Legally, adoption is defined as the transfer of the parental rights of a child from one set of parents to another. Once an adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents are legally (and otherwise) the parents in every sense of the word. But leaving the definition at that misses the heart behind adoption, particularly for us as Christians.
Let's step back and look at the big picture. Ephesians 1:4-5 says, "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will."
As John Piper so eloquently puts it, "adoption … is greater than the universe … Adoption was part of God's plan. It was his idea, his purpose. It was not an afterthought. He didn't discover one day that against his plan and foreknowledge humans had sinned and orphaned themselves in the world, and then come up with the idea of adopting them into his family. No, Paul says, he predestined adoption. He planned it."1
For some reason, adoption can have a negative stigma associated with it, partly due to the horror stories we've all heard. But what we have to remember is that adoption is designed to bring healing to a child that has been abused, neglected, abandoned or unable to be cared for by birth parents. It's because of this that adoption is even an option.
Families considering adoption first need to agree (particularly mom and dad) that it is something your family should consider further. It's also important to evaluate the reasons for considering adoption as well as any expectations. Adoption has to be focused on the needs of the kids rather than the needs and desires of the adults. Take the time to evaluate your motivation in adoption. If it is to "round out your family" because you want a girl or to fill an unmet need to be a parent, your tendency will be to put your needs before the child's needs, which doesn't help anyone.
Once you decide that adoption is the right decision for your family, the next step is to decide which type of adoption you will pursue and to select an appropriate agency. From there, the agency will walk you through the other steps such as paperwork, a home study, background check and training.
Adoptions can be divided into three main categories: domestic adoption from foster care, domestic infant adoption or international adoption.
Currently, approximately 127,000 children and youth are in US foster care awaiting adoption into a permanent family. Because their birth family was unable to provide a safe home for them, their rights were terminated, leaving these kids as legal orphans. They are currently in the custody of the state, and case workers are consistently recruiting new adoptive families
These kids tend to be older, have siblings in care and are ethnic minorities. In addition, many struggle with emotional, mental or physical challenges. Adoption from foster care should be completed through a licensed agency and generally costs less than $500 (if anything at all).
In a domestic infant adoption, a birth mother makes an intentional adoption plan for the baby. Often this involves working directly with a licensed placing agency that will facilitate the adoption between the birth mother and the adoptive parents. Agencies licensed to do this often have many potential adoptive families, and the birth mother frequently has some level of input on who the adoptive family should be.
Domestic infant adoption can be relatively expensive, and it can involve a lengthy waiting period, particularly for families that are very specific about the child they're waiting for. However, for families only considering infant adoption, this tends to be the best option. Families should research the agency they desire to work with to be sure it is reputable.
International adoptions involve adopting children from another country. Not all countries are open to adoption by US citizens, and not all agencies are licensed to facilitate adoptions from all countries. Because it involves two federal governments, families must meet the adoption requirements for each country.
Before starting down this path, take the time to research agencies and ask question in order to identify those agencies best qualified and experienced to complete the adoption. International adoption is also typically expensive, and the wait can be lengthy. It's also important to understand that a country reserves the right to deny an adoption or close adoption proceedings abruptly if they deem it necessary or appropriate regardless of the number of families currently in the process.
One thing to consider when looking into adoption is open versus closed. In a closed adoption, the birth and adoptive families have no contact with one another and don't even know each other's identities. Levels of open adoption can range from contact only before and at the birth of the baby, letters and pictures sent through the agency or other third party, or ongoing direct contact between the birth and adoptive families.
It's always important to evaluate the needs of the child when determining how open an adoption should be. In some situations, it may not be healthy for a child to maintain contact with birth family if, for example, they will be a negative influence on the child or will not respect the rights of the adoptive parents.
A new option available to parents, and one that is especially attractive to infertile couples, is "embryo adoption." Couples who are attempting pregnancy by in vitro fertilization often create more zygotes than are used, which are subsequently frozen for storage. The genetic parents may choose to place these zygotes for "adoption," making them available to another couple for pregnancy through an embryo adoption agency. They are then implanted via in vitro fertilization into the adoptive mother, making her also the legal birth mother — able to experience pregnancy, childbirth and nursing.
"There is never so much love in the world that reaching out is a bad idea." — an adopted child.
Currently, nearly 500,000 children and youth are in the United States foster care system. These children have all entered the system due to abuse, neglect or abandonment on the part of birth parent. Of those kids in foster care, between 120,000 and 130,000 are considered legal orphans and are awaiting adoption into a permanent family. For these kids, birth parent's rights had to be terminated because they were unable to provide a safe and secure home for the kids. Now they are waiting for someone to give them a second chance.
Often, prospective adoptive families disregard adoption from foster care for any number of reasons, but it's important to recognize these kids need help just as much as orphans anywhere else in the world. Because they are in foster care and not on the street somewhere, we have wrongly assumed they are getting all the care they need.
The reality is that kids in foster care move from home to home for any or no reason at all. Many feel unwanted and unloved as they have no permanency in their lives. The fact that they have their basic needs met — a roof over their heads and food to eat — pales in comparison to the need for a permanent and consistent family.
Many children in foster care may have one or more special needs. These needs include: siblings also in need of a family, prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, developmental delays, are older than five or are minorities. The sooner they find permanency, the better. For the majority of these kids, they have been given a label or a stigma that tends to identify them as "not good enough" or "second class." But we know the reality — these kids are as loved by God as any child.
Adoption from foster care costs virtually nothing and is often less than $500. In addition, many expenses may be reimbursed through the state. Most states also provide Medicaid coverage for a child until they are 18 regardless of when an adoption was finalized. A licensed agency in your state can specifically address the particular assistance available.
In some instances, the special needs of a child are not particularly difficult for a family to address as they may have insight or experience in a particular area. However, having lived through difficult circumstances that often lacked stability and consistency, many of these kids also struggle with emotional challenges. No matter the needs, being realistic about them and planning ahead on how to deal with them increases the likelihood of success.
Many children will frequently test their parents, often because it takes time for adoptive parents to prove that they are really in it for the long haul. Older child in particular may need help unlearning some of the "survival skills" they learned along the way. Remember, kids in foster care are frequently moved from home to home for any or no reason and lack the stability of a permanent family. If you're like the other families they've been placed with, kids figure they'll only be with you for a short time and will be hesitant to really form lasting connections. Again, it's about the needs of the child and providing what they need rather than letting the needs or wants of the adults interfere.
It's important to take time as a family to really evaluate if you are able to meet the child's needs — emotional, medical, physical, cultural, etc. Set aside time to talk and pray together about the changes your family will need to make. Attend counseling and support groups as much as necessary, and be sure to ask for help and support when needed.
Once you've made a decision to further pursue adoption, be sure to talk with other adoptive families as well as other families that have used the same agency you're considering. Then, begin praying about the specific child God wants to set into your family and prepare to welcome him or her home!
For more information on adoption from foster care in your state, visit iCareAboutOrphans.org/StateAdoptionRequirements.aspx.
In some ways, adoption is like pregnancy. Both are filled with expectations and the hope of an expanded family, but it is also a time of uncertainty. It is critical for families to evaluate their expectations and be realistic about their limitations. Certainly God is in control of our circumstances, but it's important to pay attention to His voice throughout this process. The better prepared your family is, the more you'll feel ready to navigate the waters of adoption.