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Frequently Asked Questions
The Adoption Process for a child who is a ward requires the supervision of a county Office of Family and Children and that is usually the county where the prospective adoptive parent resides. The process begins with Family Preparation and parents are required to attend educational workshops and complete a Family Preparation Assessment, sometimes called a Home Study. You can learn more about the process in another section of this site. Prospective Adoptive parents must be recommended to the Indiana Adoption Program after their Family Preparation is complete and approved.
To begin to inquire about Family Preparation contact the Indiana Adoption Program:
Fill out the Inquiry Form on the website
or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
You will be given the contact information of those in your community responsible for helping you with Family Preparation and your contact information will be submitted to your local Training Coordinator and to your local county Office of Family and Children. The Training Coordinator will send you a schedule and they may contact you about registering for the educational workshops. You can also choose to contact your community agencies.
If you have an approved Family Preparation Assessment or Home Study from the Indiana Division of Family and Children and want more information on a child introduced in the Picture Book or on this website, contact the Indiana Adoption Program. You will be given the contact information for the child and your contact information will be submitted to the child's social worker and Special Needs Adoption Specialist.
Adoption is meant to establish a legally recognized, lifelong relationship between a parent and child who are not parent/child related biologically. The adoptive parent(s) becomes legally and morally responsible for the child's safety, education, health care, value development, development of life skills, as well as the day-to-day care of that child.
Our society acknowledges that the man and woman who biologically create a life are traditionally the ones responsible for the child. Our society created adoption as a means to meet the needs of children whose biological parents are not able to assume the responsibilities of parenting.
Originally, adoption laws were based on "ownership"-type principles and focused on the rights of adults. However, over time, laws have become much more focused on meeting the emotional, physical, spiritual and developmental needs of the child.
In the past, the two people who biologically gave them life raised most children. This is no longer the case in our country. Today, single parents, grandparents, stepparents, foster parents or other parents acting as guardian are parenting a majority of children. Many children are now experiencing what it is like to have multiple sets of parents, grandparents and extended families. It is common for a child to experience a series of adults functioning in parental roles in their family.
Children who are adopted always have at least two sets of parents. For these children to be able to understand who they are, it is important for them to come to know, at some level, each of the parents who have had a part in creating the life they are living. All children try to make sense of these complex relationships. The more they know about the people to whom they have had any type of parental tie, the more successful they will be at developing a more complete picture of themselves.
Many children need adoption. Most are older children or children who have brothers or sisters with whom they need to be adopted. While some may reside in other countries or other states, many are waiting in your own community. Some children may face physical, emotional and/or educational challenges. They all have a common need for a person to step forward and accept the responsibilities and commitment to take care of them until adulthood and beyond and to offer them a prepared, caring family in which to belong. As we all know, children grow best in families!
According to Vera Fahlberg, a child and family expert and author, we can divide the parenting role in a child's life into three parts. Part One, the Biological Aspect of Parenting, gives life itself to a child. The biological parent also determines the sex of the child, eye color, hair color and texture, intellectual potential, temperament, potential talents as well as some of the medical conditions that may surface as the child develops. Racial and ethnic heritage are also determined by the biological factors.
Part Two, the Legal Aspect of Parenting, is financially responsible for the child. It is the legal parent's responsibility to keep the child safe and secure. The legal parent makes all important decisions for the child, for instance, deciding where the child will live, what school the child will attend, what medical care is given, etc. This parent is also legally and financially responsible for the child's actions.
Part Three, the Parenting Aspect of Parenting, sees to the day-to-day care of the child. This parent is responsible for providing love and discipline. This parent models behavior for the child to copy. This is the person who cooks meals, washes clothes, helps with school work, takes care of the ill child, watches the child's ball game etc. This person is the child's primary educator who teaches values, religion, and most life skills.
For any child, it would be much easier to understand life if the same one or two people filled all three of these parental roles throughout the child's entire life. For many children, and all adopted children, multiple people are involved. Most children are able to do quite well with multiple "parents" as long as transitions are handled appropriately and the child has someone to talk with about the changes. In fact, many very successful adults credit their success to having had many parent models and mentors along the way.
Circumstances and the legal system may change who provides two of these three parts of parenting to a particular child. However, circumstances and the legal system cannot change the biological connection. The child's bonds to the biological parents are permanent and important to whom that child is as a person. Anyone planning to adopt a child needs to recognize and value this fact.
Recognizing this is the only way that you will be able to understand the identity questions that the child will wrestle with as they grow and mature. The adoptive parent, who assumes both the role of legal parent and parenting parent for their adoptive child, can help them reach their highest potential by helping the child deal with such issues.
In a legal sense, people become a member of a family in one of three ways: by birth, by marriage or by adoption. "Family" is defined in our legal structure as two or more people who: 1) have biological ties; or 2) make a long-term legally binding commitment to each other.
When entering a family by birth, the child shares genetics as well as cultural and ethnic heritage with others in the family.
When entering a family through adoption or marriage, family members blend themselves emotionally with another person or persons who usually differ in genetics and heritage. There generally is no biological tie. However, governments and societies have developed ways to recognize the great importance and permanence of such deep, emotional commitments.
Laws, regulations and practices have been developed to give persons related by adoption and marriage comparable rights and responsibilities as those related by birth. Our society expects all families, whether formed by birth, adoption or marriage, to be permanent connections that offer love, acceptance and support for all members.
Ask adoptive parents where they started their adoption journey and you will get many answers. For some their process began with reading a newspaper or magazine article. Maybe they found adoption material on the Internet. They may have checked out a book on adoption from their local library. Others may have known someone who had already adopted and talked with them about expectations and what steps to take. Others may have looked in the phone book for adoption agencies in their area, then called and received basic information, either on the phone or in the mail.
Sometimes people have attended a social event in their community or church that allowed them to interact with waiting children or they may have attended an adoptive parent support group in their area. There are no right or wrong places to start. Adoptive parents have reported that they usually felt truly "on their way" when they attended an adoption agency's orientation meeting, or had a face-to-face meeting with an adoption social worker from an adoption agency.
The first thing some people choose to do is to make contact with an adoption agency. However, many people choose to do multiple things at the same time, as they are excited about adoption and want to get much information quickly.
Besides their contact with an agency, some people join an adoptive parent support group or talk with individuals who have already adopted a child. Adoptive parents who have "been there, done that" can answer questions and let potential adopters know that what they are feeling about the whole process is normal.
Some support groups are specialized. Some may be for those who adopt internationally, those who adopt older children, or for single adopters. Some people visit several groups and/or talk with several individuals to learn the positive aspects and challenges of various types of adoption open to them. Experienced adoptive parents may be a good source of information about agency and community service providers.
If you are not comfortable attending a support group meeting, most support group members are willing to talk with you over the phone or to meet with you one-on-one at their home, your home or somewhere locally, like a restaurant or park.
Some adoptive parents report that reading a lot about adoption before they actually adopted helped them in making decisions. Local libraries have or can obtain books on adoption, including the books and articles listed in the bibliography at the end of this pamphlet. The Adoption Information Clearinghouse will also send articles on various topics to you upon request.
The more information you have, the better choices you can make for yourself and your children-to-be. Individuals must choose for themselves when and how to gather the information they need. At some point, earlier for some, later for others, the time comes to begin the official steps leading to adoptive placement.
When you reach this point, it is time to select the kind of adoption you want to pursue. Do you want to adopt a child who is a ward of the state, a private adoption from an individual, or perhaps, an international adoption?
Once you have made this decision, you will be ready to decide upon whether to work with a local Office of Family and Children, an attorney, or a private adoption agency to partner with you in the process. Included with this information is a guide that may be useful to you in selecting the agency or agencies best able to meet your needs. Once you have selected your agency, the Family Preparation process can begin.
An excellent starting point is the excerpt from a NACAC publication that follows.
The information below provides an overview of the steps involved in adopting a child from the foster care system. This information has been reprinted in part from the National Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) and can be read in more detail on their website at www.nacac.org or at www.adoptachild.in.gov .
Child Welfare League of America
The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (NAIC) publishes a wide variety of adoption fact sheets, many of which are free or very inexpensive. It also provides information about state and federal adoption laws, and tracks upcoming adoption conferences. NAIC's web site includes a searchable collection of adoption-related articles and report abstracts, as well as a directory of more than 5,700 public and private adoption agencies, support groups, and government officials. To learn more, contact:
North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
This national organization offers information and resources to support adoption of children from the foster care system. They host a national conference each year for adoptive families and families waiting to adopt.
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
Many national, regional, and local groups hold annual adoption conferences with workshops geared toward new or prospective adoptive parents.
Children don't need perfect parents, just one or two individuals willing to meet the unique challenges of parenting and make a lifetime commitment to caring for and nurturing their children. One of the advantages of special needs adoption is that almost any responsible adult can become an adoptive parent. Prospective parents do not have to be rich, married, under 40, highly educated, or homeowners to adopt. Far more important are personal characteristics like:
If you have all or most of those qualities, then ask yourself these questions:
Think carefully about your answers to these questions. You may decide to pursue a different type of adoption, consider foster care, or realize that adoption really is not for you. Take the time to make a good decision, because it is a decision you and your adoptive child will live with for life.
In addition, before seriously contemplating special needs adoption, prospective parents must honestly evaluate their desire and ability to successfully parent children who have troubling pasts and uncertain futures. Many children who become available for adoption at older ages have not received the early care that kids need to develop a strong sense of security, trust, and self-esteem. Many also suffer from conditions caused by past trauma, or prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs. Children whose backgrounds include traumatic experiences, abuse, and/or neglect may exhibit symptoms of distress such as:
Fortunately, through therapy, medication, and consistent care, children can overcome or at least better cope with many of these challenges.
Most children put their new adoptive parents through a period of testing to see if the parents are truly committed or just waiting for an excuse to desert the child as others have done before. To improve your chances of successfully adopting a child who has special needs, be prepared to offer a home environment that combines extra love, support, and attention with clear structure and consistent limit-setting. Parents should also be ready to actively advocate for their child at school, with peers, and within the community. It can be immensely helpful for parents to have a support network or belong to an adoptive parent support group.
Even if you already know that you want to adopt a child who has special needs, you still need to make a number of choices about your adoption. Most importantly, you need to decide what type of child you are willing to bring into your family. What disabilities and challenges (physical, mental, emotional, or behavioral) can you comfortably handle? What age range, background, and ethnicity would fit best within your household and community? Are you open to helping your adopted child maintain contact with some of his or her birth relatives? Can you welcome a group of two or more siblings into your home?
Next, you might want to consider whether you would rather work through a public or a private adoption agency. Though most children who have special needs become available for adoption through the public foster care system, both public and private agencies can help you locate a child or sibling group to adopt.
Many agencies do not charge service fees to families who adopt children from the foster care system. However, you will need a home study, and because adoption is a legal process, you may need an attorney. The cost of a home study can vary from $0 to $2,000. Attorney fees and court costs can range from $1,000 to $2,000, and special needs adoptive families often incur additional costs for medical services, counseling, etc.-costs that may continue throughout the child's lifetime. Fortunately, due to federal and employer-initiated programs, parents have several options for covering the cost of special needs adoption.
Many loans are project- or item-specific, but some can be used for whatever the borrower wants. Two such flexible loans are home equity loans (money borrowed against the value of your house) and insurance loans (money borrowed against the value of your life insurance policies). These loans come with relatively low interest rates and a choice of payment terms. To learn more, contact a bank or mortgage broker, or your insurance company.
Employers who offer adoption benefits may provide workers with:
To request a list of employers who provide adoption benefits or learn more about employer-provided adoption benefits, contact: Adoption Benefits Coordinator, National Adoption Center, 1500 Walnut Street, Suite 701, Philadelphia, PA 19102; 800-TO-ADOPT or 215-735-9988.
Tax Credits and Exclusions
Through tax year 2002, adoptive parents can take advantage of tax credits or exclusions to offset qualifying adoption expenses for a domestic special needs adoption. For detailed information about the credit and exclusion, review IRS Publication 968, "Tax Benefits for Adoption." Get a copy by calling 800-829-3676 or checking the Internal Revenue Service's web site at www.irs.ustreas.gov.
If you adopt a child who has special needs, he or she may be eligible for federal adoption assistance. Adoption assistance payments are designed to help offset the short- and long-term costs associated with adopting children who need special services. In general, children who are wards are eligible for adoption assistance benefits under specific eligibility guidelines.
Benefits available through subsidy programs vary, but commonly include:
Before adopting a child who has special needs, ask your agency about subsidies.
How to Find Agencies
To find as many agencies to choose from as possible, consider several of the options listed below:
Finding the Right Agency for You
To find a public or private agency that is a good fit for you, your beliefs and values, and your unique situation, compare information from several different agencies. Most will gladly provide details about their services and requirements upon request. Before selecting an agency, take the initiative to interview agency representatives by phone or in person to learn more about them. You may want to ask:
Step 5: Let Your Agency Know You Are Serious about Adopting
When you call an agency to let staff there know you are interested in adopting, the person you talk to may ask a series of screening questions or simply volunteer to send literature about the agency. If you want to adopt relatively soon, find out how you can get the process started.
One common first step is an orientation meeting or training session for prospective adoptive parents. At the meeting or training you will likely:
The application process may be different between private agencies and those agencies (LCPA) that contract with the OFC for the Indiana Adoption Program. If you are adopting a child who is in foster care, you may need to attend several of the educational workshops before you begin the application or Family Preparation process.
If you find that the application process is hard to understand, ask the agency or another adoptive parent for help. Don't let the challenges of completing forms keep you from pursuing adoption.
Find out how long it will take for the agency to process your application once you have completed the forms. Ask when you should next expect to hear from the agency, and how you can schedule and prepare for an assessment or home study.
Public agencies commonly require pre-placement training to acquaint prospective parents with issues that can arise after a child or sibling group is placed with them. School-aged adoptees bring not only unique special needs, but also a history of life experiences that will affect interactions with adoptive parents, new siblings, schoolmates, and others. Issues related to disability, culture, early abuse, and a child's birth family should all be discussed before a child is placed in your home.
Prospective Adoptive Parents who want to be approved to adopt children through the Indiana Adoption Program must complete 26 hours of adoption preparation training in scheduled workshops. Pre-Adoption Training is scheduled through your local Training Coordinator. To find out whom the Training Coordinator is in your area contact the Indiana Adoption Program.
The Family Preparation process can loosely be defined as an educational process designed to help your social worker learn more about your ability to parent and provide a stable home, to teach you about adoption and its effect on children and families, and to prepare you to parent a child whose experiences and history are very different from your own. Everyone who hopes to adopt must have a completed Family Preparation Assessment, also called a home study. Depending on the agency, the worker, and the prospective parents' cooperation, the process can take anywhere from two months to a year.
Items You May Need for a Family Preparation Assessment (Home Study)
Specific requirements for assessments or home studies vary by agency, so be sure to ask for a list of the items and information your agency needs. The following items are commonly required during the assessment process:
At some point in the process, you may also need to pay for the home study. The cost through a public agency may be quite low or even free; other agencies typically charge between $500 and $2,000 for a completed study.
Questions You May Be Asked
During Family Preparation meetings with your worker, you can expect to answer questions about your background, your education, your job history, your marriage, your leisure activities, your religion (particularly for religiously affiliated agencies), and your experiences with children. For instance, the worker may ask:
The aim of any assessment or home study is to help the agency locate the best home for each child it places, and make good matches between prospective parents and children. If you have questions about the process, ask your social worker or agency.
If you adopt through the Indiana Adoption Program, you are urged to complete training and your Family Preparation process before you begin searching for a child. It may take several months for you to complete the process and become approved to adopt, so a child that you see listed in the Picture Book now may not be available several months from now.
If you adopt through a private agency, learn how the agency will conduct a search. What criteria do they use to match children with families? Are they willing to search outside your immediate area for a child? If you learn of a child in another state, will the agency pursue the child for you?
Before agreeing to accept any child or sibling group for adoption, learn as much as you can about the child-including prenatal care and exposure to drugs or alcohol, birth parents' medical histories, attachments to foster families or other relatives, foster care placements, relationships with siblings, interests and talents, etc. Most agencies want adoptive parents to get to know children before agreeing to adopt. If the child has certain medical conditions or other disabilities, decide if your family is prepared to address issues that may arise from the child's situation.
If you agree to adopt and accept placement of a child whose birth parents' rights have not been voluntarily surrendered or involuntarily terminated (known as a legal-risk placement), you must accept the chance that the child could be returned to his or her birth parents. Until birth parents' rights are terminated, the child cannot legally become a member of your family and must instead stay in your home as a foster child.
Anticipate how the addition of a new family member will affect your life and plan accordingly. Depending on your situation and the child you adopt, you may need to:
If you adopt a younger child, you may need to find day care. If you adopt an older child, you may need to enroll him or her in school; arrange for therapy, counseling, or tutoring; and identify respite care options. You might also want to join an adoptive parent support group.
Children who are placed for adoption through public agencies may move in with an adoptive family as soon as the parents complete required pre-placement visits and are approved to adopt-provided the timing is not unnecessarily disruptive to the child's schooling or other activities.
When a new child is placed in your home, you will assume temporary legal custody. For a few months, while your family undergoes the inevitable adjustment period, your agency will monitor how the placement is proceeding.
The monitoring period typically lasts about six months to a year. During this time, the worker may call or visit to assess how you and your new child are adjusting, and to answer questions. If all goes well, at the end of the monitoring period the agency will recommend to the court that the adoption be approved.
An adoption petition is the document filed in court that initiates the legal aspect of adoption. Through the petition, adoptive parents formally request permission to adopt a specific child. To file a petition you will likely need the following information and documentation:
Your adoption is not legally complete until your newly created family goes through the finalization process. Finalization hearings usually take place within a year after a child is placed in the home. Before scheduling a hearing, check with your agency to make sure you have completed the necessary paperwork. If you are missing required documents, the finalization could be delayed.
The finalization hearing is a judicial proceeding, sometimes held in the judge's chambers, during which adoptive parents are granted permanent legal custody of their adopted child. The hearing, which usually lasts only 30 to 60 minutes, is designed to establish the legality of the new family unit, and confirm that the adoptive parents are willing and able to provide for their new child.
Who Should Attend the Hearing
The following individuals generally attend the finalization hearing:
In a few cases, the child's birth parents may also appear, but only if their parental rights have not yet been terminated or if they are participating in an open or cooperative adoption.
What the Hearing Involves
To verify that the adoption should take place, the court will attempt to establish that the child has been placed in a safe, loving home. Expect to list all the identifying information included in your adoption petition and answer questions such as:
As soon as the judge signs the adoption order, you gain permanent legal custody of your child. Finalization is the last formal step in the adoption process and marks the official beginning of your new family. From this point, learn as much as you can about post-adoption services (like respite care, support groups, etc.) that can help you make the most of your new role as an adoptive parent.
Updated as of Tuesday, April 4, 2006