The Facts About Adoption

By Maureen Sangiorgio

The instant Keriann and Joe Cwiak of Forks Township saw Alex in a video, they knew he was the baby for them. “We fell in love with him right away,” recalls Keriann. “Then when we held him, we were both crying, we were so happy.” The Cwiaks would go on to adopt another infant, Annaliese, about a year later. “My husband always wanted a boy and a girl, so now our family is complete.”

About 120,000 children are adopted each year in the United States, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Adopting a child is an emotional rollercoaster, not to mention a huge investment with fees skyrocketing up to about $40,000 per child. If you’re considering adoption, here’s what you need to know to help you make the right decisions about this life-changing event.

Types of Adoption

There are several different types of adoption. With domestic adoption, the child is placed with an individual or couple in the same country in which he orshe is born. International adoption, or intercountry adoption, is a type of adoption in which an individual or couple becomes the parents of a child born in another country.  About 15 percent of all adoptions are intercountry adoptions.

Open adoption means that the birth mother and the adopting family know each other. Closed adoption means just the opposite – the record of the biological parents is kept sealed, so the biological parents and the adopting parents don’t know anything about each other.  “Nearly all of our adoptions are open adoptions,” notes Helene Kosciolek, an adoption counselor with  Adoptions From the Heart, Allentown. “For the first six months, the adoptive parents must send letters and pictures once a month to the birth mother. After six months, the adoptive parents are required to send letters and pictures once a year until the child is 18. They also have to meet with each other once a year.  Sometimes, they will meet more often than that. That’s fine, but it’s up to them.”

Reasons for Adoption

Studies show that the number one reason for adoption is infertility. “Most of the couples choose adoption because they tried unsuccessfully to have a child on their own,” says Helene. “Other reasons include inappropriate age of the birth mother, economic issues, and drug and/or alcohol problems.  Some birth mothers also have mental health issues, or they already have a large family and they don’t want any more children.”

The Adoption Process

The first step is to meet with an adoption agency and fill out the application. Once that’s completed, the couple moves on to the home study process, which is their golden ticket to the adoption world.  “The home study process could take a month or two, and includes security clearances, physicals, financial information, discussion of disciplinary methods, and an educational session,” notes Helene. The final step is a profile meeting where birth mothers are matched to families.  At this step, adoptive couples are asked to bring pictures of their house, pets, extended family, and activities so a birth mother can get a glimpse into that family’s life. Depending on the agency, the process can also include an autobiography and a video for a prospective birth mother to watch and get a better understanding of the couple.

So how long can all this take before parents receive their child? “Once all the paperwork is completed, and the home study process is finished, an adoptive couple can receive their child anywhere from two weeks to two years,” notes Helene. Child Services Program Administrator Teri Dakuginow of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Allentown, agrees. “From beginning to end, how long the process takes is dependent on how quickly and thoroughly the adoptive parents can gather and complete all the required documents needed for the home study,” says Teri.  “Many families are matched with a child within one to two years from the completion of their home study.”

Pitfalls

One of the downsides of adopting a child in Pennsylvania is a 30-day cool-off period. “Pennsylvania has some of the worst adoption laws,” notes Helene. “The birth mother has 30 days to change her mind.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s horrible. We do everything we can do educate the birth mother and try to prevent this from happening. We tell her that adoptive couples have suffered infertility, and that by changing your mind you’re disrupting a family and sending them on an emotional roller coaster.”  Compare this to nearby New Jersey, Delaware, and other states, where once the birth mother signs the consent form, the adoption is final and irrevocable. If the birth mother lives in one state, and the adoptive parents are in another state, the birth mother’s residence decides which state’s law applies.

We sat down to dinner the other night, and after grace, we asked our kids to say what they were thankful for. Annaliese said, ‘My family.

Another challenge to the adoption process is that, sometimes, a child can become available rather quickly. “We wanted another baby, and they told us it would take one to two years,” recalls Keriann. “But then the agency called to tell us a baby girl would be available in a few months. We had to scramble to get the basement finished so I could move my office down there, then we had to convert my old office in to a nursery. We also had to come up with all that money, both for the adoption fees, and the renovations on our house, right away. It was a lot of chaos all at once.”

Another aspect of the adoption process that surprised Keriann and Joe was all the paperwork. “Prepare to fill out about 50 pages of paperwork,” says Joe. “They will ask you tons of questions to get at how you would react in a wide variety of situations, such as how you would discipline your child in every scenario you can possibly imagine. They also wanted to know if we had an extended family or close friends that could watch the children for us if we needed a break. But we feel it was very thorough and in-depth, and everyone considering starting a family should discuss those issues.”

Cost

Adoptions From The Heart charges anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000 total, depending upon if there are interstate and/or court fees. Catholic Charities is affiliated with State Wide Adoption Network (SWAN) which is subsidized by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  This organization offers both domestic and international adoptions. For international adoptions, it’s important to note that Catholic Charities only provides the home study and post placement services portion. The adopting family has to list with an agency that is licensed to work in the country from which they are interested in adopting. Catholic Charities fees range from $2,500 for international adoption up to $13,500 for domestic infant adoptions.  Keriann and Joe’s experience, however, was more expensive. “Because we adopted our children from Russia, we had to pay to fly over there several times, and pay hotel, meal, and translator fees. For us, it came to about $40,000 per child.” Of course, they feel it was worth every penny. “We sat down to dinner the other night, and after grace, we asked our kids to say what they were thankful for. Annaliese said, ‘My family.’”

For more information visit LehighValleyMarketplace.com

Maureen Sangiorgio, an award-winning writer, frequently reports on consumer health, medicine, nutrition, fitness, and pediatric issues for local and national media clients.

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