Posted by Deb Shrier, LICSW
Around 18,000 infants are adopted in the United States each year. For those seeking to build their family through adoption, there are many steps and choices to make before beginning the process. In honor of National Adoption Month, JF&CS Adoption Resources has put together a guide to seven key steps in the adoption process for Massachusetts residents.
1. Choosing an adoption agency.
Massachusetts is an “agency state” that requires prospective adoptive parents to work with a licensed adoption agency. Agencies will conduct a home study, help you navigate the adoption process, answer your questions along the way, and help you find the right approach to adoption for your family.
Adopting domestically in Massachusetts can be done through a private adoption agency or through the state foster care system. If you choose to work with a private adoption agency, you will need to decide which local agency’s mission and protocol align best with you. Meeting with agency directors or staff and attending their orientations are great ways to get information about the process.
Though much of the adoption process will sound the same, each agency is different and may offer different services. It is important to choose an agency that makes you feel comfortable and supported.
2. Completing an adoption application, training, and home study.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires all prospective adoptive parents to be approved to adopt a child through a comprehensive family assessment called a home study and to complete a minimum of 10 hours of pre-adoption education.
The home study is a written report based on interviews with your social worker along with supporting documents (such as CORIs, medical reports) that you will provide. The home study consists of 3 - 4 meetings with a social worker from the agency that you select. At least two of these meetings must be in your home. Basic safety requirements (such as the presence of working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors) for your home will be reviewed. The home visit has less to do with your physical home and more to do with you and how you live.
The series of questions asked by your social worker will include your family of origin, personal background, how you chose your career, and if partnered, your relationship with your partner or spouse. During the time that you are going through these meetings, you will be collecting supporting documents. The home study reflects your health, stability, criminal background checks, and ability to financially raise a child into adulthood. Additionally, your home study will detail the type of child you hope to adopt, for example, a newborn or elementary school-aged child.
Each prospective parent is required to undergo 10 hours of adoption education, which must be completed before you take custody of your child. Topics for workshops and online trainings will include Transracial Adoption, Openness in Adoption, Baby Care, Medical Issues in Adoption, Identity in Adoption, and more. Your agency may offer in-person trainings for pre-adoption education and/or may have suggestions for online trainings.
3. Creating an adoptive family profile.
Once you have completed the home study, you will create a profile book or online profile. These include text or a letter about your life and a variety of photos. Your profile typically highlights how you live, your interests, hobbies, and extended family/friends. It’s the way an expectant parent will get to know you prior to meeting. Expectant parents will review profiles with the hopes of finding the family they would like for their child.
Just as expectant parents are looking for certain traits in adoptive parents, you will also have certain preferences and expectations for the baby you would like to adopt. A few questions that you will have to answer include:
- Are you open to a child of a race different than yours?
- Are there certain medical issues that you feel ready for or unprepared for?
- What are your thoughts on openness or post-placement contact with birth parents?
- Do you have a gender preference?
4. Meeting the expectant mother/father.
In most domestic infant adoptions, birth and adoptive families will meet. If timing and distance allow, you may meet prior to the baby’s birth. An agency social worker will facilitate this contact and will join you in the initial meetings. If phone calls, Skype, or emails are the way you meet, your social worker will help to set those up for you as well. The first contact is an opportunity to establish rapport and begin to get to know one another. Often, additional meetings happen in the hospital after the baby is born.
5. Meeting your child at the hospital.
The chance to meet your child and bond with them in the hospital is typically a memorable time for your new family. Additionally, hospital staff can be extremely helpful in terms of answering your questions and teaching you about the care of your newborn. It is also a time when you can potentially deepen your relationship with the birth parents.
It is important to remember that until the legal documents are signed, the medical decisions are the birth mother’s to make. Every state has different adoption laws that specify when a legal surrender can be signed. In Massachusetts, birth parents cannot sign a legal surrender of their child until the fourth day after birth. The wait for these documents to be signed may be stressful days for birth parents as well as adoptive parents. Your agency will keep you informed on all planning for surrenders and let you know as soon as they are signed.
6. Finalizing your adoption.
Once you bring your child home, you can expect a series of home visits from your adoption social worker. These post-placement visits will allow your social worker to see how you and your baby are adjusting and offer any further support. Your social worker will also write reports highlighting your family’s adjustment and the baby’s developmental progress to submit to the court with the Petition of Adoption. In Massachusetts, adoptions are typically finalized when a child is about 8 or 9 months old. Remember, the adoption process does not end once the adoption is finalized. Adoption is a lifelong journey and adventure, for all of you!
7. Navigating openness with birth parents.
The prevailing trend in adoption is for openness between the birth family and adoptive family. Initially, the relationship may begin with letters, photos, texts, or visits. For the birth parents, this will allow them to see their child’s progress and adjustment. It is also to reassure them that they made a healthy decision for the child. While the idea of contact may seem like a daunting thought, the reality is that “openness” looks different in every situation. The range of contact may be letters and pictures facilitated through the agency or it may be ongoing visits during the year. This is an area that you will explore with your social worker during the home study process. The specifics of a plan typically will be decided between the birth parent(s) and adoptive parent(s) with assistance from your social worker/agency.
If you’re interested in learning more about adoption, get in touch with an Adoption Resources counselor by filling out our contact form.