The U.S. birth rate is now at a 30-year low. With its decline, adoptions have decreased as well —fewer teenagers are giving birth and seeking adoption for their children. International adoptions also have decreased from a high point in 2004, according to the U.S. State Department, largely because countries that once favored adoptions to the U.S., such as Russia and Guatemala, now restrict them.
What hasn’t decreased is the amount of training and conversations in which prospective adoptive parents participate to prepare them for the moment they bring their child home.
“Nobody, in my opinion, can go through this process without having some support,” says Janice Goldwater, founder of Adoptions Together in Windsor Mill.
Goldwater believes all children deserve healthy and permanent relationships with caring adults, as well as reliable resources and support groups that will ensure their well-being and success. Last year, her organization placed about 30 infants and provided counseling services with about 250 expectant parents.
“For some of those parents, they chose adoption. Others received counseling and connection to community resources,” Goldwater says.
“We are in the business of finding parents for children who need parents, not trying to take children from one family and put them in another family.”
The organization provides not only counseling and adoption education services, but also parent preparation and skills strengthening classes.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau, there were more than 442,000 children in foster care in the U.S. in the fiscal year 2017. Further, only 4,714 children were adopted from other countries by U.S. citizens, according to the 2017 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoptions, released by the State Department in mid-March. This figure is lower than the 5,372 children adopted in 2016 and continues to decline.
Rita Buettner, a Timonium parent of two adoptive children from China —Louis and Michael — says with each adoption comes its own set of circumstances, which is why preparation and communication are essential. For her, the decision to adopt came after she and her husband John struggled with infertility.
In today’s world, she says, the traditional picture of family has expanded and should be talked about freely.
“Our children look different from us, so they would probably have some idea that they weren’t our biological children,” Buettner says. “But, we have always talked about adoption openly with them and we will continue to talk with them about their culture, how they came into our family and what we do know about their time in China. I think at different times in their lives, it will be challenging in different ways. You will have some really hard conversations, but you will also have some great conversations.”
Buettner is director of university communications at Loyola University Maryland, and author of The Catholic Review’s “Open Window” blog, where she often writes about topics concerning adoption, family and faith. She says with adoption there are many unknowns, so it is essential to utilize all the training offered.
“There is a lot of paperwork to get through along with a home study process, among other things,” she says. “We went through a local agency, Catholic Charities, and they couldn’t have been better with providing training. We were adopting toddlers, not an infant. So, that brought its own challenge,” she says. “We even did an optional parenting workshop through them that was really helpful, and that ended up working well for our family as far as bonding.”
The adoptive process can try a parent’s patience, she says. Eleven months passed between the time when she and her husband, John, saw their oldest son’s picture and finally held him. “That was difficult,” she says. “But once you hold your child in your arms, you’re not thinking about, ‘Oh, how hard was it?’ You’re just in love, and it was all worth it.”
Baldwin resident Melissa Corkum and her husband, Patrick, always knew that they wanted to adopt, but they never imagined that they would end up adopting four kids internationally. Melissa, a wellness coach, gave birth to the couple’s oldest two children. Then they decided to add to their family for one main reason: to provide a home for those who didn’t have one. In 2009, the Corkum family adopted their son from Korea when he was just 2 ½ years old. Then in 2012, they adopted three older children, two girls and a boy, from Ethiopia.
Corkum says the key to successful adoptions is a realistic parental expectation. “I don’t think there is a smooth adoption process. I think you can go into it with realistic expectations,” she says. “There is a lot of paperwork, there’s a lot of red tape. It can feel very invasive.”
There are also a lot of costs. Corkum often hears other couples say, “I can’t afford to adopt,” and for good reason. The average middle-class couple whose baby was born last year can expect to spend more than $233,000 to raise that child, according to the U.S. Department Agriculture, and that does not include college costs. Parents who adopt can add about $10,000 to $15,000 to that for agency and attorney costs. Also, many adoptive children require speech or occupational therapy, counseling and other specialized treatment for medical or emotional issues.
“I know a lot of people think that certain therapy is covered by insurance, but it’s not always,” Corkum says. “I wish that agencies required families to have a financial nest egg for services for our kids.”
It’s vital for parents to take care of their own emotional health before deciding to adopt, she adds.
“Kids from adoption have a lot of high emotional needs, so I would tell parents to make sure you’re emotionally stable,” Corkum says. “For example, if you come to adoption through infertility and one of your main reasons for adopting is to fill a hole, that’s a lot of pressure on a child. So, I would say get to a point where you’re healthy and you’re OK with anything. You can’t guarantee a child is going to love you back, or a child is going to be thankful, necessarily, to be adopted.”
In all cases, prospective adoptive parents are encouraged to do their homework. That means researching local adoption laws, which vary by state, thoroughly vetting the birth parents, even considering potential issues that may arise if adopting a child from another race or ethnic group, and learning as much as possible about the child’s background and needs.
And, if parents need additional resources to help guide them, there are attorneys, caseworkers and adoption agencies. Another vital conversation in adoption is to discuss a child’s origin story openly — and continually, adding to the conversation as the child grows older. Children’s curiosity about their adoption is a normal part of growing up, says Baltimore resident Danista Hunte, who along with her partner, Karen, adopted their son, Isaac, now 11, through Adoptions Together.
“I remember the trainer saying to us your child should not be able to say, ‘I found out I was adopted at’ or ‘I found out I was adopted by,’” she says. “There should not be an incident or an age at which they can say, ‘This is when I found out.’ It should be something that is talked about freely and openly as early as they can remember.”
“That was something that resonated and stuck with us,” she adds. “We have been talking to him about his birth parents and his birth family from the beginning, and any time questions come up, we will talk about it. So he’s always known, and in my opinion, armed with the language and the ability to inform others about it as well.”’
Another tip for all the adoptive parents out there? Gather your tribe around you, Corkum says. “Always make sure you have someone who can help with the little things like doing laundry or helping mow your grass,” she says.
“I also recommend that families who are looking to adopt talk to multiple families who have adopted in similar circumstances to them. Just ask, ‘What I should know that I probably don’t know,’ because a lot of times we don’t even know the questions that we should be asking.”
Hunte agreed, stating it’s important to create a reliable network in the adoption community. “The training we received through our agency helped with all of that as well as helping build a network for us with other adoptive parents,” she says. “This is helpful when you’re trying to navigate the process.”
It’s a lot of work, but parenting always is, Karen says. “So many children are in the system currently, and everyone needs a home and a family and someone in their corner,” she says. “So I think it’s critical that if you have the heart and the space to take steps to do that. You are changing a life.”