This guest post is by Brian Esser, an attorney and adoptive father.
Somewhere right this instant, an expectant woman is on her phone, Googling her way to the self-produced online profile of an adoptive parent or parents.
An email is sent, a connection is felt, and a match could be in the works.
It is modern, yes, but there is still that same “I just knew” person-to-person feeling there, the same moment of connection felt by an expectant woman leafing through profiles at an agency or on the agency’s web site.
The internet has allowed expectant women to connect directly with adoptive parents, without having to work through agencies to make that connection.
Pregnant women (and others in their support network) have the ability to search and find the adoptive family that they want to place their child with, based on their own criteria and preferences.
This independent strategy appeals to hopeful adoptive parents who like the ability to highlight themselves and proceed at their own pace, outside of an agency’s structure and marketing methods.
(Note: Some states do not allow families to adopt without an agency, and some states allow a lawyer to make matches, like an agency would, so this model is not available to all families in all states.)
This independent process allows waiting adoptive parents to be more involved in their own adoption, and select the professionals that they want to work with at each phase.
I think of the process as being “unbundled” versus the agency, which offers a bundled set of services.
The caveat—I am an attorney, so you know I have to provide a disclaimer—is that you are only as strong as your team.
Here is an overview of some of the people professionals you may encounter—and wish to utilize—on your adoption journey:
Lawyer: Usually your lawyer is your main point of contact on an independent adoption journey.
Your lawyer will advise you on your state’s adoption requirements, consult with you on your advertising/networking efforts, help you assess potential matches, and determine how to finalize an adoption placement.
Your lawyer will also help make referrals to lawyers and social workers for the expectant woman and connect you with some of the other providers we’ll talk about. Imagine you live in New York, and a woman contacts you from North Carolina.
Your lawyer will use his or her network to refer this expectant woman to a qualified lawyer who will work with her to ensure all the T’s are crossed and she is protected in an ethical and efficient manner.
Most often your lawyer will be your primary point of contact. You need to make sure that your lawyer is experienced handling independent adoptions and shares your approach and philosophy to adoption.
Ideally your lawyer will also have personal experience with adoption, as an adoptive parent or as an adopted person (less commonly as a birth parent).
Referrals from friends can be important, but the lawyer who was the right fit for your good friend, might not be the right fit for you.
Don’t be afraid to meet with several lawyers before deciding which is the right one for you.
If you are a single adoptive parent or an LGBT individual or couple, make sure that your lawyer is competent working with your family type.
There are professionals who want to take your money, but may not always have your best interests at heart.
If your first interactions with your lawyer are awkward or don’t feel affirming, go with your gut, don’t expect them to improve over time.
Social worker: At some point you will need a social worker, whether independent or from an agency, to write your home study.
In addition to the report itself, your social worker will talk to you about preparing yourself for the adoption experience, including talking to expectant parents, transracial adoption, and raising an adoptive child.
Marketing professional: You’ll need to connect with an expectant woman looking to make an adoption plan one way or another.
Unless you are a web programmer or a graphic designer, you may want to work with someone who has expertise creating profiles and getting them seen by expectant parents.
Some families opt to use profile listing websites like America Adopts! to create a profile and promote it with social media and paid search. There is no right or wrong way to make that connection.
Support group: Adoption can feel like a lonely experience. No one, except people who are in the search phase right now, can really empathize with what you’re going through.
Many prospective adoptive parents find it helpful to join a support group for camaraderie – and to be connected with a counselor in the event that you experience a disruption or disappointment during your journey.
Adoption pediatrician: Some, though not all, children who become available for adoption have been exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero.
Expectant women may also have histories of infections such as HIV, hepatitis, Lyme’s disease; mental health issues; or be taking medication for other conditions.
Don’t go to the internet to try to decipher what the possible outcomes for a child with that health history.
There are pediatricians who have expertise reviewing medical records and helping adoptive families determine what likely outcomes for a child will be. Your lawyer should have referrals.
Post-placement support: The adoption finalization is the moment in time that creates your family legally.
But children who join their families through adoption (and their parents) may need support to work through their feelings about how they came to be family.
There may also be issues related to transracial adoption that you may want to get support on as you help your child. And, if it is at all relevant for your child, any history of abuse or trauma.
Adoptive parents should think about – and ask for referrals for – counsellors and supportive organizations, whether they think they will need them or not.
Single parents by choice and LGBT parents may want to access resources specific to their communities in order to create a network and help their children understand that they are not the only child that type of family form.
You may or may not come into contact with all of these professionals on your adoption journey, but it’s important to know that they are there for you if you need them.
Just because you are pursuing an independent adoption doesn’t mean that you are going it alone.
Brian Esser combines his experiences as an adoptive father with a dedication to providing the highest quality and personalized legal services. His law practice is focused on adoption, reproductive law, and estate planning for families of all kinds.
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