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Introduction to Adoption Law
The desire to have a family is not always an easy dream to accomplish. There are many factors that contribute to beginning a family. First, can the mother conceive a child? Can father conceive a child? What about same-sex couples? What about single people who want a child on their own? There are so many scenarios where conceiving naturally is just not an option. That is where adoption steps in. Approximately 120,000 children are adopted every year just in the United States alone.[i] Even though this is a huge number of children adopted each year in the United States, thousands of children are not adopted each year and left in the foster care system with a family or a group home.
The Foster Care System
While there are still orphanages around the world, the United States no longer utilizes these establishments. Orphanages were utilized in the United States prior to the mid 1800s but there was a lot of concern about the establishments.[ii] Some of the concerns about orphanages were that the homes lacked the appropriate staff for the amount of children in the home.[iii] The homes also often lacked the necessary essentials for caring for children.[iv] Perhaps one of the biggest concerns with orphanages is that children were unable to receive the attention and care that a child would if they were in a loving home. This was primarily due to how many children were living in the home. The ration of children to adults was largely proportional.
In the mid 1800s, a reformer named Charles Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society in response to the overcrowding issues in the orphanages.[v] The Children’s Aid Society was founded on the belief that children would be better off if they were placed with families rather than living out on the streets or in over crowded orphanages.[vi] Charles Brace created the Orphan Train, which was a program that placed homeless children on the railways and sent them out west.[vii] The idea was that the children would arrive out west, where there was much less crowding, and families could chose which children to take home with them. The families were pre-approved by local committees before they were given the option to bring a child home.[viii] This was the first step toward the modern foster care system in the United States.
The foster care system today is overflowing with children. In 2014, there were 415,129 children in the foster care system.[ix] This was a 4% increase from 2012.[x] In 2014, 264,746 children entered into the foster care system – which translates to about one child every two minutes entering the foster care system in the United States. Also in 2014, 238,230 children left the foster care system.[xi] Of that group, 107,918 children were waiting to be adopted and only 50,644 were adopted through the public child welfare involvement. That leaves thousands of children in the foster care system just waiting for either a family to adopt them or the time to come when they turn 18 and the benefits to their foster family runs out.
While the foster care program is an admiral program and it takes thousands of volunteers to uphold the system, it is not an unpaid position. It is expensive to take care of children, and as an incentive to take children in need into your home; the federal government provides monthly stipends to assist in the financial strain children cause on a household.[xii] These funds are only available to the foster parents until the child is 18. Once the child turns 18, or ages out of the system, the funding is cut off. This creates a tough predicament. The foster parent now does not have that additional income required to take care of the child, and now the child may not have a place to live. While there are some programs in place for children who age out of the system, it is not always readily available. So while some children can go into these programs and receive further assistance while they live on their own, others may become homeless after they turn 18. This is why adoption of these children before they turn 18 is so important. May children turn 18 while they are still in high school – so for them, they may not even have the ability to finish school.
The Process of Adoption
For the children who are able eligible to be adopted, the process can be time consuming but rewarding. Back in the 1800s, many of the adoptions in the United States took place with children who lived in orphanages.[xiii] Since orphanages no longer exist in the United States, there are three primary forms of domestic (meaning in the United States) adoptions.[xiv] First, a child may be adopted from the foster car system.[xv] As the numbers indicated above, not all of the children in the foster care system are eligible for adoption. This is because a lot of the children in the foster care system are in the system because of a dependency action that is taking place with their parents. A dependency action occurs when a child has been taken away from their parents by protective services and has been placed in a temporary home or a foster home.[xvi] The parental rights have not been severed, which means that even though the children cannot live with their parents, they are not eligible to be adopted.[xvii] In some cases though, the parental rights are severed and those children are now eligible to be adopted. Sometimes the children just remain in the foster care system, but they have the option of adoption if the situation arises.
The next type of adoption is as an infant through a private adoption. This is a common type of adoption and widely recognized. This type of scenario would be where a teenage mother is unable to care for her child so she finds a family who is able to adopt the child – rather than just putting the child up for adoption with an undesignated family. A private adoption does have some costs associated with it, but that will depend on the state where the adoption will take place. The costs associated with the adoption are to cover the health care for the mother during the pregnancy and during delivery. These costs can also cover general living expenses during the pregnancy, but it no way can these costs be considered payment for the adoption of the child. The costs are to help provide a comfortable life for the mother, and the future child.
The final type of adoption is an adoption of a child by a relative or stepparent. While it is very common for adoptions from the foster care system to be from the foster parent, it is also possible that a relative may adopt relatives of the child in foster care instead. If a child is in the foster care system while the parental rights of the parents are being determined – and are then subsequently severed, a relative who was unable to take the child before may be now available to adopt the child. These types of adoptions are much cheaper as they usually only cost the amount it is to file the appropriate documentation. With the private adoption, the costs associated with the adoption are for the care of the mother during the pregnancy, plus some associate fees with filing the paperwork of course. When the child is already here and waiting, it is not legal to pay to adopt a child, so the only fees associated will be through the filing fees with the court.
The adoption of children by their stepparents is a very common process in the United States. This usually occurs when a child loses a parent, and his surviving parent remarries. The adoption process of this child will now allow for the child to receive health insurance benefits from the stepparent and the ability to inherent property from the stepparent. An adoption of a child by a stepparent is also available even if the biological parent is still alive, but has had their parental rights severed. Again, this type of adoption will only require the costs associated with filing the appropriate documents with the court, or pay the agency helping – if one is being used.
The Benefits of Adoption
There are a lot of benefits of adoption, for all of the parties involved. When it comes to an infant being adopted out at birth, the mother is now able to move on with her life knowing that the child will be well cared for with her new family. The new parents will be able to realize their dream of becoming parents, which may have only been possible through adoption. And finally, the child will be well cared for and loved by a family who chose them.
For children who are already in the foster care system and become adopted out of the system, the benefits to the child are endless. The most important benefit of being adopted out of the foster care system is stability for the child. While it is possible for a child to remain with one foster care family while growing up, it is more common that the child will get moved from home to home until they turn 18. When a child is adopted out of the foster care system that means they will have a forever home. They will be able to feel secure in the fact that they will not be moving around from home to home.
Conclusion to Adoption Laws in the United States
Even though 120,000 children are adopted every year in the United States, there are still thousands of children waiting to be adopted and have a stable home. The adoption process can be time consuming, and sometimes costly, but the benefit of adoption is tremendous for all of the parties involved.
[i] See Adopted Children American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (Updated October 01, 2015) http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/The-Adopted-Child-015.aspx
[ii] See Do Orphanages Still Exist in America? American Adoptions (Accessed July 27, 2016) http://www.americanadoptions.com/adoption/article_view/article_id/4489?cId=8
[ix] See The Current State of Foster Care Foster Club (Accessed July 28, 2016) https://www.fosterclub.com/article/statistics-foster-care
[xii] See Foster Care Funding and Federal Programs Find Law (Accessed July 28, 2016) http://family.findlaw.com/foster-care/foster-care-funding-and-federal-programs.html
[xiii] See The Current State of Foster Care Foster Club (Accessed July 28, 2016) https://www.fosterclub.com/article/statistics-foster-care
[xvi] See A Handbook for Parents and Guardians in Dependency Cases Dependency Handbook for Parents and Guardians (Accessed July 28, 2016) http://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/46/Resources/Dependency%20andbookforParentsandGuardians.pdf