Let’s talk specifics: Agency Applications

2228603119_37792a3952_oIn our first, “Let’s Talk Specifics” entry, we hopefully provided you some additional clarity about a homestudy – what it is and how you get one. For our second post in this series, we want to explain the next major step in an adoption journey – selecting an adoption agency.

Type “domestic adoption agency” into your Google search bar, and over one million results will be presented to you. Agencies in every state, some with multiple offices, others with just a small staff, some with religious affiliations, others without…overwhelming to say the least. It can be hard enough for us to decide where to eat on a Friday night, so imagine our struggle on selecting an adoption agency! Luckily, this is where our adoption consultant comes in to save us.

If you recall, we are working with an adoption consultant, Susan. She doesn’t work for a specific agency, but rather an adoption consulting group and is a professional who walks this journey with us, watching out for red flags, assisting with paperwork, and answering our questions. Also, Susan has professional relationships with numerous adoption agencies, to whom she recommends adoptive parents. This was a huge help to us, shrinking that enormous, frightening number down to 15-20. This list provided a really good “starting point” for selecting an agency. In fact, because we are working with a consultant, we could apply and work with multiple agencies, potentially increasing our chances and speeding up the adoption timeline. Seems simple, right? Just pick a few and go? Well, if there is ever a recurring theme in adoption, it is that the process is slow and never as simple as it may seem.

Once we selected the agencies we felt were a good fit for us, the paperwork trail, similar to the homestudy, began again. Contact forms, applications, and contracts had to be completed, signed, and notarized. Nearly all of our homestudy paperwork and forms needed to be included, in addition to our family profile book (more on that in our next “Specifics” post). Fees had to be paid. Further, with a few of the selected agencies, a phone interview with their staff and attorney was required, where they explained the adoption process and legal implications of working with the agency. Whew!

Of all the paperwork, one of the hardest struggles was determining the “type” of child we are willing to adopt – characteristics and qualities of a child that are beyond our control. Not only are there decisions about gender, race, and age, in each agency application, there are checklists upon checklists of every disease, level of substance abuse by the birth parents, and family medical conditions, through which we had to decide our comfort level. It is very intimidating to make these decisions. Again, as Elisabeth O’Toole’s states in her book, In on it:  What adoptive parents would like you to know about adoption:

Could you parent a child of a different race?  Which races specifically?  Could you parent a child from another country?  Which countries?  Could you parent a child in contact with the birth mother?  Birth father?  Birth grandparents?  Siblings?  Could you parent a child with physical disabilities?  Which ones exactly?  How about mental disabilities?  Could you parent more than one child?  An older child?  How old?  What about a child who has been neglected or abused?

It’s hard to check “no” on some items; feelings of guilt come quickly with thoughts such as “we’d love any child, as long as we can be parents.” But we, like any adoptive parents, had to honestly ask ourselves what was the best fit for us. O’Toole continued:

Until I faced these decisions, I had never thought so specifically about adoption – or parenthood, for that matter.  If anything, I had a vague, untested belief that I could parent any child who was in need of a family.  And I really wanted to be that person, someone who could handle any obstacle with equanimity, one with boundless patience and humor, able to provide with generous hands whatever my child needed from me.  I still want to be that person.  But I’m not.  It was only by considering adoption myself – by facing that checklist in front of me on the dining room table…that I was compelled to acknowledge and accept my own capabilities and limitations as a potential parent.

And we also sat at our dining room table, with these checklists in front of us, trying to determine as best we could what we could handle in our family. Once we figured it out, we sent off our packets of applications, contracts, and other documents so that we could become “active” in each agency’s system, to be available as potential parents for birth mothers who make an adoption plan. Currently, we are active with about five agencies and are relying on God’s help to wade through the cumbersome clunky process that is adoption.

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Let’s talk specifics: The Home Study

shutterstock_150753773We often talk with people, who ask us where we are in the process. But we figure that, like us before we got into “the process,” many people probably don’t know much about adoption, and this is just the best way to ask how it’s going.

So, we thought it might be a good idea to write a few blogs to explain parts of the adoption process. First up: The Home Study.

One of the very first steps of any adoption, is a home study. This results in a legal document that confirms one’s ability to parent: physically, mentally, and financially. It is completed by a licensed social worker, and is written after review of legal documents, health reports, financial statements, as well as interviews, reference letters, and yes, an evaluation of the prospective adoptive parents’ home.

Sounds a little intrusive, huh?

As Elisabeth O’Toole put it in In On It: What adoptive parents would like you know about adoption, (a book we highly recommend, by the way):

“Compared to biological parents, the steps to achieving adoptive parenthood are much more . . . documented.”

Before we could even meet with our social worker, we first had to gather documents such as birth certificates, our marriage license, photo identification, income tax returns, residential histories, and pet records. In addition, we each had to have health exams and our doctors fill out a form agreeing we are healthy enough to parent a child. Another requirement was getting both state and federal criminal investigative reports, which involved going to the State Police and FBI locations for finger prints.

Once we had all the documentation, our social worker visited us in our home. While she did look around, it was not a “white glove test.” The main purpose of the home tour was to make sure we have a safe living space, and a plan for where our baby will sleep. This part of the home study visit lasted maybe a total of five minutes. The remaining time of the first home visit was spent discussing our relationship, our life together, work, religious views, our motivation to adopt, as well as talking about adoption in general. Our social worker is an adoptive mother, so she had stories to tell us and encouragement to share. The first home visit lasted more than two hours.

A follow up visit was required so we scheduled it for a few weeks later. The second visit lasted about four hours and included individual interviews discussing our childhood, families, where we were raised, and even things like the primary method of discipline in our childhood homes and our anticipated parenting styles.

The home study process also involves family and friends: we were required to have four to five people write letters of reference on our behalf, only one of which could be a family member. The correspondence was directly between our social worker and the individuals we asked to participate; we have never seen the letters.

Our social worker then took all her notes and our compiled documents, and wrote a report outlining our desire to adopt and why, our background and family information, childcare plans, and our health and abilities, among other personal information. Ultimately, she gave us the legal seal of approval we needed to move forwards with applying to adoption agencies.

All this red tape can be very frustrating and discouraging at times. It’s easy to fall into thoughts that having a baby biologically does not require document gathering and intrusive interviews by practical strangers. But our consultant gently reminded us to view it from the eyes of an expectant mother making an adoption plan – she wants what is best for her child and to be comforted knowing that the adoptive parents she chooses have been thoroughly examined and will provide the loving, stable home she desires for her child.

We constantly remind ourselves that we cannot find our joy in the process. But our joy from this will come when we are finally parents. And just like a woman who experiences the pains of labor and finds it all worth it when her child is placed on her chest, we believe that “the process” will eventually just be a distant memory, overshadowed by the beauty of our child joining our family.

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