This article gives an overview of adoption in the United States.
Thinking about adoption? Gay men (single and couples) have more opportunities and options than ever before, but to be successful it is vital to know your options and understand the landscape of adoptions today.
So how does adoption happen? For gay couples and single gay men, domestic adoption is the best route to explore. Domestic adoption can mean an independent, private agency, or a foster care adoption. Understanding the difference between these paths is your first task as a future adoptive parent.
Independent Infant Adoption: For this type of adoption, families work fairly independently to find their future child. You will need an attorney to draw up the contracts and assist you with finalizing your adoption in family court, a social worker to complete your home study and post placement reports, and possibly additional websites, adoption facilitators, and other resources that will help you connect with an expectant parent. Most placements occur within the first weeks of a child's life, or can be a direct placement from the hospital after birth.
Private Agency Adoption: Working with an agency allows adoptive parents to have built-in support services for every step in the process. Agencies will typically prepare the adoptive parent(s), complete their homes study, provide counseling to the birth parents, complete all post placement requirements, and assist with documents for court finalization. Families will still need an attorney for the actual court date. Most placements occur within the first weeks of life, and can be a direct placement from the hospital; there is the possibility of agencies placing older babies, toddlers, or school-aged children.
Agencies also often have programs specifically for children born with special needs. These can range from blindness, cardiac issues, limb differences, or neurological disorders. Depending on the agency, children included in these programs may not have a diagnosed special need but rather present with risk factors such as prenatal alcohol or drug exposure, significant mental illness within the birth family, or a genetic disorder where the outcome for the child is unknown. Agencies often have specialized social workers to educate and guide families through an adoption for a child with special needs.
Adoption from Foster Care: Families who build their family through foster care have two options: become a foster parent to a child who may become legally freed for adoption at some point down the road, or only accept placement of a child who is already legally freed for adoption. When fostering to adopt, families are guided by their agency to an appropriate placement (many will try their best to anticipate the likelihood of the child returning to their birth family) with the understanding that there are no guarantees or promises to what the child's future holds.
If a child does become legally available after being fostered in your home, the entire finalization process can take anywhere from two to five years, depending on the circumstances of the case. These children can be anywhere from birth to 8 years old, and sometimes older. Children in the foster care system may have physical or emotional special needs, or may need therapeutic parenting to address issues of loss, grief, and trauma.
For families who are wary of the risks of fostering to adopt, there are children who are already legally freed for adoption. Typically 8 and up, these children are in foster homes that are not pre-adoptive placements, and a judge has already ruled that reuniting with biological family is not possible. These children are often on adoption photo-listings, on waiting child listings, and featured in other ways, all with the hope of trying to find them a family. Adoptive parents will often meet with the child and have a slow transition to their own home, after which adoption finalization can occur. These children are older, have typically had multiple placements, may be clinically healthy, or also may have physical or emotional special needs.
Of course, knowing your options only gets you part-way there. Understanding what adoption looks like today is vital to establishing realistic expectations and embracing what's to come. Today's domestic adoptions ask parents to be flexible, open, and accepting of the right circumstance for an adoption, not the “right child."
In the past, adoption has been cloaked with secrecy and pain, in many cases “matching" children with families to provide the illusion of a biological connection.
Adoption practice today asks adoptive families to have some form of a relationship with biological parents, tell children they are adopted and answer their questions in developmentally appropriate ways, and prepare themselves for the challenges of being an inter-racial or inter-cultural family. Many of these points understandably scare or overwhelm prospective adoptive parents, but there has never been a time when more resources, supports, workshops, and education have been available to adoptive families.
If becoming a parent is a top priority for you, you can and will navigate these new rules of adoption that in the long term greatly benefit both sets of parents, but more importantly, nurture a child's sense of identity, belonging, and being loved by as many people as are willing to open their hearts to them.
Stella Gilgur-Cook is the director of the Modern Family Center at Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children in New York City.