Most of the time, we think about adoptions being between strangers – a birthmom can’t take care of her child for one reason or another, and she decides to give the child up for adoption. Then, some family or individual decides to open their home to a child in need, and connects with a state or private adoption agency, who matches them to a child, and – voila – adoption.
While agency adoptions are popular and do greatly help children in need, they are not the only kind of adoption in Georgia. These next few posts will help showcase and give examples of the different ways that a family can help a child in need of a home, whether it is through an agency or otherwise.
We’ll start off by looking at agency adoptions and the two different kinds – State agencies and private agencies – and then go from there. Let’s dive right in!
Agency Adoptions: State vs. Private
State Agency – DFCS
“Jared’s mom had a drug problem. She couldn’t seem to shake the habit. When Jared was 5 years old, his mom went to jail for felony drug possession. Jared didn’t have any family he could go to, so he went into DFCS custody and they put him in foster care, where Samuel and Maria took him in along with their two biological kids. Jared was scared, but he was a sweet, respectful kid, and bonded really well with his foster parents and foster siblings. For the next year or so, Jared didn’t really see his mom all that much. She was in and out of jail, couldn’t pass her drug screens, and sometimes just didn’t show. Later on, when Jared was 7 years old, his mom passed away from an overdose. Jared cried himself to sleep each night after he found out because he was so scared. What would happen to him? Where would he go? He didn’t know who his biological dad was and he didn’t know any family other than his mom and her druggie friends she had over at their small apartment when he was a little kid.”
Jared’s story begins with a state agency placement, where the agency takes in and places children into the foster care system. In Georgia, this agency is called DFCS – the Division of Family and Children Services (sometimes also called the Department of Children and Family Services). The State of Georgia gets involved in placing children when there is drug use or neglect by a parent, or anything else where a parent cannot and is not providing for their child. Sometimes, all that’s needed is to have a caseworker assigned to the parent and have some services in place – like counseling or addiction help – to help rehabilitate the parent, and the child can stay with the parents while this is going on. But, in cases like with Jared where a parent is refusing to acknowledge or change from their problem, the child can’t be returned safely to the parent, and usually just stays in foster care until the parent’s rights get taken away from them, or, like with Jared’s mom, something tragic happens, locking the child in foster care.
“A month after Jared’s mom died, Samuel and Maria asked him a question that would change his life. It was at the dinner table and his two older foster siblings were there, too. Samuel and Maria asked “Jared – would you like to become a part of our family – forever?” Jared didn’t know what to say. All the fear he had about not knowing where he’d go or what would happen, just imploded on the inside of him when he realized he wouldn’t have to worry. He cried, part from relief, part in disbelief, and part just because he didn’t know how else to handle what he was feeling. Samuel, Maria, and the other two kids got up and hugged Jared, and cried with him. When he calmed down some and realized it was real, Jared said “yeah, I want to be in your family – forever!” They all laughed and had Jared’s favorite yellow cake with chocolate frosting to celebrate after dinner. Later on, his new parents would tell him they had actually been wanting to adopt him for a while, but they had to make sure it was okay with DFCS and the court system first. They didn’t want to get his hopes up by telling him too soon, but now that they had the green light, they wanted to ask and make sure it was okay with him first before continuing to move forward. He was delighted and felt so at home. He couldn’t wait to be adopted.”
Like Samuel and Maria, foster parents often have to wait a while before they can move forward with adoptions. This is because, in a perfect world, foster parents aren’t permanent – there is always the hope and desire for the child to be able to return to their biological parents, once the abusive, addictive or destructive behaviors go away. But this isn’t always the case. As such, a child has to be with a foster family for a good amount of time, and the original parent or parents need to be completely absent from the child’s life, or not looking at all to be rehabilitated or reunited with their kid, before adoption can even be a thought in anyone’s mind. Because of the stability, if a foster family is open to adopting their foster child when the parents aren’t coming back, it is really good for the kid and for the family unit. However, if the foster family can’t adopt for some reason, and if there are no family members willing or able to take the child in, the children in these cases are placed for adoption to third-parties – unrelated people – through the DFCS State agency.
Private Agencies – a birthmom’s perspective
“Shelley was terrified. She had a one-night stand – her first one ever, in fact – and she just found out she was pregnant. Shelley had only recently moved to a new town (a mere days after her one-night stand in her old town), didn’t know anyone there, and wasn’t talking with her folks currently. She was 19 years old and working as a waitress at the local diner. Shelley went back and forth and back and forth, but decided she was not able to take care of a child right now at this point in her life. She decided to look into being able to give her baby a good home. This led her to a private adoption agency – one that promised to work with her up to her birth of the child, help her with costs of the pregnancy and let her choose what family she thought would be a good fit for her baby. She also wanted to find a family that would be open to let her still have updates and contact with her child, even after the adoption. From being first terrified, then to being very unsure, Shelley now felt confident that not only her baby but she would also be taken care of in this whole set of circumstances. For the first time, she could breathe, knowing there was help and a plan.”
Private adoptions agencies are a way for prospective birth mothers to connect with families looking to adopt a child. The agencies are a great way to match people up who could mutually benefit from each other – and all the while, the child gets the most benefit of all. There is a flexibility with private agencies that you don’t normally get with state agencies.
Some of those flexibilities include being able to have an open or semi-open adoption – which means that the birth mom will be able to keep in touch or at least have updates from the adopting family and child. Additionally, the birth mom can choose what family she wants to have her child go to – this is a great benefit over, say, a state agency adoption where even if the birth mom agrees to let the court take her rights a parent, she doesn’t have a say in what happens to the child after that – she is simply at the mercy of the state. But here, in a private agency adoption, she can have some say in where her baby goes and with what family.
Another benefit to the birth mom is that there can be agreements where the adopting family helps pay for some or all of her finances associated with the pregnancy and birth.
All of these things help encourage birth moms to go through agencies as they know they will be taken care of, and also have some sort of say in what happens to their child and be able to decide how much involvement they want in their child’s life after they are adopted.
Private International Adoptions
“Dave and Kimberly were over the moon. They had just come back to Georgia from overseas with their adorable, new son, Dennis, in their arms. It had been a long, expensive, and sometimes stressful process, but their international adoption experience had been so worth it. Now that they were back in Georgia, they needed to make sure everything was formally accepted here, too. They had already been in touch with their lawyer, and gathered all the information needed, to be able to get the adoption finalized stateside as well.”
For international adoptions, where the parents are here in Georgia but the child is born and lives overseas, it is like a private agency adoption on steroids. You have the extra costs of international travel, securing the international paperwork, as well as making sure a passport and other items are issued for your child – in addition to all the other things required for a private agency adoption. International adoptions come with longer wait times, too, since you’re dealing with borders and potential changes in the political climate at any time – and also the agencies in your country talking with the agencies in other countries, which naturally takes longer. Once all that paperwork and finality in the country where the child was born is done, then, you need to do what’s called a domestication of adoption decree in the state of Georgia to make it final and legal. This is what will allow you to get your child’s birth certificate as well.
Up Next – Relative Adoptions in Georgia
Next, we’ll be looking at relative adoptions in Georgia – when and who can adopt a child who is related to them?