Virtually all adoptive parents dream of the rhythmic breathing of a sleeping infant, the powerful grip of tiny fingers, the sweet smell of milk breath and powder, the sleepless nights, the endless diaper changes. . . . Wait, forget those last two.
Where that baby comes from, for parents who cannot have their own children or choose to save someone else’s, is a major decision. Public adoption and private adoption may follow similar processes, but their likenesses stop there. This guide reveals some of those “I never thought about that” moments when deciding between the two adoption systems.
A Family for a Child
One of the most dramatic differences between public and private adoption is the mindset of those involved.
The goal of private adoption agencies is to find the right child for a family. They may contract with expectant mothers, seek teen moms who need an alternative to abortion, search through orphanages and group homes overseas, or even use connections through the child welfare system. Through an extensive recruitment system, adoption counselors are on the lookout for that newborn, Caucasian baby girl with no medical issues, a clean family history, and a happy temperament. They are trying to find the right baby for your family.
Public adoption departments also want to create a match between parent and child, but their goal is primarily to find the right family for a child. The babies that enter the child welfare system may have been abused, be chemically dependent, or have serious medical issues. Of course, the baby is placed in the public system through no fault of her own, and she may be perfectly healthy and happy. Her birthparents may just have problems that prevent them from taking good care of a child, such as incarceration or psychiatric or medical issues. Social workers want these children to grow up in a loving home, but they will not be on the hunt for your perfect infant. Instead, they are working in the best interest of the child and will likely attempt to reunite the child with the birthparents or relatives before considering a stranger.
Are the Children Waiting Or Are You?
Test your knowledge of the American adoption system by answering the following question: which of these babies typically waits longer for a home?
A boy or a girl?
A white child, an African-American child, or a Hispanic child?
An infant with clear medical issues or an infant with no known problems?
In the Denver area, where I live, the answer is the same for both private adoption agencies and the county Department of Human Services. At any age, the child that waits the longest for a forever family is a non-white male with identifiable medical concerns. Older children also wait longer than babies. Are you comfortable accepting this kiddo into your family, or do you feel that other traits would make a better fit? There is no right or wrong answer; there is only the answer that is best for your family and best for this baby.
Cost and Subsidies
Another surprising difference between adopting a baby from a private agency, including international adoptions, or going with a public entity is the cost. When my partner and I spoke with a local adoption agency, we had gone into the meeting with some basic research and understood that adoption would cost thousands of dollars. Exactly how much shocked us.
Adopting a child with special needs or from one of those “unwanted” categories could cost as little as $5,000 to cover the paperwork, home study, and counseling. The rest of the price would be covered by private donations or eaten by the agency.
On the other hand, adopting a perfect newborn baby girl can be the equivalent of taking out a new car loan. These types of in-demand adoptions range between $15,000 and $25,000. Because demand is greater than supply, these adoptions typically receive no subsidies (other than the federal tax credit and any other state programs).
How much does an adoption cost from the child welfare system? In my area, the adoption can be finalized for as little as $37 to cover the cost of the new birth certificate. The application, training courses, background checks, and home study are all covered by county, state, and federal resources. Expenses may be different in your area, but I can guarantee that they will be less than the cost of adopting a baby from a private agency.
In both cases, adoptive parents may be eligible for the federal adoption tax credit. Some employers also offer assistance with expenses during the adoption process or reimbursement after the placement is finalized.
Time for a Baby
Even if the cost of an adoption does not matter, the timeframe usually does. Once the decision to adopt a baby has been made, we all want our healthy, happy newborns now. Unfortunately the system moves slower than most of us would like.
For both private adoption agencies and public child welfare departments, the application and home study process can take three to six months. Applicants must meet the required number of training hours, pass background checks, and then meet with caseworkers to discuss their reasons for adopting, their parenting styles, their childcare plans, and other critical issues. The child search cannot begin until these preliminary steps are completed.
After the initial checks, the timeframe for adoption can vary. A private agency with waiting children may be able to finalize an adoption within one to three months. An agency that matches expecting birthmothers with adoptive parents may be able to complete the process in less than one year. With a public agency, however, the wait may be indefinite, as children are not recruited for adoption purposes. For example, children with serious medical needs or older children in Denver County may be adopted after a six-month foster care review period. Infants may take two years or more, depending on the length of the waiting list, the family matching process, and the time needed to terminate parental rights.
The Choice Between Public and Private Adoption
Overall, private agencies and public social services departments both have advantages. Private adoption agencies offer a more collaborative approach to adoption, with the birthparents and adoptive parents choosing one another. In addition, these private businesses typically provide a greater level of matching services than those found in state or county operations. On the other hand, public child welfare departments often make adoption more affordable for the average parent and can quickly place children in need of stable, loving homes.
In the end, the decision to adopt is a lifetime commitment that deserves a period of soul-searching and consideration. Through extensive discussions, coursework, and introspection, both public and private agencies can help you decide whether adopting a baby is the best choice for your family. No matter which path is chosen, adoption requires a sacrifice: You must be willing to assume the role of a parent and make decisions that give each child the best future possible.