Private Adoption - How does it work?

How does one even figure out how to get started when looking into adoption?? It can be quite an overwhelming thing!! So, we are going to give you the skinny on how private domestic adoption works.  David and have done 2 private domestic adoptions, we just officially finalized one and the second one will be soon, so I can share what we've experienced and the process.  Holly shared the process to adopt from the foster system, you can read that HERE.  There are huge differences in how each of these processes works and even a different set of laws they fall under. 

Private Adoption by definition is: an adoption arranged by a privately-funded, licensed adoption agency.  There are costs involved, private domestic adoption is typically $20,000-$40,000 depending on the state and agency. This is usually the biggest deterrent people say when considering adoption. Take a step back and think about it. How much is the car or 2 cars sitting in your drive way and how long will you keep them?  3 years, 5 years? Initially when David and I were looking at our options for adoption, we were hesitant on working with a private agency because it just sounds wrong that you are paying to have a child become part of your family.  In reality though, you are paying that amount so that a birth mother can make the most unselfish decision she will ever make, giving her child a home and a life that she probably wouldn't be able, or isn't ready to provide.  A lot of these kids would probably end up in the foster system if that mom didn't make that choice. I know for a fact that one of our babies would be in the system right now if it wasn't for her mom making the decision to place her for adoption.  Now she will not have to endure the potential numerous foster homes, and years before should would actually be able to be adopted or even aging out of the system.  I'm telling you, it is worth every penny, it's rescuing a child and giving them love and a life they might never have.

Ok, off the soapbox:-) Here's from my perspective the steps you can follow to get started:

1.  Start researching adoption agencies - There are a LOT of adoption agencies out there. Some reputable, many not so reputable.  We have a couple listed on our resources page that we have worked with and know are amazing. David and I opted for a small local agency (Finally Home Christian Adoption Services) because it was faith based and we knew the person who started the agency. You really have to be confident in the agency you are working with, their fee structure, and their support to you and even more importantly to the birth mom. 

2. Once you choose an agency they will have a process for you to follow.  There are a lot of documents you will have to fill out to be qualified, as well as having an approved home study. The main things are; proof of income and expenses, background checks, references, why you want to adopt and the list goes on. 

3. Application and Preferences - This is part of the paperwork you will fill out but it's important so I am making it it's own item:-) Your agency should require you to state what type of things you are open to in terms of a potential child you could be matched with. This includes race, gender, age, siblings, drug exposure during pregnancy, HIV, alcohol during pregnancy, disabilities (both mental and physical) and other factors. You have to decide what your family can handle and what you are open to. We also did a lot of research on our own in terms of HIV and exposure to drugs because we had no idea what the effects are. HIV I thought was the most interesting.  If the birth mom is on medication and generally has a c-section the rate of the baby being HIV + is <2%. That is just amazing to me how medicine has gotten to that place.  You can plan, and research as much as you want to, but at some point no matter what happens, you have to decide if that is the child that is meant to be a part of your family.

4. Home Study - This is a requirement by law that the agency you choose has to perform and you have to be approved for before you can have an adoptive placement.  There is an actual in home visit and interview with a licensed professional or social worker.  All the paperwork you filled out will also be a part of the home study which will check marital status, income, health, references, and background check for criminal and abuse history. 

5. Family Profile Book - While all these other things are in process you will have to make a book about your family.  This is what your adoption agency will present to birth moms or parents, that are working with your agency to place their children for adoption. It can be a little overwhelming because you have to basically do a book of your life and show photos of things like your home, family members, activities, your wedding, why you want to adopt, a letter to the potential birth mom, pets, hobbies, vacations etc! I had to do ours very quickly and thankfully since I am a photographer I'm very organized and could pull images. Here's what the cover of our book looks like. I basically googled "adoption family profile book" and I used MixBook to actually build the album because it was super easy to throw in pictures and text.
Here's a couple articles I used that helped:
- Adoptive Families
- Adoptive Family Circle
There are even companies you can pay to do one for you like this one: Little Blessings Adoption. It was tempting, but I literally had one day to do ours so I just used ideas from articles and examples to organize our info.

6. Waiting - Once your home study is approved then the waiting begins. It can be long or short depending the things you are open to that you stated in your application and family profile.  Typically, for a newborn the waiting process they say is about a year.  Sometimes it's much shorter and sometimes it's much longer. Generally, the more open your profile the faster it can be.  When you are in process don't be afraid to let friends and family know what you are doing and that you are in process.  Many times matches occur because a friend of a friend knows someone who is thinking about adoption and you never know what might happen!

7. Match - Adoption agencies also have a process for working with prospective birth mom's. When a birth mom signs on with an agency and has committed to the process they will then be presented family profiles to choose who they think will be the best fit for their child. Once the birth mom officially choses the family, depending on the situation there can be a lot of interaction with the birth mom or very little.  This can include going to doctor appointments and getting to know her.  Every situation is totally different. The agency we chose really focuses on the birth mom, which we really liked because they did weekly counseling with her that walked her through a lot of the emotional things she was going through and getting her ready for the emotions she would experience when the baby was born. Birth moms have to actually decide to place their children for adoption 2 times.  Once when they actually sign on with an agency and a second time after they give birth and officially have to sign the documents and handing the baby over to the adoptive family.  

8. Costs - You usually just hear a blanket amount of how much adoption costs but not really an explanation of it's for.  The adoption agency you choose should give you a detailed fee schedule about what amounts are due when.  There's agency fees, legal fees, and also a legal amount of birth mother expenses by law allowed.  In Florida it's $5000, but it does vary by state.  
Examples of what agency fees include are:
- Application process
- Adoption training
- Background checks 
- Home study
- Birth parent paperwork 
- Birth parent counseling and support
- Administration fees
- Initial legal fees
- Post placement visits
Legal Expense:
- Document filing
- Birth certificate
- Certified copies of judgements
- Court representation
Birthparent Expense:
- In Florida these are not to exceed $5000 unless approved by the court
- The agency should determine a budget with the birthparent for necessary living expenses like food, rent, utilities, clothing, etc that must meet legal guidelines
- These should all be itemized and presented to you before the finalization hearing. I don't know if all agencies do this, but our agency even reimbursed us when the amount budgeted was not fully used.
- Medial care of the baby at time of birth are the responsibility of the adoptive parents. This scared me at first because you never know what can happen, but our agency gave us a letter to present to our adoption agency so that our normal medial insurance covered the baby beginning from birth. This is something you need to check with your insurance company at the beginning to see what their policy is.  

When you add all of these tasks up, and there are more these are just the big ones, the time and legal services that go into a successful adoption should make sense.  

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8. Birth - It's an exciting and emotional time when the baby is actually coming!  Again, each situation and the adoptive parents' involvement is totally different.  With each of our babies' births we knew we would go to the hospital when contractions started to be about 2 minutes apart.  Our first daughter's birth mom was induced on 2/14 and we thought we would have a Valentine's day baby! Maddie wasn't actually born until 2/16 at 12:35am, so we were on pins and needles for like 2 days.  It's good to have a task to work on, I left painting our nursery for our project and I'm glad we did because we had literally 36 hours where we needed something to occupy our time.  For Maddie's birth we were in the waiting room while she was born and we got to see her right after, while they were weighting her and we got to feed her for the first time. For Evie, our 2nd one, I was actually in the room and got to see her being born and cut the cord.  Different hospitals have different policies for how involved they will allow adoptive families to be.  The hospital our girls were born at was very adoption friendly and as long as you are there before the baby is born, you can get the 2nd wristband so you can go in and out of the nursery and stay with the baby there if necessary.  

9. Hospital time - Our adoptions were both open adoptions, which means that we have interaction with the birth mom, closed adoption is no or little access.  So I'm going to describe this in terms of open adoption. I'm going to do a blog posting on exactly what both open and closed means because that seems to be another thing people are scared of.  The time after the baby is born, until you get to bring them home is probably the most emotional part of the process, and difficult to explain how it feels. In Florida, the birth mom has to sign over rights to the baby to the adoption agency before she is discharged from the hospital, which is generally 48 hours after birth, sometimes longer if she has a c-section. Again, each situation is going to be different. You want to be happy and spend time with the baby, but this is also the time that the birth mom has to connect with and come to terms with her decision.  With both of ours, the hospital gave us a separate room so that we could spend time with baby but just down the hall from the birth mom so whenever she wanted to see her she could.  It's a very tricky situation because you want to spend time with the baby, but not too much time that the birth mom doesn't get to, but not too little time that you aren't committed. I can't really think of another example of what unselfishness looks like, a birth mom placing her child for adoption is the ultimate example. She needs to feel loved and supported and to know that you are going to love that child with all your heart forever. 

10. Signing - That 48 hours can seem like an eternity because until the birth mom signs the paperwork it's not done. Our adoption agent called us after the signing so that we could come and see the birth mom before she was discharged.  With both of ours, we all prayed and cried together with the birth mom and wanted her to feel loved and secure that these sweet babies would be loved and grow up in the home they wanted for them. If the birth mom doesn't feel secure, loved, and supported she may not go through with her decision in the end.  At our hospital it was funny because even though I didn't give birth, I had to be wheeled out in the wheel chair as if I had. Leaving the hospital is one of the happiest moments you will ever have, it's not the end, it's the beginning of something amazing.

11.  Post Placement - After you bring baby home, there will generally be several post placement visits by your agency to make sure that everything is going smoothly.  It's also a requirement so that you can finalize the adoption in court.  In Florida, once the birth mother signs, she can not change her decision.  In some states, they can change their mind after a certain timeframe like 30 or 60 days even after the baby has already gone home to the adoptive parents. Your agency so make you aware or what the law is in your current state.

12. Finalization - In Florida, you can officially go to court for the adoption finalization hearing after 90 days. Sometimes it takes longer depending on how backed up the courts are. The hearing is really a legal celebration of the decision you have made to adopt.  The judges are generally very nice and happy during this hearing because it's probably one of the only happy things they get to do. In Hillsborough County family court, you can bring family and friends, and also have photo and video taken during the hearing. They also give the child a teddy bear which is really sweet.  You basically take an oath that you are going to love and provide for the child for their entire life just as if you had actually given birth.  It's a really awesome and amazing feeling to legally and officially finalize an adoption.  I'll be sharing photos and video from Maddie's when I get them so you can see what it feels like.

13. Risks - Adoption is never a for sure thing until it's done.  We didn't tell many people or make it public until after our birth moms had signed the paperwork and we were bringing our babies home.  Sometimes it doesn't work out and the birth mom does not actually go through with her decision.  We had just come off of a very emotional foster case so we were cautiously optimistic but we were in a good frame of mind because we knew if it was meant to be it would happen.  It's a huge risk you take both monetarily and also emotionally.  But giving birth yourself is a huge risk in the same way so it's actually not that different. You have to really trust your agency and their process to ensure that the mom's needs are being taken care of so that she can make the best decision. Some agencies won't refund any of the money you have already paid, and some will put it towards a future adoption if it's services that were already completed like a home study, application, etc. You have to pray and trust that God will put in your home the children he wants to be there, and you don't really have any control over it. It's scary, but amazing, because if you are along for the ride and open truly amazing things can happen.