6 questions about adopting a kid in Michigan, a proud papa's perspective
1. Why did you adopt through the foster care system?
The first answer is cost. We heard horror stories of how much privately arranged adoptions could be, and we decided that wouldn't work for us. Our costs were for fingerprinting, court filing fees and extra copies of The Kid's new birth certificate. All told, the direct financial costs were under $300.
The second answer is we felt it was the right thing for us to do. There are plenty of kids in metro Detroit that need a home, and according to MARE, there are approximately 3,000 kids available for adoption each year in Michigan. I've also wondered out loud why people are inclined to adopt internationally over adopting locally, just in case you're wondering more about my thinking behind our decision.
2. How long did it take?
This question can go in a lot of directions. If you're wondering about how long it took from the time The Kid was identified, and we were presented with the initial two pages of her description, our adoption was finalized in 11 months. This seems fast, but it was due, in large part, to Gladys being on top of having our paperwork together.
There is a ton of paperwork needed for you, the prospective adoptive parent(s) and for the agency. For you, make sure you have your birth certificate, social security card, proof of income, proof of auto insurance, marriage licenses (including licenses from any previous marriage), divorce decrees if applicable, and statements from three non-related people verifying you would be a good parent.
On the agency side, our application ended up being over 90 pages long once typed on the approved forms. This was information gleaned from eight hours of interviews, where they asked about our family history, any incidents of violence, what the parenting philosophy of our parents was like, what our parenting philosophy was like, how we would handle having a child of a different race and many, many other questions. This is needed before the agency can present your case to the Michigan Department of Human Services, who is the legal parent of the child you want to adopt.
As our social worker told us on many occasions, our ability to get all of our paperwork in quickly enabled us to make our adoption go through more quickly than usual.
If you're talking about from the time we started thinking about adopting, that is much longer. The question is also a nice segue into one of my first pieces of advice, choose your adoption agency wisely. We eliminated the ones who didn't return phone calls or emails within a week. We went to the orientation another agency ran for prospective adoptive parents, and asked a lot of questions, which led us to finally calling Catholic Social Services of Wayne County.
3. How much choice do you have?
Initially, you have all the choice in the world. It was a little disarming when the first question we were asked by each agency was what race of child do you want to adopt. For us, it didn't matter, we just wanted to be parents.
So, you can choose the race, ethnicity, sex, age, etc. of the child you would like to adopt. But the more narrow your lens, the longer it will take for you to find a child to adopt.
You can also choose your agency, which relates back to my first piece of advice. They will know more about you than your mother, and they can decide alone if you will be adopting in Michigan, so it serves you well to make sure you can work with the agency you choose.
4. Did you foster-to-adopt?
That was our intention. We wanted to adopt a child under the age of 2, and the advice we received was to go that route. It can be heartbreaking, because you can request to foster only children whose parent's are close to losing their parental rights, but that isn't always guaranteed. Some parents eventually get their shit together, and the child you have been fostering will then return home. We were fortunate that The Kid was already with a loving foster family and her parent's rights to her were terminated.
Keep in mind, the paperwork to get a foster-care license in Michigan is much different than the paperwork to adopt.
5. What was the toughest thing about adopting?
What we called our paper pregnancy. After all of our paperwork was submitted to the Department of Human Services and they agreed we might be fit parents, we began our visitations with The Kid. The first visit was at the agency's office, the second was at the foster family's house. After the second visit, we could start taking her out of the house, with the visits becoming increasingly longer until she was spending a few days at a time with us before returning to the foster family.
Taking her back to the foster family the first time was tough. I had trouble pulling out of their driveway, and ended up pulling over a few blocks away from their house so I could cry. Her foster family had done absolutely nothing wrong, but I was already attached to my daughter and taking her back was too emotional for me to bear that first night.
After DHS agreed that we had passed another hurdle, and we would be The Kid's guardians on a temporary basis, a sense of fore-boding fell over us. We had the papers that said we had the responsibility and obligation to act as if we were her parents, but also knew she wasn't our child yet. There are a prescribed number of visits the social worker must make at each step of the placement, and it can seem like there are a ton of visits.
This is the part where you are reminded this is not your child, yet. If something comes up during those visits, your child can be removed from your home. You have no recourse, no hearings, no appeal process and no way of seeing that child again. Gladys and I are regular rule-followers, but we couldn't help but feel that pressure because of our growing love and affection for The Kid.
For six months, we were on pins and needles until our adoption was finalized.
6. What advice do you have for anyone who is thinking about adopting?
Make sure you are comfortable with your agency choice. Get comfortable with bearing your soul to the world, or at least a social worker. Be prepared to opposition to your decision to adopt, it will come and it will come from the person you least expect to object. Be prepared to hear second-hand horror stories, and only listen to the first-hand accounts about adoption. Remember, every state handles things differently, as does every county in Michigan.
Most importantly, if you feel called to be a parent, just do this. It is a decision you won't regret.