Parents who build a family through adoption are facing some new challenges. ParentMap's Malia Jocobson joined KING 5 to talk about how social and economic forces are shaping the modern adoption process.
What do the numbers look like? Are more children being adopted these days?
There are an estimated 7 million adopted children in the US today, but as to whether that's more or less than in the past, it depends on the type of adoption you're talking about. There are three types of adoption: private adoption though an agency or attorney, foster care adoption and international adoption.
The number of international adoptions has actually fallen steeply. American parents adopted 22,884 children from other countries in 2004, but that number fell to just 12,753 in 2009.
One of the main reasons is that countries are closing or drastically changing their international adoption programs. Russia, one of the top countries of origin for American parents adopting internationally, is now closed to prospective parents in the US. Guatemala, Haiti, Rwanda and Vietnam are also on the "closed" list. Ethiopia has cut down international adoptions by 80 percent, and the wait to adopt a child from the non-special needs program in China is at least five years.
At the same time, foster to adopt programs are thriving. Between 1995 to 1998, they increased 40 percent to 36,000; by 2008, 55,000 children were adopted from foster care.
What's behind the rise in foster care adoptions? Are these all older kids being adopted?
Absolutely not. You can adopt an infant from foster care, even taking a newborn home from the hospital.
The perception that foster care adoptions are all older children with behavior problems is untrue. But one big factor behind the rise in foster care adoptions is cost. There's also little or no cost to the adopting family -- there are no agency fees, legal fees are often minimal and reimbursed by the state, and parents can claim the adoption tax credit (as can parents adopting internationally or through an agency or attorney).
What do costs look like for other types of adoption?
They can be prohibitive. Costs for private domestic adoptions have doubled in the past 15 years. Parents adopting a decade or so ago could expect fees around $15,000 for attorney, agency and state fees. Now the figure is closer to $30,000. Families are meeting this challenge in some creative ways, though. They're fundraising, they're taking out loans. Some families receive help from other family members or from their church.
What about social perceptions of adoption? Are those changing?
Definitely. Adoption has long been considered a win-win-win situation -- good for the birth mother, the child and the adoptive parents -- but there was still stigma attached. And in the past, adoptions were commonly hidden. The adoptive parents might not even tell the child he was adopted until adulthood, or maybe not ever.
Today the vast majority of domestic agency adoptions are open. Ninety-five percent of adoption agencies offer open adoptions. In many cases the birth mother continues to have a relationship with the child and the adoptive family. Research shows that open adoptions have psychological benefits for birth mothers and adopted children.
What are some guidelines for families considering adoption?
- Talk to other parents. You want to talk to as many other adoptive parents as possible. Find out which agency they used, or which attorney.
- Choose skilled professionals. Adoption can be a legal and emotional maze. You need the guidance of an experienced adoption professional. Ask for references and reviews from any agency, attorney or adoption facilitator you're considering.
- Plan for success. The type of adoption that's best for your family depends on your goals, your timeline and your resources. Take time to consider how long you can wait to bring a child home and how you'll cover expenses.
- Find support. Many adoption agencies have online support groups, message boards and, increasingly, Facebook groups, where parents can ask questions and support each other. This type of support can make all the difference in your adoption experience, so take advantage of these resources.