By JEN BAKER for Smart
In keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving, it’s fitting that November is proclaimed as National Adoption Awareness Month.
It’s a chance to give thanks for those who have opened their hearts and homes to adopt a child and to also recognize adoption would not be possible without the sacrifice of the birth family.
Adoption is a legal process that creates a new, permanent relationship between parent and child where one didn’t exist before. For one reason or another, the birth family cannot take care of the child, which creates the need for adoptive families.
There are many reasons families choose to adopt, whether it’s to start a family or to grow an existing one. Adoption is not just an answer to the inability to carry a pregnancy to term; it’s often an answer to the general desire to parent a child.
“There are a lot of children out there who need a home,” said Jennifer Kuhns of Glen Rock, who adopted her daughter, Karlye, from China in 2007. “Adoption was the way we chose to build our family. It was the single most humbling, rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
No matter what leads someone to consider adoption, one thing is clear: This lifelong commitment should be done only for the right reasons.
“Think about why you want to adopt, with the answer in your heart being that you want a child, and you want a family,” said Connie Whitmarsh, mother of two daughters adopted from China.
Offering some perspective for adoptive fathers is Jim Poland, also a parent of two daughters adopted from China. “The husband needs to be truly passionate and committed to being a dad, not just to making his wife happy.”
Other important considerations are the type of adoption: domestic (within the United States) or international (from another country).
Within Pennsylvania, there are thousands of foster children waiting to be adopted into a permanent home.
“It’s really great to adopt a child that’s in need,” said Andrea Ryan, director of agency relations for The Children’s Home of York. “There is certainly opportunity for someone to adopt a 2-, 3- or 4-year old, or even a teen.”
The Children’s Home of York operates through Pennsylvania’s Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN), which serves children in the custody of county children and youth agencies. SWAN supports county agencies in expediting permanency services.
The Children’s Home of York works to match parents and children through a set of profiles of families that are looking to adopt and also of children that are waiting to be adopted.
Many families choose to foster a child while they are waiting for a match. Prospective parents receive at least 40 hours of training and must pass background checks and clearances before a child is placed with them.
Domestic adoption in Pennsylvania is basically fee-free, because there is state funding available. State funding also provides free counseling after the adoption takes place, no matter if you adopted through The Children’s Home of York or not. “You get long-term support,” Ryan said. “We want the match to work.”
Still, many families choose international adoption because young babies are less available domestically. About half of the children adopted internationally are younger than 1 year old, and nearly all of them are younger than 4.
The level of structure and predictability also is of interest to some families. “The China program is very stable, which is why we chose it,” Kuhns said. “No one receives preferential treatment.”
Others are drawn to the idea of an adoption where there is very little risk of contact from the birth parent.
“It’s a closed adoption; there are no strings attached. There are no parents wanting pictures of or a relationship with the child,” Whitmarsh said.
In addition to China, families also adopt children from countries such as Romania, Guatemala, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. In January, Gov. Ed Rendell led an effort to rescue 54 children from earthquake-ravaged Haiti and bring them back to Pennsylvania to find permanent homes.
There are many agencies available to assist with international adoption.
“When you’re thinking about adoption, parents should meet with and interview several agencies,” Kuhns said. “Be -comfortable with your social worker. It’s not like a two-week endeavor.”
International adoption can take a significant amount of time, sometimes ranging one to four years. “The wait can be very very long. That was the hardest,” Kuhns said.
No matter the country of origin, parents who have chosen international adoption agree it’s important to be comfortable with traveling to a foreign country and to be prepared to have food, facilities, -language and environment that are -different than what you are used to.
Adoptive parents also should be -prepared for the questions and comments that come with having a child who does not look like you. “Make it loud and proud that they are a unique and special individual because they are adopted,” Poland said. “Someone chose to be their parent.”
Additionally, as the child grows up, sharing information with them about his or her culture and heritage is equally important. “The child’s history of origin is part of their life,” Whitmarsh said. “If you have negativity about their background, it will affect who they are.”
Unlike state-funded domestic adoption, there can be significant costs associated with international adoption, such as lawyer’s fees, travel expenses and home study fees. A home study includes information about the applicants such as home environment; family background and method of discipline; health and employment history; and references and criminal background checks. Assistance might be available for these expenses, such as employer adoption benefits and a federal adoption tax credit, which was $12,150 in 2009.
It’s also necessary to apply to bring an orphan into the United States through Homeland Security, as well as provide a guardianship plan and write an autobiography.
“Don’t let a mountain of paperwork stand in your way,” Kuhns said. “There are steps you have to take and rules you have to follow, but it’s been one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
Thousands of families have adopted successfully. If you’re considering adoption, talking to someone who has gone through the process can help you understand what to expect.
Adoption can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. “Adoption is fantastic,” Poland said. “If you are able to do it emotionally and financially, please do it.”
Legacy of an adopted child
Once there were two women who never knew each other.
One you do not remember, the other you call Mother.
Two different lives shaped to make your one.
One became your guiding star; the other became your sun.
The first one gave you life, and the second taught you to live it.
The first gave you a need for love, the second was there to give it.
One gave you a nationality; the other gave you a name.
One gave you a talent; the other gave you an aim.
One gave you emotions; the other calmed your fears.
One saw your first sweet smile, the other dried your tears.
One sought for you a home that she could not provide,
The other prayed for a child – and her hopes were not denied.
And now you ask me through your tears,
The age-old question unanswered through the years:
Heredity or environment — which are you a product of?
Neither my darling.
Just two different kinds of love.
— Author unknown
For more information about adoption:
The Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN) and the PA Adoption Exchange: www.adoptpakids.org, (800) 585-SWAN (7926)
Adoptions From The Heart: www.afth.org or (866) 251-1397
Catholic Charities Adoption Services and Specialized Foster Care: www.hbgdiocese.org/adopt or 564-7115
Children’s Home of York: www.choyork.org or 755-1033. Information sessions are available 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 16 and 6:30 8:30 p.m. Dec. 9. Call to register.