Practical Guide to Practically Everything – NY Times

Adapted from “The New York Times Practical Guide to Practically Everything,” edited by Amy D. Bernstein and Peter W. Bernstein.


Welcoming an adopted infant or child into your life can bring  tremendous joy.  And rest assured, though there is a small but  significant risk that  your child’s birth parents might change their  minds and decide to keep the child before the adoption becomes final,  most adoptive parents complete the     process successfully. These days open adoption, which allows children  to know their birth parents, is increasingly possible.

The Ethnic Choice

There  are many different ways to adopt a child and many different public and  private agencies nationally and internationally that can help you  through     the process. Whatever options you choose to pursue, be prepared to  contend with what can be a wait of many months, or even years, and lots  of     paperwork, particularly in the case of international adoptions. These  hurdles and delays can be a useful test of your commitment to completing  an     adoption.

Here are some helpful tips for how to adopt an infant or child and information on some of the options available.

Getting Started

The following adoption checklist, which can help ensure a  successful adoption, was provided by a not-for-profit organization based in Saint Paul, Minn.:

1. Examine what’s motivating you to adopt.  The first step for  anyone considering adoption is to make sure you’re firmly committed to  rearing and nurturing a child. Look very carefully at your skills and  strengths as a person, and how they translate to being an effective  parent.

If you’re dealing with infertility, it’s important to acknowledge  that you’re unlikely to bear children. You should see adoption not as a  second-best option, but as an alternative way to become a parent and create a  family. You may also want to learn more about gestational surrogacy, or     third-party reproduction.  But be aware that the field is still a maze of     legal issues, which are being addressed through laws and regulations  proposed by the American Bar Association and the American College of  Pediatricians     and Gynecologists.

2. Decide what kind of child you can effectively parent. Some families consider adopting only a healthy same-race infant, and  seldom think of a child with special needs or one born in another  country. Assess your strengths and decide what you are open to and can  manage.

Consider whether you can integrate the rich yet different cultural  background of a child from another country. You will need a plan to  incorporate that heritage into your family’s life.

3. Learn as much as you can about adoption and how it meets a child’s need for a family.   Find out about the children waiting for adoption in the United States  and other countries. As you consider the types of adoption programs     available, you will come to an understanding of how your desire to be a  parent matches a child’s need for a family.

You will also learn how your hopes for a particular kind     of child affect your program options and wait times. Take advantage of  educational opportunities that prepare you for adoptive parenting and  set the     stage for you to begin the process of adoption with good information  and confidence.

4. Learn what your state law requires of agencies and families to complete an adoption.  Also find out what is required by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services for international adoption.

Among the first things a family should do is contact their state’s  department of social services and talk to an adoption supervisor to  learn about   legal requirements.

5. Choose the type of adoption that interests you.  One of the first decisions is whether you’d like to adopt an older  child, in which case you can     also adopt through a public agency, which primarily works with foster  care and group homes. Some infants are also placed in foster care.

If you want to adopt an infant or a child from another country,  including older children, you will work with a private agency. You can  also opt for an     independent, or private, adoption (state law permitting), in which  adoptive parents work with a lawyer or other non-agency adoption  provider to find a     birth parent or child. There are certain risks with private adoptions  and more of a safety net with an agency.

6. Assess the costs.  The cost of adopting a child ranges  from several thousand dollars to upwards of $40,000, particularly for an  adoption done with a private agency  and/or an attorney. However,  parents adopting a child through a  state system do not pay for adoption     expenses and actually receive adoption assistance after placement,  including certain out-of-pocket expenses.

Private  adoption has the reputation of being more expensive because  the costs usually aren’t set up front. Some agencies may charge on a  sliding scale     basis.

Different agencies have different fee structures, services and  missions. Try to get details about the services they provide, and insist  that     they assign a service to each fee.

International adoptions also tend to be more expensive because of the costs for additional documents and travel.

7. Expect to feel as though you’re being examined during the adoption process.   Most agencies now offer open adoptions, which means that the birth  parent(s) choose(s) which prospective adopter(s) they want to adopt  their child, and     the two families make an adoption plan together. The agency staff can  and does compile a book of dossiers with biographical information about     prospective families for birth parents to review. Some prospective  adopters choose international adoption because they feel uncomfortable  with the open     plan or the feeling of “marketing” themselves.

8. Be honest during the adoption study, commonly known as a “home study.”  All prospective adoptive parents must undergo the process, which helps  agency personnel assess your readiness for adoptive parenting.

It’s not unlike applying for a mortgage, with lots of personal  questions to answer that require verification. For example, staff  members assess what’s     motivating you to adopt, how you were parented and how you plan to  discipline the child. They’ll also ask for references and look at your  finances and     psychological stability.

If you have a criminal history or a history of psychiatric  illnesses, you need to fully disclose these details — don’t lie about  the situation — or it     will cause greater problems than if you’re upfront and explain what’s  what. Agencies will also follow up with thorough background checks.

Think about the type of child you want to adopt and which program  helps you meet that goal. If you want to adopt a domestic newborn, then  you need to     consider your comfort with an open adoption. You and the adoption  staff members will likely work directly with a birth family in devising a  plan for communication after you adopt the baby. Think not only about  your feelings now, but also about how     your relationship with your child’s birth family might evolve.

9. Find out how quickly adopted children join their adoptive families.     In the case of open adoption, agencies have a difficult time  estimating the wait time.  The agency should be able to give you a time  line, though  —     how long the home study takes and the average wait period. Be flexible  and remember that agencies really act as a family’s advocate in the  process.     Because they work on a child’s behalf, they are seeking families that  are good matches for the children.

10. Make sure you’re working with reputable people.     Unless the people you are working with are competent, qualified and  ethical, the whole process is jeopardized. If you opt for a private  adoption, don’t     go to a family lawyer unless he or she has experience in adoption. And  bear in mind that just because a lawyer knows how to complete an  adoption     according to the letter of the law, it doesn’t mean he or she has a  background in or understanding of the sociological and psychological  aspects of     adoption.

11. In an international adoption, be aware of cultural differences.     What may be culturally acceptable in other countries may be counter to  your experience or what may be deemed acceptable. For example, some     adoptive families said they were asked for gifts that they thought  were bribes. A reputable, ethical American agency  won’t allow gifts  other than the small customary presents you would take to a host.

Open Adoptions

While there are no national statistics,     open adoption has become increasingly common.  In such adoptions, birth parents  choose the adopting parents for their child. Prospective parents get  more information about     the birth parents and in some  —  not all  —  cases even have contact  with them.

Harold Grotevant, a     University of Minnesota professor who is a leading experts in open adoptions, says there has  been a clear-cut swing from confidential to open adoptions.  Adoptive  Families     magazine started an “Ask the Experts” column on open adoption in 2007.  The column now gets more queries than any other column in the magazine,  said     Susan Caughman, the magazine’s editor.

Transracial Adoptions

A     grow­­­­ing number of white couples are pushing past longtime cultural resistance to adopt black children.  In 2004, for example, 26 percent of black children adopted from foster  care,     about 4,200, were adopted transracially, nearly all by whites. That  was up from roughly 14 percent, or 2,200, in 1998, according to a 2006  New York     Times analysis of data from the National Data Archive on Child Abuse  and Neglect at     Cornell University and from the     Department of Health and Human Services.

“It is a significant increase,” said Rita Simon, a sociologist at  AmericanUniversity, who has written several books on transracial  adoption. “It is     getting easier, bureaucratically and socially. With so many people  going overseas, people are also increasingly saying, Wait a minute,  there are     children here who need to be adopted, too.”

The 2000 census — the first in which information on adoptions was  collected — showed that just over 16,000 white households included  adopted black     children. Adoption experts say there has been a notable increase since  2000.

The reasons for the increase are varied. The Multiethnic Placement  Act and its amendments prohibited federally financed agencies from  denying adoption     based on race. The foster care system has sharply changed in recent  years and now includes financial incentives for finding more adoptive  families.

In 2008, a report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute  criticized the Multiethnic Placement Act, which plays down race and  culture in adoptions.     The report,     based on an examination of the law’s impact over a decade , said that minority children adopted into white households face  special challenges and that white parents need preparation and training  for what might     lie ahead.

At the same time, the combination of legal changes and greater  embracing of multicultural families — Americans have adopted more than  200,000 children     from overseas in the past 20 years — have lessened resistance from  both blacks and whites. The long wait for white children and the high  costs of     international adoptions have also played a role.

And agencies are offering courses to help adoptive parents enter the process with more cultural openness and awareness.

To read more about transracial adoption, click here.

The Ethnic Choice

One of the     largest studies of transracial adoptions , released in November 2009, focused on the first generation of  children adopted from South Korea. The report issued by the Evan B.  Donaldson Adoption     Institute, a nonprofit adoption research and policy group based in New  York, found that 78 percent of those who responded had considered  themselves to     be white or had wanted to be white when they were children. Sixty  percent indicated their racial identity had become important by the time  they were in     middle school, and, as adults, nearly 61 percent said they had  traveled to Korea both to learn more about the culture and to find their  birth parents.

Most Korean adoptees were raised in predominantly white neighborhoods  and saw few, if any, people who looked like them. The report also found  that the     children were teased and experienced racial discrimination, often from  teachers. And only a minority of the respondents said they felt  welcomed by     members of their own ethnic group.

As a result, many of them have had trouble coming to terms with their racial and ethnic identities.

Since 1953, parents in the United States have adopted more than a  half-million children from other countries, the vast majority of them  from orphanages     in Asia, South America and, most recently, Africa. Yet the impact of  such adoptions on identity has been only sporadically studied. The  authors of the     Donaldson Adoption Institute study said they hoped their work would  guide policymakers, parents and adoption agencies in helping the current  generation     of children adopted from Asian countries to form healthy identities.

The study recommended several changes in adoption practices that the  institute said are important, including better support for adoptive  parents and     recognition that adoption grows in significance for their children  from young adulthood on, and throughout adulthood.

South Korea was the first country from which Americans adopted in  significant numbers. From 1953 to 2007, an estimated 160,000 South  Korean children     were adopted by people from other countries, most of them in the  United States. They make up the largest group of transracial adoptees in  the United     States and, by some estimates, are 10 percent of the nation’s Korean  population.

The report says that significant changes have occurred since the first  generation of adopted children were brought to the United States, a  time when     parents were told to assimilate the children into their families  without regard for their native culture.

Yet even adoptees who are exposed to their culture and have parents  who discuss issues of race and discrimination say they found it  difficult growing     up.

Heidi Weitzman, who was adopted from Korea when she was 7 months old  and who grew up in ethnically mixed neighborhoods in St. Paul, said her  parents     were in touch with other parents with Korean children and even offered  to send her to a “culture camp” where she could learn about her  heritage.

“I was 21 before I could look in the mirror and not be surprised by  what I saw staring back at me,” she said. “The process of discovering  who I am has     been a long process, and I’m still on it.”

Ms. Weitzman’s road to self-discovery was fairly typical of the 179  Korean adoptees with two Caucasian parents who responded to the  Donaldson Adoption     Institute survey. Most said they began to think of themselves more as  Korean when they attended college or moved to ethnically diverse  neighborhoods as     adults.

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