Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Single-parent Adoption: What to Know, Part I

Last time, Singletude cleared up some myths about single-parent adoption. Now that we know adopted kids can and do turn out just fine in single-parent homes, we'll delve into the adoption process for single adults who have a lot of room for a little person in their lives.

There are two main routes to adoption--independent adoption or agency adoption. An independent adoption is arranged directly between the adoptive parent and the birth parents with the aid of personal attorneys. These adopters are the would-be parents you see advertising in the newspaper for expectant mothers. Think Juno. Agencies, which act as middlemen between prospective parents and adoptees, may be either public or private, domestic or international. If you know someone who adopted a Russian or Chinese baby or a child from our own foster care system, she or he probably worked with an agency. Let's take a closer look at these very different forms of adoption and the advantages and disadvantages each holds for single people.

Independent Adoption

An independent adoption may be ideal for a single parent because she or he doesn't have to meet rigorous agency requirements. This kind of adoption is also less expensive than an agency adoption, averaging $10,000-15,000, which may include the cost of the search, legal fees, medical bills, and other negotiable financial support for the birth mother. (There is a federal tax credit of up to $11,650 for adoptions if your income is below $214,730.) In addition, an independent adoption can progress much more quickly than an agency adoption; since most birth mothers initiate the adoption while pregnant, an adoptive parent may only have five or six months to wait till his or her baby arrives. Which brings us to what is by far the greatest advantage of independent adoption--an adoptive parent will almost always be able to adopt the child at birth. This means that she or he can bond with the child immediately and be Mom or Dad from day one.

There's only one real drawback to independent adoption, and we've all seen enough movies of the week to know what that is: for a period of up to 30 days after the birth, depending on the laws of your state, the birth mother can change her mind and keep the baby. In which case, you are no longer the proud parent of the son or daughter you already named and painted a nursery for. To avoid the possibility of this crushing blow, some single parents-to-be elect to adopt through an agency.

Unfortunately, there is little data on independent adoption, so we don't know how many of these children are raised by single parents.

Public Agency Adoption

Public agencies handle the adoption of kids in the state system, so you'll know from the outset if the rights of the birth parents have been terminated. And whereas you have to go it alone in a private adoption, an agency will be there to hold your hand during the process and afterward, providing resources on parenting, counseling, and information about what to expect. Due to government funding, these adoptions are also the least expensive, totaling $2,500 or less, most of which is reimbursed in most states. Furthermore, when they adopt through public agencies, 89% of parents receive a subsidy of $350 a month on average to defray the costs of childrearing, so this is a very affordable choice for a single mother or father. However, the number one benefit of a public agency adoption is the chance for a prospective parent to foster a child before officially adopting. About 63-65% of parents who adopt publicly fostered their sons or daughters first. This gives both parent and child time to build a relationship and assess their compatibility.

On the downside, foster kids adopted by single women are approximately seven years old (the national average is six and a half), and in 2006, only two percent of all adoptees were infants under one year. Due to the red tape that tangles any legal proceeding, it can take 17 months to finalize a public, single-parent adoption. So these are kids who may have memories of other families in other homes and who will bear the scars of separation from those families. Furthermore, children who are wards of the state were removed from their parents for a reason. Many of them were abused or neglected, and lots have special physical, mental, or emotional needs that may be hard to cope with alone. On the other hand, single parents may be especially well-equipped to handle these concerns because needy kids will have their undivided attention.

The most recent federal data indicates that 29% of public agency adoptions are single-parent adoptions. The foster care system is so swelled with kids at any given time that public agencies are happy to find qualified parents and may be less rigid about marital status than private agencies. Also, because so many of these kids have been abused, some of them have fears about living with a parent of one sex or the other, so a single adult of their preferred sex is sometimes favored over a married couple.

Private Domestic Agency Adoption

Private domestic agencies are the luxury cars of the adoption world. They facilitate adoptions of the most desirable children--American infants in good health--as well as older kids from all walks of life, and they do so with an even greater array of services than public agencies have on hand.

Accordingly, private domestic agencies are the most selective and, therefore, the least likely to place a child with a single parent. They've been known to impose a host of qualifications that can seem discriminatory but are well within their rights as private organizations. These criteria may apply to a prospective parent's age, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, health status, relationship history, and myriad other personal characteristics that you may consider private or at least unrelated to your ability to parent. Furthermore, if it seems that private domestic agencies create designer families, it should be no surprise that they come with designer price tags. They can charge $5,000-40,000 per adoption, although some offer sliding scales or reduced fees to those who track down birth parents themselves. Since private agencies are so popular, the waiting period to adopt can take up to several years and is seldom under 12 months.

It is estimated that singles account for a mere 5% of private domestic agency adopters. Nevertheless, if it's paramount that you're matched with a boy or girl whose parents were Catholic, Cuban, green-eyed mathematicians but you don't want the insecurity of an independent adoption, a private domestic agency may be the only way to go. If so, check with your employer to see if you're eligible for an adoption benefits plan to offset the sometimes overwhelming cost of private adoption.

Private International Agency Adoption

In the face of overt prejudice at private domestic agencies, single parents have been flocking to other countries to adopt. For those willing to take on travel and language barriers, it can seem like a magic solution. In the heyday of international adoptions, overcrowded, underfunded overseas orphanages were desperate for adoptive parents, so they had more relaxed regulations and shorter wait times, sometimes as brief as four months and seldom over a year, although this has changed recently as more and more parents-to-be have jumped on the same boat to China, Russia, or their country of choice. Compared to the U.S., a greater proportion of children adopted abroad are, as every parent dreams, young and physically healthy. In addition, the birth parents aren't part of the process, so there's no chance that a teenage mom or dad will have second thoughts and try to regain custody. To top it off, although international agency adoptions are still expensive at $7,000-25,000, they average less than private domestic agency adoptions.

The only detractor to international adoptions is that not all nations hold to high standards of childcare, and many foreign-born adoptees are emotionally wounded by neglect and outright abuse while wards of the state. However, as discussed above, American kids in state custody are also liable to be traumatized, so this factor alone shouldn't preclude a search overseas.

Tragically, however, some of the countries that previously placed the most kids with single parents are now squeezing them out due to the 2008 Hague Adoption Convention, a treaty signed by more than 75 nations that prescribes marriage as a prerequisite for adoption. For instance, China, which once united 30% of its orphaned children with eager singles, has now restricted such adoptions to just 8% of its total, begging the question of why single parents are good enough for 8% of the kids but not the other 92%. Sadly, single-parent placement giants Ukraine, Guatemala, Vietnam, Thailand, and Korea have followed suit or are poised to do so; onetime A-listers India, Ethiopia, Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras, and the Philippines have become decidedly less singles-friendly; and Russia has tightened the reins on all would-be foreign adopters even as Romania and Cambodia have slammed their doors. Yes, even couples are running into barriers in a more nationalistic climate. (Scroll down to the bottom of this page and click through the exhaustive list of countries for an education in just how tedious and unwelcoming international adoption is becoming.)

Nevertheless, there are still nations from every continent which understand that families come in all sizes and are happy to work with singles, or at least single women. (More challenges face single men, although international adoption is not impossible.) Visit this site for detailed nation-by-nation listings that spell out each country's adoption policy for singles.

Perhaps you've wistfully imagined reading bedtime stories or helping a youngster with homework but never thought that mental scene could become reality without a spouse. Hopefully you now know that it can and have a better understanding of the various roads that may lead you to that special child you'll call your son or daughter. When our single-parent adoption series wraps, we'll outline the steps you need to take to travel any of those roads, including a self-assessment of your own readiness to parent, fundamental standards imposed by most agencies, and the scoop on the dreaded home study!

If you adopted as a single parent or know someone who has, which of the routes to adoption did you (or he or she) take? What were some of the merits and pitfalls of the adoption process you (or he or she) chose? What advice would you give to other singles looking to adopt?

Fun Link of the Day

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