There’s many reason couples choose to adopt a baby. For couples who have trouble conceiving or people who think there are enough kids in the world to go round, adoption is a viable and rewarding option. But, you can’t just walk into an orphanage and pick out a kid, Annie style. That’s why it’s important for hopeful future parents to understand how to adopt a child.
Becky Fawcett is the director and founder of Helpusadopt.org, a foundation that offers financial grants to support families interested in adopting a child. She and her husband have been through the adoption process twice, and between her own experience and helping other parents, she’s seen just about every way it can go wrong. “We really need an encyclopedia,” she says. Here are a few of her tips on how to avoid scams, navigate the legal pitfalls, and find an agency you can trust.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Adoption
Stop Googling ‘Adoption’
“I really do tell people not to go online and Google ‘adoption.’ You will crawl under your bed and never come out,” says Fawcett. Instead, her advice for first steps is to just be that person who can’t stop talking about it. “The more you talk about adoption, the more you realize that people you didn’t even realize are connected to it, and everyone wants to help,” she says. There’s an off chance your friend’s friend’s cousin’s sister might have a referral for an agency that specializes in the exact thing you’re looking for.
Let a Pro Handle the Adoption
Along with all the people who genuinely want to help, there are also a lot of people out there who genuinely want to scam you. “Never ever spend a penny until you sign on with your main adoption professional — either an adoption attorney or an adoption agency,” says Fawcett. “There are lot of people out there who will say they want to help you, but they just want you to hire them. And they are not a legally required piece of the puzzle.”
Adoption “facilitators” are one example (and they’re actually illegal in New York and 14 other states), and also third-party advertisers who say they can help you solicit a birthmother. A good attorney or agency can help you sort through what you actually do and don’t need (and give you a reality check when you point to sketchy ads on Craigslist). Most importantly, think carefully about who you sign with, and make sure you trust them. Most of the time those deposits aren’t refundable.
Adoption Isn’t Cheap
Like all things involving kids, it’s more expensive than you think. “Unless there’s an extenuating circumstance, an average adoption costs $40,000. Period,” says Fawcett. “I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I’m just saying that’s what it is. So if you meet with someone who tells you it can be done for like $25,000, you need to sit back and say: How?”
That means you have to thoroughly vet any professionals you hire and fact-check everything (childwelfare.gov is a good place to start). An agency might have a $25,000 fee, but not include things like birthmother support or travel costs. Adding to your family might trump the risk of blowing your life savings — but think carefully and consider how everything’s adding up. “The minute you start to make an emotional instead of an educated decision, you make errors, and these cost money,” says Fawcett. Lawyers typically don’t accept Babies ‘R’ Us gift cards.
Know the Adoption Laws In Your State
One of the trickiest things about adoption is that the laws are different state-to-state, and you might be dealing with 2 different states depending on where the birth mom is. “With my first adoption, we lived in Philadelphia at the time, and Pennsylvania has some specific adoption laws. Because of the state my birthmother was located in — that specific state-to-state match — we went with the laws in her state.”
It gets even more complicated with international adoption because countries can open or close when they’ll allow adoptions without any real warning. Fawcett says that finding an agency that’s licensed in the particular country you’re looking to adopt from is an absolute necessity. If a country is closed to adoptions at the time you’re looking, don’t trust someone who tells you they might still be able to pull it off. Same with anyone who says they don’t usually work in that country, but is willing to “help you out” anyway. This is a baby, not a severed toe with nail polish.
A Note on the Birth Mother
Fawcett is a big proponent of open adoption, where the birth mother and adoptive family meet each other and have ongoing contact throughout the child’s life. If you’re going that route, know that you’re also kind of adopting an adult.
“The way I always looked at is, they found themselves in an unexpected situation, I found myself in an unexpected situation, and we joined forces to do what’s best for this baby,” says Fawcett. If you’re not comfortable with a birth mom being part of your fam, don’t try to convince yourself. Pass and wait until you find someone you feel better about. For better or worse they’re going to have an impact on the kid’s upbringing. Unless they turn out to be Amy Poehler. Then you should jump on it, because she’s delightful.