Archive for the 'Foster Parents' Category

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.

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.

Happy Mother’s Day from The Vaughan Firm

Yesterday I went to a conference for infertile couples to talk about adoption and assisted reproduction law. I met a lot of couples there who long for a child to love, and who are doing mountains of research to make that possible. They’re reading medical journals about IVF. They’re learning about the Hague Convention for international adoptions. They’re cleaning their houses with a toothbrush for home studies. They’re learning how to hire professionals that they trust. They’re learning about attachment and bonding. On this Mother’s Day, I want to say to these women: I am talking about you, too. Because all that work you are doing to lay the groundwork for a child to come home? That’s mothering. All the worrying that you do at night? Mothering. All that research about reducing risks? Mothering. I know it doesn’t feel like it counts right now, but it will. And I want to honor you on this day.

I also want to honor the brave birth mothers who have placed their children for adoption because they believed that was the best thing for those children. Doing what’s best for your child even though it hurts? That’s mothering.

I want to honor the adoptive mothers who now hold the children they dreamed about. Loving a child and raising that child day by day, for life? That’s mothering.

I want to honor foster mothers who open their homes and their hearts to children in need. Giving children a safe place in tough times? That’s mothering.

No matter how your children came to you, or even if they’re not quite there yet, please accept my warmest wishes on this Mother’s Day. A person with the heart to love and welcome a child is a very special person, indeed.

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

May is National Foster Care Month.

May is National Foster Care Month. Over 400,000 children are currently in the U.S. foster-care system, and about 30,000 of them age out of the system each year without ever being adopted. The bottom line: We as a society need to do more to support families and children, both to keep kids out of the system and to offer them the services they need once they are in the system.

If you are a foster parent, thank you. The love and support that you give to foster children makes a tremendous difference in their lives. I believe that getting each foster child in a loving family that is educated about how to best meet children’s needs is the best hope we have, as a society, to end the cycle of abuse and neglect.

Of course, being a foster parent is not for everyone. If it’s not for you, know that there are many other ways that you can help foster children. The organizers of National Foster Care Month have created this list of things you can do if you have a few minutes, a few hours, a few weeks, or a lot of time to devote to helping kids in foster care. I especially love the idea of mentoring and tutoring foster children and those who have aged out of the system and are on their own for the first time.

One sentence that struck me as so important on the National Foster Care Month website is this: “Many children would not have to enter foster care at all if more states provided support and services to help families cope with crises early on.” I am a firm believer that supporting children means supporting families, and the best way to help at-risk kids is to keep them out of the foster care system in the first place, by providing services such as mental health counseling, parenting support and education, job-search assistance, low-cost child care, etc. When budget issues are up for debate in your community, let your legislators know that these services are important to you.

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

Book Review: The Adoptive and Foster Parent Guide

As someone who works with adoptive and foster families, it has always astonished and frustrated me that there wasn’t a good resource for these families for dealing with their children’s issues of trauma and loss at home. It would have to be professionally written and evidence-based, but also accessible and easy for busy parents to read. I’m thrilled that now such a resource exists in Carol Lozier’s new book, The Adoptive & Foster Parent Guide.

You may remember Carol from this interview that I did with her in 2010. She is a clinical social worker (MSW, LCSW) with over 20 years’ experience working with children and families, with a focus on adoption and foster care issues. Carol obviously knows the value of a good therapist in working with children who have experienced trauma, but she also realized that 99 percent of the issues that families struggle with arise at home, not in the therapist’s office. Parents need tools that they can use at home, in the moment, when behaviors related to trauma and loss arise. This book provides them with exactly those tools.

The book is organized “magazine style,” making it easy to dip in at any point in the book and learn what you need to know if you don’t have time to read it cover to cover. It teaches parents how to distinguish normal bumps in the road of childhood from issues related to past trauma. It goes over the psychology of attachment in terms that are easy to understand. Most importantly, it gives parents strategies that they can use immediately and every day with their children to open up the lines of communication and help heal the emotional scars of trauma and loss. While there are many books that teach parents to make children feel secure and talk about adoption in a respectful way, Lozier gives parents the tools of a therapist to get to the heart of the matter and help heal the wounds of the past. The scripts, exercises, games, and tips in the book fill the need that so many adoptive and foster parents express when they lament, “sometimes I just don’t know what to do.” Speaking of parents who feel overwhelmed, Lozier also includes a chapter on self-care for parents and caregivers, providing an important reminder that we can’t care for children if we don’t first care for ourselves.

The Adoptive & Foster Parent Guide fills a need in the adoption community, and I believe it will change many adoptive and foster families for the better.

The Adoptive & Foster Parent Guide is available at the Forever Families website.

Got a book for me to read? Check out my book review policy.

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

Happy Mother’s Day from Adoptivity

To all birth mothers who still hold their babies in their hearts,
To all adoptive mothers who prove each day that family is so much more than genetics,
To all foster mothers who open their hearts to a child in need,
A very happy Mother’s Day to you from Adoptivity. May you have joy and know that by your choices you are so important in the life of a child.

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

Economics Professor’s Research Makes a Difference for Adoptive Families

I love stories about individuals who make a difference, especially when it comes to adoption law and practice. While you might not think of economics and adoption as two topics that naturally go together, Mary Hansen, an economics professor at American University, dug into the data on adoption and foster care policy and ultimately made a real difference in families’ lives.

Hansen discovered that the law in the District of Columbia gave subsidies to foster families until the child turned 21, but only gave subsidies to adoptive families until the child turned 18. Hansen’s research also uncovered the fact that studies show that foster children do better when they are adopted. In short, the law was favoring fostering kids over adopting them by giving three years’ more funding to foster families, even though the permanency of adoption is better for kids. For families who need the subsidy money, the incentive was undoubtedly against adoption.

Hansen testified twice before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Human Services, and eventually the Council passed an extension of subsidies for adoptive families for three additional years, to match the subsidies available for foster families.

Hansen’s show of leadership reminded me how important it is for families to check their state’s policies regarding foster care and adoption. While many foster families wish to adopt their foster children, it is important to be aware of the laws regarding subsidies, especially if your child has special needs or your family is on a tight budget. It is sad that families have to choose between meeting their child’s needs and adopting the child in some states, but I think most would agree that meeting the child’s needs comes first.

What I loved most about the article that I read was Hansen’s attitude toward family. Hansen, who is adopted herself and is also an adoptive parent, said that adoption “makes you think what family means in broader terms… Family is about commitment. Your family is the set of people with whom you are committed.”

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

Happy National Adoption Day!

Today has been designated National Adoption Day, and many places around the country, including courts, city governments, and private organizations, are holding events today to celebrate adoption and recognize the difference it makes in the lives of children and parents. I wanted to take a moment to do the same here.

To birth parents who have placed a child for adoption, may you have peace in your heart today with the difficult decision that you made out of love. To adoptive and foster parents, may you have joy today as you parent your little ones, and may you have all the support you need to raise them happy and healthy. To adoptees, may you be surrounded by the love of family in its many definitions.

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

First Impressions: Meeting Your Adopted Baby for the First Time

As I prepared to write this article, I Googled “adoption first meeting” to see what other resources were out there for adoptive parents preparing to meet their infants for the first time. I found some blog posts and articles about meeting the birth mother for the first time, meeting with the agency for the first time, but very little about meeting the central figure in every adoption: the child. What little there was did not begin to address the needs of a baby meeting a new caregiver. Welcome. Here you will find some practical advice on meeting your infant for the first time. I will blog soon on first meetings with older children, which are quite different.

While it is tempting to presume that babies don’t know what is going on around them or the difference between one caregiver and another, this is simply not the case. For a baby, who cannot survive without consistent care, the caregiver is the most important person in the world, and the baby’s every little system is acutely attuned to that person. Further, babies rely entirely on their senses, especially smell, touch, and sound, to tell them what is going on. Even a very small baby will know of a change in caregiver, and even a very small baby will grieve that loss. For this reason, many adoptive parents are unpleasantly surprised when what they had fantasized as a calm and idyllic first meeting with their baby turns out to be less than peaceful as the infant screams, thrashes, wriggles, and turns red in the face.

First of all, don’t take it personally. This is a normal response to a disruption in your baby’s pattern of care, and it doesn’t mean that she won’t love you. Stay calm, stay focused on your baby, and try these seven tips.

1. Create a calming environment. A quiet room, dim lights, a comfortable temperature, and not very many people are the ideal environment for a tiny person who is already feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. Talk to your baby in quiet tones. If he doesn’t seem to tolerate being held very well, try putting him in the center of the bed and lying next to him. If he will tolerate being held, walk slowly or rock him slowly. A womblike environment (warm, rocking, dim, and quiet) will help your baby calm down.
2. Follow your baby’s nose. Studies show that the sense of smell is the most developed sense in infants. If you can arrange to get familiar objects, such as a stuffed animal or a blanket or sheet, from the previous caregiver, this will help your baby feel more secure.
3. Learn what “normal” means to your baby. Before you meet your baby for the first time, ask the previous caregivers lots of questions about what his or her life was like on a daily basis. Did he sleep in a crib by himself or next to other kids? What was her bedtime and nap schedule? Was the nursery quiet or was there some ambient noise? The more you know about your child’s life before you met, the easier it is to recreate that environment in order to ease the transition.
4. Make it an exclusive event. The fewer people are present during those first hours with your baby, the better. Ideally, only you and your partner (if you have one) should be present. Being cooed over by numerous strangers and passed from lap to lap will further disorient and upset your child. Although it may be hard to keep grandma away during these first moments, explain that it really is best for the baby.
5. No paparazzi. Although it is tempting to take a lot of photographs and videotape of your first moments with your baby, it is much more important that you be fully present and focused on her. Above all, avoid flash photography, which is sure to upset your child and disrupt your first moments together. One good way to record this time is to set up a tripod with a video camera and leave it to do the recording while you do the more important job of parenting.
6. No wardrobe or grooming changes needed. Unless your baby is uncomfortable in the clothes he is wearing when you first meet him, don’t bother to change his clothing. Also, baths involve too many stimuli — a change in temperature, wet, noise, and unfamiliar surroundings. Further, as mentioned above, babies’ sense of smell is the most acute of the senses, so smelling her own familiar scent and the scent of her clothes may be soothing. Save wardrobe changes and baths for later. For now, just let things be and get to know each other.
7. Be kind to yourself. Every new parent, whether they have adopted or given birth to their children, feel lost at sea with their new babies. It’s an old line but true: Babies don’t come with instruction manuals. Be forgiving with yourself when you don’t know all the answers – no one does. Don’t feel guilty if you need to call a friend or relative to relieve you so you can sleep. Taking good care of yourself will give you the energy you need to take care of your baby.

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

All in the Family

When most people think of adoption, they think of adoptive parents and birth parents who were strangers before the adoption process started. However, the truth is that somewhere around half of all adoptions are between close relatives. All over America and at every economic level, stepparents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters are stepping up to provide loving and secure homes for the children in their families.

There are many different reasons for close-relative adoption. Sometimes the child’s parents are struggling with problems such as substance abuse, and adoption by a close relative is a good way to keep that child safe while avoiding foster care. Sometimes the birth mother knows she wants to make an adoption plan, then learns that someone in her close family has been trying unsuccessfully to have a baby. No matter what the circumstances are, here are a few things to know about adoption of a child by a close relative.

1. A faster process. In most states, there are special procedures for adoption by close relatives, making it quicker and easier to adopt than it would be if you were a stranger to the child. In Virginia, adoption by a close relative can usually be completed in just a few months, or even less if the child has been living in the relative’s home for more than three years. This also makes close-relative adoption much less expensive.

2. How close is close? In order to qualify for the expedited procedures described above, you must be a close enough relative under your state’s laws, so be sure to check or ask a qualified adoption attorney. In Virginia, for example, an aunt or uncle is a close enough relative to qualify, but a cousin is not.

3. Make sure adoption is right for the family financially. Before you decide to adopt a close relative, make sure that it’s really adoption you want, not just custody or guardianship. This can be especially important for people with low income, because the child may be eligible for more subsidies under a foster-care or guardianship arrangement. It’s a good idea to consult an attorney about what subsidies your family may be eligible for. Check with your local Legal Aid office to see if they offer any free or low-cost services for close-relative adoptions.

4. Make sure adoption is right for the family emotionally.Custody or guardianship might also be more appropriate in situations where the birth parents don’t want to place the children for adoption, but feel that they have no choice. Remember that adoption completely and permanently severs the birth parents’ legal rights. So, for example, if the birth parents are having financial problems, problems with substance abuse, or trouble with the law, they may feel like they have to place their children in a safer home until they can get their lives straight. In this case, a guardianship or custody order might be a better solution, so that when the parents are back on track, the family can be reunited.

5. Think creatively. In my practice, I have met a lot of loving families who have found creative solutions to problems that affect children. I have known parents who moved to a new state so they could both live closer to relatives to share parenting responsibilities – even though the parents were divorced! I have known birth mothers who placed their children with an aunt and uncle and enjoy seeing their children regularly at family gatherings.

In short, there are as many ways to be a family as there are families. Here’s to all of the many families who do whatever it takes to keep children safe, secure, and loved.

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

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