Archive for April, 2012

New Study Examines Depression in Adoptive Mothers

A new study published in the journal Advances in Nursing Science shows significant rates of depression in adoptive mothers. The study, by Karen Foli (author of The Post-Adoption Blues), Susan South, and Eunjung Lim, investigated depression in 300 adoptive mothers, mostly during the first year after placement. Their rate of depression wsa 18-26% (on two different measures), which is higher than the rate for postpartum depression among the general population (10-15%). Several factors were found to influence whether an adoptive mother would likely suffer from depression, including parental expectations of what adoption and parenting would be like, the child’s special needs and bonding issues, fatigue, lack of support from others, marital problems, and history of mental health problems. Fathers were not studied in this publication, but I imagine the statistics would be similar for fathers who are primary caregivers for their children.

The transition to parenthood is huge, whether you gave birth to your children or adopted them. Disrupted sleep, lack of support, and the special challenges that adopted children can sometimes present can feel overwhelming. If you are feeling depressed, please don’t hesitate to seek counseling or medication to help you get through the transition. It’s not only important for your own well-being, but also for that of your child, as depression can strongly affect your ability to parent well.

You can read an abstract of the study here.

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

Should You Hire an Adoption Facilitator or Consultant?

Every so often in my work as an adoption attorney, I run across advertising for “adoption facilitators” or “adoption consultants.” Who are these guys, and should you hire one?

What Is An Adoption Facilitator?
The first thing to understand about adoption facilitators and consultants is what they’re not — they are not licensed adoption agencies or attorneys. Since there is no state that licenses adoption facilitators, the services they offer vary widely. Some offer to match prospective adoptive parents with a child to adopt, some offer education on how to create an adoption profile and advertise yourself, some offer tips on how to spot a birth mother who might change her mind, some give referrals to other adoption professionals. Most provide some combination of these services.

Check Your State Laws
If any person offers to help you mind a child to adopt in exchange for a fee, proceed with caution. In all but two states (California and Pennsylvania) it is illegal to charge money for adoption matching services. Some states don’t allow adoption facilitators at all, even if they don’t charge a fee. Even in states where facilitators are legal, there are very specific rules as to what they may do. This is not an area where you want to take your chances: Paying an adoption facilitator in a state where it is not legal to do so can delay or disrupt the finalization of your adoption. In many states, a judge may not finalize an adoption where improper money has changed hands under state laws. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a website where you can check your state’s laws about adoption, including about adoption facilitators specifically. Check it out here.

Do Your Homework
Say you have found an adoption facilitator or consultant who either doesn’t provide matching services or does not charge for them. Before you get out your checkbook, do a little research to see how their costs and services compare to adoption attorneys and agencies in your area. For example, some adoption facilitators offer educational materials that help you spot “red flags” that indicate that a birth mother might change her mind. However, any good adoption attorney will do the same as a standard part of his or her practice (I certainly do in my practice. See this post for a few such tips). Since you have to hire an attorney to file your adoption with the courts anyway, it’s difficult to see the value in this service. Similarly, some adoption facilitators offer to help you create and review materials that you need to find a birth mother for a private adoption (adoptive family profile, website, fliers, etc.). Again, many adoption attorneys will do the same (although you want to make sure the attorney is charging a lower rate for this service, not his or her billable hour as a lawyer!), and if you used an agency, they would do all the matching work for you. Furthermore, in the age of the Internet, it’s not difficult to learn how to make an adoption profile on your own. Other services that attorneys and agencies commonly offer are referrals to social workers for the home study, referrals to counselors for both adoptive parents and birth mothers, recommending pediatricians for adopted kids with special needs, and much more. Be sure to compare the costs and benefits of an attorney, an agency, and doing it yourself before hiring an outside consultant. The more money you can keep in your pocket, the more you will have for your child when he or she arrives!

Examine Claims Carefully
Some adoption consultants advertise that their clients’ adoptions go through astonishingly fast. Three months from the day they walked in the consultant’s door, they had a finalized adoption! Hang on a second. If a facilitator claims that his or her clients adopt much faster than the national average, I’d be skeptical. Ask questions about what percentage of their clients adopt that fast, and how specifically the facilitator achieved that result. Also, recall that the timing for finalization of an adoption is set by law in every state, so if the consultant claims they can speed up the legal process, it’s just not true.

Consider Ethics
I’m especially troubled when I see facilitators advertise that they make it as difficult as possible for a birth mother to “take your baby away from you.” While it’s natural for adoptive parents to be frightened about the possibility that their adoption might not go through, every adoption professional should be concerned about birth mothers’ rights. We are not in this field to take babies from mothers who want to keep them. Instead, a good adoption professional should be making sure that the birth mother has counseling and understands the adoption process clearly. Treating the birth parents as the enemy is not only unethical, it also leads to more adoption disruptions, not fewer.

Have you worked with an adoption facilitator or consultant? Share your experience in 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.

The Wall Street Journal on Adoption from Ethiopia

The Wall Street Journal has done a thorough and thought-provoking piece on adoption from Ethiopia. The article highlights the serious ethical problems that can arise when there is not careful oversight of adoption. For example, the WSJ interviewed an Ethiopian father who was told by a middleman that if he placed his daughter for adoption in the U.S., she would send money back to the family. Stories of families being pressured to relinquish their children, or even of child abductions by foreign agencies and middlemen, have caused authorities in Ethiopia and the U.S. alike to scrutinize international adoptions more carefully. Ethiopia is not a signatory to The Hague Convention, an international treaty that puts safeguards in place to ensure that adoptions are conducted ethically and in the best interests of children.

Of course, this is not to say that all adoptions from Ethiopia are unethical! However, it certainly highlights the need to proceed cautiously and with the help of an agency that you trust. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what safeguards are in place to make sure that the adoption was ethical from start to finish. The more adoptive parents demand integrity in adoption services, the more agencies both at home or abroad will provide them.

I believe that an ethical international adoption is one where:
1. The birth parents gave free and informed consent to the adoption because they truly felt that they could not parent,
2. Efforts were made to place the child in his or her country of origin,
3. The parties were given the option to have an open adoption, and
4. Efforts were made to obtain a thorough medical history, and this history was disclosed to the adoptive parents.

What do you think? Is there anything you would add to or subtract from this list? Post in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

You can read the Wall Street Journal article here.

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

Adopting After Infertility

For the last day of National Infertility Awareness Week, I’m reprising a post that I wrote in October 2010 about the unexpected emotions that some adoptive parents experience after adopting a child. Many people who adopt after infertility don’t realize that it’s normal to feel some ambivalence and even sadness after an adopted child comes home, as a natural part of the process of grieving their dream of having a child who is biologically related to them. If this sounds like you, know that you are not crazy, and you’re not alone!

You waited for years for a child, filled out reams of paperwork, and went through seemingly endless hurdles to get to the day when you would bring your child home. So, once you have completed your adoption, you have no right to feel anything but undiluted joy all the time, right? Wrong. While many adoptive parents feel guilty or ashamed of having negative feelings after their child comes home, the truth is, it is completely normal. Anger, helplessness, stress, and shame are all common emotions for new adoptive parents. Does any of this sound familiar?

  • I feel like a fraud; like I don’t deserve to parent this child.
  • I feel distant from my adopted child, and even wonder if bringing her home was a mistake.
  • I feel like I have to be the perfect parent all the time.
  • I am so angry that I had to go through so much paperwork and scrutiny to have a child, while some people just have babies by accident.
  • I want to hide from people constantly asking me intrusive questions about adoption.
  • I am so ashamed that I’m not happy. After all, isn’t this what I wanted?
  • My heart is still broken that I can’t have children of my own, and seeing this child who doesn’t look like me just reminds me of that fact.

If these or other dark emotions are haunting you during the post-adoption period, the most important thing to know is that you are not alone. Many new parents experience post-adoption depression, and it doesn’t mean you are a bad parent or that the adoption was a mistake! Here are a few things to think about before adopting to help avoid post-placement issues, and a few to help get you through the transition period.

Pre-Adoption

Take time out from “adopting” to focus on “adoption.” Just as a wedding is not a marriage, the adoption process is not the same as parenting. If possible, take time each week during the adoption process to focus on what life will be like after your child comes home. Read books and talk to other adoptive parents about the challenges that may arise in the first days, weeks, and months.

If you adopted after infertility, allow yourself to grieve the infertility. Too often, couples jump straight from trying to conceive to trying to adopt without taking the time to process their feelings about infertility. When their adopted child comes home, these couples sometimes experience their grief about infertility all over again, as it really hits home that they will never have a biological child. Talk about these feelings in advance, preferably with a counselor who has experience counseling adopting parents. If it’s too late for that and you find yourself ambushed by feelings of grief after your baby comes home, reach out to a counselor or support group. Also, know that it’s not ungrateful or coldhearted to feel sad at what you thought would be a happy time – it’s a normal reaction that will pass.

Build a network you can count on. By joining adoption and parenting support groups, talking to supportive friends and family members, and learning what resources are available for adoptive parents in your community, you can avoid the feelings of isolation that many new parents feel at the beginning. Try to meet people who adopted long ago as well as fellow new parents so that you can benefit from their experience.

Post-Placement

Know that there is no right or wrong way to feel. Many adoptive parents feel that they have no right to feel depressed after getting what they have wanted for so long: a child. However, just because something is a blessing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. Give yourself credit by acknowledging that this is a difficult time and that beating yourself up about it only makes it worse.

Stay plugged in to the adoption community. While many adoptive parents use support groups, counselors, and community resources during the pre-adoption period (such as the search for a birth mother and finalization process) it’s a good idea to stay in touch after the adoption goes through. Supportive people like your social worker, counselor, and adoption attorney can be helpful resources as you parent your adopted child and questions arise. Other adoptive parents are also an invaluable resource that you can talk to about your feelings after adoption.

Know that no parent has all positive feelings all the time, and that adoption has special challenges. All parents go through times when parenting is not what they thought it would be. Sleep deprivation, not knowing what to do, and feeling overwhelmed are all part of the experience of being a new parent to any child, and it’s nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. It’s also true that adoptive parents have some special challenges in feeling connected and bonded to their new children, as well as the stress of fielding sometimes unwelcome questions about adoption from friends, family, and even strangers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You are not alone.

Seek help if you need it. Especially if you continually feel anxious, overwhelmed, panicked, depressed, or paralyzed by your emotions, seek counseling. And of course, if you have thoughts of harming yourself or your child, call 9-1-1 or a local mental health crisis center immediately. Although you may not be able to believe this if you are suffering from depression, it really does get better.

If you are waiting to adopt, don’t let this article scare you! Many new parents feel absolutely great after they adopt! What I hope you will take away from this article is that “absolutely great” isn’t the only normal way to feel.

For further reading about post-adoption depression, I highly recommend The Post Adoption Blues by Karen J. Foli and John R. Thompson. If you have more resources or advice to share, please join the conversation by posting a comment or emailing me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

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

House and Senate Bills Affecting Family-Building

Today I am writing letters to my senators and representative about two bills that affect adoptive families and people with infertility. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, I encourage you to do the same! Below are the two main bills that are of interest to those trying to build their families through adoption or assisted reproduction.

The Adoption Tax Credit: Senate Bill S82/ House Resolution HR 184

The adoption tax credit, which currently covers up to $13,360 in qualified adoption expenses, is set to expire in December of this year. With the average adoption costing about $30,000, I don’t know many families who could afford to adopt without this assistance. These bills in the House and Senate would repeal the “sunset clause,” effectively making the Adoption Tax Credit permanent. There are a few important points about the current Adoption Tax Credit that should remain permanent:

  • The current credit is refundable. This is a new thing, having started in 2010. I won’t get too tax-nerdy on you, but essentially making the credit refundable makes it easier for middle- to low-income families to adopt.
  • The current credit includes domestic, international, foster-care, agency, and private adoptions.
  • The current credit allows families who adopt children with special needs to claim the full amount regardless of their adoption expenses. This is important because many of the expenses of adopting a child with special needs don’t happen until after the adoption is final.

    The Family Act: Senate Bill S 965/ House Resolution HR 3522

    This legislation creates a tax credit for infertility treatment. Infertility is usually medically treatable, but many infertile couples can’t afford this medical care because it’s expensive and not always covered by insurance. Only 9 states currently mandate that insurers cover the full spectrum of infertility treatment, and TRICARE, the insurance for active-duty military and veterans, does not cover treatments like IVF. A tax credit for out-of-pocket costs would solve this problem by paying for expenses not covered by insurance.

    Won’t you take a moment to write to your elected representatives about these issues? If you don’t know who your representatives are, you can find out here by entering your zip code.

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

  • It’s National Infertility Awareness Week!

    April 22–28 is National Infertility Awareness Week. According to the CDC, infertility affects approximately 2 million couples in the United States. If you are one of the people impacted by infertility, you are not alone. There are many support groups, both in-person and online, for people with infertility. You can also get involved with advocacy groups that lobby to change laws (such as health-care and adoption laws) that impact people with infertility. Also, there is no better time to learn more about your family-building options than during this awareness week. Many organizations are giving free or low-cost informational events this week to help people learn how they can become parents in spite of difficulties getting pregnant.

    If you personally do not suffer from infertility, you can still support people who do. Check out this interesting list from RESOLVE about how to be sensitive to and supportive of people with infertility.

    As for me, I will be blogging on infertility-related topics this week and visiting my Congressional representatives in Washington to ask them to make the Adoption Tax Credit permanent and support other legislation that helps people build their families.

    RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association is the best resource I know of for people with infertility, including local listings of support groups and professionals, educational materials and seminars, an online community, and more. Do you know of other great resources? Post them in the comments!

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

    A Support Resource for Anyone in an Open Adoption

    I just learned about Open Adoption Support, a lovely support community for any person involved in an open adoption – adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees alike. Adoptive mother Dawn Friedman has created a safe, ad-free space for members of the “adoption triad” to talk about the issues, challenges, joys, and questions that arise in open adoption. What most attracted me to their site initially was their list of beliefs:

      Our Beliefs
  • We honor the connection adoptees have to both of their families.
  • We recognize the love and joy as well as the losses and grief of adoption.
  • We do not diminish one family in favor of another.
  • We are flexible, understanding that needs and circumstances change.
  • We set boundaries on the basis of what is best for our children.
  • We understand that open adoption looks like different things for different families.

    I think this list should be posted on the wall in every home that has been touched in any way by open adoption. What do you think? Is there anything you would add to this list?

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

  • New Development in the Baby Emma Case

    The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that the father in the Baby Emma case can sue for interference with parental rights.

    As you may remember, (if you don’t remember, you can read about it here), Baby Emma’s birth mother sent her to Utah to be adopted without notifying the birth father and getting his legal consent. Although the birth father, John Wyatt, timely filed for custody of Emma and was granted custody by a Virginia court, the state of Utah granted custody to an adoptive family. Wyatt has been trying ever since to get Emma back.

    Wyatt sued the adoption agency, an agency employee, the adoptive parents, and attorneys in both Virginia and Utah for wrongful interference with his parental rights. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia asked the Virginia Supreme Court to settle the question of whether interference with parental rights is a tort (i.e., can you sue for that?) and if so, what the elements and burdens of proof are (i.e. what do you need to win that lawsuit?).

    In an unusually passionate opinion, the majority of the court noted that

    “It is both astonishing and profoundly disturbing that in this case, a biological mother and her parents, with the aid of two licensed attorneys and an adoption agency, could intentionally act to prevent a biological father — who is in no way alleged to be an unfit parent — from legally establishing his parental rights and gaining custody of a child whom the mother did not want to keep, and that this father would have no recourse in the law.”

    The court also said that the defendants went to “great lengths to disguise their agenda from the biological father, including preventing notice of his daughter’s birth and hiding their intent to have an immediate out-of-state adoption, in order to prevent the legal establishment of his own parental rights.”

    I’m happy that the court granted protection to fathers, whose rights are too frequently not taken as seriously as those of mothers in adoption cases. However, it’s hard to be happy about anything in this terribly sad case. I fervently hope that once the courts have decided the issues surrounding Baby Emma (now nearly three years old!), that the birth parents and adoptive parents can sit down and make some decisions that protect an innocent child’s best interests.

    You can read the court’s opinion here. What do you think about this case? Chime in using 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.

    Diane Rehm Show on Assisted Reproductive Technology

    Talk about being late to the party: A client just pointed out to me that NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show devoted a show on the legal and ethical aspects of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) in August of 2010 and suggested that I check it out. Great tip! An OB/GYN, two attorneys, and an ethicist were on the show to share their perspectives, and the questions that listeners called in are great, too! Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can still listen to it here. Of course, in a 50-minute show, the panelists were only able to scratch the surface of the legal and ethical issues raised by ART. A few of the questions raised on the show include:

  • Has our technology advanced faster than our laws regarding Assisted Reproduction?
  • Does the state have the right to make laws about who can be a parent through ART (the issue of a mentally ill parent specifically was raised)?
  • How much information should children conceived through ART have the right to know about their biological parents?
  • Meanwhile, here at The Vaughan Firm we are working on adding a section on ART to our website, to reflect the fact that we are now doing a lot of this work, which is closely related to adoption in many ways. I’ll post when the new web page is complete!

    What do you think about the ethics and legal issues of in vitro fertilization, donor eggs, donor sperm, and surrogacy? Were there questions you would have liked to see covered on the show that were not? Post in 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.

    International Adoption: Choosing a Country

    Some families who have decided to adopt a child already have a specific country in mind. Perhaps a particular country speaks to their hearts because of their own cultural heritage, or perhaps a natural or political disaster has made them feel called to open their home to a child from a particular country. Other families know they’d like to adopt internationally, but aren’t sure which country interests them. Whether you know which country you’d like to adopt from or you are just beginning to learn about international adoption, it’s important to understand the laws that will impact your adoption.

    The Hague Convention

    The most important factor you’ll encounter when choosing a country is whether that country is a member of The Hague Adoption Convention (for a list of Hague Convention countries, click here). Adoptions from Hague Convention countries have several additional requirements that are designed to protect children. An adoption from a Hague Convention country can only be done through an agency that is licensed by the U.S. State Department to conduct such adoptions. Adoptions under the Convention have many more bureaucratic requirements, but it’s important to know that the requirements are intended to protect children from trafficking and to try to find them homes in their own countries before sending them abroad for adoption. Thus, the fact that a country is a Hague country is not a reason to rule it out! It simply means that the adoption must take place through a Hague-accredited agency and will have more legal steps to complete.

    The Laws of the Country of Origin
    Each country has different laws about:

    • Who may adopt a child Factors such as age, marital status, health, and number of children already in the household affect which country you may adopt from.
    • Who may be adopted The age of the child and how long they have been eligible for adoption are the most common factors affecting what children may be adopted internationally. It is rare to be able to adopt a child under 18 months of age from any country.
    • Characteristics that the adoptive parents may choose Some countries allow adoptive parents to request a certain gender or ethnicity, while others do not.
    • Travel The number of visits to the country and how long you must stay each time will vary depending on the individual country’s laws.
    • Information shared Some countries are notorious for giving very little or even false information about the medical and social history of adopted children, while others share such information fairly readily.
    • Wait times and red tape Each country has different documentation requirements and different wait times for an adoption to be processed.
    • Common health and psychological problems Some countries have a higher prevalence than others of health issues such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, attachment disorders, malnutrition, etc.

    More Information
    The best source of reliable, up-to-date information about the requirements for adopting a child from another country is the U.S. Department of State. At their website adoption.state.gov, they list information about each country, a guide to understanding the Hague Convention, and up-to-the-minute alerts regarding changes in a country’s adoption requirements. There is also information about obtaining a visa for your internationally adopted child. A reliable agency or adoption attorney can also give you information about the laws and requirements of different countries and help you to choose the right adoption type for your family.

    Have you adopted a child from another country? What was your experience with the process like? Share in 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.

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