What’s The Right Type Of Adoption For Me?
The Four Types of Adoption
If you know you want to adopt but haven’t yet identified a child, there are several different approaches you can take. Dawn offers orientation meetings to prospective adoptive parents to help you sort out which one makes the most sense for you, and offers this general information to get you started thinking about your choices.
There are 4 primary ways to adopt when you don’t already have a child identified:
The “Right” Type of
Adoption for You
There are many opinions on the merits of each way to adopt. But, there is no one type of adoption that is appropriate for everyone. However, each type of adoption is appropriate for someone.
Here are some things to consider as you assess the type of adoption:
- The type of child desired,
- Tolerance for financial risk,
- Tolerance for medical risk,
- Tolerance for legal risk,
- Tolerance of emotional risk,
- Approach to birth parent contact,
- Importance of social and medical history about the child and the birth family,
- Amount of time you have to dedicate to pursuing adoption,
- Patience level,
- How much control and responsibility you want over the adoption plan,
- and whether your age, religion, family size or other factors limit your choices.
Some families pursue two or more types of adoption simultaneously in order to shorten the length of time they wait for a child. If they are transparent about this, it is an acceptable practice. Occasionally, a family pursuing private adoption will work with two pregnant women at once, hedging their bets. That is not OK.
Who are Tennessee’s Adoptable Children and Their Birth Mothers?
Tennessee’s Adoptable Children
You may wonder, what type of adoption will lead me to the most healthy child to adopt? Though it makes some people uncomfortable, it is appropriate for you to consider the likely challenges of a child you may adopt. You should ask specific questions and gather information about each adoption opportunity and do some soul searching, with your partner if you have one, about what kind of experience will bring out your best as a parent or parents.
If you know that you or your partner would be a poor parent to a child with serious behavioral problems, from another culture, or whose birth parent wants a great deal of post placement contact, for your sake and the child’s, don’t adopt that child. It is a disservice to a child to adopt them if you don’t really want them. No child should arrive in a family as second best, the result of their parents’ desperate settling or one parent’s arm twisting of the other.
Children are subject to the risk factors that can be assessed considering the place and time where they were born, the health and habits of their family of origin and their in utero and early life experiences. No one knows that this child, birth or adopted, will be okay and another one will be very ill. But you and your doctor can assess risk factors and consider odds.
There is some variation between the demographics of children adopted by different methods, though there is little or no discernible difference between children born in Tennessee placed privately, and children born in Tennessee, placed through private agencies. Both groups are most often newborns.
The Tennessee-born children placed for adoption by all methods are of Caucasian, African American, Hispanic or mixed heritage. Sadly, the opiate epidemic impacts Tennessee’s children, including the children available in all types of adoption. In utero drug exposure is no longer a rarity in Tennessee. It is difficult to get solid medical prognosis information for these children. And there are better sources of medical information than lawyers. But certainly children are better off without the insult of drug exposure before birth.
Children placed through the state agency (DCS) are sometimes newborn, but often older. Sibling groups are primarily available through the state of Tennessee, and far more rare in private or private agency adoption. Because children in state custody are often removed due to abuse or neglect, after some period of time living with their birth family, they often experience the additional insults of disrupted attachments, trauma, and a higher instance of parental drug abuse and mental illness, than children placed voluntarily at birth. Though all risk factors appear in all populations of adoptable children, as they do in families throughout the world.
Tennessee’s Birth Mothers
Women placing children for adoption in Tennessee are usually single or separated, around 20-28 years old, most often working poor, but sometimes students, young professionals or unemployed. They are usually no longer in a relationship with the birth father. Sweeping generalizations, of course, but useful to dispel the dated expectation that birth mothers are suburban, high school girls. That does happen, but far more often, birth mothers are self-directed, adult women, and often mothers already.
Private adoption, sometimes called independent adoption, is a popular way to adopt in Tennessee. A typical private adoption costs between $7,000 and $13,000 for all costs, provided that the birth mother has public or private medical insurance. Most do. It costs significantly more if she does not.
While it is not an agency adoption, you must still hire a licensed, private agency to conduct your home study before a child is placed with you. In a private adoption, you decide what licensed agency you want to use for your home study and the study may be the agency’s only role in your case. The wait time to have a child in your home varies from a week or less to two years or more. The length of wait depends on how aggressively you look for an adoption opportunity and how lucky you are.
Benefits of private adoption include direct access to all available social and medical history and medical records, an adoption plan controlled exclusively by the desires of the parties, and the limits of the law, an opportunity for significant contact between the birth parents and adoptive parents, termination of parental rights conducted by an attorney, and avoidance of agency eligibility requirements that limit access to adoption for some families.
Disadvantages include increased emotional risk, increased financial risk, the need to contract with private or adoption agency counselors for the birth parent’s counseling rather than the ease of using “built-in” agency counselors, and sometimes, establishing a mutually comfortable pre-placement relationship with the birth mother can be a little awkward at first without the structure of an agency worker and agency policy.
In private adoption, you locate the birth mother and so you must be willing to commit significant time and effort to this aspect of the process. You must also make a number of choices about your adoption plan because agency social workers and agency policy will not dictate those choices. To make good choices, it is helpful to become more educated about the legal and psychological aspects of adoption than is generally necessary for participants in other types of adoption.
Because private adoptions are supervised by attorneys, the quality of your experience and the success of the adoption are tied closely to the competence and experience of the attorney. You do not want to be one of an attorney’s first private adoption cases.
Domestic Private Agency Adoption
The children available through domestic agency adoption are generally the same as those available through private adoption. The birth parents are similar as well. Most agencies base their fees on a sliding scale tied to your income. Commonly, agency fees of Tennessee agencies range from $12,000 to $18,000 dollars, but very wealthy families can pay significantly more.
Advantages of a traditional agency adoption are that you can be fairly passive, at least as compared to prospective adoptive parents pursuing private adoption. You are not required to locate your own birth parents or direct the adoption plan once one is found. The agency takes care of all that. In-person meeting(s) between you and the birth mother are common, often required.
However, the birth parent – adoptive parent relationship during pregnancy may offer more limits and structure in a private agency case, than in a private adoption. This may decrease the need for you to set appropriate boundaries in that relationship.
Generally, the financial risk in an agency adoption is more limited, but read the fine print in your agency contract. Risk shifting to prospective adoptive parents is increasingly common. Traditionally, agencies charge various fees at the onset of the adoption process, but the bulk of the fees are not paid until the child is placed with the family.
Reputable agencies generally provide good counseling services, both for you and the birth family, and adoption preparation classes may be required for you in addition to the home study. Agencies can maintain physical custody of the child until the child is legally free for adoption, usually with an agency foster family, sometimes called “interim care.” When this is done, your emotional risk is limited. Birth parent’s mind changing is most common right around the birth. Obviously, however, if foster care is used, you will not take a newborn home from the hospital.
Disadvantages of domestic agency adoption are that your and the birth parents’ adoption planning is often restricted by or directed by agency policy or the social worker’s judgments. Termination of parental rights documents are often prepared by social workers and without consultation with an attorney. Medical information presented to the adoptive parents may be summarized rather than provided to you as source documents.
The waiting time for agency adoptions can vary widely, but is often in excess of one to two years. Access to agency adoptions is often limited by factors like the adoptive parents age, religion, length of marriage, sexual orientation, whether there are already children in the home, etc. The quality of an agency adoption experience is largely dependent on the quality of the agency. Tennessee is fortunate to have several good adoption agencies.
International Agency Adoption
International adoption grew in popularity during a time when several bad cases in the news led the public to believe that domestic adoptions were at serious risk of legal disruption by birth parents. In fact, few domestic adoptions are at risk of disruption by birth parents, but it is certainly true that the risk is even smaller in international adoption because the birth parents are limited both by geography and often by seriously limited material resources (at least by American standards).
However, for this feeling of security, the adoptive parents often pay in excess of $25,000 and receive sketchy and unreliable information about the birth parents and the adopted child’s life pre-placement. Children available internationally come from all regions of the world, and range in age from about 6 months old to school age. They are usually available for adoption for many of the same types of reasons children find themselves without parents in this country. The genetic history of these children is generally comparable to children available from the Tennessee state agency, and the care after coming into custody is sometimes far worse. A few countries use some foster care in private homes, comparable to the care US foster children receive. You are usually, but not always, required to travel to the other country to pick up your child. Sometimes, more than one trip is required. Some consider this an advantage because it is an opportunity to learn first hand about their child’s native country. The less adventurous consider a travel requirement a disadvantage.
The primary advantage to international adoption is that, if a reputable agency is engaged, a family can be reasonably certain that they will have a child to adopt within some finite period of time, usually 18 months. That is, provided that the country they choose to adopt from does not dramatically change its policy while they are waiting.
Children who are adopted internationally have more health problems than those adopted domestically as newborns. They also usually need extra attention to language development, and the adoptive parents are often left to fashion an approach to teaching the child to know and value the cultural heritage of their birth without much support or resources. For those without local access to members of the child’s birth culture, that alone can be reason not to adopt a child from another culture.
While the agencies and countries have various criteria regarding age, length of marriage, etc., these criteria are generally fewer and more liberal than those applied to domestic agency adoption. International adoption is popular among single people and older prospective adoptive parents because they can select a country where their status is not a disadvantage. International laws and scandals in some foreign countries have dramatically reduced the number of children being adopted internationally in the United States.
Private international adoption is perilous and generally discouraged. Adoption with an eye toward securing an immigation advantage is generally ineffective. If a change in immigation status is the goal, an immigration attorney is the best starting point.
Having practiced law when international adoption was more common in Tennessee, if that is your path, Dawn can help.
Tennessee State Agency Adoption
In Tennessee, state agency adoption means adopting through the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. However, the Department has also contracts with private agencies for placement services for children in the Department’s custody. And, children in state custody in other states are also often available for adoption by Tennessee residents, as seen on various web pages promoting the adoption of waiting children.
Some advantages of state agency adoptions are:
- It is the most fulfilling type of adoption if you feel called to adopt children and offer a home for a child who may not otherwise have one;
- It is usually free;
- You will have an opportunity to establish a relationship with the child, sometimes through visits, more often through fostering, prior to adoption;
- Federal adoption assistance is often available to you to provide health insurance and financial assistance, and to cover any expenses of the adoption, like legal fees.
- The adoption tax credit provided to most adoptive families is far more generous for those adopting special needs children from the state agency.
The primary disadvantage of adopting through the state is that most children in state custody have been involuntarily removed. To come into state custody, the children most often have been neglected or abused. Therefore, they are often traumatized by early life experiences, and the failure or disruption of early life attachments. Some of the children also suffer from physical challenges from abuse or drug exposure. Some have emotional scars from the foster care system as well.
Some foster parents have scars from the foster care system as well. Dawn has heard more than once that the child’s special needs were far less of a challenge than dealing with DCS. It can be tough. You are not a paying customer as you are at a private agency or a law firm.
Some former foster children are challenging to parent. It does no one a favor to sugar coat it. However, parenting success with these children is particularly rewarding. Dawn has many clients with thriving and happy children that were adopted from Tennessee DCS. It isn’t for everyone. Maybe you have to be called to it. But when a traumatized child opens his or her heart to trust and love a parent once again, it is an honor to even be a witness.