Frequently Asked Questions for Adoptive Parents
- Am I qualified to adopt?
- How much does adoption cost?
- How does a child become available for adoption?
- Will my adopted child have serious health problems?
- What happens if the biological parents change their mind?
- If I have an open adoption, will the child think of me as his or her parent?
- Can’t I just adopt an infant from the state child protective services system?
- Why is it so hard to adopt when there are so many needy children around the world?
In Washington, the qualifications to adopt are that the potential parent must be 18 and have an approved home study. A home study will assess whether you should be approved to adopt a child, including your preparedness to assist your adopted child with challenges and issues sometimes faced by adopted children.
You do not need to be an “ideal” family to adopt a child. Nor must you be wealthy. Married couples, unmarried couples, and single individuals are all qualified to adopt. There are no legal restrictions on adoption in Washington based on sexual orientation or identity, and prospective parents with disabilities can adopt if their disability will not prevent them from meeting the responsibilities of parenthood. The standard is that you must be prepared to provide a safe and appropriate home for a child, and to support the child financially, emotionally, and psychologically.
The cost of an adoption will generally depend on the method of adoption you choose, whether it be adoption of a foster child, private (or independent) adoption, or international adoption. In each type of adoption there are many different costs involved, such as legal fees, adoption agency or social worker fees, and sometimes travel, medical expenses, and financial support for a birth mother. Because of all these variables there is no way to give a firm estimate of the total cost of adopting a child. Even the range of costs can be very broad, from virtually free for adoption of a foster child, to tens of thousands of dollars for some international and private domestic adoptions.
A good way to estimate the cost of your particular adoption plan would be to schedule a consultation with an adoption attorney. A lawyer can discuss your options with you, help you choose what type of adoption is a good fit for your family, and give you an idea of what your adoption will likely cost.
There are many ways a child becomes available for adoption. In the most common circumstance that Law Offices of Joyce S. Schwensen deals with, a pregnant woman decides that she is not able to provide for her child, so she seeks professional assistance to find an adoptive family for the child. It could be due to economic circumstances, the age of the parents or a range of other factors. In these cases, the parent or parents love the child and the decision to place the child for adoption is done because the parent feels this is the best choice for the child.
Like any other method of becoming a parent, there can be no guarantees about your child’s health in adoption. However, in preparation for a private adoption, birth parents are asked about their family health history, and the information is provided to the adoptive parents. In most cases the prospective adoptive parents are given time to study the information provided and review it with a medical professional prior to making a commitment to adopt the child. And in open or semi-open adoptions the adoptive parents may be able to get updated information from the birth parents as the child grows up.
Many people believe that mothers who place their children for adoption are severe drug addicts or alcoholics, and that children available for adoption will have severe problems because of this. And while there are some birth mothers who do struggle with addiction, and there are drug or alcohol effected children in need of adoptive parents, many birth mothers have limited or no drug or alcohol use during their pregnancies. There are many reasons that a woman may choose adoption for her child, including financial hardship, lack of support from the birth father, being devoted to parenting older children, wanting to continue her education, or many other reasons. As an adopting parent you will work with a social worker to decide whether and to what extent you are open to adopting a child who may have been exposed to alcohol or drugs during pregnancy, so that you can find an adoption match that is a good fit for you.
In a private domestic adoption the birth mother is asked detailed questions about whether she smoked, drank alcohol, or used drugs (including prescription and over-the-counter medications) during the pregnancy, and how much pre-natal care she has gotten. Most pregnant women considering adoption are forthcoming with this information, as they are concerned enough about the child’s well-being to be making an adoption plan for the child. Experienced adoption social workers are skilled in working with birth mothers to assess their openness and reliability in providing this information, and in making sure the birth mother gets good medical care during the pregnancy. This is one of the reasons it is important for adopting parents to work with experienced adoption professionals, who can help them assess any adoption situation that may become available and decide whether it is the right situation for their family.
One of the values that our national community adheres to is that a parent should be able to wait until their child is born before they make an irrevocable decision to place the child for adoption. Because of this important value, every state allows a birth parent some period of time after a child is born to decide whether or not to go through with an adoption plan. Although the birth mother has this time after the baby is born to decide whether to stay with the adoption plan, relatively few birth mothers do change their minds about adoption. And an experienced adoption social worker will assess the birth mother’s commitment to the adoption plan during the pregnancy, and will not match a birth mother with an adoptive family if the birth mother seems uncertain of her decision.
Exactly how much time a birth mother (or father) has to decide whether to proceed with the adoption varies from state to state. In Washington, a birth parent’s consent to adoption can be revoked until it is approved by a court, and court approval cannot be obtained until the later of forty-eight hours after the birth parent signs the consent or forty-eight hours after the baby is born. Once the court approves a birth parent’s consent it is legally difficult for the consent to be revoked. It is very important that the birth parent’s consent be in the required form and be obtained properly, and witnessed as required by the law. Adoptive parents should always work with a qualified attorney to obtain the birth parent’s consent to the adoption, and the court’s approval of that consent.
In an open adoption, the child and the birth mother or birth parents maintain a relationship. Sometimes it is a close relationship, but in many cases the relationship is maintained through letters, cards, and photos. While this makes some prospective adoptive parents uncomfortable, an open adoption is unlikely to cause the child to be confused about who his or her parents are. In fact, many experts believe that open adoption arrangements are better for adopted children because the child is not left with unanswered questions about their history or the circumstances of the birth parent’s decision to place the child for adoption. But it is important for prospective adoptive parents to know that they will be the only legal parent of the child, and will be able to make decisions about what is in the child’s best interest regarding the child’s relationship with his or her birth parents.
The State of Washington is not allowed to permanently take a child from his or her parents without first helping the parent try to remedy her or his parental deficiencies. A parent can spend many months going through drug or alcohol abuse treatment, establishing adequate housing, getting mental health treatment, taking parenting classes, and accessing other services before a decision is finally made whether their parental rights will be terminated or whether they will get their child back. Because of this, very few young infants are available for adoption through the state child protective services, and those that are available usually have special challenges such as drug exposure or abuse history. But there are many special needs and older children who are in the foster care system who need adoptive families or shorter term care while their parents try to resolve their problems. For well-prepared families, working through the foster care system can be a good way of building a family or bringing children into their lives temporarily. If you think this might be a good choice for your family, an adoption agency experienced in licensing foster homes is a good place to start.
Despite what you may have read about adoptions by celebrities or needy children in under-developed countries, most countries do not allow foreigners to adopt their children. And countries that do allow international adoption frequently change their requirements, and face public opposition based on misinformation about what happens to adopted children. Because of these and other factors, international adoption is difficult and expensive, and can take years to achieve. In addition, not only are there adoption issues to be addressed, there are also immigration laws that must be satisfied. Although it is not commonly understood, only certain internationally adopted children are allowed to immigrate to the United States. Despite the obstacles, however, many families feel that international adoption is the best way for them to build a family. If you are one of these families, or if you are uncertain and want professional assistance to make a decision about whether to pursue international or domestic adoption, Law Offices of Joyce S. Schwensen can assist you.