Adoption Q&A: From First Steps to Home Study Approved - Studio DIY

Adoption Q&A: From First Steps to Home Study Approved

8/7/2018

Adoption Q&A: From First Steps to Home Study Approved

Photo by One Eleven Photography
(From our adoption announcement!)

Time for the third installment of our adoption series, and the first Q&A! I’ve divided the Q&As into three parts and today we’ll be focusing on all the questions about first steps for starting the adoption process all the way through to getting “home study approved” at which point you’re considered a “waiting family.” These questions and answers will be exclusively focused on domestic infant adoption as that is what we did and what we know. For international adoption Q&As and info, check out my friend Elsie’s blog where she discusses it at length! And I know I sound like a broken record but every adoption is SO different. Our answers are all from our perspective and what we experienced but we aren’t experts, just parents trying to spread the word about that joy that adoption has brought to our family!

If you haven’t yet read our adoption timeline and financial breakdown, I’d suggest starting there to give the answers below more context! Here we go!

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Did one of you feel the call to adopt more than the other?

I started the conversation about adoption shortly after Jeff and I started dating since I knew because of my medical history, having biological children might not be an option for me. Since becoming parents was both of our #1 priorities, I had to ensure he was open to other ways to make that happen, and he was!

After my second miscarriage, I pretty abruptly said “I’m done” with fertility treatments but we both knew that current grieving state of mind was no time to make such a big decision so we just started exploring our options. Shortly after, we took a vacation together and on that trip is when we together decided that we didn’t want to put ourselves through the heartache of another loss when we were both open to and excited about adoption. Adoption felt positive and hopeful, like the light at the end of the tunnel. We closed the door on fertility treatments that weekend and opened the door to adoption and we haven’t looked back since!

How did your family react to your decision?

Our family was and has always been very supportive of adoption. Because of our unique situation, they both knew that it was on the table for a long time so it didn’t come as a “shock.” Their questions came moreso when we were in the process, wanting to know about how to trust a situation was truthful and not a scam, race and gender decisions, etc. We’ve always had their support and we are very grateful.

What is the VERY first step?

The very first step is talking to people and doing your research. For us, I had an acquaintance (Jenna, who took that photo up there!) who I hadn’t spoken to in years but was friends with on Facebook. I had seen her adoption announcement and reached out to pick her brain. She ended up being the one who connected us with our adoption team.

You may be thinking “well I don’t know anyone who adopted” and that may be true. But you’ll be shocked at how many people have a tie to adoption once you start talking about it to everyone. Talking about adoption is so KEY from day one, to connect with with other adoptive parents, adoptees and expectant mothers.

But outside of that, here’s a few other places to start:

A huge portion of the adoption world is faith-based so if you are a member of a church, that’s a great place to start.

If you aren’t religious or you aren’t comfortable talking about it in person, Facebook groups and Google are going to be your best friends. There are a ton of adoption groups on Facebook specific to certain regions. Start searching for them and join as many as you can. Those, or just a simple Google search, can lead you to agencies or attorneys in your area. Many agencies will have free seminars you can attend to see if you think they’re a good fit, or just to gain more knowledge on the process.

You do NOT have to work with someone local, but it is often the easiest place to start. They’ll also be educated on the adoption laws and processes in your state which will make things easier.

What are the “requirements” for being an adoptive family? Do you have to be a certain age or married for a set period of time before beginning the process? Can you be “too old” to adopt? Do you have to own a home? Make a certain amount of money?

Every agency/lawyer is different and may have different parameters for the clients they take on so you may find some in your search that have some of the above mentioned “requirements” however there are no “official” requirements to be an adoptive family across the board. Meaning, just because one agency has them doesn’t mean another does too. Don’t let it discourage you! I believe for our home study we had to have been married at least one year. And we did not own a home at a time, so no we did not have to be home-owners. And we were never told about a minimum income, though information about our careers and household income were included in our home study process.

Several of you messaged me saying your doctors told you you had to be under 40 to adopt. Honestly, that broke my heart. Your doctors are lying! In fact, most couples who adopt ARE older since many go through fertility treatments for years before making the decision to adopt. We were 26 when we started the process and nearly everyone commented on how young we were compared to other adoptive parents. Are there agencies who have age limits? Yes. But there are plenty of others who don’t. Please do NOT close the door on adoption because of your age!!

How hard/easy is the process for a healthy couple to adopt? Is reproductive health a factor?

There is no “requirement” to be infertile to adopt, any healthy couple can adopt. We were asked why we chose to adopt by our attorney and social worker, but that was to ensure we were in it for the right reasons.

Almost every expectant mother we talked to asked us why we were adopting, too. In some ways, we were told, an infertility story can give purpose and hope to someone who is making a decision as hard as placing her child for adoption so I can’t say it isn’t a factor for some. But there are plenty of people who adopt just because they want to and not because they can’t have biological children!

What did your adoption team look like? What are the pros and cons of attorney/consultant vs. agency? did you use an agency?

We decided to work with an independent adoption consultant and adoption attorney instead of an agency.

I like to compare our consultant to the role of a doula in the birth process. She was then there to guide us from a personal perspective and to be our advocate and sounding board. She was the first person we met with and gave us an overview of the process. She helped us develop all of our “marketing” materials and put together a plan for how to reach out to birth mothers directly through adoption websites and social media. She also helped prepare us for the hospital experience once we were matched.

Our attorney has connections at all different agencies, doctor’s offices, hospitals and facilitators which is how she connects with birth mothers. She presented us with situations, as well as vetted situations that came to us directly to ensure they weren’t scams. She then handled all of the legal paperwork and facilitation once we matched and all the way up to the finalization process.

We went with this team almost solely because we knew someone who had successfully adopted through them. We did not research any other options. We liked that our attorney had connections at many different places, instead of being confined to just one agency. I’ve heard from a lot of agency-signed adoptive parents who were presented with far more situations than we were, and plenty that were presented with far less. The moral of the story is, EVERY experience is different. There is no rule book, you just have to do what you feel fits your family and personality best.

What states were you allowed to adopt from? Why did you choose to adopt within California?

After completing our home study, we were legally able to adopt from any of the 50 states. It just so happened that Arlo’s birth mother was in California. We feel very lucky as that allowed us to go to many of her appointments and guarantee we were there for the birth.

You will quickly learn that there are “easy” and “hard” states to adopt from. That is because different states have different policies regarding when rights are terminated, getting clearance to travel to your home state (if applicable), etc. This is something you’ll want to discuss with your adoption team early on.

Open vs closed adoptions, how do you weigh in?

The large majority of adoptions these days are open or semi open. In fact we were told if we didn’t want an open adoption, we shouldn’t pursue the domestic adoption process. Closed adoptions do happen, but they are less frequent. “Open” can mean anything from just meeting/knowing the birth mother, to sending photos or letters, to regular in person visits.

We always knew we wanted our adoption(s) to be open. We loved the idea of keeping in touch with the person who gave us the greatest gift and we especially loved the access it would give our child to such a huge part of his identity. On paper, we have it listed that we will send pictures and meet in person a certain number of times throughout the year. In reality, right now, we talk to Arlo’s birth mother much more frequently than that. What you’ll need to remember is what is written on paper is simply a “guideline.” It is at the adoptive parents discretion to continue with communication or end it if they feel the relationship puts the child at risk for any reason. Everything with adoption is very fluid and you have to be prepared for that, for the rest of your life. You can go into an adoption wanting it to be as open as can be, but you do not always have control of that happening!

Were twins an option? Were you open to mulitples?

Yes and yes. We were very open to adopting twins, however we were never presented with a twin situation. Adoption is expensive and while this will sound really strange, adopting twins can sometimes end up being a more affordable option than adopting two babies at separate times because you only had to pay for one home study or one lawyer, etc. They may increase slightly due to increased birth mother or medical expenses and paperwork, but not nearly to the amount it would cost for a second adoption entirely. The tax factor also comes into play here as the adoption tax is per child, so you would receive double the tax credit at once too.

Can you talk about transracial adoption? Were you open to all races? Was race a factor?

Sure can! I believe race to be one of the most important topics and factors when it comes to adoption. As far as us being open to all races, the answer is yes and no. We were listed as open to all races and genders on our profile. We would have rather turned down a situation than not be presented it at all.

That said, when we were presented with Arlo’s birth mother and told that the baby would be 100% Mexican, we had to have a very significant and in-depth conversation about whether we were prepared for what a transracial adoption means.

Jeff and I are both white. We have never faced racism, personally. We had to come to terms with the fact that this child would face things we would never be able to relate to. We needed to educate ourselves and be as prepared as possible for these situations, but also accept that we would never be everything he needs when it comes to coping and understanding how some people will treat him, solely based on his skin color.

We did not take this lightly. So we asked ourselves a few things:

-Do we have people in our lives of Mexican or Latino heritage that would be able to guide us when we had to ask hard questions?
-Would these friends be able to act as a role model or mirror for him in the ways we wouldn’t be able to?
-Do we live in a place where he wouldn’t feel like an “outsider”? What does the population of nearby schools look like? Are we willing to seek out diversity and/or move, if need be, to a more diverse area?
-Do we feel confident we can incorporate his culture into our lives and regular conversations?
-Will we be able to provide him with the tools he needs to be raised bi-lingual, when neither of us are (yet)?
-Are we ready to become an ally and an advocate for the rest of our lives?

We were able to answer “yes” to all of those questions and therefore moved forward.  I can’t say that we would be able to answer yes to all of those questions for other races, though, and that’s another serious discussion we’ll have to have if and when the time comes.

Going into adoption “colorblind” is doing a disservice to the child. Of COURSE, I will love, treat, discipline and give Arlo the same opportunities I would a child of any race on a personal and family level. But the world is not colorblind and that is a sad, but true fact that cannot be ignored. You have to be prepared to spend your life educating yourself and surrounding yourself with people who can guide your child in the areas you won’t be able to.

How do you afford adoption?

Private adoption is expensive, averaging $25k-$50k. You can read my financial breakdown here as an example. Foster-to-adopt is a much more affordable option (it costs little to no money) but you also need to educate yourself on the process and goals of fostering. I unfortunately do not know those answers and cannot help there.

We used our savings and temporary loans from family to pay for our adoption. But a few other ways to aid you in funding your adoption are:

Grants: There are several organizations, Help Us Adopt is one of them, that provide grants to hopeful adoptive families.
Crowdfunding: Platforms like AdoptTogether help you crowdsource funding for your adoption
Other Fundraisers: Many adoptive families will do fundraisers (selling t-shirts or other products) or auctions to help raise funds
Tax Credit: This comes after your adoption is finalized but the IRS does give a tax credit pending the type of adoption, your income level and a few other factors. You can discuss this with your accountant to find out if you qualify.
Employer Subsidizing the Cost: Some companies will pay up to a certain amount towards an employee’s adoption.
Loans + Lines of Credit: I encourage you to formulate a plan for how and how quickly you will pay back a loan if you choose to do so but I’ve heard of families taking out lines of credit, home equity loans, personal loans, loans from families, loans against a 401k, etc. etc. to help fund. Typically this is done AFTER the other avenues listed above so it can be for the smallest amount possible.

What is the “profile book” you have to create?

We had to create a profile book to show the expectant mothers our attorney was presenting us to. It’s a short photo-book (You can use Mixbook, Shutterfly, etc. to make it) that includes pages on each of your hobbies, careers, immediate families, other children (if applicable) and your “promises” to your future child. The goal of the book is to tell the entire story of our family in pictures (LOTS of pictures!), with minimal words, because you do not know the age, education level, our primary language of the birth mother you may connect with. It should also look like and represent you. Our book was very colorful and light-hearted, because that’s who we are.

What does the home study process look like? At what point in the home study process did you have in-person home visits?

The home study includes a lot of paperwork, a few home visits with a social worker and fingerprinting and background checks all ending with your social worker writing a report about your family and, most likely, recommending you as a fit adoptive parent at which point you are considered “home study approved.”

We had two home visits. The first visit happened a few weeks after we contacted the agency that would conduct our home study. Prior to that visit, we were sent a large stack of papers to look over. In the visit, we went over all the papers with our social worker so she could answer any questions before we filled them out. A few key documents included were: reference forms for friends and co-workers to fill out, information for fingerprinting and background checks, documents about our home including a floor plan to fill out with a fire escape plan and lots of questions about various safety concerns (fire alarms, pools, sprinkle systems, etc.) and questionnaires about our relationship, childhoods and selves plus a prompt to write an even more in-depth “autobiography” about those same topics. She then asked us a bunch of questions about our families, our careers/lifestyles, why we were adopting, etc. Also at the first visit, our social worker did a walk through of our home and made note of a few things we needed to do to make it safe for a baby. I believe we just had to buy a locked box to keep medicine in and buy (but not even install) cabinet locks and a car seat. She also took a look at our car to make sure it was in safe and working condition.

Before the second visit, it was our job to complete the paperwork and background checks and send it over to our social worker, plus buy/make the changes to our home that she had requested. We also had to attend one in person adoption course where they prepared us for some of the harder topics that can come with adoption, such as drug/alcohol use and the lasting effects of those, talking with your child about adoption, etc.

During our second visit, we went over the paperwork and filled in any final things we had questions on. Then we showed her the home safety updates we had made/bought. And last, she interviewed us each individually. This is for the sole purpose of making sure that one parent isn’t being forced into starting the adoption process, that they aren’t in an unsafe environment (i.e. domestic abuse), etc. It gives each parent a chance to say something they may not say with the other around if they are in danger. But she just asked us each questions about ourselves and each other, and since none of the above was the case for us, that was that!

Then, she took all the information she had gathered and put it into a report for her supervisor, who then approved us!

Did you change anything in your lifestyle/home life to seem more “together” or “adult” for the home study?

Nope! I remember before the first home visit absolutely freaking out because the house wasn’t perfectly spotless. Which just sounds so ridiculous to me now. Social workers are made out to be such evil people in the movies and the media, and while I’m sure there are some difficult ones out there (like in any profession!), that just is NOT the norm! Our social worker was so sweet and patient with us, and so helpful to us throughout the home study process. She didn’t care if there was a crumb on the stove or a pillow out of place. She simply wanted to make sure we had a safe home and were in a stable (but normal, i.e., we fight sometimes! And we told her that!) relationship.

What do you wish you knew or had done in those first steps of the process?

I wish I had known how… not scary it was? People talk a LOT about how overwhelming and intense the paperwork was and we were terrified as a result. But honestly, it wasn’t bad… like at all. We kept waiting for a huge boatload of work to be dumped on us but it all felt super manageable and honestly, the questions you have to answer are ones I think every couple should have to answer before becoming parents! We were grateful to have been prompted to think about things like how we planned to discipline our child, how we handle arguments, etc. etc. We just took one weekend and really powered through the bulk of the paperwork that involved a lot of writing (namely, our autobiographies) and the rest was smooth sailing.

Next up I’ll be answering questions about everything that happens between being approved as a “waiting family” and the moment your baby is placed in your arms. As always, I already have a bunch on my list but feel free to leave any questions below!

4 comments

  • Mia Rose Lentinell

    I’m a social worker and LOLing at the social workers are made out to be evil comment which is SO true lolol. When people find out I’m a social worker they automatically assume I work in child protective services or they pity me that my job must be “sad”. Anyway, I plan to adopt one day and I thank you and Jeff very much for sharing this with the online world!! xoxo

  • Amanda

    I love your thoughtful answer on transracial adoption! Thanks, as always, for sharing.

  • Alexandra

    I don’t plan on adopting (or having kids at all) but I love your candor and this series is still fascinating to me. Thank you so much for sharing!

    http://www.onlylivingirlny.com

  • Mia S

    I love your honesty regarding trans-racial adoption. Those are such good questions to ask, and I don’t know that I would’ve thought of them! I’m not necessarily looking to adopt (just love reading y’all’s life updates!) but this is so informative! Thank you for sharing all of this. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will find it so helpful 🙂

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