Formation of Family: Unpacking the Journey of Adoption

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When you were younger you most likely had a very stereotypical view of what defines a family. You pictured a mom, a dad, children, maybe a dog. You learned in sex-education class that a man and woman come together and through sexual intercourse, they make a baby. (You were also warned that sex almost always leads to pregnancy, a fact that couples struggling with infertility now know to be utterly false, but that’s neither here nor there.) You learned that sperm fertilizes the egg, which creates an embryo, and the embryo grows to be a healthy human fetus that the mother then delivers and POOF, a family is created. Several years later, most of us laugh at that notion of a family. Sure, for some people, that’s how a family is created. That’s how babies are made and that’s what your family unit looks like. But for many people around the world, that is not at all how they became a family. For many families, making a baby the old fashioned way just isn’t in the cards, and so they turn to adoption to create the loving family unit they always dreamed of.

Some parents turn to adoption because they are dealing with fertility obstacles and fail to get pregnant on their own, or even fail to conceive through fertility treatments such as IVF. Other parents turn to adoption because they want to provide a home and a loving family to a child in need. There is no one reason why a couple (or person) would choose to adopt, and however they get there, adoption is a unique and rewarding journey to parenthood for many families.

In celebration of National Adoption Month this November (National Adoption Day is on November 23rd), we’re unpacking the often untold journey of adoption — the lengthy process, the stress, the joy, and when it works, the ultimate creation of a loving family.

Adoption by the Numbers

There’s probably a lot about adoption that you don’t know. If adoption or foster care has not been a part of your life, then chances are you never really needed to know these facts. But understanding families, including adoptive families, is an important part of understanding other people and accepting what makes every family unique and special. And if you are just beginning to consider adoption, then the first step is getting educated. Let’s start with the numbers. 

There are approximately 1.5 million adopted children in the United States, according to the Adoption Network. While only about two percent of the American population has adopted children, more than 1/3 of Americans have reportedly considered it at some point. Based on statistics from 2013, there were around 400,000 children in foster care, and about 135,000 children adopted each year.  

The Children’s Bureau released the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) Report for 2017. The data from this report gives an overview of adoption facts and trends as of September 30, 2017. 

Number of children in the foster care system = 442,995

Number of children waiting to be adopted = 123,437 (Note, not all kids in the foster care system are waiting to be adopted, some plan to reunite with a parent or find other living arrangements)

Gender breakdown of children in foster care = 52% male and 48% female

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What National Adoption Month is All About

National Adoption Month is an initiative of the Children’s Bureau with a goal to increase national awareness and bring attention to the need for permanent families for children and youth in the U.S. foster care system. This year’s theme is “Youth Voices: Why Family Matters,” focusing on the unique struggles for teens in the foster care system. The fact remains that teenagers are less likely to be adopted, and if they are not adopted they then age out of the foster care system without a stable family and without the essential love and support of a family unit. “Securing lifelong connections for teens in foster care, both legally and emotionally, is a critical component in determining their future achievement, health, and well-being,” according to the Children’s Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

National adoption month is about celebrating family, about raising awareness for adoption and foster services, and above all, about providing support and resources to families interested in adoption. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the joy that adoption can bring to families, and to spark awareness across the country for policymakers, adoption advocates, families and children. 

Adoption Can be a Taxing Process that can Take Years (or Longer)

While adoption can be a wonderful journey that results in a happy and loving family unit, it can also be a tedious process that takes time, effort, money and a lot of patience. It can take its toll on the parents, and without the facts and information, it can be a really confusing road to navigate.

Many people do not know that adoption laws and adoption assistance programs differ from state to state, and those local regulations may heavily influence your options if you’re considering adopting a child. First, become familiar with your state’s policies. Next, consider the different venues for adopting. 

1) Agency Adoption: With these agencies (either private or public) the parents adopt a child through a licensed agency, which handles the logistics and must follow specific procedural standards. Private agencies assist with both domestic and international adoptions and often work with pregnant women seeking a new home for their baby. Public agencies help place older children, sibling groups, or children with special needs. In many cases handled by public agencies, the children were removed from their birth parents by the state or social services and they are currently in foster care.

2) Independent Adoption: With independent adoption, parents adopt a child through an attorney or another independent party. The proof independent adoption is that the process can be faster and adoptive parents become legal guardians shortly after birth. The downside is that often birth parents may change their minds after the child is born, and the adoption will fall through.

3) Adoption From Foster Care: In this scenario parents looking to adopt can first foster a child with the hopes of eventually adopting him/her legally once the adoption goes through. A public agency usually oversees the process from fostering to adoption.

The Cost of Adoption 

According to Creating a Family, the cost of adoption ranges depending on whether you are using an agency adoption, international adoption, or public adoption from foster care. The rage for an adoption with an agency is anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000+, with almost 60% falling within $10,000 – $30,000, and the average being around $28,000. On the other end of the scale, families who adopt from foster care typically pay no more than $2,000, with most paying nothing. 

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the average cost of domestic infant adoption:

Adopting a Baby via an Adoption Agency:

Average cost: $43,000

Matched within 1 year: 62%

Matched within 2 years: 82%

Adopting a Baby via an Adoption Attorney:

Average cost: $38,000

Matched within 1 year: 68%

Matched within 2 years: 84%

There are many ways to make a family, and how a child becomes a part of your family does not matter nearly as much as the amount of love you provide to one another as a part of a supportive family unit. How you raise your family is what counts, and the love you have is what matters most. While some families may be formed through the old-fashioned route, adoption is all around us, and it is bringing families together and helping children in need all over the world. If you’re considering adoption, or if you or someone you love has been touched by adoption, then take National Adoption Month as an opportunity to celebrate what family means to you, and to hug your loved ones a little bit tighter.