With an estimated 332 million people in the United States, we are not in short supply of caring adults wanting to share their love with a child through adoption. For many, it is the most viable way. However, expensive adoptions fees, lots of red tape, and not knowing where to begin—all present barriers to growing families. In recognition of National Adoption Month, and because it is a topic often on the hearts and minds of our Coast Guard workforce, MyCG is providing you with steps to help guide you on an adoption journey of your own.
Know your child’s attributes
There are many paths to take when adopting a child, and which road you choose can depend on what attributes you want to see in your child. In other words, what age range are you interested in? Which ethnicity or gender? Is there a family history or a parental background that is off-limits for your family? Knowing the desired characteristics of your child can determine where to start. For instance, if you want an older child—adopting from the foster care system through the Department of Social Services or the Department of Child Protective Services may be right for you. In some states, you can adopt a child aged nine and above outright, if the parental rights have been absolved. However, if you are interested in adopting an infant to raise, this may not be the path for you since the ultimate end goal of the foster care system is family reunification.
Open or Closed Adoption
Now that you have figured out which attributes you want reflected in your child, you should decide if you want an open or closed adoption. An open adoption is where you are willing to still engage with your child’s biological mother, father, or family member to have open contact. And, with a closed adoption, no contact with the biological family is maintained.
Here are your primary adoption options. There are three primary paths that you can take to adopt. Each pathway has its own nuances and additional options; but this provides you with an overview of major selections.
- Adoption through foster care. According to Adoptive Families, an online magazine, there are more than 104,000 children in the United States’ foster care system waiting for their “forever homes.” To address routine misinformation—yes, single parents can adopt in some states, and, if your finances are strained, in many states children from the foster care system could be determined to be “special needs” because of a range of physical or emotional challenges. In those instances, adoptive families can receive monthly subsidies through the time the child turns between 18 and 22 years-old. The North American Council on Adoptable Children provides a listing of state adoption assistance programs, which you may be eligible for based on the state your child was adopted from rather than where you live. Lastly, many may have been unaware that adopting a child from another state is an option, or perhaps you want to adopt multiple children at the same time, like a group of siblings. Visit Adopt US Kids or call 888-200-4800 to be put in touch with the appropriate agency in your state. Also, take the time to learn about the specific laws and policies in your state through Adopt US Kids.
- Adoption through an agency. According to NOLO, there are more than 3,000 adoption agencies that prospective parents can choose from—they fall into either a private or public category. The private ones are typically the ones that charge fees that can include the birth mom’s living and/ or maternal expenses. For example, maternity clothes and medical insurance would be an example of this type of cost. The national adoption referral Child Welfare Information Gateway service can provide you with an agency referral to get you started on the right path for you. In these instances, the agent coordinates matching with a birth-mom and provides you guidance with appropriate resources, like legal counsel.
- Adoption directly through a birth mom. In this option, you can connect directly with a birth mom and use a lawyer to create an agreement for adoption. How do you get in contact with a birth mom? Some parents find a prospective birth mother the old fashioned way, through word-of-mouth, but you can also find parents through engagement groups on social media, such as the, Find Birth Parents, Siblings and Adoptees and Family, and Private, Domestic Adoption Connections, which are Facebook groups that provide connections between families seeking birth mothers and those mothers searching for families. There are also support groups for pre-adoptive and adoptive families, such as, the Military Adoptive Parents support (MAPS) , and the Domestic Adoption Support Group.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Anitra Keith, used the latter path to recently adopt her son, Jon who is 18-months-old, along with her husband Jason and their two daughters: Aleesa who is 10 and Della who is eight. Her husband recently retired from the Coast Guard in September 2021 and she works in the Office of Governmental and Public Affairs.
“[We] have been going back and forth on having another child or not. I didn’t see a reason behind bringing another biological kid into this world so we decided to adopt right before Christmas 2019. It was always something that I wanted to do,” explained Keith.
The Keiths began their process with a home study, which is a required family, background, and house investigation to determine if the household is safe for the placement of a child.
These studies range from state-to-state and the Adoption Network lists the requirements by each state. On average, the home study process takes approximately one-and-a-half months to complete.
Keith connected to her son’s biological mother in a Facebook Group and formed a connection right away, self-matching with her in only three weeks since joining the group.
“We did not want a closed adoption because we felt like a piece of our child would be missing,” said Keith. “Adoption is trauma in itself so we wanted to have an open adoption and there is not a day that goes by that she [Jon’s birth mom] doesn’t see her son. I am continuing the relationship for him right now until he’s old enough to decide if he wants to continue it for himself,” said Keith.
Financially, the home study is an intense process that includes requests for marriage certificates, death certificates, divorce decrees background checks and more. Keith said, with the home study and the legal fees, “we were right under $14,000 for everything,” she said,” but then the CGMA reimbursed us for the home study costs, which was awesome.”
Legal and Financial Fees
Adoption is known for being pricey and sometimes, depending on the route that you take, the lofty costs can keep good families from adopting. Having some idea of your legal costs is key. Another Coast Guard civilian revealing having paid a private agency between 50,000 to 60,000 dollars for adopting his sons; costs can vary greatly depending upon the agency and the state.
Regardless of your direction with adoption, securing legal representation is important. Keith explained that her lawyer handled necessary paperwork, as well as, temporary custody of her child while rights were being transitioned from the birth mother to their family.
The Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance program have programs that can assist you with fee reimbursement. The Coast Guard’s Adoption Reimbursement Program is for active duty members and reservists on active duty for at least 180 consecutive days are eligible for reimbursement of up to $2,000 per child, per year, and a maximum of $5,000 in any calendar year. You can also contact the Coast Guard Support Program or CG SUPRT, which assists Coast Guard personnel and their families with adoption resources. They can be contacted at 855-CGSUPRT or 855-247-8778.
Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, a non-profit that support Coast Guard families, offers two types of assistance directly related to the legal adoption of a child: an interest-free loan up to $6,000 for qualified expenses relating to the adoption; and a grant, not to exceed $3,000, for the cost of a home study fee.
Your adoption journey may be long or relatively quick, like the Keiths’, but certainly the end result will be worth it. Keith said, “Getting to love Jon for the last year and a half has been amazing. We love him so much that I can’t even begin to tell you,” she said. “He is the exclamation point at the end of our sentence.”