Kelly Rourke speaks from experience when she talks about adoption. Not only is she president of Building Arizona Families, Rourke was adopted at an early age and just a few years ago connected with her birth mother and discovered that she has two brothers, all of whom she maintains great relationships with today.
She advises the first step any potential parents take is to educate themselves. She says families should speak with an agency and a social worker to help them decipher which type of adoption would suit them best.
Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, echoes these sentiments, but adds that the education process is an ongoing one, particularly for those families who welcome a foster child or one of different race or ethnicity.
"The processes are different for adopting infants and adopting from foster care and abroad," he explains. He suggests learning as much as possible about each type and considering how each will impact your lifestyle. For example, "If you're an older parent, do you want to get up a few times night to feed the baby and change diapers?" he asks.
He also advises going to an agency to take advantage of their education courses, even if you end up going to a lawyer to help you through the process. Classes will help you learn the steps, the costs and what to expect with each type of adoption. He strongly recommends going through an agency so that you have people to help guide you through the process.
The education should continue throughout the course of the adoption process and even after your child comes into your life, Pertman suggests, since there are issues that both the parents and the child will need to address. Foster children often have had a rough start in life, so parents should be advised on how to deal with those issues. When it comes to adopting children from different countries, Pertman says, "There are things that you want to think about in terms of keeping them connected to their roots and heritage. Don't act like that part of their life doesn't exist — recognize it."
Once a family decides to apply for adoption, a home study is done, according to Rourke. "A social worker will go out to the home and do an assessment to ensure the family is financially capable and physically able to care for a child," she says. The social worker will also conduct interviews with adults and any children over the age of six in the home and do reference checks with friends and family to see if they are supportive. The home must also meet state requirements, which vary from state to state.
"In Arizona, two two-hour visits are required. We also check fingerprints, CPS clearance, ensure there is no history, and conduct physicals on the parents," says Rourke. "We check every aspect of their lives to ensure they [will be] fit parents."
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