Archive for June, 2010

Six Tips for the Search Process

These six tips will help take the stress out of looking for a baby to adopt.

So you’ve decided that domestic, private adoption is right for your family. The next question most hopeful adoptive families ask next is simple: How on earth do we go about locating a baby to adopt? I know one enthusiastic adoptive dad who got thrown out of a shopping mall and threatened with arrest for walking up to pregnant women and asking them if they were considering adoption for their babies! Trust me, there is a better way. Check out my six strategies for a successful search that will leave your sanity – and your criminal record – unscathed.

1. Get a dedicated phone line. Many adopting families get a toll-free number that birth mothers can call to contact them. This is a good idea that usually costs only about $15 to $20 per month, plus a per-minute charge that’s generally a just a few cents per minute. Whether you decide to go toll-free or not, consider having a phone line that is dedicated solely to adoption inquiries, so you’re not jumping out of your skin every time your main telephone rings. Another way to accomplish this is to get a separate number for birth mothers that rings to your cell phone, and give those calls a different ring tone.

2. Consider the search to be a long-term, part-time job. Searching for a baby to adopt can be overwhelming and emotionally exhausting. Instead of feverishly dedicating every minute of the day to the search, consider doing one or two small things each day – every day – to move your search along. Post fliers, put the word out among your friends, join a support group, or write a family résumé. Dividing the search into small, manageable tasks will make it seem less daunting.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of your fellow adoptive families. Some adopting families hesitate to ask other families for help with their search, feeling that they are in competition with others who wish to adopt. Not so! Other adoptive families can be a great source of leads. It’s a mysterious truth of adoption that when a family begins to get leads, they often get more than one, so other adopting families can pass on these “extra” leads once they have chosen a baby to adopt. Also, sometimes a birth mother who is not a good fit for one family (for example, because she wants an open adoption while the adopting family prefers closed, or because the birth mother is looking for a family of a certain background or religion) could be a perfect fit for another family – maybe yours! Join a local or online support group to meet other adoptive families.

4. Get the word out. Tell everyone you know that you are looking to adopt: family, friends, coworkers, people at your church, the clerk in the grocery store line, everyone. Leads can come from unexpected sources! There are several different media that can help you get the word out, as well. Many couples have a simple 3-by-5 card printed up with their contact information, a short message, and perhaps a photo. Small, local, free newspapers and magazines are great places to post a classified ad without breaking the bank. There are also several websites dedicated to this purpose.

5. Keep it simple. Remember that the purpose of your message to birth mothers is to get them to take the next step and call you on the phone to learn more. The simpler your message to birth mothers is, the more likely you are to connect. Since you have no way of knowing what a particular birth mother is looking for in a family, it’s best to keep it simple. One trap that adoptive-family ads frequently fall into is inadvertently insulting the birth mother. Statements like “we can give your baby the home that you can’t,” sound presumptuous to many birth mothers. Similarly, pointing out your education or income level can come off as insulting. Stick to the basics: You’re a loving family who longs to give a baby a home. Every birth mother is looking for that!

6. Don’t Give Up. While some days it may feel like nothing is happening and your effort is wasted, the truth is that if you don’t give up, you will get a baby. In the United States, most families who choose private domestic adoption find and adopt a baby within two years of starting their search. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

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

Father Registries

Many states, including my home state of Virginia, have started using databases called putative father registries (some states call them “responsible father registries” or similar names) to help protect fathers’ rights and simplify adoption cases. If you think you could be a dad and are concerned about protecting your rights in the event that the mother wants to place the baby for adoption, you should consider registering. This post explains how the Putative Father Registry works here in Virginia. Most states that have such registries run them in a similar way, but be sure to check your local laws. Some concerned citizens are lobbying for a registry that would cover the whole United States, making it much easier for fathers to protect their parental rights.

What is the Putative Father Registry?
Let’s start by eliminating the fancy lawyer words. “Putative” is a word that simply means “assumed” or “believed to be.” So, a putative father is someone that we assume is the father of a baby until it’s proven otherwise. What’s important about being a putative father is that you have the right to be notified before your parental rights can be terminated to put the child up for adoption or in foster care. The putative father registry lets men who think they could be fathers register their names in a database so that if it turns out that they did father a child, they will be notified of any adoption or foster care plans concerning their children. Even if the mother does not know how to contact you or doesn’t want to contact you about the baby, you will be notified if you have registered. The registry is designed to replace the old practice of publishing notices in the back of the newspaper to notify fathers that their parental rights are being terminated, a method that was not very effective at alerting fathers of their babies’ adoptions.

Seven Fast Facts about the Putative Father Registry

  • 1. The registry only protects you if you use it. The putative father registry will protect your rights if you register, but the flip side is that the court now expects men who might be fathers to use the registry. So, while the court used to make some efforts to put birth fathers on notice (for example, by publishing notices in the newspaper or on the courthouse door), fathers themselves are now expected to take the initiative to protect their own rights by registering. If you have had sex with a woman, you are legally on notice that you might be a father.
  • 2. The Putative Father Registry is free. There is no cost to register – just fill out the form and mail it.
  • 3. The Putative Father Registry is confidential. The putative father registry is not a public record. It is strictly confidential, so you don’t have to worry that your private life is going to be exposed.
  • 4. You have to register in time and in the right place. In order to protect your parental rights, you have to register either before the child is born, within ten days of when the child is born, or within ten days of learning that the mother has fraudulently hidden the existence of the child from you. Also, you should register in the state where the baby was conceived or born, even if you live in a different state.
  • 5. You should register separately for each relationship that might have resulted in a pregnancy. If you had a relationship with the same woman over a long period of time, you can register once for the whole period, but if you were with multiple women (or the same woman with a long stretch of time in between), you will need to register for each time that you might have fathered a child.
  • 6. Registering does not prove paternity. Registering with the Putative Father Registry doesn’t prove that you are the father of the child. If paternity is in dispute, a blood test will still be needed to prove that you’re the father.
  • 7. Men who are married to the birth mother need not register.The law automatically assumes that a woman’s husband is the father of her baby until proven otherwise, so men who are married to the mother (even if you are separated) do not need to register.

The Putative Father Registries and other registries like it help to prevent the heartbreaking situation where a man who deeply wanted to be a dad learns too late that his child has been placed for adoption. If you could be a father and want to step up, please register!

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

An Adoption Story from StoryCorps

I always get tears in my eyes when I listen to the stories on National Public Radio’s “StoryCorps” program, but today’s is a very special one. Click here to hear an inspiring story about a mother who placed her son for adoption as a teenager, then went on to adopt a son many years later. Their story is heartwarming, and their love for each other even more so.

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

A Special Post for Parents of Pregnant Teens

Most of my posts on the Vaughan Firm Blog talk to birth parents and adoptive parents, but I want to take some time for another group that is strongly affected by adoption: The parents of pregnant teens. Learning that your teenager is pregnant (or has gotten someone pregnant) is a shock that may leave you feeling at a loss for what to do. Since this is an adoption blog, I will focus on teenagers who have decided to have their babies rather than to have an abortion. Also, although I have focused this post on teen mothers, most of the information applies equally to teen fathers. Let’s talk about the rights and responsibilities within your newly-changed family, and where to go from here.

  • 1. Know your rights and responsibilities…
    Pregnant teenagers walk a confusing line between childhood and adulthood. Your teenager’s pregnancy does not change your parental rights and responsibilities towards her. You are still responsible for her care, housing, and discipline, and she can’t move out of your house or quit school without your permission. However, read on.
  • 2. …but also know your child’s rights and responsibilities. Your teen’s pregnancy does give her the right to make decisions about the well-being of her baby, just like an adult mother. Although you are likely to have a lot of emotional influence over the decisions she will make, a pregnant teen’s parents have no legal rights regarding the baby. The decision whether to give the baby up for adoption or not rests with the young woman and the baby’s father. The baby’s grandparents cannot block the adoption and they cannot force the mother to give the baby up for adoption.
  • 3. Take the time to think it through yourself before you talk it through with your child. Hearing the news that your teenager is pregnant is a shock, and it’s easy to say things you will later regret. Instead of trying to talk about the future right away, tell your daughter that you love her and you’d like to have a day to think before you talk it over. Find some quiet time to write in a journal, talk to a trusted friend, or see a counselor. If possible, it’s also a good idea to talk to the father’s parents, to share your concerns and talk about how much you are willing and able to do to support this new young family.
  • 4. Have a tough talk about the future. While you may feel like shouting “how could this possibly happen?!” the truth is, it has happened, and now is the time to talk about the future. Give your daughter some tough love by asking her specific questions about what her goals are and how she plans to meet those goals. How will she finish school? How will she support her baby? What lifestyle changes will she make to take care of herself during pregnancy? It’s okay if she doesn’t know the answers to all these questions, but let her know that you expect her to figure them out, with your help.
  • 5. Support school. The best thing your daughter can do to give herself and her baby a good future is to finish school. Many schools offer flexible programs such as night classes, independent study, and GED programs for pregnant teens. Help your daughter to find out what education options are available to her, and let her know that finishing school is important.
  • 6. Help her gather information. As with any big decision, more information means better choices. Take your daughter to a crisis pregnancy center to get information about what options and resources are available to her. If she’s curious about adoption, set up a consultation at an adoption agency or with an adoption lawyer. Ask a local social worker if they could put you in touch with other women who have been teen moms. Meeting moms who have decided to keep their babies, moms who decided to place their babies for adoption, and moms who have had abortions may help your daughter decide what’s right for her.
  • 7. Include the father. The father of your daughter’s baby might be the last person you want to think about right now, but the truth is, he has legal rights and responsibilities, too. For example, he is responsible for supporting his child, and he must be consulted before placing the baby for adoption. If possible, speak to his parents and enlist their support.
  • 8. Find a doctor that your daughter is comfortable with. Good medical care is essential for your daughter’s health and the health of her baby. Further, a trusted doctor can be a neutral, knowledgeable resource with whom your daughter can discuss her options and ask questions. Take the time to find someone your daughter is comfortable talking to about her pregnancy.
  • 9. Don’t forget support for you. You’re probably devoting most of your energy to supporting your daughter and her baby, but don’t forget yourself. Learning that your daughter is pregnant is a shock that will stir up a lot of difficult emotions. Consider seeing a counselor to help you work through your emotions and reduce stress. Many parents feel ashamed to talk about their teen’s pregnancy, but reaching out to trusted friends or a support group will help you get through this big life change.

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

Taming home study stress

It’s understandable that the home study process fills most adoptive parents with anxiety. After all, at what other time in your life does someone come into your home to decide whether you are “suitable”? Not to worry; your home doesn’t have to be magazine-perfect…and neither do you! Check out my 7 tips for a less stressful home study.

  • 1. Arrange for a home study as soon as you know you want to adopt. The average home study in my home state of Virginia takes approximately two months, and expediting the home study process costs extra. It’s less costly and less stressful to renew the home study if it expires than to rush the home study if you find a child to adopt faster than you expected.
  • 2. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. While most of the skeletons in people’s closets will not block an adoption, covering up or lying about them certainly will. Be forthcoming when answering the home study questions, including those about health issues, financial problems, and brushes with the law. Social workers know that people are human and that you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent for your adopted child. Further, it’s important to be honest about what traits you are willing to consider in a child, including gender, age, race, and disability. Remember that the home study is not available to the birth parents or the public – it is for the court’s eyes only.
  • 3. If you’re worried about a specific issue, ask the social worker about it in advance. Maybe you had a drunk driving conviction back in college. Maybe you’re being treated for depression. Whatever it is, if a something is keeping you up nights worrying about the home study, don’t be afraid to bring it up when you interview social workers. Simply ask the social worker how he or she normally handles issues like yours. Chances are they have seen it before. While there certainly are some things that are true dealbreakers (like a conviction for child abuse or neglect, a recent history of drug abuse, or a felony conviction), most of the things adoptive parents worry about are not on this list. If a social worker seems overly judgmental in the interview, don’t be afraid to interview others.
  • 4. Easier said than done: Don’t freak out! As one social worker in my area likes to say, “the home study is not a white-glove test.” The purpose of the home study is not to discover dust bunnies behind your armoire. The purpose of the home study is to identify safe and loving homes for children who need them. While I’m the last person to discourage you from vacuuming behind the armoire, don’t drive yourself crazy.
  • 5. Be prepared for the “paper pregnancy.” Now is the time to develop those organizational skills you will need as a parent. The home study will require a host of documents, including the birth certificates of everyone who lives in the household, your marriage license if you are married, the divorce decree if you are divorced, proof of employment and insurance, financial records, and more. Make a binder or a group of folders in your filing cabinet for your adoption materials. Making an extra copy of everything will save you a lot of frustration if anything gets lost or destroyed.
  • 6. Understand that the home study process is to protect children. Let’s get one thing out of the way: The home study is not fair. Is it fair that some couples have babies without even thinking about it, while you have to undergo a drug test, a background check, and a huge stack of paperwork? No. It is not fair. In fact, it’s maddening. But it’s also not fair to adopted children to send them to homes that haven’t been checked as thoroughly as possible. The state is in the very difficult position of being responsible for protecting children who have no one else to protect them. While this doesn’t make you feel a lot better when you are filling out page 105 of the home study paperwork, it’s something to think about.
  • 7. Remember that the social worker is more interested in approving you than in disapproving you. Most social workers become social workers because they care about families, not because they enjoy turning people down! The home study process is not about searching for flaws to use against you, but to make sure that adopted children are going to safe and loving homes.
  • Adoptive parents who have been through this process, I want to hear from you! What was your experience with the home study? What did you worry about the most? What do you wish you had known in advance? Please chime in via the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

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

For Birth Mothers: Coping with the Emotions Surrounding Adoption

The decision to place your child for adoption is by far the most difficult one you will ever face. Even if you feel absolutely sure that placing your baby for adoption is the right choice, it’s normal to feel a powerful range of emotions before, during, and after the adoption is finalized. Here are six thoughts just for birth mothers at all stages of the adoption process.

  • Be patient with yourself. It’s normal to feel a whole range of emotions including grief, anxiety, numbness, guilt, and anger – sometimes all in the same day. Telling yourself to “just get over it” is not only unrealistic, it’s unkind to yourself. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling and realize that it’s normal.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people. Sometimes friends and relatives don’t understand what you’re going through or can’t deal with your pain. They may tell you to get over it, get on with your life, and forget about it, which of course is the last thing you are able to do! Try to find friends who support your decision and can listen to your feelings in a nonjudgmental way. Joining a support group for birth mothers is a great way to find others who understand what you’re feeling right now.
  • Choose someone to remind you why you chose adoption. On a day when you’re feeling confident about your decision to place your child for adoption, write down the reasons why you made that choice. Keep a copy in a safe place and give a copy to someone you trust. It could be a supportive friend, family member, or your counselor. Ask them to remind you of the reasons you chose adoption for your baby on days when you are feeling badly about it.
  • Get counseling as soon as possible, and continue after placement. A qualified counselor can help you make decisions before the adoption happens as well as to let you know what to expect during and after the adoption takes place. The strong emotions of adoption are easier to deal with if you are prepared for them and understand that they are normal. Realize that while these emotions get easier, they never completely go away, so it’s important to find a counselor you are comfortable working with for the long term. If possible, choose a counselor who has experience with birth mothers.
  • Decide what level of openness will help you the most. Your counselor can help you decide if you want an open adoption, a closed adoption, or any number of choices in between. Some birth mothers feel better if they can see their child regularly (although it’s good to be aware that it’s completely normal to still feel grief and loss in an open adoption). Others find that letters once a year or even a completely closed adoption helps them more. Think hard about what kind of adoption will feel best for you, and remember that you can turn down an adoptive family if they don’t share your views of how open the adoption should be. However, make sure you understand your state’s laws about whether agreements to exchange visits, letters, and photos are enforceable. Your adoption lawyer can explain this to you.
  • Talk openly with the adoptive parents about what to expect during the weeks after birth. Many birth mothers tell me that they feel abandoned after the baby is born. The adoptive parents have been deeply interested in the birth mother’s health and feelings during the weeks leading up to the birth. Then, after they take the baby home, they seem to drop the birth mother like a hot potato! This could be because the adoptive parents are busy with the new baby, because they want to give the birth mother privacy, or because they are scared that she will change her mind. You can avoid this feeling of abandonment by communicating clearly with the adoptive parents about what to expect after the birth. Would you like them to call you? Would you like to see photos from the first week? Would you prefer that they leave you alone? Negotiating this before the birth will avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • Most of all, go back and read the first tip: Be kind to yourself. The decision to place your baby with an adoptive family is a hard one even when it’s the right one. You deserve love and support from the people around you – and from yourself.

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

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