WAT! Founder’s Point of View: Aaron’s Take on How to Approach Adoption
Ever since I started WAT!, a non-profit supporting Black families seeking to adopt, I’ve been asked to share my opinions and advice on adoption. Most are hoping to understand how to start the adoption process—and I get it—the amount of information out there is overwhelming.
My wife and I have adopted twice: two boys, currently ages 4 and 2. I am not an adoption professional or expert, but I hope by sharing what we’ve learned both during the adoption process and afterward some families may find the information and unsolicited advice they need before beginning the journey to adopt a child. But we also encourage you to seek out the experiences of others as well, particularly those of adult adoptees.
With that, here’s what I can tell you.
Check Your Motives
There are many reasons people choose to pursue adoption. Many have stories of infertility or other circumstances that led them to build their families via adoption—that was the case for us.
But I want to be clear: that should not be the one and only reason to adopt a child. Adoption is not a “Plan B.” Adoptees are not “replacements,” nor are they “placeholders” for biological children. Once adopted they are your children, with every right and privilege a biological kid is granted, and should be raised and treated as such.
Further, adoption is not a cool thing to do because your favorite celebrity, friend, pastor, or family member did it. It isn’t something to do just because it’s “nice.” You’re not shopping for a car or picking out curtains. At its very best, adoption is fraught with trauma and loss that stays with these children and their first families for the rest of their lives. This process is a life-altering and harrowing journey, not to be taken lightly and certainly not for everyone. There is an incredible amount of work involved to just prepare for the responsibility, much less live it out.
Understand the Types of Adoption
Congratulations on making it past the tough “Check Your Motives” section. Next you need to understand some of the complexities of adoption to evaluate whether you’re serious about adopting.
There’s a wide spectrum of adoption types. Some are:
- Private domestic adoption (via agency)
- Private domestic adoption (via privately acquired attorney)
- Private international adoption (rightfully under intense legal scrutiny)
- Foster care adoption
- Kinship adoption
Take time to research and understand each type and what it means while centering the adoptee experience. There are pros and cons to each.
Centering the Child
So what kind of child are you looking for? I know there’s probably someone reading this thinking how insensitive that question is. It is; kids aren’t products that you casually pick from off the shelf at Target and take back if they don’t work out. With that in mind, there are considerations that you need to be honest with yourself about.
We hear a lot about older kids in the foster system that need forever homes, but after researching and considering all that comes with that, are you equipped to adopt those children? Do you have the time, energy, emotional competency, finances, and resources to take in an older child who has been in foster care and all the trauma that comes with that?
Staying on foster care for a moment, some people will tell you to consider adopting through foster care because it is cheaper than private adoption. There are even programs called “foster to adopt.” There are people who can address this much more eloquently than I, but here’s my take:
First and foremost, the foster care system’s goal is to preserve biological families. People who foster children separated from their families have a duty to support reunification as often as it is healthy to do so. Foster care is not a pipeline for adoption. Our family considered adoption via foster care before learning these important nuances that are not well-understood by the general public.
Further, while cost is something each family will have to consider, it should not be a deciding factor. Children who have been removed from their first families via foster care are not better or worse than kids who are placed via a more expensive, private route. But there are challenges unique to each type of adoption that are more important to consider than cost. After researching, go with what’s best for your family. Both kids waiting to be adopted in foster care AND kids needing adoption through private agencies need loving families.
Transracial adoption is another hot-button topic in our society. The easy route is to decide love outweighs the challenges of adopting transracially. But the truth is that making the choice to adopt outside of your race demands that you ask yourself hard, invasive questions with answers that sting.
Do you know anything at all about the culture of the child you’re considering adopting? What about your family? Are they racist? How would they treat your child? Do you have close friends or family near you who reflect the child’s race and culture? Not just a “diverse” neighborhood, but a community that will reflect themselves? If not, are you willing to move somewhere where these mirrors exist? Are you willing to switch to a more racially reflective place of worship? Does “Black Lives Matter” make you pause? I can go on and on and on with the transracial adoption questions, but the gist is there are an infinite amount of considerations. I was tempted to say something catchy like “love is not enough,” but the more accurate statement would be, “love for your child will force you to consider the racial implications.”
Also, how open are you to kids with drug and alcohol exposure and or special needs? In this blog I won’t even attempt to try to explain all the things to consider with varying levels of exposure and the wide spectrum of special needs, but it’s important that you research these situations and become acquainted with a pediatrician BEFORE a child is placed with you. If you work with an agency (or adoption consultant), and they’re as thorough as ours was, they should go through all of that in the home study and or required training. If they don’t, take that as a warning sign. You may want to look elsewhere.
In all of these considerations and more, the most destructive thing you can do is to focus on what’s good for you versus what would be best for a child. Not better than… but BEST.
Which brings me to my next topic…
Not All Adoption Agencies/ Consultants/ Lawyers/ Professionals Are Created Equal
It is important to pick the right agency and other adoption professionals. We worked with an agency that did everything for us, including providing a list of adoption attorneys for finalization.
A good starting point is seeing what agencies are local to you and then check the reviews. When looking at reviews, as with anything else, I would check to see when the reviews were posted (recent?) and whether the review was for your particular branch of the agency (if nationwide). Don’t just investigate what adoptive parents have to say about the agency or professional. Seek out what birth parents and adoptees have to say. Is the agency ethical in their treatment of the birth family? That can be hard to pinpoint as you may not have access to all the pertinent information. But read between the lines and believe the stories of first families and adoptees first. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t seem right at an agency, then don’t choose them.
Select an agency or professional that serves the type of adoption you’re seeking. For instance, if you’re looking to adopt internationally, don’t get your home study through an agency that can only do domestic adoptions.
Look at the overall cost, but check to see what the breakdown of the cost is as that can make a difference in the long run. For instance, in our case, our agency had a line item for birth mother costs—letting us know the amount given for birth mother costs would not go any higher (except in rare circumstances). Other agencies may not have a flat max birth mother fee, so you may go into the situation not knowing how much you would come out of pocket for that cost. Also, note that agency fees often don’t include lawyer fees for finalization.
Dig into what kind of preparation the agency gives for the different types of adoption. Someone I know who adopted transracially told me how when he and his wife (both white) adopted their son (Black), the agency only asked them if they would have Black books in the house. When they said yes, the agency basically said “ok” and moved on. This is a huge red flag. That’s not proper preparation. And proper preparation is not just needed for transracial adoptions.
Agencies should help you understand and prepare for the implications of everything potentially involving the adoptee: health concerns, exposure, family history, how to discipline (what’s acceptable vs what’s not, depending on the child’s history), how to engage with closed adoptions versus with semi-open to open adoptions, and many other scenarios. Each situation is unique.
Listen closely to how first families are discussed. Are they spoken about with respect and humanity, or are they identified by their struggles? Are they empowered to make strong decisions for themselves and their children? Or are they spoken about in terms of how you might navigate acquiring her signature? Are fathers spoken of with respect and consideration? Or are they obstacles to the process? All of these are important clues to knowing whether an agency is partnering with first families to enable a healthy adoption or to acquire a child for a waiting, paying family.
Lastly, I’d say pick an agency that aligns with your beliefs. For some that’s going with a faith-based agency, for others its going with a secular agency. Either way is fine as long as the agency has ethical practices (which, as stated earlier, you should investigate also). The point I’m trying to make is the adoption process is already stressful enough, the last thing you want to do is feel like you have to jump through hoops to be accepted as adoptive parents at the agency you’re working with. For instance, you don’t want to worry about the agency grilling you because you’re too conservative or too liberal.
Dealing with the Cost
When you look at the average cost of private adoption, it can overwhelming. Luckily, there are books and blogs galore about how to finance your adoption, so I won’t get too detailed. But here are some things to consider:
Look into the adoption tax credits. My wife and I had to cover the total cost of our adoptions upfront (through savings, fundraising, and loans), but once the kids’ adoptions were finalized, we were able to get the tax credit, which worked out to be a little under half of our cost. It definitely helped us to pay off both of our adoption loans relatively quickly. I’m purposely leaving the numbers, because things are always changing where the IRS is concerned.
Whether or not you plan to fundraise or get other financial assistance, it helps to consider a low interest loan. I know! Nobody wants to add another monthly bill or pay interest (we surely didn’t), but it is a good option if it would take you a long time to save up otherwise. Your adoption fees are due when they’re due. When a child is placed with you it is time to pay up. With a loan, you have the funds up front.
Apply for adoption grants. There’s money out there meant to help you pay for your adoption. Most adoption grants that I’ve seen require you to be home study approved before applying, in addition to other rules. This is one of the main reasons I created WAT! Black Family Adoption Assistance, Inc (a 501c3 non-profit) in 2020. Our goal is to provide adoption grants specifically to Black families looking to adopt because there is a need for more of us to adopt (see our story).
I hope this information is helpful to you. Below is a list of a couple resources you may find helpful. It is my plan to one day have a larger resource list to provide (will add link to this blog when completed).
Resources for Prospective Adoptive Parents (click headings to access websites)
- Lucrece Bundy on YouTube
- Adoption Attorney Lucrece Bundy’s videos answer many questions about the adoption process in a clear way.
- A Case for Adoption: Embracing the world’s children as our children by Jessica L. Yates
- Attorney Yates, an advocate for children and adoptive mother herself, wrote a book that I feel can help individuals seeking to adopt. Book description: Adoption is attainable for every family that is hoping to expand! The Case for Adoption guides readers through the various types of adoption and illuminates all the moving parts of the adoption process. Adoption is often shrouded in secrecy and hushed tones. No longer! The secret is out! There are countless children that need families and countless families that need children. Find out all the information you need to choose the right type of adoption for your family and to have a smooth adoption process all in one place. Learn the truth about adoption and make sure to share it. A case for adoption is a treasure trove for anyone seeking to adopt or those that are part of a village that already has adopted.
- Help Us Adopt
Helpusadopt.org is a national 501(c)(3) financial grant program that helps couples/individuals (regardless of ethnicity, gender, marital status, religion, or sexual orientation) with the cost of their adoptions by awarding grants up to $15,000. We support domestic, international and foster care adoptions and do not charge our applicants to apply.
- WAT! Black Family Adoption Assistance, Inc
- WAT! (We Adopt, T0o) is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides adoption grants to black families seeking to adopt. WAT! focuses on black families as there is a void in resources catered to prospective black adoptive parents. This is problematic as many black expectant/ birth parents prefer to have black families adopt their children, but don’t often have a significant pool of black adoptive families to choose from.
- Follow on Social Media @Watadoptions (FB & IG)
About the Author, Aaron Johnson
Who am I?
Always: Christian, Husband, Father
Weekdays: Civil Engineer
In between everything else: WAT! Founder/ President.
Special thanks to Stephanie Ilderton for helping to edit this blog!