Adoption: Are You Considering? (cont.)
tenuli_WebMD: With a private adoption, how much information can I get about the birth mother's health?
Blied: That is a very pertinent question. I can speak for California (where I practice) and I assume that most other states have similar procedures. In California, a placing birth mother (and the birth father if he is willing) complete a 10 page detailed medical/social/background information form as part of the adoption process. This form is given to the adopting parents for their use. In addition, it is quite normal and customary for the adopting parents to be involved with the birth mother's prenatal medical care (e.g., joining her for doctor's visits).
africa1_WebMD: I have some friends who have worked through an orphanage in Brazil to adopt a baby. It's not an agency, just an orphanage with babies that need homes. Will the US allow me to adopt that child without going through an agency on our end?
Blied: The simple answer is no. You must have an international adoption preplacement home study completed by a licensed international agency before you can adopt internationally. With respect to Brazil, they have established some programs in country to help expedite adoption placements. Insofar as I am aware, Brazil is very receptive to international adoptive placements.
Moderator: This is a member question that was emailed in: We have custody of my nephew for the past 2 years, just went through custody evaluation, and was wondering if you know if the parents are found to be unfit, what is our chance of adopting this baby? We got him when he was 9 months old and he is now 27 months old. He has lived with us the whole time. Your insight is greatly appreciated. WebMD Nickname hola27
Blied: From your question, if appears that your nephew is currently under the jurisdiction of the local juvenile court in your county of residence. In that case, you must work through the county social services agency to adopt him. As part of that adoption, the parental rights of the biological parents must be terminated. Either they can sign a voluntary consent to adoption or their rights can be terminated via court proceedings. Most typically, the grounds for termination of parental rights are that they have abandoned the child. In California, the abandonment period is six months by statute. Other states may vary.
saralg_WebMD: As an adoptive parent, what have been the challenges that you have faced that might help those of us considering adoption?
Blied: I have two adopted daughters, ages 17 and 15. I also have two biological children, ages 13 and 12. Recently we added a foster daughter who is also 17 years old. In each instance, once the children are in your home it really does not matter how they got there. They are yours to love and care for, even through the difficult teenage years. In fact, it has been said that the biggest fear of adoptive parents of a newborn child is that the birth mother will change her mind and take her child back. The biggest fear of adoptive parents of a teenager is that the birth mother will not take the child back! Just kidding.
mold28_WebMD: What about the birth mother? Does she give up all rights to the child? Even after the child turns 18?
Blied: Great question! Yes, when a birth mother signs her voluntary written consent to an adoption (or in some states when she goes to court and appears before a judge to terminate her rights), she really has consented to the adoption. Following the completion of the adoption, she cannot come back and say "I changed my mind." That is one reason why we really stress counseling for the birth mother during all phases of the adoption process, both pre- and post-placement. The only significance of the adoptive child turning age 18 is that the adoptive child is legally an adult. There is no distinction in law between an adopted child and a biological child. They have the same rights and the parents have the same responsibilities.
africa1_WebMD: If I adopt, am I still able to take maternity leave or is that just for women who have babies through natural birth?
Blied: That is an interesting question. I am not aware of any federal law which requires employers to allow adoptive mothers to take maternity leave. However, many "enlightened" employers are adding adoption to their maternity leave package. Some companies also allow the adoptive dad to take "paternity leave."
mold28_WebMD: Is there an organization that helps with the costs of adoption?
Blied: That depends. If you adopt a child through a public agency (i.e., your local social services agency), then the costs of adopting are typically minimal. However, if you work through a "private agency" or adopt independently, then you will be asked to bear the cost of the adoption. You might want to check with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (headed up by the founder of Wendy's restaurants). They are very active in helping to promote adoption.
saralg_WebMD: This is maybe a hard question but, in your opinion, at what age is it appropriate to talk with your adoptive child about the fact that they are adopted?
Blied: One of the logical follow up steps to take if you want to find out more about adoption is to contact the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. Their web site is www.adoptionattorneys.org.
Answering the question about when to tell your children that they are adopted, I would suggest that you do so from the earliest possible time. For example, we told our two adoptive daughters they were adopted via their first bedtime story. It was the story of their adoption, with more bells and whistles added as they got older. Our children can still recite that bedtime story from memory. We even had a song to go with it that we made up.
Moderator: We've talked about the biological mother's rights. What can you tell us about the biological father's rights?
Blied: With respect to the rights of birth fathers, a lot depends on his relationship to the birth mother. If they were married (or the equivalent), then he may have the same rights as the birth mother when is comes to an adoption placement. Conversely, if he is just a boyfriend or an acquaintance, most states do not give him the same rights as the birth mother. Part of the key to a successful adoption setting is to have an attorney (or an agency) assist in doing some "due diligence" about the rights of the birth father, as well as his reaction to the adoption placement.