SALT LAKE CITY — The adoption world received a jolt last month as LDS Family Services announced its changes in birth parent and adoption services. While it is still available for counseling, it is no longer an “adoption agency”. There are hundreds of hopeful couples who are now asking themselves “What do we do now?”
My husband and I had to ponder this same question as we were building our family through adoption. Stepping out into the unknown feels a little intimidating at first, but it doesn’t have to be a scary adventure. The best way to move forward is with information and support.
Here are some ways you can take control of your adoption hopes and give yourself more opportunities to find that special birth family and baby you have prayed for.
Research local adoption agencies and adoption attorneys
You want to find out how the agency works, who its attorney is and what kind of reputation the company has. Some great questions to ask are:
- What is your fee schedule?
Steve Sunday, CEO of Forever Bound Adoption and past manager over all birth parent and adoption services at LDS Family Services, said, "It's really important for them to be informed and not be afraid to ask tough questions. Adoption agencies should be clear on their fees, what they are charging and what they are spending in behalf of adoptive couples. If you're not clear what the money is for, ask questions. Be specific. If they're charging you $10,000 for marketing, ask them specifically how they're going to spend that money."
What happens if the money is not used?
Sunday shared the following example for why this question is important: "If they are charging you for medical fees for the birth mother, and the birth mother has access to public assistance, it needs to be clarified."
"Remember that adoption is also a business and you have the right to understand where your money is going," Sunday continued. "There may be circumstances where fees climb. ... Your agency should be transparent in describing those additional fees so that you have a clear understanding where the additional money may go."
The agency should also be honest and transparent with any money that goes unspent, Sunday said. "If there are items that you were charged for where the agency did not pay, that money should be reimbursed to you," he said.
What type of support and counseling does the agency offer potential birth families pre- and post placement?
Joshua Redfern, executive director of social work at Wasatch International Adoptions and owner/operator of The R House Adoption Consultants said, “Counseling for birth parents and their families can help them understand what thoughts and emotions they may have through the adoption process and how to react when they have them. It can help them understand that grief is normal and necessary. Family members that receive counseling can learn how to cope for themselves but also how to support the birth parent throughout the process in a healthy way.”
What support does the agency offer the hopeful couples as they work through the adoption process?
Education and support can be key to having a positive adoption experience and to helping the adoptive couple have a healthy relationship with their future child's birth parents.
"When we started the adoption process, my husband and I mocked the idea of having 'parenting classes' because we couldn't become parents the 'traditional' way. Every class would have two adoptive couples come and share their adoption journey; share their ups and their downs, their highs and their lows," said Jessie Jo Lundell, an adoptive mom and chairwoman of United for Adoption's Ogden chapter.
"After the first class, we knew why we needed those classes. We needed to connect with other adoptive families. We needed to hear their stories, failures and successes. We needed to understand birth parent-adoptive parent relationships. We needed to know we weren't in this journey alone."
Lundell said the classes taught her and her husband how to navigate a successful open adoption, maintaining an open relationship with the birth parents.
How does the agency go about notifying the birth father?
"I would say that the best adoption agencies involve the potential birth father early and see (him) as important to any adoption plan," Sunday said. "All adoptive couples want a secure placement. In order to ensure a secure adoptive placement, potential birth fathers should be involved in the process with the birth mother's consent."
You should also ask birth families and adoptive families who have used the agency how they felt about their experience. You can ask for names from the agency itself or go online to various support groups and ask around.
Research the foster-to-adopt program
If you love children and want to make a difference, this is the right place for you. Children who are placed into foster care in Utah and are 5 years old or younger are placed in a “foster to adopt” home. The foster parents work with the Division of Child & Family Services caseworker, who creates a plan for reunification (typically) while at the same time creating an adoption plan in case the biological parents are unable to make the changes necessary for their child to be in their care.
When the child or children are 5 or younger, these two plans run concurrently. The biological parents have eight to 12 months to work on their goals. It is amazing to watch parents work hard and change. Whether the child goes back to their biological family or stays with you forever, there is an overwhelming sense you are doing something important.
Foster parents can make a huge difference in the life of a child and help build up a struggling family. It is hard to say goodbye when a child has been with you, and you love him or her so much; but if it hurts, you know you did it right.
There are children who are waiting for a forever family. You can view Utah’s waiting children by going to the Utah Adoption Exchange website Adoptex.org — Utah or view Utah’s Heart Gallery. There are amazing children waiting for someone to give them a chance, love and a safe place to call home.
According to DCFS’ 2013 Annual Report, 640 children were adopted from Utah’s child welfare system — 543 from foster care where 60 percent were ages 0-5, and 97 from Kinship In-Home Services.
Consider private adoptions
There are ways you can help get your information out in the community as a couple or family hoping to adopt. The more you tell others about your hopes, the more opportunities you will have to get your information into the hands of that special birth mother meant for you. Couples who choose to wrap themselves with support as they move forward will find more opportunities come to them.
Share your hopes on your social networking sites, write about your adoption journey on your blog, look for opportunities to promote adoption in your community. Being on the front lines of community education can put your hopes and information in the minds and hands of those who might learn of a potential situation.
Once you have a potential situation, you can work through your chosen attorney to create a plan for before, during and after placement.
Resources are important
Learning about birth families and what they go through in the adoption process, learning what to expect when you adopt, learning about the legal side of adoption, etc., are all so important. Utah has some great groups that can help you learn the things you need to know and help prepare you for your adoption journey.
United for Adoption is a growing group of individuals and families who have been touched by adoption in some way. It has chapters popping up in Ogden, Logan, Salt Lake City and St. George with more in development. It provides classes, support groups (online and in person) and activities, and it offers an annual adoption conference each November. This year, the conference is scheduled for Nov. 15 at the Salt Lake City Library. You can go to its website for more information: unitedforadoption.org.
The Utah Adoption Council also offers an annual conference. It holds its conference in the spring. You can go to its website for more information: utahadoptioncouncil.com
There are some great online resources where you can learn about other couples' experiences and read about birth families' experiences. Local blogger Mariel Wangsgard, of Or So She Says, has created a whole page filled with links to articles on adoption.
These suggestions are only a beginning. Educate yourself and find support. The more you learn, the better your experience will be. Adoption is an incredible way to build a family. When my husband and I adopted, we had no idea the joy our children would bring, and we never realized how much we would love our children’s birth parents. We feel like we have all adopted one another. They are part of our story and part of our family.
Brenda Horrocks is a mother of four children through adoption. She promotes adoption, foster care and Utah's Safe Haven Law through blogging, public speaking and writing. She enjoys time with family, reading books, running, gardening and movies.