Your Own Adoption Advocate:
A Guide for Families
compiled by the National Adoption Exchange
How to Become a Successful Advocate...
If you are thinking about adopting a child with special needs, well-developed advocacy skills will help you. From your first interest in adoption, through the homestudy and selection process, to the placement of the child/children, it is important that you are fully involved in obtaining the services and resources you need. These advocacy skills will continue to be extremely valuable once you have adopted to ensure that your child receives needed services.
As you travel along this adoption journey, you may find that there are others, such as social workers, adoptive parent support groups, lawyers, teachers, doctors, etc., who will join in your advocacy efforts. But no one will remain as committed or involved as you are over the long haul. You are your own best advocate, and you will have a special responsibility to become your child's primary advocate as well.
To be effective, you must become informed. It helps to be assertive, organized and to keep accurate records. You will need to develop self-confidence and believe that you are on equal footing with the "experts" you will meet.
It has been said that "knowledge is power." Coupled with determination and the desire to provide a loving home for a child, you can become a powerful advocate, and, most important, a knowledgeable adoptive parent.
Tony Apolloni, of the California Institute on Human Services, has identified a model which he calls the "Self Advocacy Cycle" for effective advocacy efforts. This model has four stages:
This step has two parts:
Begin with the basic need. Example: "I'd like to adopt a child between eight and 12 years old."
Expand it to be as specific to your situation as possible. Examples: "It is very important to me that the child is ambulatory." "The gender or race does not matter." "I need to find an agency that is comfortable working with me as an older adoptive parent (or single parent, gay parent, parent who already has children, etc.)."
Investigate your options. Consider as many options as you can and compare the results thoroughly before making a decision. Some steps to take include:
Ask a lot of questions. Among them might be:
Become part of a larger group. Other parents will provide you with a wealth of information, listening ears, valuable contacts, and advocacy clout when needed. Don't wait until you are in a crisis or a state of desperation to ask for help - establish your connection to the group early in the process.
Parents and professionals can develop partnerships that will enable them to work together effectively to create and support an adoptive family. You will be most successful in your adoption efforts if you view yourself as a partner with the professionals, rather than just a client. The steps you take early in the process to develop this relationship will pay off later.
Once you have selected an agency to work with:
Build a relationship
Handle yourself with professionalism. Begin every interaction with either a positive statement or an empathy statement, such as:
Describe any problem using an "I" statement, not a "You" statement. "I am concerned about the length of time it is taking to get the medical history on the child we inquired about." rather than. "You are taking too long to get me the information I asked for."
Ask for acknowledgment and clarification. "Do I have all the information straight? Is there more I need to know?"
Maintain an even voice tone, eye contact and non-offensive body language.
Offer options and possible solutions. "If scheduling is an issue, would it help if I came to your office instead?"
Plan a time to follow-up. "May I call you next Thursday to see if you have received the medical reports?"
Be accessible. Most social workers and social service agencies are operating on limited resources and are thinly stretched. The more accessible you are, the better service you will get.
Things to remember:
When problems do occur:
Things You Should Know About Your Child
Children adopted from the foster care system come to families with a past. Some may have been abused and neglected; others have moved often during their tenure in foster care. Some may have been exposed to alcohol and/or drugs in utero. It is important that parents know as much as possible about the child they are adopting.
Adoption expert Kay Donley-Zeigler, of the National Resource Center for Special Needs Adoption in Southfield, believes that families absolutely have to be given, and should ask for, the following information:
In the past, much less information was available to adoptive families concerning a child's birth family. Recent court decisions have caused agencies to rethink this policy and create uniform procedures about the information that needs to be recorded, from the first person who processes the child when he or she enters foster care, to the adoption worker who gets the case -- sometimes years later -- when it is decided that family reunification is not possible.
Some states now require that specific information be shared with adoptive families. To learn more about your state's policy, contact the state adoption specialist listed in the National Adoption Center resource material.
You may feel overwhelmed when presented with a child's background information. To guard against confusion, it's a good idea to write down whatever the agency tells you about the child and any services that are available to help (a tape recorder may also help, but be sure to get the social worker's permission first). If a problem arises, you can then refer to your notes and review the history. Remember to ask about post adoption services. They may be just what you need if and when a problem arises.
Adoption Tax Credits and Exemptions Become Law
by Steve Hummerickhouse
Legislation awarding tax credits and tax exemptions for adoptive families became law on August 1, 1996 as part of the "Small Business and Job Protection Act" (H. R. 3448) that raised the minimum wage. The tax provisions contained in the law are similar to those in the "Adoption Promotion and Stability Act" (H. R. 3286) passed by the House on May 10. 1996. The new law includes the following provisions:
Amount of Adoption Tax Credit
The law provides a tax credit of up to $5,000 for expenses incurred or paid in the adoption of a child and $6,000 in the adoption of a child with special needs. Families with annual adjusted gross incomes under $75,000 would be eligible for the full tax credit, while those with incomes between $75,000 and $115,000 could receive a partial tax credit.
If a family's tax bill is less than its adoption expenses, the difference could be deducted from future tax bills. The tax credit could be carried forward in this manner for a maximum of five years. Suppose the Simpson family incurs expenses of $10,000 in relation to the adoption of a child with special needs. The family earns $60,000 in 1997 and owes $2,000 in federal taxes. The $6,000 tax credit could be applied to reduce the 1997 tax bill to zero and the remaining $4,000 could be carried forward into future tax years.
The new law defines qualified expenses as "reasonable and necessary fees, court costs, attorney fees, and other qualified expenses which are directly related to the legal adoption of an eligible child by the taxpayer..." The list of eligible costs for special needs adoptions includes "construction, renovations, alterations, or purchases specifically required...to meet the needs of the child."
Tax Year and Time Limits
The adoption tax credit and tax exemption for employer-paid adoption assistance begins with the 1997 tax year. Unlike H. R. 3286, the law ends the tax credit and tax exemption for all but special needs adoptions by December 21, 2001.
The tax credit and exemptions apply to the taxable year in which the adoption is finalized. Adoption expenses paid or incurred in 1998, for example, would apply to the 1999 tax year if the final decree of adoption was issued in that year. Costs incurred in late 1996, however, will not apply to 1997, the year the law takes effect.
Families adopting children from foreign countries are eligible for the tax credit and tax exemption only if the adoption is finalized. The amount of both the tax credit and tax credited is also limited to $5,000 for both special needs and non-special needs adoptions. In addition, the tax credit and tax exemption for all international adoptions endson December 31, 2001.
Families may use both the tax exemption and tax credit in the same tax year. Imagine that the Brady Family adopts a non special needs child and Mrs. Brady works for TOXICO, a company that provides $3,000 in adoption assistance. After deducting the $3,000, the Brady's gross income is $71,000 and the family's tax liability is $2,500. The Brady's outstanding adoption related expenses following the $3,000 in assistance from TOXICO amounts to $8,000. The family could apply the $5,000 tax credit to reduce its 1997 tax to 0 and carry the remaining $2,500 forward to future tax years.
The example above illustrates that in combining the tax exemption with the tax credit, a family may not claim the same adoption expenses twice. For example, if employer provided adoption assistance reduces a family's adoption costs from $10,000 to $8,000, only $8,000 would be eligible to be applied toward the tax credit. Similarly, in the cases of special needs adoptions, if the family is eligible for reimbursement of non-recurring adoption expenses, it must subtract the amount of the reimbursed costs from the remaining expenses that are eligible for the tax credit.