Adoption: Building a FamilyFeb 01, 2017 08:30AM ● By Jason Huddle
Adoption: Building a Family
“Adoption has the dimension of connection – not only to your own tribe, but beyond, widening the scope of what constitutes love, ties and family. It is a larger embrace. By adopting, we stretch past our immediate circles and, by reaching out, find an unexpected sense of belonging with others.”
– Isabella Rossellini
There are various avenues that prospective parents can take in approaching adoption here in Cabarrus County. One is private or direct placement while the other is through Cabarrus County Human Services (DHS).
Unfortunately, adverse familial situations and events are what ultimately bring children into the foster care system. Cheryl Harris is child welfare services program administrator for Cabarrus County Social Services. When asked the average number of children typically in Cabarrus County’s foster system at any given time, she says there are approximately 90. About 55 percent of those children with a permanence goal of adoption are adopted by their foster families. (Visit fosteringperspectives.org.)
“There are probably 30 foster families in Cabarrus County and the need is between 40 and 50,” Harris says. “Since many of our foster parents adopt, we are always in need for more to meet our continued need for placement resources for children. Having enough foster parents locally helps us keep children in their home school with service providers they already know, and increases the ability to stay connected to family and their community.”
When DHS ascertains that a child is not safe in his or her own home, it will go to court and ask a judge to allow DHS to assume custody of the child. And while substance abuse, homelessness and physical or sexual abuse are often the precursors to children entering foster care, social workers work with birth families whose issues are surmountable. So, depending on the specific situation, a child may be in foster care only a few days or he/she may eventually be adoptable.
Brian Maness is president and CEO of Children’s Home Society of North Carolina. As the state’s largest private foster care and adoption services provider, it offers statistics regarding the number of children placed in the foster care program continuing to increase.
A press release issued last month by the Children’s Home Society says, “In North Carolina, the number of children in foster care increased every month in 2016 compared to the corresponding month in 2015, with over 2,400 children eligible for adoption.
“About five years ago, we had just over 8,000 children in foster care in our state,” he adds. “Today, there are about 10,500 children in foster care, an increase of more than 25 percent in the last five years.”
For those interested in becoming foster parents, Cabarrus County Department of Human Services offers 10-week (30 hours) training programs two to three times a year. Training covers child abuse and neglect and birth parent relations, as well as how to best provide support and healing to the child.
“The period of time from submitting an application to becoming fully licensed can take up to six months,” Harris says.
In North Carolina, foster parents must be at least 21 years of age; maintain a stable home and income level, as well as a drug-free environment; submit fingerprints and pass a criminal records check; and complete the aforementioned training and obtain licensure from the state. Foster parents are compensated financially to cover the child’s room, board and living expenses. That amount is determined by the state.
“We are also involved in numerous state and county initiatives; the focus is always to improve our practice of helping children and families of Cabarrus County,” Harris says.
• Project Broadcast: Enhances the knowledge and practice of the agency and community in their response and treatment of trauma
• Assisted Guardianship: Allows greater potential for relatives to provide permanency for children through financial compensation that has not previously been available
• Enhanced services for foster children ages 18-21: Strongly encourages the county to continue to provide services for children who were in foster care when they became 18. Placement and support services are now available with court oversight.
• The Public/Private Community Partnership: Better ensures that children placed with our private placement partners have their needs met.
There are also continued shortcomings. “State Mental Health Reform is, and has been, a challenge both for professionals and for families,” Harris explains. “The State Mental Health system needs to be assessed for efficiency and service outcomes. If operating as it should, families would have ongoing case management services to manage the mental health crises as they occur. It will be a consistent person managing the ongoing needs of the family. Cabarrus County has been a strong advocate for families and children to have their mental health needs met by our present state system.”
Another is the fact that a large portion of children with particular needs are having to be placed in foster homes outside Cabarrus County. “It complicates the ability to visit with their family members. Sometimes, it also complicates the ability to get needed services for our children,” Harris says.
Additionally, DHS would like to see State Medicaid services extended for parents of children in foster care. Without it, reunification is delayed and behavioral changes are challenged.
The department also looks to re-establish the North Carolina Child Welfare Education Collaborative.
“This program fed the county child welfare agencies with potential employee candidates who had been exposed to the demands of the program. Many seen today have no experience or exposure to this program, resulting in high turnover. Turnover, in turn, affects the ability to provide families and children quality services. Cabarrus County is aware of the challenge created when state funding was ceased,” Harris explains.
Even with a list of ongoing challenges, Harris says, “We are very fortunate to have a community that is supportive of the child welfare program, and the services and work done by it. This community is a true partner to the child welfare program and assists us by supporting staff and families involved with our program. Not many communities step forward when a child requires a bed, or a family needs a washer or a refrigerator. This community does.”
Cabarrus County Social Services is located at 1303 S. Cannon Boulevard in Kannapolis. For more information about the foster care program, call 704-920-1400 or send an email to [email protected]
Direct or Private Placement
Amy Davis is an attorney who whose practice concentrates on the areas of adoption and immigration law. With her firm in Concord, she spent more than a decade aiding other families with the legal process of adoption before she and her husband experienced it firsthand, bringing home their son and daughter.
“There are essentially two ways to proceed with adoption,” she shares. “One is to use an adoption agency where a birth mother gives her legal rights over to the adoption agency, which then places the baby with an adoptive family. The other is to do a direct or private placement, where the birth parents give their rights directly to the adoptive parent(s).
“If a prospective adoptive parent(s) needs help finding a baby, they can sign on with an agency licensed to find birth mothers and take custody of children for adoptive placement. Or, depending on the laws of the state, an adoptive parent can hire an adoption facilitator, advertiser or even an attorney to assist in finding a child that a birth parent will place directly with them. Sometimes an adoptive parent(s) from North Carolina adopts children from other states, and adoptive parents from other states adopt children born to North Carolina birth parents. In those cases, not just the laws of North Carolina will apply so it can be tricky.”
Agencies seek out birth mothers, providing them with services that may include counseling, and legal and financial assistance for maternity-related needs. They may also give them the decision-making power to choose who they want to adopt their child. That decision may be based on the adopter’s age, religion, personality...even appearance.
“Agencies will often do designated adoptions where the birth mother gets to pick the adopter,” Davis says. “The typical waiting period is between 12 and 24 months.”
Which way a prospective adopter turns depends on the circumstances of the adoption. If a child is being adopted by a relative, direct placement is the way to go. If an adopter needs help in finding a birth parent, an agency adoption provides the means to match a family to a child based on an application, profile and home study. However, the agency may also choose not to accept a potential adopter as a client based on the results of those.
“Prospective adoptive parent(s) are asked to prepare a profile, which is a story that basically all sources of babies for adoptions ask for,” Davis says. “It includes who they are and why they want to adopt. It will usually have a picture of them – with or without kids – pictures of their house, what they like to do, their family values, pictures of a baby’s room. It’s an advertisement of ‘why you should choose me.’ ”
According to parents.com, “The home study is an evaluation (required by state law) of you as a prospective adoptive family and of the physical and emotional environment into which the child would be placed. It consists of a series of interviews with a social worker, including at least one interview in your home.
“Many of the questions asked in the home study are personal and may seem intrusive. These questions are necessary for the social worker’s evaluation of you as a prospective parent. Some of the questions are about your income, assets, health and the stability of the marriage (if married) and/or family relationships. Physical exams to ensure that you are healthy are usually required. Some states require that prospective adoptive parents undergo a fingerprint and background check to ensure that they do not have a felony conviction for domestic violence or child abuse. A home study is usually completed in a few months.”
If a potential adopter is unfamiliar with the process of adoption, Davis also works separately as an adoption consultant. Adoption consultants have become more common and basically walk an adoptive family through the adoption process.
Davis is a big advocate of adoption consultants because of the many issues that arise during the adoption process, like, How do I make a profile? Where should I get a home study? Should I use an agency or pursue a private adoption? Can I pay living expenses to a birth mother? Am I willing to take a baby when the mom has used drugs? Davis points out that, along with the general population, there has been an increase in the use of opiates among birth mothers.
Fees and expenses are attached to each step of the adoption process, including obtaining a home study, pre-natal care of the birth mother, and those charged by the agency, facilitator, advertiser or attorney. In North Carolina, facilitators cannot charge a fee, but in South Carolina, for example, attorneys can charge a fee to recruit birth mothers, along with fees for legal services. Believe it or not, back in the day, couples would advertise in newspapers hoping that a birth mother would see it and contact them.
With regard to the cost to adopt a child in Cabarrus County, Davis says, “A good range is between $25,000 and $45,000.”
For those less inclined to go through a potentially long waiting period, there are facilitators.
Different groups have sprung up called facilitators,” Davis says. “They recruit birth mothers. They don’t have agency licenses, and all states rule on whether there can be facilitators – some states don’t allow them – and whether they can charge money. In North Carolina, you can facilitate an adoption all day long, but you can’t charge for it. Other states can charge a hefty fee, like $25,000.”
Adoption facilitators are defined as “unlicensed and unregulated companies that match prospective adoptive families with women considering adoption,” according to americanadoptions.com. “Most adoption facilitators advertise to locate a birth mother on behalf of their adoptive clients. Once a birth mother selects a family, the facilitator will refer both the adoptive family and birth family to a local professional (a law firm or licensed adoption agency) and remove themselves from the rest of the adoption process.”
“In the past, facilitators would normally find a birth mother and stick with her through the whole process,” Davis adds. “Today, there are advertisers – not facilitators – who find them and charge the adoptive family an advertising fee but do not stay on once the match is made.”
There are legitimate facilitators that are proficient at locating potential birth mothers, and the process typically moves along faster. However, being unlicensed means facilitators aren’t governed or required to have their files inspected. Adoption agencies are required by law to have their marketing information, and case and personnel files reviewed.
The face of adoption has also changed over time. Communication between adoptive parents and the child’s birth parents is no longer taboo, and children are often given the option of contacting their birth parents once they’re grown, if they and the birth parents so choose.
“Today’s open adoptions are more like emailing and setting up photo-sharing websites. Birth mothers typically don’t choose to see the child; it’s more like a birthday card or updates a couple times a year,” Davis shares.
Davis urges prospective adopters to not get mired down in the modus operandi. She realizes how many families would prefer to adopt a baby or toddler, so if direct or agency placement is what you seek, there are practical ways to go about it. She says, “People need to decide how they want to find a baby, and do their research on who has a good reputation and who doesn’t.”
Article By: Kim Cassell
Amy Davis Photo Courtesy: Michael A. Anderson Photography