The adoption process is a long process whether the adoption is private, through foster care, or an international adoption. A brief overview of each step in the adoption process is provided and then several insights around various aspects of that step are detailed. While there is a focus on adopting through foster care adoption, the insights provided for each step of the process have been selected because a number of them are equally relevant to all types of adoption. There are a number of issues faced by adoptive parents including dealing with the trauma the child has faced, issues around the birth parents, not fitting in, the child tying to understand adoption, and the lack of paid parental leave. All of these are common issues in adoptions. Finally, a demographic profile of adoptive parents details the type of families adopting children in the US today.
THE ADOPTIVE PARENTS JOURNEY
This is the initial phase of adoption where prospective parents find out about the process and what it entails.
- International adoption is an option for those looking to adopt children, but it is not as simple as the media makes out. Many countries have now closed their borders to adoption, looking for solutions within their own borders. The Hague Convention has also limited the number of international adoptions because they are working to implement changes in different countries, so children can remain in their own countries.
- There are a number of strict rules that must be adhered to when adopting internationally. A number of countries have rules relating to parental age, marital status, health, number of children in the house, and income. In most instances, the adoptive parents will need to travel to the country to pick up the children. Some countries require the parents and child to live together for a period before allowing the child to travel to the adoptive parents home country.
- The most important thing a prospective parent can do when considering adoption is to educate themselves about the process. There are a wide range of resources available online to do this. Prospective parents are able to join the community of adoptive parents on Facebook that has more that 190,000 adoptive parents in it. This is an invaluable resource where people who have firsthand knowledge can offer advice and support.
- In recent years, thee has been a trend toward openness in adoption. This means that the adoptive child's birth and adoptive families remain in contact. Recent research suggests that this has a positive impact on the child. It is not always easy for the adoptive parents as contact may be frequent or infrequent, remote or direct, and vary overtime. The question of openness is something that prospective parents must educate themselves fully around, so they can make an informed decision whether they agree to an open process or not,
Fostering to Adopt
This part of the process sees the prospective adoptive parents go through the process of applying and being accepted to foster to adopt.
- The criteria for adopting from foster care in the US mean that almost any family can be considered. In most states, prospective parents can be married or single; in fact, single parents account for around 29% of foster care adoptions. The main criteria to satisfy are that the prospective parents can provide permanent placement, a safe home, and support the child's physical, health, educational, and social needs.
- There are approximately 125,000 children that are currently awaiting adoption in the US. Most will wait on average four years for an adoptive family. In 2018, 25% of the children who left foster care were adopted. 51% of the children adopted in 2018 were adopted by their foster parents. 26% were over 9 years of age when they were adopted.
- 17,844 children or 7% of those leaving foster care in 2018 aged out of the foster care system. This means they will start adult life with none of the financial or emotional supports that other children receive from their families. 70% of children in foster care want to attend college. For those that age out of the system, 25% will not have a High School diploma, and only 6% will complete college.
- Most of the foster care children that are available for adoption are over 2, with most over 8. It can be frustrating for parents waiting to adopt watching the parents being given the opportunity to take corrective action, and knowing any failure will be at the expense of the child. This can be a traumatic process for the children, and prospective parents need to be able to cope with this trauma in the future.
- Developing a good relationship with the local foster care agency can assist because there is a preference for placing children in homes that are close to their original homes. The local office may have foster care training and resources available that can assist in determining if fostering to adopt is the best pathway. Families wishing to adopt must be clear from the start, as this will assist in the placement process.
This part of the process involves making the application and undergoing the assessments required to gain approval to adopt.
- It is a fundamental requirement that every parent looking to adopt a child in the US undergo a home assessment. This is usually completed by a social worker licensed in the state of adoption. The social worker will interview the parents in their home, interview the family, and ensure that the prospective parents can provide the child a safe home.
- Working with an adoption specialist can assist in simplifying the process. There is a considerable amount of paperwork that needs to be completed. This will form the basis of the adoption plan. It is important that prospective parents have had the opportunity to get advice prior to completing the paperwork, as key decisions such as whether an open adoption is agreed to need to be made at this time.
- When choosing an adoption specialist it is important to know exactly what services they will provide and what the cost of those services are. There are considerable differences in the level of service and the cost between different agencies. Prospective parents are best served by specialists that are closely aligned with their local area. It is important to remember that the cheapest specialist may not necessarily be the best specialist.
Post Adoption Adjustment
This is the immediate period after adoption, where checks are made to ensure the child is safe prior to the adoption being finalized.
- There is a post-adoption supervision period where social workers visit the home and assess both the parent's and child's adjustment to the adoption. The visits are similar to the initial home assessment. Usually, an average of three post-adoption visits are required before the adoption is finalized.
- Families can access post-adoption services. The services are available in each state. The first port of call for adoptive parents should be their placement agency, who can put them in contact with the appropriate agency. Adoptive parents should consider talking with other adoptive parents as the insight that they can provide can be invaluable.
- Post-adoption depression is not uncommon. Often the process of adoption is emotional with many highs or lows. The final steps in the adoption process can result in a range of different feelings by the new parents. Although it is not a formally recognized condition it is thought post-adoption depression impacts on as many as 65% of adoptive mothers. The signs and symptoms are similar to that of depression.
INSIGHTS AROUND ISSUES FACED BY ADOPTIVE PARENTS
Ongoing Effects of Trauma
- Many children adopted through foster care in the US have suffered trauma at various points in their lives. The trauma can be caused by neglect, violence, or separation from their families.
- It is estimated up to 80% of children who have been in foster care have suffered some form of trauma that has resulted in a mental health issue. One in four children that have been in foster care will exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
- The trauma can result in behavioral, psychological, and emotional difficulties, which have the potential to impact on the adoptive family as a whole.
- Getting help for the child on an individual level and the family as a whole is essential in addressing this issue. Many states offer support services that are equipped to deal with these issues, and that can assist the adoptive parents in these instances. The key for the adoptive parents being patient with the child and getting the necessary help required.
- For the adoptive parents, this issue is one of potential unease. There will always be concerns about how much involvement the birth parents should have and how appropriate their interactions with the child are. There is no guideline as to what is the appropriate type or frequency in this contact for the adoptive parents as it needs to be determined on a case by case basis. The adoptive parents are likely to be fearful that their role in the child's life will be surpassed.
- Only about 5% of infant adoptions in the US are closed adoptions, so the reality is this is a common issue for adoptive parents. Research has shown that birth parents typically make contact around 7 times in the first few years after the adoption, but over time this decreases, with only about 40% of birth parents still in contact after 14 years.
- Adoptive parents must realize that the child will always (regardless of contact) be linked to the birth parents. As a result, there will always be a degree of curiosity from the child, which is not a reflection or rejection of them in any way. A relationship with birth parents will help adoptive children deal with feelings of guilt, poor self-worth, grief, and despair.
- Adoptive parents need to support the child throughout the process of contact regardless of their personal feelings. A range of groups are available for adoptive parents to help them in dealing with this issue.
- Adoption is not an easy concept for many children to understand and make sense of. Over half of the children adopted experience feelings of loss, sadness, or rejection about their birth family. Over half of the children adopted experience uncomfortable questioning or teasing from other children about their adoption. This can result in emotional turmoil for the child in a range of different ways, including behavioral and psychological changes.
- There is little difficulty integrating into the adoptive family, with the majority of adoptive children having little difficulty moving into a new family.
- Research has found that the adoptive parents can assist a child in coming to terms with adoption through being open about the process and providing the child the information they need, at an appropriate time to make sense of the process. They need to help the child understand the adoption and how to deal with the way other children deal with them. Support and understanding are essential.
- Due to this being a relatively common problem, many adoption agencies offer ongoing support in this regard.
Lack of Support From Work
- One of the major difficulties when adopting is that the employment framework in the US does not recognize adoptive parents in the same manner they recognize birth parents. This means that adoptive parents are often not eligible for benefits like paid parental leave.
- There are many expenses incurred at the time of adoption. The prospect of unpaid leave is likely to place some adoptive families in a position of financial hardship. Most adoptive parents will be entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, it is just a question of whether adoptive parents are entitled to paid leave.
- No information is available that provides a reliable estimate of the number of adoptive parents affected, but given the media coverage, it appears the issue is widespread.
- The key to this issue is talking with the employer early on in the adoption process and determining the exact position. If the adoptive parents are not entitled to be paid over this period, it will enable them to at least plan for the adoption financially in advance.
Not Feeling Part of the Family
- One relatively common issue in adoption is that the adoptive children may not feel as if they are part of the family. Part of dealing with this issue as an adoptive parent is recognizing this due to the child's background. The child may feel they are different from the rest of the family.
- There is no easy solution to this issue except time, love, and support. The child will often require regular reassurance that they are safe and loved. Communication and patience is key in helping the child take their place in the family.
DEMOGRAPHICS OF ADOPTIVE PARENTS
- 81% of adoptive mothers are aged 35-44. 50.7% of this group are aged 40-44. The 18-29 year old age group accounts for only 3.1% of adoptive mothers and the 30-34 year old age group, 15.8%.
- 12% of men adopting children are aged 18-29 years of age. 29.3% are 20-34 years of age. 29.8% are 35-39 years of age and 28.9% are 40-44 years of age.
- 11% of foster care adoptions and 13% of private adoptions are completed by parents who are over 50 years of age.
- 69% of adoptions are completed by married parents.
- The number of men adopting children is nearly double the number of women. The disproportionate number of men adopting is as a result of gay couples and men who have previously fathered children choosing to adopt.
- The median household income for adoptive families is $87,500.
- 70% of children adopted from foster care are adopted by parents with a level of education beyond high school. For private adoptions, 79% of adoptive parents have a level of education beyond high school. For international adoptions, the figure is 95%.