Most Frequently Asked Questions About Adoption
This article first appeared in FAM’s premier issue in January, 1994. Because the information presented is valuable to anyone interested in adoption or even foster care, we felt it important to share these questions and answers with our many new subscribers.
Welcome to the wonderfully exciting and confusing world of adoption! MARE receives hundreds of calls each month asking for information about adoption in general, and the adoption process specifically. Here, we’re taking the opportunity to answer some of the most frequently asked questions. Hopefully, this information will help guide you as you make your decisions about adoption.
I've decided I want to adopt. Now what do I do?
The first step in most adoptions is a homestudy (now known as a Family Assessment). Families and individuals must be approved through the Family Assessment process before a child can be placed in their home for adoption. The Family Assessment consists of a series of meetings between the prospective adoptive family and a social worker. It provides an opportunity for the family to learn more about adoption, and to seriously consider their motivations and expectations for adopting.
In Michigan, Family Assessments are conducted by an adoption agency. If you are a foster parent, the agency you are currently working with may be able to conduct the study if they are also licensed for adoptions. There is usually no fee for the Family Assessment provided by the Family Independence Agency or private contract agency when you are adopting a "special needs" child, or a permanent court or state ward. However, there may be minimal fees to cover the costs of filing petitions in court when the time comes to adopt. The Family Assessment process usually takes anywhere from three to six months and typically consists of a number of meetings at the agency as well as personal interviews conducted by a social worker in your home. The study generally includes the following:
Do I have to be married to adopt?
No, you don't have to be married to adopt a child or children. Being a single parent is perfectly acceptable. Also, you don't have to own your own home to adopt a child. A rented house or apartment is fine, as long as there is adequate bedroom space per child. The home must be free from health and fire hazards, and must have a safe play area for children.
I'm really most interested in adopting an infant. I don't understand why it takes so long!
In Michigan, the "waiting for an infant" time period can be up
to three years if you're interested in adopting a perfectly healthy Caucasian
child under the age of one. And Michigan is not unique; most other states
also have a years-long waiting list for infants, too. It is estimated that
each year there are 25,000 infants available for adoption -- and one million
families waiting for those infants.
In January, 1995, Michigan started allowing “direct consent” adoptions. In a direct consent adoption, the birth parent(s) personally selects the prospective adoptive parent(s), transfers physical custody of the adoptee to the adoptive parent(s), and consents to the adoption. The birth parent(s) retains all parental rights until formal placement. Attorneys and child-placing agencies can assist a birth parent in making a direct consent placement.
The birth parent(s) and prospective adoptive parent(s) will decide whether to exchange identifying information, whether to meet each other, and how much “openness” there will be in the relationship following the adoption.
Under the law, prospective adoptive parents are able to advertise for and solicit potential birth parents (attorneys, however, are NOT). That may include newspaper classified ads, sending biographical letters and photographs to doctors’ offices and/or family planning clinics, etc. In a direct consent adoption, prospective adoptive parents are also allowed to pay for certain costs incurred by the birth mother. Expenses could include, but are not limited to, rent/housing, groceries, medical bills, clothing allowances, transportation and education. All payments must first be approved by the court.
As with any adoption, prospective adoptive parents interested in direct consent adoptions much still have a homestudy/Family Assessment completed by a licensed adoption agency.
One alternative to the long wait and high cost of adopting an infant is adopting a "special needs" child.
What does "special needs" mean?
"Special needs" does not necessarily mean the child has any handicaps. In general terms, it refers to a child or children than may be harder to place than a healthy infant. In fact, a special needs child is under 18, and falls into one or more of the following categories:
Many waiting children have had traumatic past experiences that may include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and/or severe neglect. Others may have been born drug or alcohol exposed.
What's the difference in the adoption processes for an infant versus a special needs child?
A prospective family interested in adopting an infant can expect to wait anywhere from two to five years before a baby becomes available, and can expect to pay thousands of dollars in fees and expenses. On the other hand, a family interested in adopting a special needs child won't have to wait nearly as long, depending on what type of child they're hoping to adopt -- in fact, it could be a matter of months before a child is placed in the home. The costs associated with special needs adoptions are far less, as well; depending on the agency, the adoption and Family Assessment process could be virtually free because many costs associated with special needs adoptions are underwritten by the state.
What adoption agency should I work with? How do I choose an agency?
There are a number of public (Family Independence Agency) and private adoption agencies around the state that can work with you.
When you initially call an adoption agency, feel free to ask them questions about the length of time their Family Assessment process might take, approximately how much the process will cost (especially if you're interested in a special needs child), etc. Feel free to call several agencies and ask them the same kinds of questions before making a final decision.
Will becoming a foster parent help me adopt a child?
Not necessarily. It depends on the circumstances that develop as efforts are made to reunite birth parents and children.
Foster care is always initially considered to be temporary. At times, however, parental rights may be terminated, and at that point children become wards of the state and are eligible for adoption. Once parental rights are terminated, blood relatives and foster parents are given the first chance at adoption (if the child has been in placement with that foster family for one year or more).
But because foster care is considered to be a temporary measure, it is not advisable to become a foster parent with the expectation that you'll be able to adopt any child placed in your care. A foster parent is expected to work cooperatively with the agency and birth parents toward reunification until a decision is made that reunification will not occur. A foster parent must be objective, and must be able to let go of a child if and when it comes time for that child to leave the foster home.
What is the MARE book, and where can I get my hands on one?
The MARE book is a photolisting book published monthly by the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange. It includes pictures and short biographies of special needs children in the state who have been available for adoption for at least three months.
Because of the high cost of publication and mailing, we aren't able to send the MARE book to individual families. A subscription to the MARE book is available, however, to interested families; the cost is $45 a quarter, or $90 for six months. MARE makes no profit on subscriptions; we charge only the actual cost of printing and mailing the book. The MARE book can be found at local FIA adoption offices, as well as private adoption agencies. Many public libraries in the state also carry the MARE book in their reference section. And, if you have access to the internet, all children listed in the MARE book can also be found online at www.mare.org
I've called on a couple of children in the MARE book and was told they're visiting with a family, have already been adopted, or are otherwise unavailable for adoption. What gives?
The MARE book and website are ways to expose all adoption-eligible children
to as large an audience of potential families as possible. If an adoption
has not been completed within the three-month timeframe after parental rights
are terminated, a child is then included in the MARE book.
There is a “lag time” with the book (that is, the period of time between when the book goes to the printer, is printed and then shipped), and it is possible that a child may have been placed with a family in that period of time. Children will continue to be listed on MARE until their worker is certain the placement is solid; at that time, the child will be removed.
Our website allows us to update the children’s status more often. There are several reasons why a child may appear in the MARE book that does not appear on the website. A child that has a “legal risk” status (that is, the birth parents’ rights have been terminated, and one or both of the birth parents have filed an appeal of the termination); the child’s worker has asked, for specific and special reasons, that the child not appear on the website; or the child may have an adoptive placement pending.
If you find a child in the MARE book that you're interested in, and you're an approved adoptive family (that is, you have a completed Family Assessment), you need to have your worker call the child's worker to get further information. This allows for crucial worker-to-worker contact, during which time the workers can discuss with you whether or not the child can be appropriately placed with your family.
If, on the other hand, you are not an approved adoptive family, it is important you have the Family Assessment done first. We don't discourage you from calling on children you may be interested in, but it's important to note that approved adoptive families are given priority over a family that does not have a completed homestudy.
I was adopted as a child. How do I go about finding my birth parents?
Michigan adoption law requires adoption agencies, FIA, and family courts to release certain information from adoption records to adult adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents. The law divides information in adoption records into non-identifying and identifying information. Non-identifying information is available upon request to adult adoptees, adoptive and birth parents, and includes:
Identifying information is available to adult adoptees and birth parents, but only if each consents to its release. All requests for information from adoption records must be submitted to the agency that placed the adoptee, or the court that finalized the adoption. Identifying information includes:
Adult adoptees who wish to consent to the release of their name and address to a birth parent or brother or sister must file their consent with the placing agency and court that finalized their adoption. Birth parents who wish to consent or deny access to information about themselves must file a statement with the Adoption Central Registry.
Michigan Family Independence Agency
Adoption Central Registry
P.O. Box 30037
Lansing, MI 48909
Michigan now allows searching for birth relatives by a confidential intermediary (CI). These persons are trained and appointed by the court to assist in the tracing of and contacting birth relatives. For more information about CI’s, you may contact the Adoption Central Registry.
Adoption is a lifelong process, and the initial stages of deciding to adopt, then locating, meeting, preparing for, and legally adopting a child can be long and complex. The MARE staff is available during business hours to assist you with any questions or concerns about this process at any stage. Our statewide toll-free number is (800) 589-MARE. Jackson area or out-of-state callers can reach us at (517) 783-MARE. We can also be reached by email via our website at www.mare.org. We’ll be more than happy to help you in any way we can.
Good luck on your journey.