With the striking down of Roe v. Wade, professionals in the industry are preparing for an increase of children as mothers may consider adoption instead of abortion.
From the outside looking in, adoption can appear daunting. Those seeking to adopt face mountains of paperwork, a lengthy home-study process, travel, court proceedings and countless other requirements before they can take a child home. Yet there is an undeniable benefit to adopting for both the adopted child and the adoptive parents.
While it is difficult to find an exact number as to how many parents in the U.S. are waiting to adopt, some sources estimate there are about two million couples currently waiting, which means there are as many as 36 waiting families for every one child who is placed for adoption. According to Adoptionnetwork.com, around 140,000 children are adopted by American families each year.
Aspiring adoptive parents can pursue adoption through several means, such as adoption agencies, adoption consultants, private adoptions or going through the state Department of Human Resources (DHR).
Agency adoptions are by far the most common method of adoption nationwide. Whether a parent wishes to adopt a child domestically or internationally, agencies help prospective parents navigate the details of the process.
Adoption consultants are another avenue that can be used to work through multiple agencies at once. While this can be a more expensive option, it also increases the chances of finding a child.
Private adoptions occur when the adopting parents do not use an agency but directly communicate with the birth mother. These adoptions require an introduction between the mother and the adoptive parents. This means that the adoption can proceed without an intermediary organization, but there are still several state requirements and legal fees that must be met. Private adoptions can fall through if the birth mother changes her mind and decides to keep the baby, which is a decision that can be made up to 90 days after the adoptive parents acquire the baby.
High Costs Associated with Adoption
Of those who spoke to 1819 News about their adoption experiences through an agency or consultants, the prices ranged anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000. Other costs can accrue due to lodging, food and travel during the process of adoption, particularly with overseas adoptions and those out of state.
“The money is, of course, a lot,” said Lauren Brown, an adoptive mother from Eclectic. “They are worth every penny; they are a blessing from God.
“The time is also a factor. You must have all your finances in order. ... they want to know that you can provide for a child, you have to get reference letters, you have to get medical examinations. There’s just a huge list of stuff that you have to get done; they’re all doable, they’re just time-consuming.”
Most of the time, parents who wish to adopt through an agency will be forced to fundraise, and many have been forced to take out loans to pay the costs associated with the process.
“You’ll see an agency that says it costs $20,000, and you’re thinking, ‘Well, that’s better than $50,000 or $60,000,’ but they don’t tell you that doesn’t count your home study; it doesn’t include all the classes and certifications, background checks and CPR classes,” said Kristy Scroggins, who has been trying to adopt for over a year. “The state of Alabama requires you to do a survival swim class in the first year you have the child, and they are really expensive swim classes. It also doesn’t include your court fees or lawyer fees. So, the $20,000 is just for them to act as an organizer.”
“Me, my husband and my three boys all had to have physicals, and the kids had to have tuberculosis skin tests, and we had to have a letter from our vet because we had a dog at the time,” said Heather Green, a mother who adopted from overseas. “… We had to have letters from our bank; we had to make a list of all our assets; it was a lot.”
Private adoptions can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 due to the mother’s medical care costs, lawyer fees, court fees and other additional costs.
The home study process by DHR alone can last from six months to a year. Many agencies will require adoptive parents to create family profiles with pictures and biographies. Adoptive parents must also complete legal paperwork, mandatory state classes and CPR classes.
Some birth parents insist on open adoption, meaning they can have continued contact with the child. This opens the door for further requests from the birth mother that may make some adoptive parents uncomfortable. Adoptive parents must determine their preference for open or closed adoption.
Some parents claim that the classes required by the state had specific ideological stances on social justice, cultural diversity and critical race theory.
According to one mother, the state required parents to listen to the Invisibilia podcast from National Public Radio (NPR) titled The Culture inside.
“Scientific research has shown that even well-meaning people operate with implicit bias - stereotypes and attitudes we are not fully aware of that nonetheless shape our behavior towards people of color,” the description of the episode reads. “We examine the Implicit Association Test, a widely available psychological test that popularized the notion of implicit bias. And we talk to people who are tackling the question, critical to so much of our behavior: what does it take to change these deeply embedded concepts? Can it even be done?”
Adopting through DHR
If parents have been deemed unfit by the state, their children are placed in the care of DHR and made available for foster care. Children that are abandoned are also taken in by DHR and placed within the foster system.
Those who choose to adopt through agencies expressed displeasure that more of the babies in the care of DHR are not made available to pre-approved parents currently waiting on children.
“These babies that are abandoned become wards of the state and are placed in the foster system,” Scroggins said. “Me and a bunch of other people are wondering why, if the state has this big list of home study approved people, and they are constantly saying they need more foster parents and foster homes, why can’t they contact those people that are approved and say, ‘We have a baby that’s been abandoned, can you come and take it?’ Because all of us are sitting and waiting for a baby, we’ve been approved, and they're scrambling to find foster homes; the child is sent from foster home to foster home essentially their whole life until they can find someone to adopt them, and they’ve got parents ready to go.”
Susan Wyatt, the adoption coordinator at Family Adoption Services in Birmingham, said she has refused clients because of the overabundance of hopefuls currently on a waiting list.
“DHR has hundreds of foster children,” Wyatt said. “But until the [birth] parents relinquish parental rights, those children are not available for adoption. They go into the system, and they go from foster home to foster home. Some of these children age out of the system because nothing is ever done to get them placed into a family.”
According to Caron Sandefur, Clinical Director at Children’s Aid Society, the state has put forth more effort to terminate parental rights for birth parents who continue to show a lack of ability to care for their children, freeing up children in the DHR system for permanent placement.
“Adoption is very possible through the state, but they aren’t babies; they range in age from zero to 21,” Sandefur said. “The ones that are easily adopted are the youngest ones; the ones that are lingering are often older or they may have some behavioral or health problems that make them less likely to find a forever home.”
Ashley Cornwall, who has adopted and fostered multiple children through DHR, says foster-to-adopt programs through DHR are not as common an occurrence as many think.
“The court system is always going to give the biological families every chance they can for reunification,” Cornwall said. “… You have to go into foster care knowing that the child is going to leave.”
Cornwall stated that adopting through DHR can fit the traditional wait times, but she has seen the process take as long as three years.
“That whole process from start to finish was about two years, which is actually on the shorter end of adoption processes.”
Sandefur stated that the length of the process is often due to the home study, which takes time in addition to any necessary adjustments needed afterward, but mentioned the support provided along the way.
“The home study process takes time,” Sandefur said. “… there are things [that need to be] put in place for the safety and wellbeing of the child. There’s a lot of training that’s provided for state adoptions, which is helpful to families so that they’re well prepared to take on a child who has come out of the foster system.”
Once a child is matched with a family, the process picks up speed.
“The birth family has five days to change their minds, no questions asked,” Cornwall said. “So our agency just [kept] the baby for those five days, and then they called and said, ‘Hey, come get your baby.’ [My daughter] was born on October 23, we got the phone call on October 29, and she was home in our arms a little over 24 hours [later] on October 30. I’m a teacher, so thankfully it was Friday. I was literally at work on Friday and was on maternity leave on Monday until after Christmas break.”
Brown was in the unique position of meeting the birth mother before her daughter Reagan was born and was given a room in the hospital for her and her husband to take care of their newborn daughter.
“We met her the week before Reagan was born, so we were connected,” Brown said. “…I was in the room when she was born. The birth mother invited me into the room with her and her mom. Her mom was on one side of her, and I was on the other, and I was actually able to cut the cord. Then the hospital ushered me out with Reagan, to a hospital room that my husband and I had which was down the hall from the birth mother’s room. So, we took care of Reagan until she came home.”
Alabama Lawmaker Support
Lawmakers are aware of the issues surrounding adoption in the state, and, especially after the overturning of Roe, adoption has become a more pressing issue.
“DHR is understaffed and overworked, and they’re not really getting a lot of the care and attention that families need to get through this process,” said State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne). “DHR doesn’t have the ability to help parents the way they should. There’s not a single problem. There’s just a laundry list of nightmares with our current system that absolutely have to be addressed.”
Rep. Ginny Shaver (R-Leesburg) said that for the last several years she and others in the legislature have been working on hefty reforms of the adoption process in the state.
“Through the process as it is now, there are just so many hoops to jump through,” Shaver said. "Adoption is just one part of what DHR does, and they are already understaffed.
“… The Alabama Law Institute has been working for four years to revamp the entire code on adoption, and I’ve participated a little bit with that, but it’s been a very long, drawn-out process.”
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