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Dear Debi,
I want to adopt, but I don't know how to get started with the process. Where do I begin & what can I do to prepare?
Julia Noh
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Carefully consider how your existing family life will change
  • Investigate all the options available for making a child part of your family
  • Connect with adoption advocacy organizations
Expert Advice
Dr. Charles Sophy
Dr. Charles Sophy
Child psychiatrist, father of a 5-year-old
If a couple is considering adopting their first child, the couple must take a look at themselves: What are their eating habits like? What are their sleeping habits? What’s their routine? What is each person’s disciplinary style? A good idea is to make a list of the strengths and qualities that each person is bringing to the table. This way, each person knows what his or her role is and how they fit into the family.

Are You Right for Adoption?
Adoption isn’t for everyone. You have to keep in mind that you’re taking someone else’s child into your home, and with that come other implications. You really have no idea what that child may have been exposed to, either environmentally or biologically, so you have to be willing to accept that. You also have to be thick-skinned because you may be adopting a child who is of a different race or culture, and society tends to look at that differently. This can be especially difficult for mothers because there’s a societal implication that they’re “broken.” There’s also the possibility that your community and your extended family may view you differently; so if you’re making the decision to adopt, you should consider all these possibilities and make sure that it’s not going to derail the process.

Important Considerations
Adopting a child is a wonderful thing, but it does change your life. You have to consider how your life will change in the following ways:
  • Family structure - Whether it’s a first, second or third addition, it will affect the entire family structure. The youngest may not be the youngest anymore, or the middle child will no longer be the middle child, etc. These are things that should be discussed.
  • Added responsibilities – Regardless of the age of the child you’re adopting, you will now be responsible for caring for someone else. You should come up with a game plan of who’s going to handle what, and how.
  • Time – Adding someone else to your family means spending your time differently. Usually, it means dedicating more time to the child, and making the child your priority.
  • Finances – Depending on the method of adoption, adopting a child can be an expense. Once the child is part of your family, it also means added expenses. You have to make sure you’ve budgeted accordingly and do whatever you can to minimize the financial strain.
Types of Adoption
  • Open adoptions: the birth parent(s) and the adoptive parents know something about each other, and in some cases even continue to communicate with one another after the child is born.
  • Confidential or Closed adoptions: the birth parents and the adoptive parents never know one another. Adoptive parents may be given some information about the child’s mother and/ or father, such as medical histories, if they’re known.
  • Public adoptions: children are adopted through the state, such as through the foster care system.
  • Private adoption: adoptive parents choose an agency to help facilitate an adoption. Agencies can be used to help with international adoptions, grandparents adoption, second parent adoption, and any other adoptions where the state hasn’t gotten involved first, such as through a department of family services.
The Adoption Process
The very first step is to do a self-inventory, where the adoptive parents ask themselves a variety of questions to determine whether adoption is right for them, what they bring to the family, etc.

Once you’ve decided that you definitely want to adopt, you should then contact your public child welfare agency or a private adoption agency, depending on the kind of adoption you want, and they’ll help guide you through the process, show you all your options, etc. They’ll also help you connect with an attorney and find psychological support.

Once this process has started, there will be a home study for safety, where they check to make sure your home is safe for a child. There are also a lot of seemingly unnecessarily intrusive questions that are necessary to determine that this is the best permanent home for the child.

Adoption Requirements
The specifics will vary from state to state, and the adoption organization will help guide you through that. But there are some things that are standard no matter what state you live in. You have to provide evidence of emotional and financial stability. You have to be able to show that you have a support system, such as extended family and friends. You must show that you can provide permanence and safety. They look at your lifestyle; conduct a criminal background check all in order to be sure to provide the child with a safe, permanent home.

Telling Children They Have Been Adopted
There are really two schools of thought: one that earlier is better, and one that says to wait until they’re considerably older, like 9, 10 or 11 years of age. The problem with waiting until they’re older is that it can lead to serious trust issues because they end up feeling betrayed and cheated.

I’m of the belief that the earlier you tell your child, the better. You can start talking to them about the fact that they’re adopted as early as 3 or 4 years of age, and in age-appropriate ways. One way to bring it up is to talk about different family structures. You can do it through dolls, books, role playing, etc. You start out very general and then eventually you say, “You came to your family that way.” Kids usually won’t ask again until they’re ready to go through another psychological phase. Once that happens, you can begin to make it more and more specific, especially as they get older.

Remember that even though adoption is a legal process, the most important part is the commitment you’re making to the child – “I am committed to loving and raising this child in a stable loving home.”
Caregiver Comments
Corey Gamboa
Corey Gamboa
Adoptive mother of a 16-month-old
Looking back, the adoption process really wasn’t that challenging, but it was very emotional. We had to come to terms with the fact that we weren’t able to have children biologically. Once we accepted that and moved forward with the decision to adopt, the whole thing was pretty easy. It takes a bit of time and a lot of patience.
Rosa Rios
Rosa Rios
Grandmother of three
I have been around from the beginning to support and encourage my son and daughter-in-law as they go through the adoption process. I have been keeping my grandson with me while they attend the classes and workshops. I haven’t really explained the process to my grandson, but I just tell him that he will be getting a little brother or sister soon. He drew a picture in school of his family and he included his “big brother.”
Tamika Bridgewater
Tamika Bridgewater
Mother of two
We already had a son biologically, who is 5-years-old. John, our adopted son, is 2-years old. The 5-year-old and John are amazing together. From the weekend John first stayed with us, he started calling us “dada” and “mama.” I see everything you would want to see in a son toward his father. We’ve been so blessed.

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Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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