Adopted Children at the Holidays

Every year around the holidays, I like to revisit this post that I originally wrote in 2010, to remind adoptive families and those who love them that the holidays can be a hard time for adopted children, and offering suggestions about how to make it easier. I hope you find this helpful during this season. Here is the link: Adopted Children and the Holidays.

While we are at it, let’s not forget birth parents, who often feel that a piece of their hearts is missing during this season. If you have an ongoing relationship with your child’s birth mother and/or other biological family members, don’t forget to let them know you’re thinking about them this season.

I wish each of you all the joy, warmth, and love your hearts can hold this holiday.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

First comes love, then comes marriage…what’s next for Virginia same-sex couples?

What a week for Virginia law! On Monday (October 6), the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the 4th Circuit’s decision holding that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, thus leaving that decision in place. To make a long story short, same-sex marriage is now legal and recognized in Virginia.

On October 10th, Governor Terry McAuliffe wrote a memorandum to Virginia Departments of Social Services, instructing them that married same-sex couples should now be considered in the same way as heterosexual married couples for the purposes of adoption and foster parenting. “Any married couple is a married couple for purposes of adoptive placements in accordance with Virginia Code § 63.2-1225,” the governor wrote, citing the Virginia adoption statute.

This change has huge implications for married same-sex couples in Virginia. Although we have yet to see how it will play out in the early cases, it seems clear that married same-sex couples should now be able to adopt a child exactly the same way that a heterosexual couple would, including stepparent adoptions, adoptions from foster care, and agency adoptions.

The change also leaves many things unclear. Since same-sex marriage is now recognized in Virginia, it’s logical that any child that a same-sex couple had together through artificial insemination or surrogacy would now be recognized as the legal child of both partners, with no need for a “second-parent adoption” or guardianship. Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a lawyer, it’s not to assume that people will do what is logical. It will be very interesting to see how that issue unfolds.

It is also unclear whether this change leaves privately-owned adoption agencies free to discriminate against same-sex couples. It is clear that the Virginia Department of Social Services, which does adoptions from foster care, may not do so. Since all adoption agencies must be licensed by the state to operate, must they also follow this law? Or these agencies, most of which are religiously affiliated, be exempt on religious grounds?

If you have questions about how these exciting changes will impact your family, contact us today. I would be more than happy to sit down with you and discuss how to choose the best course for your family.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Free Adoption Seminar in Northern Virginia

It’s that time of year again! To kick off National Adoption Month, The Vaughan Firm is holding a free adoption seminar on Saturday, November 2 at 10:00 a.m. in downtown Leesburg, Virginia. If you live in Northern Virginia, this is the perfect opportunity to learn about adoption from start to finish and get your questions answered. We always talk about how to choose the right adoption type for your family, how to get started with the process, the timing and cost of adoption, and much more. In addition to an adoption lawyer (my charming self), guest speakers will also include a birth mother and a consultant on making a compelling adoptive family profile. For more information and to register, go to the seminar registration page. Hope to see you there!

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

An Opportunity for Virginia to Celebrate Adoption

No matter how you lean politically, it must be admitted that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell loves adoption. Back in May he launched a his “Virginia Adopts: Campaign for 1,000″ initiative, which aimed to find adoptive homes for 1,000 children in foster care. In July, he added a social media campaign called #100Kids100Days, where each day for 100 days the administration shares the photo and story of one child who is in foster care in Virginia awaiting adoption.

Encouraged by the success of these initiatives, today Governor McDonnell launched a new social media effort with the purpose of increasing support for adoption in Virginia. The new campaign, which is called #IHeartAdoption, invites Virginia families who support adoption to tell the world about how adoption has touched their lives.

Any Virginian can participate in the campaign by printing out this template and writing in why you love adoption. The official website isn’t completely clear, but it sounds like you’re then supposed to take a photo of yourself holding the printout and email it to You can also post your photo on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #IHeartAdoption. Before sumbitting it, understand that all submissions could be included on the Virginia Adopts website, Facebook, Twitter or other promotional material. They plan to get the word out widely about how much adoption rocks!

I especially love that the campaign doesn’t limit participation to adoptive families. Any Virginian can share why they love adoption, including birth parents, adoptees, siblings of adoptees — anyone. I hope that this will send birth parents the message that Virginia supports the heartwrenchingly hard decisions they have made. I hope this will send adoptees the message that Virginia supports and cherishes them. I hope this will send foster children the message that Virginia has not given up on finding permanent homes for them. I hope this will send everyone the message that adoption is all about love!

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

A Good Deal on Photo Cards from Living Social

It’s no secret that a postcard-size photo card with a short message on it is a great way to get the word out that you’re looking to adopt a child. You can hand them out to friends and relatives, post them in coffee shops, public libraries, and community centers, distribute them at church, place a pile at your doctor’s office…you get the idea. Many people find their adoptive “match” this way.

A friend on Facebook just alerted me to this deal on LivingSocial, offering 40 photo cards for $18, 70 for $28, or 100 cards for $38, from a company called PhotoAffections (to be clear, neither I nor The Vaughan Firm is in any way affiliated with LivingSocial or PhotoAffections). If you share the deal with three friends who also buy it, you get your order for free. Not bad! Here is the link.

Other companies that offer photo cards include SnapFish, Shutterfly, Vistaprint, and Costco. As of this writing, Costco has the best price, but of course you have to be a member. I also know many couples who have used photo business cards for the same purpose. Cards are a great way to spread the word that you’re looking to add to your family.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Google Image Search: A Tool for Scam Detection

I don’t know what it is about this year, but more than ever before I am seeing my adoptive-family clients getting contacted by adoption scammers. As a result, I’ve decided to write a series on adoption scams and how to detect them. You can see all the posts by going to the “Categories” column on the right and clicking “Adoption Scams.” Today’s post is the second installment.

As we know, adoption scammers are people who prey on prospective adoptive parents to get money or some kind of bizarre psychological thrill. Financial scammers generally start asking for money fairly early on in the process. Emotional scammers seem to thrive on the drama and attention and are a little harder to detect.

Many scammers send photos of themselves and/or ultrasound images. Generally, they have stolen these images from other people’s Facebook pages and websites. One tool that I frequently use to detect scammers is a simple Google Image Search. This search allows you to search the internet for a photo to see if it appears anywhere else on the Web.

To do an image search, simply go to Google’s image search site and click the camera icon on the right-hand side of the search bar. From there, click “Upload an Image” and select the photo that you want to search for. The search will also turn up similar-looking photos for you to compare. If the image turns up on a Facebook or other social media profile under a different name, beware! The scammer has probably stolen that photo, and the person in the photo is probably an innocent victim with no idea that their image is being used to scam adoptive parents.

For other red flags to help you detect adoption scams, check out this post and this post.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

New Series on Adoption Scams

I don’t know what it is about this year, but more than ever before I am seeing my adoptive-family clients getting contacted by adoption scammers. As a result, I’ve decided to write a series on adoption scams and how to detect them. You can see all the posts in the series by going to the “Categories” column on the right and clicking “Adoption Scams.”

What is an adoption scam? Essentially, it is a couple or individual who contact prospective adoptive parents saying that they would like to place a baby for adoption, when in fact they have no intention of doing so. While the Internet is a wonderful tool for adoption, it also leaves prospective adoptive parents especially vulnerable to these types of scams. My clients who have profiles on sites like Parent Profiles, Adoptimist, and even Facebook report especially high numbers of scam contacts. This certainly does not mean that you shouldn’t use the Internet in your search! Instead, just take a few precautions to protect yourself.

There are several types of adoption scams. The most common is one where a woman who is not actually pregnant contacts prospective adoptive parents and quickly selects them as the adoptive family for her “baby.” She then sends multiple requests for money, usually saying she is having some kind of crisis (getting evicted, getting her water shut off, having a medical emergency). Another scenario is one where the woman is actually pregnant, but has “selected” multiple adoptive families and is taking money from all of them or simply stringing them along. This is why we have the First Commandment of Adoption: Thou Shalt Not Give Any Birth Parent Money Unless It Goes Through Thy Lawyer.

An increasingly common type of scam, and one that is a little harder to detect, is the emotional scammer. In this type of scam, a woman who is either not pregnant or who has no intention of placing her baby for adoption strings couples along but never asks for money. Emotional scammers are severely psychologically disturbed people who simply like the attention and drama of deceiving prospective adoptive parents. The hallmark of the emotional scam is high drama: Usually these scammers have multiple dramatic life situations going on, such as medical emergencies, houses burning down, boyfriends leaving them, family members dying, etc. Interestingly, emotional scammers very frequently claim to be having twins and almost always claim high-risk pregnancies.

The very best way to find out whether a potential match is actually a scam is to work closely with a reputable adoption attorney or agency. Attorneys and agencies keep tabs on the common scams and know what red flags to look out for. This is another great reason to always use an attorney whose practice is at least 50% adoption. The adoption specialist will check the web and with other adoption professionals for scam information regularly. Another good way to learn about scammers is to join one of the several email lists where adoptive parents share the names and information of scammers who have contacted them. Often scammers change their names with every scam, but the basic story they tell will remain the same. These scam-information-sharing groups are indispensable for keeping tabs on the latest scammers.

For more on red flags that can indicate a scam, check out this post, and be sure to check out the rest of the blog series.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

The Baby Veronica Case: Call It Anything, But Not a Win

In the entirely justified celebrations that have followed the Supreme Court’s striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act, another, less well-known case has gotten lost in the shuffle.

On Monday, the Supreme Court held that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) does not apply to a case where a part-Cherokee child’s biological father never had custody of her, and no Cherokee relatives stepped forward to adopt her before she was adopted by a family with no Cherokee heritage.

The birth father, Dusten Brown, is a member of the Cherokee Nation under that tribe’s rules regarding who can be a member. The birth mother, Christy Maldonado, is not Native American. Maldonado got pregnant while engaged to Brown, but the couple broke up. Brown did not support Maldonado financially during her pregnancy, and the two had an exchange of text messages (before the baby was born) in which he said that he would consent to the adoption. When he was notified that adoption proceedings were pending, he signed a consent before meeting with a lawyer. Once he had met with a lawyer the next day, he immediately attempted to revoke his consent, oppose the adoption, and gain custody of the child.

A few things jumped out at me about this case. I have always thought that ICWA as applied to private adoption is a terrible idea. The statute was designed to prevent abuses (very serious ones, and still ongoing from what I understand) where the state was removing Native American children from their homes and placing them in foster care when no abuse or neglect had taken place. A huge, disproportionate number of Native American children were removed this way, and in the 1970′s it was egregious enough that they passed a Federal law to try to prevent it. The explicit purpose of the statute is to prevent children from being removed from their families against the will of the parents and without sufficient cause. I personally (and there are many who disagree with me) don’t see how the purposes of the statute are served by allowing tribes to intervene in adoptions, where state laws protect the parents’ rights without respect to race. If the parents want the child to be adopted, why involve the tribe? I’m uncomfortable when race comes into cases where it really doesn’t belong.

That being said, I’m very troubled by the fathers’ rights issues implicated in this case. This is a dad who intervened in the case as soon as he learned that an adoption was contemplated. Granted, he wasn’t exactly a standup guy during the pregnancy, but it’s not clear from anything I’ve read that he was ever even notified when the baby was born. The court made much of the fact that he had not supported the birth mother financially during her pregnancy, and that indeed his lack of support may have been a factor in her decision to place the baby for adoption. However, there’s so much that we don’t know about why that was. If the birth mother told Dad to eat dirt and never contact her again, that sheds a very different light on his lack of support, in my view. Be that as it may, as soon as Dad got notice, he objected. The Supreme Court states in its opinion that he would not have had the right to intervene under South Carolina’s law; ICWA was the only reason he was still in the case at all. This says to me that South Carolina’s law does not adequately protect fathers. I feel similarly about our laws here in Virginia, where I practice. The law doesn’t give good-faith fathers much of a chance, and that is wrong. Of course, only ICWA, and not father’s rights in general, was the issue before the Supreme Court in this case, so they could not have ruled on that ground.

But the Court also made much of the fact that ICWA was designed to prevent the “breakup” of Indian families, which it interpreted to mean that a child should not be removed from an intact family. Are we to believe that keeping a father who wants to parent his daughter from doing so does not count as the “breakup” of a family, merely because he never had custody? He wanted custody! He just was unable to get it in South Carolina’s courts.

I read a post on an adoption forum where someone stated that the Supreme Court’s verdict was “a win for the best interests of the child.” Wrong. Veronica spent the first two years and three months of her life with her adoptive parents, then went to live with a father who was a total stranger to her. How the South Carolina court came to the conculusion that this wasn’t clearly detrimental to the best interests of the child I have no idea, but it’s completely unsupported by child development science. Separating a two-year-old child from the only family she has ever known is an inevitable recipe for an attachment disorder. But (big But!) at this point, she has been with her father for 18 months. If she is indeed returned to the adoptive parents, that is not a “win.” It’s a tragedy no matter how you slice it.

I agree with the majority insofar as I think the purposes of ICWA are more geared towards keeping children in intact families, not in disrupting adoptions where everyone has consented properly under stat law. But I am troubled that state law in SC gives dad so little opportunity to exercise his rights. Most of all, I hope that these parties can come to their damn senses and agree do what is right for the child, which is most probably for her to stay right where she is rather than have her life turned upside down yet again.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

A Victory for Love in the DOMA/Prop 8 Case

Congratulations to my clients who are same-sex couples on this beautiful victory in the Supreme Court today. It is still unclear how this change will apply, particularly to those who live in states where same-sex marriage (and adoption) is still illegal (including my home state of Virginia). There is still so much work to be done to obtain equality for families and children in this country. However, today’s ruling is a huge step forward.

I am especially excited by the Supreme Court’s explicit ruling that same-sex marriage is beneficial for children. My practice is centered on children, and I know that aside from simply being the right thing to do, marriage equality protects children by giving them two parents with equal rights and responsibilities, as well as making more families eligible to foster needy children and adopt them from foster care. Justice Kennedy wrote that DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

I am a straight child-welfare lawyer in an egregiously discriminatory state. I believe in the equality and dignity of all people before the law. I believe that all loving families are beneficial for children. If you are a GLBTQ person with a child-related legal issue, I make you this pledge: I will help you make it through this shameful period in our nation’s history. Take heart — it is getting better.

This is so great — and there’s still so much to be done! Let’s celebrate and then get back to work.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

In Finland, a Complete Newborn Kit – Just Add Baby!

From the “great ideas” department, I just learned from this article that in Finland, every expectant mother gets a “maternity package” – a box containing diapers, bedding, clothing, bathing supplies, outdoor gear, and a picture book. The box that it comes in has a small mattress in the bottom so it can be baby’s bed. Expectant mothers who visit a doctor before their fourth month of pregnancy have a choice between the box or a cash grant of 140 euros (about $186), but most choose the box, because the contents are more valuable. Why give the box during pregnancy, rather than when the mother is discharged from the hospital? It encourages expectant mothers to get obstetrical care during pregnancy. Not surprising, then, that Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. What a smart way to give babies the right start in life!

Another thing I love about this idea is that it highlights how very little babies truly need. While the baby-stuff industry would like us to believe that babies need wipe warmers and head bows and crib bumpers and singing night-lights, the truth is that all babies really need is milk or formula, something to wear, a safe place to sleep, a little wash now and then, and lots and lots of love.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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