Saturday, December 8, 2012

Protecting the Light

My amazing nine year old daughter Emma sang in chapel with her good friend Grace Ann.  They sang "Firework" by Katy Perry.  I think I may have been even more nervous than she was.  I just wanted her to be happy with herself, proud of herself, to gain a small glimpse into the magic that is Emma.  Just seeing her get up in front of her school . . . wow!  She did it . . . in front of her school, her grandmother, and her grandfather (both with tears in their eyes).  With a beautiful little voice my scared little girl and her friend sang . . .

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag,
Drifting through the wind
Wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards,
One blow from caving in?

Do you ever feel already buried deep?
6 feet under screams but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you

You just gotta ignite the light, and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colours burst
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
You're gonna leave 'em all in "awe, awe, awe"
. . .

I could not help thinking of that quiet little girl I first held in Russia almost 9 years ago.  She did not smile easily.  She was so serious . . . so reticent.  She had almost lost her light -- that spark that God gives each child.  That light that gives hope for our future and joy to our lives. 

I also can't help but think of a another little girl, we will call her Kathy.  Her mother was not ready to be a mother, but she was guilted into parenting, forced into parenting -- by her family.  They had to protect "their blood" . . . their genetic material.  Kathy's mother made her bed . . . she must lie in it. Kathy's mother had to "step up to the plate." 

So, Kathy has enough to eat and she is adequately dressed.  But, her mother, who struggles everyday, cannot delight in her.  There is no time for tickles and giggles.  While she tries her best, Kathy's mother, who does love her, still does not want to be a mother.  And the family who insisted she parent, is little to no help.

I suspect (hope) Kathy's physical safety will never be an issue.  But each day, her light will dim just a little bit more, until it is so far gone, that it cannot be ignited . . .  her colors will not burst . . . she will not shoot across the sky.

CPS will (hopefully) protect her physical safety, the family protected "their blood" . . . But who protects her light?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What to do in the Hospital?

It would be nice if these posting went in the order of the process, however, I am going to have to vary things a bit. 

You have received the call . . . . Now what?!?!?  Depending on your arrangement with the birth mother, she is probably in labor and you are on your way to the hospital.  That hospital could be around the corner, or across the nation.  What are YOU supposed to do at the hospital.  Hopefully you have had time to develop a relationship with your birth mother by this time.  However, that is not always the case.  You may be meeting for the first time. 

While you may be nervous and anxious, remember this time is about her and her needs.  She is facing the one of the hardest decisions she will ever make.  She is in pain, her hormones are very active, she may have anesthetic in her system, and she may be facing abuse from family and friends and even herself for the decision she is about to make.

The hospital will almost always have a social worker on staff.  That person, depending on the hospital and/or the state will assist with things like discharge, medical records, and making certain any decision is voluntary.  In some cases, he or she will simply make a brief appearance. 

If you are working with an agency, that agency will usually have a worker come to the hospital to check on birth mother and you.  However, most hospitals frown on adoption workers "camping" at the hospital.  It can give the appearance of overreaching.  So do not be surprised if those visits are not extended.  However, do contact your agency if you have any problems or concerns. 

You may be stressed, sleep deprived, and overwhelmed.  But it does not compare to what your birth mother is going through.  You must not focus on yourself at this time.  Focus on her and her needs.  She may or may not verbalize those needs.  While she may have told you before birth what she wanted in the hospital, those needs may have changed.  So, ask her.

Would you like us in your room with the baby, or in our room with baby?
Are you tired?  Do you need to rest?  Do you want time alone?
Can I bring you anything?  Food? 

Once the baby is born, your birthmother may start to feel forgotten.  Flowers or chocolates can go a long way towards making her feel appreciated at this vulnerable time.  Show her how much you appreciate her. (Be sure and check with your attorney and/or agency about the laws in your state regarding gifts.)

Your birth mother will be watching you for signs that you love her child.  Fair or not, she will be examining your every action to measure whether she has made a good choice.  So, if she wants to see you interact with the child -- let her.  To the extent you can, stay at the hospital and take every opportunity to bond with the child and every opportunity to show your concern and appreciation for your birth mother. 

This is not the time to have your emotional guard up.  While you may be terrified she will decide not to place, you still must open your heart.  She needs to know that you love this child, or she cannot have peace about her decision.  This applies to adoptive mothers and adoptive fathers.

To the extent she is open to it, show your birth mother the love due to the person who has brought a miracle into your life. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Homestudy -- Maximizing your Net Worth

Alright, so you have started the homestudy process. Odds are your agency has given you a packet of information to complete as well as a library of documents to collect. Please note, the agency that completes your homestudy may or may not be your "placing" agency, ie the agency that "places" a child in your home. However, make certain whichever agency you choose for the homestudy is acceptable to your placing agency. Some states and some countries have restrictions on the qualifications of the agency and/or the credentials of the individual conducting the homestudy. For example, China requires that the homestudy agency (not just the placing agency) be Hague Accredited, and the State of Connecticut has a short approval process required for out of state agencies involved in some interstate adoptions. There are other idiosyncrasies involved in other adoptions, so check with your placing agency. You do not want to pay for two homestudies.

Generally you will be producing the following:

1. Financial documents, including tax returns and employment verifications;
If you are self employed, you will need to have your accountant or bookkeeper prepare the verification. Be sure to instruct him or her to add back your depreciation and other like expenses. You need your income to be calculated in a manner which would be comparable to a person with who is not self employed. Otherwise, as most self employed people work to expenses as much as possible, it will appear that you do not have sufficient income to raise a(nother) child. This method is perfectly acceptable so long as you make certain that you retain a record of how your accountant arrived at the final number. If you are employed and recieve bounses, include those in your employment verification. If you need to, ask your HR department to average the last few years to come up with a prediction of future bonuses.

2. You will likely be asked to prepare a financial statement. This too can be a bit overwhelming for some. If you own a home, it is likely your largest asset. You will want to accurately maximize the value of the asset. If you do not have a recent appraisal, then look at your latest tax appraisal. If you live in an area with significantly below value tax appraisals, then contact a realtor for a market analysis or just check with local Realtors for information regarding sales in your area of similar homes. Again, be sure to document how you arrived at the value listed. The key is to make certain your number is reasonable.

Many people forget to include the contents of their home as an asset on their financial statement. One way to arrive at that number is to contact your insurance agent and ask how much the contents of your home are insured for at the time of the homestudy. Depending on the condition of the contents, you may want to use a percentage of that number. Again, keep a record of how you arrived at the value.

For vehicles values, utilize the Internet. Finally, do not forget the cash value of life insurance, annuities, retirement accounts, college funds, etc. Your goal is the legitimately maximize your net worth. Just be reasonable, and document, document, document.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Oh No!!! The Homestudy!

You keep hearing that you need a homestudy -- but what is that?  You may have also heard it called a pre-placement interview, report, or study.  It usually starts with the collection of documentation.  There are some differences between types of homestudies.  Some countries have specific requirements.  Each state has difference requirements.  However, most differences come down to things like form and number of visits.  For the purposes of this entry, I am going to be somewhat generic.

First and foremost, the homestudy process, while cumbersome, should not be frightening.  I say that, but when I had my first homestudy, I followed the social worker through my house with a voice screaming in my head "this woman can tell me I can't have a baby -- this woman can tell me I can't have a baby . . . . . ).  Of course, that did not happen. 

Know this, homestudies are not pass/fail.  Instead they are an opportunity for the social worker to get to know you and your circumstances.  At the same time, he or she will be educating you about adoption and helping you to have realistic expectation regarding the process.  This is a wonderful time to ask questions. 

Sometimes, however, you may have something in your past that you are concerned might adversely impact your ability to adopt.  While it might be tempting to hide that issue, by doing so, you could be endangering your adoption.  While each country has specific requirements and certain issues might keep you from adopting from certain countries, there are very few things that will keep you from adopting completely.  However, dishonesty on your application is one of those things.

If you have concerns, talk to the agency before you start the adoption process.  Most agencies will gladly tell you whether a particular issue will keep you from adopting through that agency.  If you are told that you cannot adopt, be sure and ask if the prohibition is a country requirement, state requirement, or agency requirement.

For instance, some agencies restrict the number of divorces while other agencies are more lenient based on explanation of circumstances.  Some agencies will not place children with single people or people with some heath problems, while others will look to the extended family and contingency plan in case of severe illness.  Additionally, you may have a conviction of some type.  Many times the age of the conviction is very important as to whether it will impact your ability to adopt.  So ask.  If you just need to wait a year or so, you can do so.

Most importantly, you do not want a "failed" homestudy.  Each agency must list in the homestudy whether a person/couple has ever failed a homestudy.  If there is going to be a problem find out before hand so you can change agencies, change countries, or wait.

More on the specific process next time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to Start the Adoption Process

So, you want to adopt.  Maybe you have spent several years trying the old fashioned way.  Maybe you have spend years on infertility treatments.  Or maybe, you are like me, and you just feel that God intends you to find your child through adoption.  Whatever your path, once you decide to adopt, the questions becomes . . . Now What?

Initially there are several questions to consider.  Private vs Foster, Domestic vs International, Infant vs Older Child?  There will be so many opinions out there regarding which is "best."  The answer -- none of them and all of them.  There is no one size fits all.  There is no "right" answer.  There is only the answer that is right for you. 

You may have started on the internet and gone into information/opinion overload.  While getting familiar with the different process online is useful, I strongly suggest you call and/or visit several agencies.  Talk to the agencies.  See which agency and which program feels like a good "fit." 

Do not be shy about asking every single questions you have.  A reputable agency will understand and will be prepared with answers.  However there are very few objective standards upon which to rely in making your decision.  So much of the decision will be a function of simple preference and "fit."  However, there are several places to start:

1.  Check the licensing status of the agency.  Many states now provide the license status of agencies online.  Others will require a call to the licensing body.  Ask about the status of the license and whether any adverse action has been taken against the license in the past five years.  Specifically ask if the agency is on probation and/or has a plan of corrective action in place.

2.Check with the Attorney General and/or Consumer Protection agency of your state for complaints.  Know that a reputable agency may have complaints.  However, you are looking for a pattern or large number of complaints in relation to the size of the agency. 

3.  Check with the Better Business Bureau (see above)

4.  Ask for references and then actually call the references. 

5.  Be wary of any agency that requires a large portion of funds paid at the beginning of the process, particularly in a domestic adoption.  Most states do not permit an agency to charge a large portion of the fee before you have an approved homestudy (more about the homestudy in a later post).

6.  Once you have decided to adopt, you want your child home yesterday!  However, if an agency is telling you that they can process your adoption and bring your child home significantly faster or easier than most other agencies are advertising -- there is likely a problem. 
7.  Finally, read your contract.  Know what your contract says and if it is different from your understanding -- talk to the agency -- ask questions -- ask for revisions to the contract.

Adoption may be the hardest thing you will ever do.  But, if you see it through, it will be the best thing you will ever do.  Good Luck with your process!