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The ABC's of Adopting a Child
Part II: How Do We Start The Process?

So you've decided to adopt a child! Congratulations! That decision can sometimes be the hardest part of adoption. Adoption is not for everyone and, like parenthood, is a life-long commitment. Here are some steps to get you started.

Talk to other adoptive parents. People who have experienced adoption personally are an invaluable reference. They can give you the names of agencies, attorneys, social workers and resources to research. Word of mouth is sometimes the best advertisement in adoption. Ask these couples direct questions (and don't be shy, adoptive parents love to talk about how they became a family!) about their experience. What would they do differently? What was the hardest part of the procedure? What was the easiest? I have never met an adoptive parent who is unwilling to share their joy and help give another child a better life.

Ask your family and friends for references. If you and your spouse, or you as a single parent, are willing to share your decision to adopt with others, then ask everyone for help. It seems like everyone today knows somebody who has adopted and those people are the ones you want to contact. Use your family and friends to network for you. It will save you some time and help you sort out who you need to speak with. For example, if you want to adopt a child from the United States, then contact domestic agencies. Don't call a New York lawyer who specializes in international adoption just because Aunt Martha said she was the best in the city.

Ask your clergyman. Often times, priests and rabbis are aware of organizations that are unknown to the public. They can steer you in a direction which may save you a lot of time and research.

Check the yellow pages. This may sound a little impersonal, but if you or your spouse are not ready to disclose your decision to adopt then calling agencies randomly can be helpful. They can tell you what they look for in a client without any face to face contact. They can also send you brochures without any obligation which can make gathering information easier for some couples.

Whichever route you choose, go visit the agencies. Make an appointment, attend an orientation session, read their requirements carefully to become familiar with their operation. Then, use your heart. The best decision we made was to go with the organization that made us feel the most comfortable. If you feel the slightest bit uneasy go someplace else. Adoption is not supposed to be a big business deal, but it is supposed to be a beautiful experience. Don't let anyone else take that away from you!

Once you have chosen the agency or lawyer that you want to work with, be prepared to do some homework. Depending on the state you live in, you will need to meet with a social worker who will help you prepare a home study, a document which 'paints a picture' of you and your spouse and your life-style. You will both have to have physical examinations by your physician to prove you're physically healthy. You will each need to write an autobiography describing your childhood and family relationships. You may have to attend counseling sessions in order to prepare for accepting a child in your home. And, of course, you will have to provide the agency with accurate financial reports (tax returns etc.) and current legal documents such as police reports and FBI checks to ensure the child will not be going into a home where either parent has a previous criminal record.

If you are going to adopt internationally, expect to have to prepare a dossier, to prove that you are a legitimate U.S. citizen. It will include an application with Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). You will need to take fingerprints, obtain proof of citizenship and FBI documentation. Don't be discouraged. Keep in mind that all of this work protects the children that need homes and truly benefits all parties involved. Finally, as you start to prepare your home study and meet your social workers, focus on your ultimate goal, to identify a baby, which is, of course, the most exciting part of all! 

Resources: a volunteer operated information resource listing all known Government/Public and private adoption agencies, exchanges and photo listings in the US as identified by the National Adoption Information Center.

Sue-Ann Malinconico is an adoptive mom. She and her husband Frank recently returned from Russia with their son Nicholas.

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