National Adoption Month. The month is used to promote awareness of the need for adoptive families for children in foster care. This year, National Adoption Month focuses on older youth in foster care who need loving, permanent families but are less likely to be adopted because of their age.

Adoption has been an important and contentious issue for the LGBTQ community. It played a critical role in the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, when marriage equality opponents argued that marriage bans protected children because adoption by same-sex couples didn’t serve the best interest of a child. Luckily the Court dismissed that argument, recognizing that “same-sex couples provide loving and nurturing homes to their children.” Furthermore, allowing same-sex marriage bans to exist actually harmed and humiliated the “hundreds of thousands” of children being raised by these couples.

Currently, adoption by LGBTQ individuals and couples is allowed in every jurisdiction in the United States, with the final state ban in Mississippi being overturned earlier this year.

According to the Williams’s Institute, married, same-sex couples are fives times more likely to raise an adopted or foster child than their married, different-sex counterparts. This is despite the fact that the median annual income for those same-sex couples is 5% lower than the median income of different-sex couples raising children. (See the NY Times counterpoint on income for married same-sex couples raising children being much higher than other couples.)

The adoption process raises many complex issues. And because it plays such an important role for same-sex couples, I want to provide a cheat sheet with five essential things to know about the process and some resources to make further researching even easier.

1. Adoption is About The Adoptee

One of my friends has three daughters, all of which she adopted from foster care.  While I was looking for insights and complexities about the process itself, she pointed out that the most important principle to remember is that adoption is about the adoptee. You should focus on what you can bring to the child’s life, rather than what you think you’re entitled to. In short, you have to remember that you are dealing with a human being, not a product.  She pointed me towards the #FlipTheScript movement, which focuses on the perspective of those most affected by adoption – the adoptees.

2. Four Main Methods for Adoption

There are four main methods of adoption:

  • State or Public Agency Adoption.  This route involves adopting a child who is in foster care from the child welfare system. These children tend to be older and have been removed from their birthparents due to abuse or neglect.  While the goal is to return them to their parents, it’s not always possible. Of the approximately 500,000 children in foster care, 129,000 are eligible for adoption.
  • Private Agency Adoption. You can pursue an adoption through an adoption agency that helps place a child with you.  Agencies set criteria for who they accept (and may or may not be LGBTQ friendly), often requiring applications and classes. And if chosen by the agency, they match you with a selected birth mother. Adoptions can either be open or closed. The term open means that the birthparent identities are not kept from the child or adoptive family.  There also may be contact between the birth parents and adoptive family. Closed means the record of the biological parents is sealed.
  • Independent Adoption. Instead of going through an agency, you can search on your own for parents who want or need to place their child in an adopted home. You will still need legal counsel and formalities to pursue this route.
  • International Adoption. This step involves adopting a child from another country through an agency or independently.  This process has been notoriously difficult for same-sex couples, as many other countries still discriminatory views of the LGBTQ community.

3. Be Thoughtful About the Situation You Create 

Adoption can provide many challenges. You will have to consider what you can offer the child emotionally, culturally and financially. You have to address practical issues like whether you would better serve a boy or girl, whether sexual orientation matters and how many children you want to adopt. You should also consider broader concepts like whether you want that child to know his or her birth parents, if you can adopt their siblings and how you will explain the adoption to your child. Here are some additional questions to consider.  Overall, as a recent study out of the University of Kentucky found, to make sure your child thrives, you should focus on the family environment – stress, couple relationships and family functioning.

4. Costs Matter

When choosing where to adopt a child, you have to pick the route that’s best for you. However, keep in mind that costs for adoption can very widely. According to the Independent Adoption Center, it costs $0 to $1,000 to adopt from foster care (this includes government incentives and possible ongoing government support). Adoption from a non-profit agency will generally cost between $10,000 and $25,000. Independent adoptions with an attorney can cost $20,000 to $30,000.  International adoptions can also run in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, depending on country and travel fees. As you can see, being prepared financial is critical for adoption.

5. Be Patient 

As you can imagine, bringing a child into your home isn’t a quick process. I have two friends that are going through a private agency, and it took them 10 months and a ton of work just to get on the list of possible adoptive parents. They now have to get chosen by a birth parent and have been waiting over a year. The bottom line is you just have to be patient.  It typically is quickest to adopt through the foster-care system, but even that can range from a couple of months to a year.

With so many children needing a home, adoption is a great way to grow a family for those that want to.  Check out The National Adoption Month website to learn more about National Adoption Month and use some of its helpful resources and tools.