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Today's Family Magazine

Adoption: An alternate path to parenthood

Siblings Alaysha and Jaynell are among more than 200 children in Cuyahoga County who need forever families.

By Nina Polien Light

The perception of adoptive parents may be of a loving wife and husband who are unable to have children of their own.  The couple go to a private adoption agency, shell out tens of thousands of dollars and, after what could be a years-long waiting period, bring home the newborn son or daughter they’ve always dreamed about raising.

Working with a private adoption agency with the goal of adopting an infant is an admirable approach to offering a home to a child in need.  But some folks—married or not—find the process to be too costly and drawn out.  Fortunately, there are other avenues for adoption, especially if prospective parents are open to providing forever homes for youngsters with special needs, older children, sibling groups or children of different races or ethnicities.

November is National Adoption Month, a 30-day platform for raising awareness and bringing attention to the need for permanent families for minors in foster care.  It is an initiative of the Children’s Bureau, which is part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

“National Adoption Month is a celebration of those members in our community who have taken a chance on children and made them a member of their family,” says Eugene Tetrick, supervisor of the Substitute Care Unit (Foster Care/Adoption) for the Lake County Department of Jobs and Family Services.  “These people had the courage and determination to ‘change their normal’ by bringing a child in need into their home.”

Beverly Torres, senior manager for adoption at the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services, says many children are in county custody because of abuse, neglect, a parent’s mental health issues and other reasons.  “When they can’t be safely reunified with their caregivers and when parental rights are terminated, we owe these kids a family.  November highlights foster care, and especially adoptive care, for our families and children.”

In honor of National Adoption Month, Today’s Family answers questions about adopting youngsters currently in the foster care system.

What is the difference between fostering and adopting?
Foster parents are state-certified caregivers, who provide a temporary home for children while social-service agencies attempt to reunify youngsters with their families.  Adoptive parents receive permanent legal transfer of parental rights from a child’s birth parent.

Who is eligible to adopt children in foster care in Ohio?
Prospective adoptive parents must be at least 21 years old, have sufficient income to meet the child’s basic needs and be in good physical, emotional and mental health.  They may be single, married, part of a same-sex couple or the child’s older sibling.  If part of a couple, they must be in a stable relationship for at least one year.  Education level, religion and home ownership are not factors.

How great is the need?
According to Torres, Cuyahoga County has permanent custody of 529 children.  The county has potential adoptive parents for slightly more than 250 of them; the remainder are still in need of forever families.

From 2010 to 2016, Lake County saw a 38% increase in children entering the foster care system, Tetrick reports.  By September 2017, the number of children entering foster care had already surpassed the number for the entire previous year.

So many people wish to adopt. Why haven’t these children found forever families?
It’s important to match youngsters with families who are committed to meeting the children’s specific needs for the long term.  Many children in foster care deal with physical, psychological or behavioral concerns. Some have been abused or neglected.

“Any time a child moves from one home to another, it’s a traumatic experience,” Torres explains.  “Some adoptive families are looking for a specific type of child.  When kids come in to our custody, they are experiencing a trauma in their life, a separation, a loss.  That comes out in different ways for different children.  Sometimes they’ve been removed from their home because of (a relative’s) mental-health issue and they’ve inherited that mental-issue. The specific needs of our children dictate the kind of families we’re looking for.”

Placing older children, such as teenagers, can be challenging because some people prefer to adopt infants or toddlers.  Keeping siblings together can also be difficult if families wish to adopt one child at a time.

What is the cost?
“Oftentimes, those who become licensed as foster and adoptive parents through the county are looking to grow their family through adoption as the costs of private adoptions are too expensive,” Tetrick says.  “Some costs involved in the adoption process are court costs for the adoption and paying for updated birth certificates, which are minimal comparatively to private adoptions.  Adoption of a child in the custody of Lake County costs less than $200.”

Cuyahoga County’s Torres says a required fire inspection may run $30-$100.  If the compulsory home study visit reveals the need for making home improvements to meet Ohio mandates, there may be costs associated with those upgrades.

By comparison, voluntary adoption of a newborn at a nonprofit organization in Ohio typically costs $10,000-$25,000, according to the Franklin County Law Library website.

I want to adopt a child currently in foster care.  Now what?
Start with contacting the county agency.  Cuyahoga residents may call 216-881-5775, those in Lake can dial 440-350-4218 and those in Geauga can call 440-285-9141.

According to Torres, prospective adoptive parents are required to attend pre-service training to become licensed as a foster or adoptive parent.  Once licensed, they will complete an application and undergo a home study, which includes a fire inspection.  Following approval, the county agency will work to match the adult and child.  After a match is made, an adoption assessor and the child’s social worker will present the prospective adoptive parent with the youngster’s medical and educational records, photographs and other pertinent information.  The adult and child will then have preplacement visits in the adoptive home and the child’s current home.  After the child moves in with the adult, a judge or magistrate can finalize the adoption.  Classes, support groups and referrals to community agencies will then be available to the new family.

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