EPISODE – AIR DATE: 5.9.17   Private Agency Adoption & Foster Care Adoption: A Comparison


You can read the transcript below, or you can listen to the podcast by clicking here.

Announcer: Blog talk radio.

Jennifer: Hi, and welcome to Adoption Focus. My name is Jennifer Jaworski and I’m a social worker with Adoption Associates of Michigan. This is Adoption Associates’ premier talk radio blog show. Adoption Associates was founded in 1990 and we specialize in both domestic and international adoption. We provide pregnancy and adoption services throughout all of Michigan, with offices located in Jenison, Lansing, Farmington Hills and Saginaw. Anywhere in Michigan, you can find a connection to Adoption Associates. Adoption Associates brings knowledge, support and understanding in adoption. Adoption is not only our specialty, but it is our passion. One of Adoption Associates’ commitments is to this radio show to help educate and support adoptive families, birth families, and the adoption community. We are very thankful that you’re listening in and that you’re with us today.

I am very excited about today’s show and want to preface it by saying that we recognize there is a need that exists in our culture for both private agency adoption as well as foster care type adoption. On today’s podcast we will be highlighting the similarities and the differences between the two. We are thrilled to have with us today a father of two girls who can speak to each of these types of adoptions from a very personal experience. I welcome to Adoption Focus podcast today, Jim [Hayes, 00:01:31]. Jim, are you with us?

Jim: I am, Jennifer.

Jennifer: Good morning. Thanks for coming on the podcast today.

Jim: My pleasure to join you.

Jennifer: Today’s conversation about private agency adoption, and comparing that to foster care adoption, has been a long time coming. I say that meaning that there are so many question and misunderstandings in reference to this. You and your wife have a unique perspective, as you have, I stated a moment ago, adopted two beautiful children. I want to just get us started here, that you could share with our listeners your experience with adoption, if you will.

Jim: I will. I will be glad to.

Jennifer: Thanks.

Jim: We tried the traditional route. We were unable to conceive naturally. After a lot of soul searching, we thought adoption might be a solution for us to build our family. At the end of the road, we were right. It’s been a beautiful experience for us. As I said, we have two lovely beautiful girls, three years old and one year old, and as you mentioned, came to us via different avenues. The oldest through Adoption Associates, a private agency, and the second through the foster care system. We do have that unique perspective to share.

On a personal level, we went through … it was a lengthy process for us, a roller coaster of a process, through our first adoption. It was worth every minute of wait and worry and anxiety. Our second adoption was through the foster care system and went very quickly and very smoothly, neither of which were typical cases. I can lend perspective, but as you teach your clients that adoption, there is no typical scenario. Every case is different. There’s variables that exist from one case to another that are unique to that particular case.

Jennifer: That is the truest statement that I’ve heard today, for sure. You’re right about that. Jim, I’d like you to compare and contrast the preparation process. What did you find that was similar, and what did you find to be different regarding the home study component and education between the agency adoption and the foster care adoption?

Jim: First of all, there’s a lot of similarities. The home study, which entails background checks, reviewing your financial records to make sure that you’re able to properly provide for a child. You have to give personal references, friends, and I believe not family members, if memory serves me correctly. Friends, [crosstalk, 00:04:51], employers, co-workers, things like that. Medical checks to make sure that you’re physically able to care for children. As I’ve learned along the way, you’ve got to be pretty physically able to take care of little ones. Like I said, with a one year old and a three year old, it gets pretty strenuous, but I digress.

The questionnaires you have to fill out and that your references have to fill out, those things are all very similar. That’s, I believe, the core of each of the processes and in the preparation. A home study is written by you or, in the other case, is written by a social worker via the state. It goes into all these things. It explains the current family dynamic, the financial situation of that family, the background, and personal things like how the couple came to know each other, and things like that. Both detailed in process, but I’ll say this, neither are overly invasive per se. It’s all general things that I don’t think we definitely weren’t embarrassed about, sharing to you or subsequently down the road to our foster care case worker.

There were some differences too. I think the differences come in more to the training side of things. Let me back up. There are some minute differences in the home studies between foster care and private agency adoption, but nothing that particularly stands out. The differences, as I started to say … Adoption tends to focus, I believe, more on training prospective parents to deal with birth moms, whereas we have to learn and appreciate that the birth mom who had selected us is perhaps of a different socioeconomic background than what you are, that they may not have a lot in common with you socially. They’re probably going to be a lot younger than you, of a different generation.

These are things that adoption case workers prepare the prospective parents for, whereas the foster care system, there’s a lot of state-mandated training that you have to go through regardless of the type of child you’re looking to place. In our case, we were looking for an infant through foster care, however we still had to go through the process of education and continuous learning for things like coping and dealing with perhaps traumatic issues that the child had experienced, whereas foster care tends to be, not always, but tends to be a situation where the child was removed from an environment that they were familiar with, whereas adoption is more, obviously, with what Adoption Associates does, is more focused on the birth mom relationship and the mothers making a birth plan.

Jennifer: Sure. Sure. Your education requirements were different because of kind of the goals and the background of the birth mother circumstances. As you mentioned, with private adoption the focus was, a lot of the education anyway, was on the relationship with the birth mother and why that is important and how to go about building a positive relationship with her. That’s not necessarily a need in a foster care adoption situation. Was your training in the foster care realm focused or targeted towards maybe special needs of children? Not necessarily medical, but social, emotional, behavioral, related to being removed from a birth family? Is that kind of what your experience was with the education?

Jim: Jennifer, kind of all of the above. It was much … in our case we had to take classes on several consecutive Saturdays, whereas we learned about different things each week and had a pretty thick manual from the state that covered basically all the scenarios that you talked about, from what we ultimately ended up with, a placement of a newborn and how that process works, but yes, assuming that you were getting a newborn, we still had to be trained in the aspects of dealing with children who perhaps had, like I said, emotional trauma along the way, whether it was the removal itself or if there were, I hate to mention it, but issues of neglect on the child or things like that. It can be a tough situation, and I’ll tell you, through the whole foster care training process, there is a lot of heartache and stories and things that you have to listen and be prepared for that, I’ll be honest with you, in my daily life and experiences growing up, were things that I was fortunate not to have to deal with. Then to realize that they are a reality for a lot of children in this country and around the world.

Jennifer: It is definitely eye opening for a lot of people who begin to learn about that particular need. Jim, can we talk about the circumstances of the adoption, because this is an area with significant differences. We talked about the home study preparation process being minor differences, but this is really where the crux of it lies, the differences between private agency adoption and foster care adoption and the circumstances of the adoption. Can we kind of have this conversation and you get us started here?

Jim: Sure thing. The private adoption, with what you’re dealing with, Jennifer, it’s most of the time, I should say every time, it’s the birth mother’s choice. She, in most cases, makes a plan. She’s as involved as she wants to be, and you are involved as much as she wants you to be, as well, too.

Jennifer: Correct.

Jim: There’s pre-placement. There’s a lot of preparation and planning that goes into the process in general. The birth mother determines her involvement post-placement on her own. I know that one of the important qualities that Adoption Associates looks for in adoption is an open adoption, or at least a semi-open adoption. That’s something that we, I’ll be honest with you, when we first came in to Adoption Associates, that we were a little leery and a little skeptical of the whole open adoption process.

Jennifer: Sure.

Jim: That did change as we learned more about what it means and the birth mother’s desire to want to be involved in their child’s life to a certain extent. Basically for us it came down to realizing the more people that can love a baby, the better. I say baby, but as they grow up, the birth mother may be there for high school graduations and maybe even part of weddings that occur 20, 25, 30 years later. It’s driven by the birth mom. The focus is on the birth mom. It’s her decision. It’s her choices along the way as to, like I said, a couple like us, our involvement. Pre-adoption, she can invite you to doctor’s appointments. She can invite you, “Come on down. Let’s have coffee.” You don’t need to talk about this, or talk about that. A lot of very close personal relationships develop, I know, between birth mothers and adoptive parents even before the child comes into play.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think your point about openness in adoption is one that’s well taken. You should know, Jim, that you and your wife were certainly not alone in that initial concept of, “What is this? I don’t know that we’re in for this. This seems rather scary to me.” I would say almost 100% of couples that come to our agency looking at private adoption feel that same way because of a lack of understanding of what it is. That’s another show for another day so I don’t want to digress too much there, but it serves a purpose in this conversation, obviously, because we’re talking about the concept of voluntary adoption. A birth mother choosing a plan for her child versus an involuntary sort of circumstance that we hear about in foster care adoption, where children are removed because of some sort of problem, oftentimes abuse or neglect, and adoption is necessary rather than voluntary.

Share with us a little bit more I guess, Jim, about your thoughts in this area, the goals of each of those types of adoptions. We’ve kind of talked about that a little bit already. What are your thoughts on that?

Jim: Like you said, foster care, it is a completely different process. It’s a completely different situation. Unfortunately, most of the situations involving foster care are difficult for one reason for another. I’m not thereby discounting the private adoption route where a birth mother chooses a plan, because she’s obviously forced into a very difficult decision herself, but it’s a decision that she made. Foster care is different. I’ll talk candidly here in this aspect. Most of the children are removed, and it’s for a variety of reasons. It is usually traumatic. It is, I touched on it in the last segment we talked about, where perhaps there may have been abuse or neglect or mother and/or father is going to jail and there’s no family members to step up to take care of the children. There’s situations where there’s drug use with the parents and they’re deemed unfit to take care of the children.

The exception to that, at least on the traumatic side, is an infant. Obviously a young baby, weeks or a couple of months old isn’t going to necessarily know, be that cognizant of their surroundings, to know what had transpired. It is generally a difficult situation that the child is coming from. Hence the extra training that I also touched on in the last subject as well, too.

Jennifer: What about the age of the children that are being placed for adoption? What was your experience? Your experience, as you said, may have been a little different. What is your understanding about that?

Jim: I believe with, and you could probably answer the private side better than me, but I believe it’s in the high 90s, isn’t it, that they’re infants or at least under a year old, on the agency side of things?

Jennifer: Sure. Sure. Yeah. Agencies such as Adoption Associates are primarily infant placing when we’re talking about domestic adoption. Obviously different in our international programs, but domestically, yes, we’re working with birth mothers during their pregnancy who are placing children from the hospital. That is certainly the case. What about foster care?

Jim: That does happen. I did a little bit of research on that, and some things we picked up along the way, and what we’ve observed with other families we’ve met. It’s about a quarter of the kids in foster care or that are adopted out of foster care are under three years old. Another roughly half of those are between four and ten, and then the other quarter, basically, comes beyond age 10, 10-14, 15, and so. Foster care is, the numbers are very very much spread out in terms of the age. It’s what each prospective adoptive family is looking for is different. There are prospective adoptive couples out there who don’t want a newborn and an infant. For one reason or another, better or worse, I don’t judge, they don’t want to deal with the sleepless nights that come along with a newborn, and that’s fine. There are kids out there who need homes and who need families who have ages up to 17 years old. I think it’s a beautiful thing when anyone, regardless of the age that they’re looking for or what role they’re willing to take on as parents reaches out and does that, whether it be foster care or private adoption.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that generally speaking, my understanding and research is that fewer infants are available in foster care because of that goal of reunification with the biological parents, or that goal for placement with a blood relative that exists in foster care adoption. That’s why, I think, that there are fewer infant adoptions. There are young children adoptions, as you said, between ages one and three, but there’s timelines and processes and legal things that need to happen, and those things take time, obviously.

Let’s shift just a little bit, kind of again off of the topic of voluntary versus involuntary placement. That birth mother choice, birth mother involvement in selecting adoptive parents. What was your experience or what did that look like in your frame of mind, the foster care adoption versus a private agency?

Jim: I think we had some personal experience, and it was part of our roller coaster that we went through as adoptive parents in the private system. We were, at one point, paired with a birth mother who did ultimately change her mind. We were involved with everything along the way. We had invitations to go to doctor’s appointments and things like that, those things that I touched on earlier. It didn’t work out in the end. I’ll say this. It was a beautiful experience, had everything gone the right way. In retrospect I can look upon what we went through and I can see how that helps foster the relationship between birth mom, adoptive parents, and then eventually the child, if you can build that strong backbone, that strong foundation of trust and respect and love between all the parties involved before and after the child comes along.

In our case, foster care, what you touched on is true. That’s why I said you can’t use us as a point of reference. Every case is different. We were fortunate and blessed and the stars aligned properly and we were owed karma or something, I don’t know quite what yet. Maybe never will. We received an infant, just barely a few days old, brought her home from the hospital, and everything went smoothly. It was really never in doubt for us. To say that’s typical with foster care, I would say, would almost be a lie.

Jennifer: Right.

Jim: Like I said, we were blessed to have that. It’s not a situation where the mother was involved or is involved, and we don’t think, unfortunately, will ever be involved. It was a tough situation for our little peanut, but we were, again, just so fortunate to bring her home and love on her from just a few days old until now and forever.

Jennifer: Right. Right. That’s nice, so nice to hear. What about timeframes for placement and finalization, Jim? What did that look like in these two different arenas?

Jim: I’ll just lay out the numbers from the get go, and then I’ll delve a little deeper. It was amazing how this worked out. Our oldest, three years ago, from the day she was born, it took us, until we went to court and everything was finalized, it was seven months and twelve days from the day she was born. Our second little one, who is now a year old, was seven months and eleven days. They were literally one day apart. Different systems, different situations, different counties involved, all kinds of different things going on, but it was a one day difference from the day they were born.

Now granted, our little one …

Jennifer: That’s amazing.

Jim: Yeah, it is. It really is. Our little one came to us after she was born, a few days old, whereas our oldest, we were there within just a couple of hours of her birth. For it to be literally a day apart is kind of funny. I think you’re also asking more about the entire time involved, from start to finish. In our case it was longer for us. We had our profiles up. I don’t even know, do you still do the paper profiles, or is everything online now?

Jennifer: We’re all digital now.

Jim: All digital. We had paper profiles and we had to cut and paste and glue photographs and get a bunch printed from …

Jennifer: You’re dating yourself, Jim.

Jim: I know. I know. Who prints pictures anymore? It was several years for us. It was the potential of being selected by a birth mom. It was calling and asking us if we would expand our horizons a little bit on things we’d be more apt to accepting from a birth mom perspective. It became us being paired, I touched on this earlier, with a birth mom who did select us based on our profile. She, like I said, ultimately changed her mind. I think that set us back a couple of weeks of a couple of months. I think, for us, it ended up being almost three years from the time that we were approved to the time we had a child. As much as we, as I’ve said several times now, as much as we were an outlier on how quickly things went and smoothly things went through the foster care system, we had an inordinate amount of waiting time for our experience with Adoption Associates. You know what, Jennifer? This all happens for a reason. I would not trade that little girl that we got for anything. I would go through every single experience that we went through. I would go through 100,000 more dark days to still end up with her, because she is the one that was meant for us.

Jennifer: Yes, she is your daughter.

Jim: She is. She is. We’re eternally grateful to Adoption Associates for that, as we are equally grateful and blessed to have our little one year old as well, too.

Jennifer: I appreciate the fact that you indicated that both of these experiences, one private agency, one foster care adoption, were outliers, so to speak, and that you didn’t fit the norm or the average in either one of those things, yet here we are talking with you about your experience. Despite what your experiences were, Adoption Associates, obviously I can speak as an employee, we have seen some significant changes in those wait times and the processes by which families go through to adopt. It is currently a 15-18 month wait for most our families is the average. Some of those wait less, some of those wait a little bit longer.

What about, do you have an opinion or anything you’d like to add to the topic of certainty of adoption? That’s an area that a lot of families, it causes sleepless nights and worry. Is this going to happen? Will the birth mother change her mind? Is the foster care system going to decide that this child should be returned to the birth parent? What do you know about that, Jim?

Jim: I know that you don’t want to dive in completely emotionally. You have to protect and prepare yourself for things, like you said, a birth mother changing her mind or the courts or the foster care system saying … That’s always the goal with foster care, and you touched on it earlier, and I meant to as well, too, that the goal of foster care is always reunification. It always is. That’s why a lot of kids are in foster care for several years before they’re adopted, because they will … The parents have rights and the child has rights, and that’s all understandable. The child knows and loves that parent most of the time. The goal is that happy ending where the parent in the foster care system gets their life straight and fixes the problems that they had in their life so they can care for and raise that child as they, I believe in most cases, really hope to and want to.

Jennifer: Sure.

Jim: When that’s not possible, that’s where the adoption process, adoption via foster care, comes into play. You, and I went off on a little tangent there, you need to, you want to protect yourself emotionally and be prepared and say that, “We’re in this, but there’s always this chance. There’s always this. There’s always that.” In our case that did come to be. I’ll tell you, Jennifer, when you’re in there and you’re with a birth mom who has selected you and wants you to be a part of that child’s life, it’s hard not to invest yourself completely emotionally. You have to. You have to be committed. You have to be on board with everything. At the same time, just be a little guarded and be prepared for the possibility of things going sideways, which is always a possibility, no matter which road you choose.

Jennifer: Sure. Sure. absolutely. For our agency, we like to try to track these sorts of things, because these are questions that people want answers to. What we have found most recently is that a birth mother making a voluntary plan for adoption will change her mind 18-20% of the time prior to delivery, and then about 2% of the time after the delivery. 2% doesn’t sound like a lot, unless you happen to be one of that 2% and that’s hard …

Jim: Which we were.

Jennifer: Yeah. That can be a really difficult time. The flip side of that, when we’re talking about certainty, is that there’s statistical information that indicates about half of the children in foster care are ultimately reunified with birth family. That takes time, and as you talked about, there’s a need for foster home, foster care, and that’s where those children are able to be in the interim, while those parents are trying to regain custody of their kiddos. A lot of complex issues here, Jim, that we’ve talked about, and many that we haven’t touched on as well.

We are, unfortunately, running short on time, and I think we would be remiss in this conversation, as we’re comparing and contrasting, not to discuss financial considerations, because this is something that’s important and that we hear about in questioning from others. What’s your response to this question, or what thoughts would you like to share with our listeners in your experience of financial considerations between the two?

Jim: I think it’s first and foremost, before I go into this, you have to realize, you have to come into this looking at it from a neutral perspective. Jennifer, I know you. You’ve got a family of your own. You’ve got a house and you’ve got all this. I don’t think you do this for the money, but you do it because you love it, and I know that about you. But, you’re doing this, this is your career. This is your job. There are fees and things that have to be collected by private agencies like Adoption Associates. I believe that you use the term fee for service with what you do.

Jennifer: Correct.

Jim: Every dime that comes in to Adoption Associates, from what I understand, which is a non-profit organization, goes to case workers like yourself and putting birth mothers together with adoptive couples and maintaining the websites and doing all these things that do cost money. There are fees involved and they can get up there. At the same time, there’s so many things that I wish we could have done at our time of adopting that we had never thought of and that weren’t so big at the time. There’s adoptive couples out there that have Go Fund Me pages, and I’ve heard of adoptive parents having bake sales and doing things like that.

There are things that do cost, but at the same time, there’s a nice federal tax credit out there which we were able to take advantage of for once you’ve closed on an adoption. Even when you’re in the process, there’s … I encourage listeners to read up on it, but there’s several tax benefits in addition to the dependent credit. There’s specific tax credits, not deductions, for the adoption of a child and expenses related to that. That does help severely lessen the financial side of it.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Again, most private agencies such as Adoption Associates are not receiving any sort of state or federal funding, so fees, as you mentioned, a fee for service agency, fees provided by families for services allows us to operate, essentially. Thanks for explaining that. We are just about completely out of time now, and I didn’t know if you had anything that you wanted to just add in here last minute or two, about post-placement support. This is a big part, in our view, of adoption and of good, healthy adoptions. What your experience was in terms of your relationship with the organization or its staff, support offered after children were placed in your home?

Jim: Yes. Actually both sides were very beneficial and, at the same time, you’ve got due diligence to check up on to make sure that the baby is in a safe and healthy and loving environment. Jennifer, because you were our case worker …

Jennifer: Yes I was.

Jim: We had visits all along. I think, was it every month or every three months?

Jennifer: The policies have changed for that since you adopted, so I’m not sure where you ran into that, but right now we are seeing families every month, every 30 days.

Jim: Okay. When you’re coming out … You have this grandiose image in your head of someone like you coming into our house with a white glove on to make sure that the stove is clean and that there’s no dust on the mantle. It’s not like that at all. You’re there checking to make sure that there’s a loving environment in that home and that things are progressing as well as they can be, and at the same time offering support and suggestions and thoughts. Then things that go as part of the training as well, along the way.

It’s actually very similar to what the foster care side of things are. There’s also state and court mandated visits to make sure. I’ll say this. I do find that maybe things have changed. You mentioned how things have changed. It seems that through the foster care system, we were required to adhere to more strict state laws that exist today. One of our big contentions along the way was the temperature of our tap water, which I don’t remember you ever mentioning along the way. State mandated regulations, and this is just one example to kind of contrast the differences a little bit. We fiddled and fiddled with our hot water heater to keep the tap water down so no child would get scalded by really hot water, which I love my hot showers and I went without for a good year or so.

There’s just different details and minutiae in the process. We did, we had case workers from the state coming out to our house as well, too, to basically do the same kind of things that you were doing as a private agency as well, too. You would write a report based on what you saw, submit it, as would the case worker through the state. Very very similar in the follow up visits and support.

There’s always … I know from our perspective, Jennifer, I could have always called you for … I know you. I could call you for just about anything and you would be there if it’s relating to something emotional, mental, or if it was pertaining to the adoption process or the raising of a child. We found that through the state as well, too, through the foster care process, that there was a lot of support available, and there’s groups out there. There’s foster care parents support groups and there’s adoption parents support groups. We’ve actually made some pretty good friends through the process, especially with Adoption Associates, of other adoptive couples who were, at one time, in similar situations as us and who also now have their forever families as well, too.

Jennifer: Absolutely. I think the message here, at least for me, and the take away, is for couples who are interested in growing their family through adoption, they should research their options and learn what the best fit is for them. This is not a one size fits all. I think that you touched on that earlier as well. Lots of different circumstances and considerations to take into account. This was a kind of quick and fast podcast. We probably could go on for another hour if we wanted to, but we don’t have time for that. I do appreciate you coming on though, Jim, and sharing what your experiences have been and your thoughts about this topic. Thank you for that.

Jim: Of course.

Jennifer: For listeners, please remember that we’re live every Tuesday at 11 for Adoption Focus. To connect with Adoption Associates, you can call 800-677-2367, or on the web at adoptionassociates.net. Jim, awesome talking to you and catching up today, and again, appreciate your information.

Jim: My pleasure. I can’t do enough, I believe, to pay back Adoption Associates and our agency through foster care as well, too. It’s my pleasure to do things like this. We, my wife and I and our two daughters are so blessed and so fortunate to have found each other along this way. I’m more than happy to talk to you or to any prospective parents as well, too, at any time. I can be reached through Adoption Associates.

Jennifer: Awesome. Thank you. Yes. If you’d like to connect with Jim or his wife, Angela, I know they’re happy to do so, to talk about their experience. Continue to follow blogtalkradio.com/adoptionfocus for an on demand listing of the shows that are available. For now, this is Jennifer on Adoption Focus. Hope to be in touch with all of you again next week. Have a great day, everyone. Bye bye.