Adoption is an emotionally charged topic. Throw in some misinformation and a whopping dose of the stuff tabloids are made of and it’s hard to separate myth from fact. So sit back, get comfortable, and learn the truth about building a family through adoption.
1. MYTH: There are no kids to adopt.
FACT: There are children of all ages waiting for permanent homes and available for adoption. In the U.S. foster care system there are approximately 129,000 waiting children who are in need of adoptive homes (US Dept of Health and Human Services, 2008). And, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Statistics for 2008 reveal the immigration of 17,433 children into the US that year. (http://adoption.state.gov/news/total_chart.html)
There are also numerous children (mostly infants) who are adopted privately in the United States every year. It is important to:
Consider your options (foster care, private, or international adoption).
Research developmental issues of children adopted at various ages.
Explore adoption issues at ages and stages of the child and family.
Talk to your extended family about your plan and gain their support.
To help you in this decision-making process, you can also consult with adoption professionals in your area and join an adoptive parent support group. The more information you have at the start of the process, the better.
2. MYTH: If I adopt internationally, I don’t have to worry about talking to my child about birth parents or anyone ringing the doorbell.
FACT: Your child has a history whether you know the details or not. All children are curious about where they came from. For those who do not have facts, you will explore possible scenarios with your child. You will also discuss why adoptions from that country occurred at that time. As for the fears of contact with birth families, the reality is that contact can be anything from a phone conversation somewhere along the adoption process, to ongoing contact during and after the adoption takes place. Having contact does not mean you are co-parenting. It means that everyone cares about the child’s best interests. Years ago, the possibility of contact with birth parents in international adoption was improbable. But now with the Internet and international search groups, it has become easier for birth parents and siblings to find one another and gain information about family history.
3. MYTH: It takes longer for non-traditional families (singles, gays and lesbians, and older couples) to adopt.
FACT: While some agencies and countries have restrictions on age, marital status, or sexual orientation, there are others that are glad to be your advocate. It is important to ask attorneys, agencies, and social workers up front if they support your decision to parent through adoption and if they have a network that can help you. For any adoptive parent, the more open you are to a child’s age, race, medical, or developmental issues, the swifter your adoption process may be. The actual timeline is more dependent upon how involved you are in the process or if you are on a waiting list at an agency. The more you are able to do to expand your search, the better. Then, of course, there is always luck.
4. MYTH: Adoption is very expensive.
FACT: The costs of adoption vary depending on the type of process and allowable state and federal expenses. Costs may include legal or agency fees, the baby and birth mother’s medical costs, the birth family’s living expenses, travel expenses, advertising and networking fees, federal application fees, homestudy and post adoption report fees. Some families choose a process or to remain close to home to reduce travel costs. You should always get a detailed written explanation of the costs of a particular adoption before you agree to proceed. Rough estimates of what you may spend: international—$20,000-45,000, domestic—$10,000-30,000; adoption through foster care—$0-5,000. You can offset the costs of adoption by taking advantage of state and federal tax credits, adoption subsidies and reimbursements for children with special needs, adoption loans and grants; employer benefits and military benefits. (See Child Welfare Information Gateway http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/adoption_gip_two.pdf.)
5. MYTH: All adopted kids have ADD, ADHD, emotional problems, or behavioral issues.
FACT: Any child, birth or adopted, can have medical, emotional, or behavioral issues. While adoption research varies regarding this statement, it is believed that many children do experience some sort of developmental or emotional issue. Some believe this is due to the genetic profile of the birth parents, lack of prenatal care, or the “trauma” of being adopted. There is additional debate about nature vs. nurture, with most agreeing that children are influenced by both their biological make-up and their environment. Early detection and support services help children and families develop adaptations and accommodation to these challenges. The majority of adopted children grow up to be successful in adult life.
6. MYTH: No one will tell me the best way to adopt…I feel alone in the process.
FACT: While you must make the final decision, there are many people who can advise and help you navigate the adoption process. You will meet agency personnel, social workers, and attorneys who can guide you along the way. It is also a good idea to get involved with a local adoptive parents group, where you can meet other singles and couples who are trying to adopt or who have already adopted. You can learn a great deal from these parents and forge lasting relationships. Be sure to check out any agency you hire through your State Department of Social Services, Joint Council on International Children’s Services, or the Better Business Bureau; as well as attorneys through your State Bar Association or the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. Always keep in mind that you are the one who will make the final decisions based on the advice of those who know the legal and emotional process of adoption and parenting.
7. MYTH: I can get all the information I need on the Internet.
FACT: While there is a lot of information on the Internet, the adoption process needs to be tailored to your particular family. Remember, it is hard to know who is posting information in cyberspace. Adoption professionals recommend you double-check any information with a local source. In addition to finding out the most current information, you also need to make sure you meet state and federal regulations regarding adoption. There are many sites and e-lists established for families built through a particular type of adoption. Many of these sites provide tremendous support, parenting advice, and resources. However, for some, the sense of isolation ( “I am the only one doing this”) is overwhelming. Weigh carefully what you are reading, your need for human contact and support based on your family’s needs, and consult with local professionals when unclear of your next steps.
8. MYTH: Once I adopt, I can just blend into the crowd and not discuss adoption.
FACT: You probably could, but it is not recommended. Adoption is a part of you, your child, and your family forever. Most days you will be involved in typical parenting challenges balanced with the joys of watching your child grow and develop new skills. But, there are also things that will occur that are adoption-related, posing questions, causing anxieties, and requiring choices and decisions. It could be a school assignment, such as drawing one’s family tree, that poses unanswered questions, or a child asking why another child doesn’t look like a parent, or even your child asking about their early years or birth family. It may also be the result of a doctor needing medical background or an academic or emotional issue needing further clarification. Some families even find TV and movies raise questions of family formation, which can lead to wonderful and exploratory conversations. It is suggested that you start the conversation with your child early and keep that conversation going as the years progress. Keep in mind that your child should learn adoption information and details from you, not family or friends. More important, the information ultimately belongs to your child. Let him/her share details with extended family and friends when s/he is ready.
9. MYTH: If I am comfortable with adoption, my friends and families will be, as well.
FACT: We all have our own understanding and comfort level with adoption. As an adoptive parent, your job is not only to raise your child, but to educate people about adoption so that they will treat you, your child,your family sensitively and appropriately. While it is important not to share the details of your child’s “story,” allowing your child to share it when s/he is ready, it is important for others to know that while your family may have been formed through adoption, it is no different in day-to-day functioning. Having said this, the media has done a good job in sensationalizing adoption and many people have great misinformation and prejudices as a result. So you need to remain vigilant. What is true is that the more comfortable you are with adoption, the easier it will be for you to talk to others, including your child. Practice early and ask for help, when needed.
10. MYTH: If you tell the school your child is adopted, they will identify that for any academic, behavioral or social issues that arise.
FACT: It is important for children to know how a school views all sorts of familial and learning issues that might affect their time there. During school tours and interviews, ask about diversity, learning issues, parent and children’s clubs, and support services, such as tutors, psychologists, or social workers. You will need this sort of information to make a decision whether this is the right educational environment for your child and family. Some families remain cautious and choose not to mention the adoption until something happens at school. Others tell at the start, meet with classroom teachers and find that once revealed, teachers are more sensitive when assignments, such as timelines, family tree projects, or genetic curriculum come up. At times, you will need to educate teachers on some alternatives to traditional assignments. Remember, local adoption professionals and agencies can be most helpful to you and may even meet with school personnel. Once you have established this working relationship with the school, teachers can then alert you as to the timing of class work and homework, as well as any peer issues that arise in the classroom. Teachers want to see students succeed academically and socially. Working with you, they will be more prepared to help your child.
Resources to debunk these and more myths, and gain information:
American Academy of Adoption Attorneys
Local Department of Social Services
Local Adoptive Parent Groups
Joint Council on International Children’s Services
Adoptive Family Magazine
National Adoption Information Gateway