Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Our Road to Adoption

I guess it all started around the time Alana was born. We had been married about two years and decided it was time to start trying for a baby. Of course we had no idea that eight years and many procedures later we would still be wanting that baby. Without going through all the graphic details, suffice it to say that we have run the whole course of emotions that go along with this journey: anger, sadness, anger again, and acceptance. Through these eight years we have thrown around the idea of adoption and explored some options. We called the State of California (where we were living at the time) to find out about adoption, but were very scared off by the open adoption policy they have and the length of time it was taking to adopt an infant. Deciding not to take that route, we found an international adoption agency that we really liked and when we moved to Cleveland we visited their facility and spoke with an adoption coordinator for eastern Europe. While we liked the agency, we could never figure out how we were ever going to come up with the nearly $60,000 required to adopt just one child from overseas. We mulled this over for a long time hoping that some idea would present itself. Then when I lost my job and we realized we had to make a change to survive, we put it all on hold.

We made it a priority to find a good church here in Seattle. Bethany Community Church is a great fit for us and is also challenging to our comfort zone. One of the community groups we found is a support group for women going through infertility. Through this group I learned that many people in the church are Foster parents and have also adopted children out of the system. I felt a push to look into Fostering and explored the Washington website. We talked about it a bit, but weren't sure that it was the right thing for us. A few Sundays later our pastor was talking about the safe road and the direct road of our walk with Christ, that taking the safe road will eventually get you there but it isn't necessarily the way that we were meant to live. John and I looked at each other and knew that this was our big push off the ledge to adoption and that we need to jump in with both feet. We went to a Foster Orientation meeting the next week, in September, where we learned that over 1,000 children are currently legally free to be adopted. So we attended the Foster to Adopt Orientation two weeks later and I also went to an event hosted by Focus on the Family where we learned more about the process and how we can get involved.

We have decided that the Foster to Adopt program through the state is the right path for us. This program was created a few years ago in Washington for families whose primary desire was to adopt foster children from within the system. King County was the only county where it was successful and fortunately for us (because that is our county), the state decided to allow it to continue only in this county. As a Foster Parent, you have little choice about the children who are placed in your care and it could be that you would get a call in the middle of the night for an emergency placement. It is designed to be a temporary living situation so that parents can get the help they need while their children are being cared for in a safe environment. Because we are going to be Foster to Adopt Parents, the process will be a little different for us. There is a matching process that takes place before we get a child, like there would be for a private or international adoption. Usually these children will have been in foster care for a while already and the state has determined that the likelihood of being reunited with their parents is very small. (Either because the parents have relinquished their rights or because they have not complied with the court-ordered treatment and visitation plan.) When this is the case, the state begins to look at the possibility of adoption. The child's desires for his future family are matched with ours for what kind of children we are looking for. When a good match is found we then meet the child at a neutral location and advance along with longer meetings and overnight visits until the child is placed in our home. It can take anywhere from 12-24 months for a child to become legally free and during that time we will be viewed only as guardians of the child for the state. That means that we do not have the right, as parents do, to sign school consent forms, enroll them in programs, or even cut their hair without permission from the parent and/or the Social Worker.

There are a few benefits of going through the Foster to Adopt program rather than just being Adoptive parents. First, the state requires a child to be placed in your home for at least 6 months prior to adoption. Second, we will have children placed with us more quickly because we are licensed Foster parents. Third, sometimes parents will see that their child is better off with us than with them and may choose to relinquish their rights instead of having the court pursue termination of rights. The one major downside for us is that we may not be able to adopt the children first placed with us. The state's ultimate goal is for children to be reunited with their birth family, which they see as the best place for children to grow up. Given that view, they can be quite lenient with parents if they are making any progress at all towards bettering their situation. If a parent does turn around and do what the court requires, they can be reunited with their children. Once the child is legally free and adopted, the birth parent can not come back to claim him.

There are so many requirements and hoops to jump through in order to get our license. The paperwork covers everything from marital history, financial history, and medical history, to every possible question about our childhoods, religious beliefs, and parenting techniques (I don't think parenting of dogs applies, so I'm not sure how to answer that question!). Over the last two weeks we attended a 27 hour pre-placement workshop where we covered many topics from why children have been removed from their homes to the process of their becoming available for adoption. In a way it was very overwhelming covering so many topics, especially learning about the horrible things that happen to children, but it was also a good review of my degree. I told John that it is nice that my degree is finally useful!

We are almost finished with our paperwork and as soon as our Social Worker receives it, she will work to have us licensed within 90 days. While she is doing that, we will have to have physicals and a TB test and take First Aid/CPR, HIV/AIDS training and a blood-born pathogens class while we are getting ready for our Home Study.

This is going to be a very involved process, but we are certain that this is the path we have been called to. We have a peace in the midst of the chaos and scariness. We value your prayers for us, for the children who will be placed with us (that they are able to bond with us and heal from the wounds they will come with), healing for their birth parents, and that the process will be a smooth as possible for all involved. We promise to keep you updated as we move along.