Missing Pieces
Missing Pieces by Lisa Ritter Starr

Preparations for a Family

by Lisa Ritter Starr

Part 1: The Beginning of the Process

I cannot imagine how difficult it is for many prospective adoptive parents these days. From choosing the type of adoption to the type of agency, to filling out the required materials such as an autobiography and "Dear Birthmother" letter, there is so much to accomplish in order to prepare for an adoption. And all of this is in addition to preparing to raise a child.

Types of Adoption

After you have decided on adoption, the kind of adoption you choose depends on many factors. Most of these factors have to do with personal preference. Prospective adoptive parents have different motivations. For example, your priority may be to give a home to a child who needs it the most, such as to an older child. Because babies are often preferred among couples seeking to adopt, if this is not your priority, you may try international adoption or the domestic adoption of a child in foster care.

If you choose international adoption, you might have a lot of options available. Agencies in this country have ties to dozens of other countries, and you may have to narrow down your choice or else apply separately to several programs. Narrowing down the options can make the process easier. You may choose to apply to an international agency's Korea program because you are interested in Korean culture, or prefer a program where the children more closely match your own background.

If getting a baby is top priority, then couples will probably consider domestic closed and open adoptions. Closed adoptions these days function much like those of the past, except state laws are rapidly developing changes such as keeping birth family medical records accessible. Semi-open adoption, a gray area between closed and open, is really a closed adoption that includes sharing names between birth and adoptive families, and little else. Open adoptions include not only name-sharing, but some form of ongoing contact between families. This can be a yearly picture, yearly visit, letters, or many visits throughout the years.

Choosing the Route

Once couples seeking to adopt have decided what type of adoption they are going for, they must decide how they will try to find their child. There are essentially two ways to do this: publicly and privately.

Public agencies include adoption agencies such as Holt International Children's Services, one of the largest international adoption agencies in the country. Open Adoption and Family Services is an adoption agency that matches couples and birth family who seek open adoption. Many agencies offer closed adoptions but also offer to instigate open adoption arrangements. Some agencies provide the whole gamut of services, from domestic open and closed adoptions to international adoption.

Private adoption services tend to be as simple as finding a lawyer willing to perform the service or who specializes in adoption. These adoptions are arranged according to state law and involve work on the part of the prospective parents such as advertising nationally in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet. Unless the lawyer has birth parents constantly getting in touch, the couple seeking to adopt must find ways to attract attention from expectant women looking to place their child in an adoption.

With the help of a lawyer, both birth and prospective adoptive family can arrange whatever type of adoption they can agree upon; however, ongoing support is only offered in the form of legal intervention, and only when necessary. This is one of the downfalls of privately arranging an adoption. Ongoing counseling, which is extremely highly recommended, is not part of the package.

Sometimes, an adoption match is made without the need for advertisement or much legal mediation. I've heard of one situation in which a birth mother's dentist, with whom she was on friendly terms, found out that the woman was looking to place her child in an adoption. He told her that he and his wife happened to be seeking to adopt. In this case, a lawyer was called upon strictly to work out the necessary legal papers.

Finding a Lawyer

If a couple decides to use a lawyer, they will not have to apply as they would with an agency. A lawyer can be found using research tools as simple as the Yellow Pages in the phone book. Sometimes, a birth mother can contact a lawyer and be matched with whatever couples the lawyer knows. It is wise for both sets of parents to be careful when choosing this route. Individuals are generally not screened through a standard application or home study process, and much of the arrangement is worked out in the form of legal documents - not the best focus in considering a child's welfare.

Applying to Agencies

Couples often seek out an adoption agency with a good reputation and well established policies and procedures. Adoption agencies are preferable to many because adoption is their focus. Not only do they care about the legal aspects, they are in it for the long haul and often include free, lifetime counseling for the birth parents and mediation services for both sets of families. They also have connections with social services and have an established, high profile presence in the community.

If you live in a large area with many agencies to choose from, this may be a difficult choice. Many are very good and some are also very selective. A stable, loving couple might find the "perfect" agency for their needs, only to receive news that their application has been rejected. This can happen at any point in the process and agencies are not obligated to explain why.

This can be devastating, of course, but it is important not to give up. Just as "your" child is out there waiting for you, the right agency is out there, too, waiting to be found. There may be some fees to apply initially, and lots more paperwork and fees ahead of you, but all of this will prepare you for a lifetime of extra everything, from paperwork to homework. You will add that new member to your family.

Next: Part 2: Your Life in Hardcopy

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