Maybe you're considering adoption.
This search naturally takes you to adoption services, who hopefully have the networks and know-how to walk you through the adoption process. In no time, you hope, they will be able to connect you with that child-whether from your own country or another-of whom you've been dreaming. You might've already imagined meeting them for the first time and just knowing that they were meant to be a part of your family, and then finally bringing them home to give them all the love and security they deserve.
Should be a piece of cake, right?
Maybe not. Adoption has become a popular option for people who either have trouble conceiving children naturally or just want to add another member to their family. At the same time, however, those who actually make it to the finish line on adoptions are a much smaller number. In the U.S., for instance, only about 136,000 adoptions occur every year, by some estimates, with most of those happening through public child welfare agencies.
At the same time, international adoptions have seen a drop-off in the last 12 years, falling from 22,991 in 2004 to fewer than 8,668 in 2012.
Why are adoptions decreasing? Experts point to tightening laws and restrictions on adoptions in general, but it could also be that adoption is not for the faint-hearted. It's certainly not something to go into expecting speed and convenience. Fortunately, going into the adoption process with realistic expectations can go a long way toward helping you stay the course when the adoption road seems too long.
To help you set said expectations, here are 7 things every adopting parent should know as they embark on the adventure of adopting a child:
Adoptions take all shapes and sizes, from the simple (Ex: an existing guardian adopting a child who has been in their care for an extended period of time) to the complex (Ex: adopting a child from a country on the other side of the globe). For this reason, there is no guaranteed period of time that it takes for an adoption to be completed-they can take anywhere from a few months and a few years.
With this in mind, it's best to prepare yourself mentally for a good three-year struggle. And those three years are going to be filled with hoops to jump through.
Gina Shaw at WebMD advises, "When you're preparing to adopt, the anticipation can be overwhelming. It's a long journey: getting fingerprinted; going through a home study; choosing domestic, international, or foster adoption; putting your family profile or dossier together; then finally wondering what it will feel like to bring your child home...Adopting can take a while-sometimes, longer than you expected."
As the level of complexity can vary from one adoption to the next, so do the costs. According to the Natinal Adoption Information Clearinghouse, that cost can range from an affordable $4,000 to a SUV-sized $30,000.
Before you turn your back on adoption, you should also know that there are some tools out there that make this financial burden more manageable. An adoption tax credit of $10,390, for instance, can be used by families that earn $150,000 or less to take some of the edge off of adoption costs-and it can be used for any adoption. Another tool can be found in employers benefits, many of which now provide some financial assistance and/or paid leave for adopting parents.
Lastly, a variety of grants and low-interest loans through many adoption-minded organizations.
Taken altogether, these tools might not be able to erase the financial burden of adopting a child completely-especially if you're financing a more expensive international adoption-but they can put it within reach of more families who can't afford to shell out, say, $30,000 in cash. One of your first steps should always be working out an adoption budget, including expenses and anticipated financial assistance.
"Before plunging into the adoption process," says Elizabeth Heubeck of CBSNews, "find out roughly how much adoption expenses will cost you, and what types of financial breaks you can expect to receive."
You're preparedness to be an adoptive parent goes beyond your ability to afford the adoption process. In fact, it goes into every part of you, possibly parts of yourself that you are not comfortable facing.
Nevertheless, before starting the adoption search in earnest and investing your time and effort in this effort, a thorough, holistic self-examination is smart.
Take an honest look in the mirror and ask all the hard questions:
For your and the child's sake, don't be afraid to take a break from the adoption process if you spot something in your life that could jeopardize the long-term success of your adoption. Hiding potentially hazardous flaws doesn't help you or the child you want in your family.
Few steps of the adoption process are as daunting as the home study, which, according to Kelly King Alexander of Parents Magazine, includes a mountain of documents, thorough background checks, and more. This, she says, requires some serious preparation work:
"Gather multiple notarized copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, medical exams, financial statements (including the last three years' tax returns, photographs of you and your home, a written autobiography, employment records, criminal clearance documents, fingerprints, three letters of reference, a report on your home with deed, and (possibly) a psychological evaluation, and, in international adoptions, INS documents, passports, and copies of State Department laws in English and in the language of the country you have chosen to adopt from. Prepare for an interview by a social worker or agency."
Once the adoption gets underway, it's easy for parents to think of their soon-to-be child in idealized terms. Many adopting parents, either consciously or subconsciously, block out the idea that the child they're adopting has had a life with family members, friends, parents, problems, preferences, and places prior to them arriving on the scene. Parents who allow this to happen, however, might find themselves dealing with influences they are ignorant about.
This can range from sleeping conditions and food preferences to more serious things like past abuse. The only way you're going to learn these things is to start asking questions.
"If your adopted child is not a newborn, he or she has had a life before you," says Shaw. "Talk to foster parents, orphanage directors, or even your child's birth parents to learn what that life has been like."
Even then, says Shaw, don't expect the child to be instantly comfortable in their environment. "Even a newborn you gave birth to probably wouldn't settle down to sleep alone in a new crib. A baby or child who's just been separated from the world he knows needs comfort and closeness."
Family therapist and writer at ScaryMommy.com Angelica Sheils echoes the importance of doing your pre-adoption research:
"Prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, abuse, neglect, lack of structure and consistency, poor nutrition, and reduced stimulation, can all contribute to the child's risk for ADHD, conduct disorder, attachment disorders, developmental delay, oppositional-defiance, and poor social skills."
Please note that, especially in the case of international adoptions, this information might not always be available.
"Often, international adoption is fraught with unknowns," warns Heubeck. "While international adoption clinics provide services in which medical experts will review videotapes and medical records of children adopted outside the U.S. before parents sign adoption papers, the information isn't always available in advance, and it is rarely complete."
In terms of health, most adopted children are in great shape. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 85% of adopted children are rated as being in "excellent" or "very good" health. That's better than the national average 82% for non-adopted children.
But many (not all) adopted children bear the scars of the past experiences that led to them being up for adoption.
"Some of the most evident problems that adopted/foster children endure are related to early disturbances in attachment," explains Sheils. "Often times these children were not given the opportunity to form a healthy bond with a stable and responsive caregiver, or an experience with a caregiver included abuse, trauma, or neglect. As a result, these children often crave love, but lack the skills and are terrified to form vulnerable bonds with others."
Parents unaware of, or unwilling to acknowledge, a child's past can often find themselves bewildered and hurt when their newly adopted child acts out and seems to actively push them away, despite all of the pains they gone to to bring the child into their care.
In these cases, awareness and preparation are the adoptive parents' greatest assets.
Needless to say, when dealing with so many different parties and legal barriers to bring a child into your home, this process is fraught with legal perils. When things go wrong with this process, it can be costly financially and devastating emotionally.
That's why it pays to involve a lawyer early on in the process to keep your legal house in order as things proceed. And not just any lawyer: a lawyer who specializes in adoptions.
Not all adoption agencies are created equal, and not all of them are well-suited for your particular situation. For these reasons, adopting parents would do well to do their homework on adoption agencies before starting the process.
To see how the top adoption agencies stack up to one another and what each specializes in, visit our Adoption Agencies Reviews page.