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The 411 on Adoption: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How

When Denise Buzy-Pucheu and her husband, Cary Correia, contemplated adopting a child, they were adamant about researching the options and ultimately decided upon an international adoption. Ten years later, the Connecticut-based couple has expanded the family to five with 10-year-olds Ethan and Isabella, adopted from Kazakhstan, and 8-year-old Aeryn Elisabeth, adopted from China.

“I would say, first and foremost to the newcomer to adoption, to get all the information you can read,” Buzy-Pucheu says.

If you are considering adoption, it’s important to know what it entails. You should know how to find an agency, what national and international options there are and detailed information about the child you hope to welcome into your family.

Public and Private Adoption Options

Both private and public adoption options are available in the United States. Private adoptions involve working with an adoption agency or an attorney for a domestic or international adoption, while public adoptions require working with government agencies and foster care programs.

To find the best option for your family, take the initiative to learn about procedures and deadlines, says Anthony Rodriguez of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in Columbus, Ohio.

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“Parents can get information about adopting privately or from foster care through their county child services agency,” he says. “They will usually have some sort of regularly scheduled meeting about what’s involved in the process.”

Seeking support from parents who previously adopted children is also helpful for prospective parents. “It’s also possible that there could be local support groups around that can share firsthand experiences in all types of adoption, so searching to see if there are any is a good place to look for information as well,” Rodriguez says.

As you begin determining your options, Rodriguez recommends contacting your state’s adoption program for a list of licensed adoption agencies, both public and private.

Evaluate them and make a list of questions about the ages and backgrounds of the children the agency places, the type of training involved for parents, the criteria used to match children with families, the average waiting period for a child, total adoption costs and the specifics of the home study, the process by which the agency evaluates and educates the prospective adoptive family.

“Prospective adoptive parents need to become very educated around the needs of the child they are seeking to adopt.” –Lena Wilson, director at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan

The cost of adoption varies based on the agency and the type of adoption your family chooses. According to the Thomas Foundation, foster care adoption through a public agency ranges from nothing to $2,500, while private agency adoption costs from $5,000 to $40,000. An independent adoption, coordinated solely between an attorney and the birth parents, can cost $8,000 to $40,000, and an international adoption can be from $7,000 to $30,000.

The prices for adoptions can vary significantly based on the country the child is adopted from (international), the difference in fees for agency/birth parent pay/fees, and medical care associated with private agencies (independent adoption). There are also differences in state fees, foster care facility fees, medical care and home study fees for public adoptions.

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States often offer medical and social services assistance that include free medical care, counseling and meal assistance for adoptive parents. Loans and state and federal grants also can reduce costs. Ask if your employer offers financial assistance or other benefits. Members of the military might qualify for grants, loans and financial reimbursement for some adoption fees. Finally, ask your local child welfare office about programs designed to reduce the costs of adoption.

Foster Care Adoption

Many couples choose public adoption, which involves working directly with children in foster care programs. The state or county government agency has legal custody of these children and is responsible for placing them in adoptive homes.

When a foster child is adopted, that child moves permanently from one family to another. “In the process, all parental rights are legally transferred to the new parents,” Rodriguez says. “This means adoptive parents have the same rights and responsibilities as parents whose children were born to them, and adopted children have all the emotional, social, legal and familial benefits of biological children.”

Adopting from the foster care system is far less expensive than many other options, says Lena Wilson, director at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. “There are no fees associated with the home study, and some of the court fees required to file the adoption can be waived or paid through reimbursement,” she says. “State ward adoptees are often eligible to receive Medicaid, and adoptive families can receive adoption subsidy for an eligible child.”

Many children waiting to be adopted in foster care are school-age children or sibling groups. “It’s a great way to start a family,” Wilson says. “But prospective adoptive parents need to become very educated around the needs of the child they are seeking to adopt and may want to get special training.”

These children need a strong support system, Wilson says. “Children adopted out of the foster care system have oftentimes suffered numerous losses and don’t want to be hurt again. They tend to blame themselves for being in foster care and need a very patient and supportive family.”

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Persistence is an important quality to have while going through the public adoption process, Rodriguez says. “Adoption from foster care may not always be the easiest process, as some parents can attest to, but it also is rewarding—the parents agree that the children they were able to adopt from foster care have changed their lives forever.”

Home Study

The adoption process prompts prospective parents to think not only about the child they seek but also about their ability to care for an expanding family. Home study helps prospective parents think through the adoption process and examine their qualifications, says Anthony Rodriguez of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in Columbus, Ohio.

“A home study is an in-depth application and interview process with a social worker that involves in-person interviews, reference checks, background checks and home visits,” he says. “The study is not standardized and may vary from state to state and agency to agency.”

The average home study usually takes three to six months to complete.

Foreign Adoption

Many adopting couples choose to venture overseas to expand their family. When the Correia family began the international adoption journey, they signed up for Internet boards on international adoption to find reviews of adoption agencies and the different processes for adopting abroad.

“My advice is to research countries, research care and any orphanages or groups that offer more support to the child,” says Buzy-Pucheu, who adopted Ethan and Isabella at 9 months and 6 months, respectively, and Aeryn at 3 years.

The Correias worked closely with a nearby agency. Buzy-Pucheu says she preferred face-to-face meetings with a local agency to understand the timeline of the adoption process. With international adoption, one minute the process seems to speed up while in the next minute you could be on hold for a year or more, she says.

While they waited, they began to get their finances in order. “Look into grants and corporate programs, fundraise and make sure you have crisp, clean cash to take overseas,” she recommended. Using cash reduces delays in the adoption process. Buzy-Pucheu also recommends that new parents take advantage of any tax credits for adoption to minimize financial issues.

Keep in mind that there may be more to know and find out about possible adopted children. “Your child may have issues beyond what was on the medical papers,” Buzy-Pucheu says. “Institutionalized children are not in the same position as children who have one or two prime caregivers.”

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The Correia family’s first child received treatment for strabismus, commonly known as crossed eyes, when she arrived home. Their son was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, a condition arising from a lack of early attachments to caregivers, resulting from his stay at an orphanage; their third child, from China, has a leg length difference, a medical condition the family was aware of before the adoption.

“We adopted one special needs child and in actuality, all three of our children had special needs when they came home,” Buzy-Pucheu says.

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