Families today come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re single by choice or by circumstance, you may have thought of expanding your life to include a child.
In 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children & Families, 117,380 children in the foster care system were eligible for adoption, but less than half found homes.
Despite popular misconceptions about single parents, research shows that single-parent adoptees thrive as much as, if not more so than, kids adopted into more traditional families. This may be because singles are more likely to bond with children prior to adoption, have undivided attention and resources for their kids, or provide an environment that is free of marital and familial stress. Whatever the reason, it’s obvious that single adopters can greatly enrich the lives of needy children.
If you’re interested in adopting, there are two main paths to finding a child—independent adoption or agency adoption. Independent adopters are the hopeful parents you see running newspaper ads for young moms-to-be a la the movie Juno. These adoptions are direct agreements between the birth parents and the adoptive parents, facilitated by attorneys. When an agency arranges an adoption, it becomes a middleman, with all the benefits and drawbacks that implies. Agencies can be public or private, domestic or international. Adoptive parents whose children were once in foster care or who hail from abroad likely used an agency. Let's explore these different routes to adoption with an emphasis on the best strategies for prospective single parents.
Singles may discover that independent adoption is a smoother process because they don’t have to meet stringent agency standards, which may favor married couples. This kind of adoption may also be financially advantageous, costing about $10,000-15,000 to cover the search for a baby, legal and medical bills, and other potential expenses for the expectant mother. This fee can be offset by a federal tax credit of up to $11,650 for any single who earns less than $214,730 a year. Furthermore, independent adoptions often advance more rapidly than agency adoptions. Since the process usually begins when the birth mother is pregnant, the adoptive parent may have an infant in as little as four or five months. Not only is the wait time brief, but, more importantly, the adoptive parent can raise the baby from birth, a tremendous opportunity less frequently available through agency adoptions.
The downside of independent adoption, on the other hand, has been the subject of myriad TV movies. Depending on state law, for up to 30 days after the baby is born, the biological parents can reclaim their child, a devastating possibility for the adoptive parent who has already decorated a nursery, stacked up on bottles and diapers, and fallen in love with the new bundle of joy. To escape this hazard, some hopeful single parents look to agencies.
Unfortunately, not much statistical information has been collected about independent adoption, so there is no data regarding how many boys and girls are independently matched with single adults.
Public Agency Adoption
Public agencies authorize adoptions of wards of the state, so prospective parents will know immediately if anyone else has legal parental rights. Another selling point of this method is that the parent-to-be won’t flounder through the adoption on his or her own. The agency will walk him or her through the process and remain available afterwards to assist with special needs, parent education, and child and family counseling. Since public agencies receive government funding, a single person can also adopt with very little monetary expenditure. The average public agency adoption runs just $2,500 or less, and in most states, much of that is reimbursed. Additionally, 89% of public adopters are awarded a childcare subsidy of approximately $350 per month. Perhaps what is most appealing about this form of adoption is that the aspiring mom or dad can foster a child first to develop rapport and test whether the arrangement is a good fit. In fact, 63-65% of public agency adopters were foster parents first.
However, public agency adoption has its disadvantages, too. Bureaucracy ensures that the wait for a child can be lengthy, as long as 17 months for the average single-parent adoption. So adopted children are not likely to be infants (just 2% of all adoptions in 2006). Actually, the average age at adoption was six and a half—seven for foster children adopted by single women. It should surprise no one, then, that public agency adoptees may have been bounced from home to home and traumatized by this repeated uprooting. This may compound emotional or behavioral problems that are the legacy of abusive or neglectful families of origin. Lots of kids in the state system also have special needs, either physical or mental, that can place heavy burdens on single parents. The good news is studies indicate that singles with an extra helping of compassion and patience may be particularly competent at providing disabled boys and girls with the attention and affection they need.
Single-parent adoptions accounted for 29% of public agency adoptions in 2006. Since state agencies are overtaxed and desperate to find loving homes for foster kids, they are often more relaxed about marital status qualifications, which can hinder potential single parents at private agencies. Singles may even find themselves favored over married couples when a child’s history of abuse has sadly resulted in significant fear of either male or female adults.
Private Domestic Agency Adoption
Private domestic agencies are the red carpet of adoption services. They negotiate the most sought after adoptions—those involving healthy American newborns—as well as placements for older children of diverse backgrounds. Plus, their private funding provides for an even more extensive buffet of support services than public agencies can access.
As private organizations, these agencies may be as exclusive as they please and are known to impose rigid requirements regarding parental age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, spiritual affinity, health history, and, of course, marital status. Therefore, singles are the least likely to have success with this type of agency. (The travesty is that these apparently discriminatory criteria are perfectly legal.) Even if a single adult is permitted to adopt at a private domestic agency, he or she may be in for sticker shock to the tune of $5,000-40,000, though some agencies mercifully grant sliding scales or discounts to those who can do much of the legwork for the adoption themselves. Wait lists at these selective agencies can be quite long, and an adoption is seldom finalized in less than a year.
Since, on the whole, private domestic agencies are not that welcoming to unmarried adopters, a mere 5% are single. Despite this discouraging statistic, if you are seeking a very specific youngster, perhaps one whose parents were blue-eyed Bulgarian Buddhist musicians, but can’t stomach the risk of an independent adoption, a private domestic agency may be your best bet. In that case, ask your human resources department if you’re eligible for an adoption benefits plan to defray the substantial cost of private adoption.
Private International Agency Adoption
Shunned by private domestic agencies, singles have increasingly fled the country to adopt overseas. At the height of the international adoption craze, foreign institutions were notoriously impoverished and eager to place children wherever they could. Prospective single parents who were willing to deal with long-distance travel and language barriers were overjoyed to find more lenient adoption standards and briefer waiting periods of as little as four months and seldom more than a year. Although the charges, totaling $7,000-25,000, were still substantial, they weren’t as outrageous as private domestic agency fees. Best of all, children procured through private international agencies were more likely than U.S. kids to be young and healthy, and the birth parents were almost never on the scene.
But as more would-be adopters hopped the same boat to China, Russia, or Romania, wait lists got longer, and regulations got stricter. After the Hague Adoption Convention of 2008, over 75 countries enacted measures to force out single adopters. Among them were some of the most popular refuges for aspiring single parents, including China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Ukraine, and Guatemala. Other countries, such as Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras, Ethiopia, India, and the Philippines, still approve single-parent adoptions but less frequently than they once did. And former titans of single-parent adoption Romania and Cambodia have closed their gates to foreigners even as Russia has left its door only slightly ajar. As if this wasn’t discouraging enough, horror stories have surfaced linking gross abuse and neglect in third-world orphanages to permanent mental and emotional damage in adopted children.
Nevertheless, a handful of nations still recognize that happy families aren’t defined by how many parents they have. These nations are pleased to accommodate single women, and some will also make room for single men. (See adoption.com for a comprehensive, nation-by-nation list of adoption policies for singles.) Despite new obstacles, private international agency adoption remains a fairly affordable way to adopt a healthy baby in a reasonable amount of time. And while foreign-born babies may bear the scars of abuse, so do numerous American children adopted through public or private domestic agencies. Anyone with a heart big enough to commit to one of these special American kids shouldn’t rule out an adoption abroad.
Maybe you’ve dreamed about teaching a youngster to read, baking chocolate chip cookies together, or playing tooth fairy but never thought your dream could come true without a marriage partner. Now you understand that it can, and hopefully, you’re also beginning to map out how. You know the options available to you as an adoptive parent, and you’re weighing which one to pursue. If you have a lot of love to give to a little person, opening your home and your heart to an adopted child is one of the best things you can do.
By Clever Elsie from Singletude , a Positive Blog for Singles.