How Do You Begin?

Spring brings thoughts of birth and rebirth but for many, becoming pregnant may be medically dangerous or impossible which makes adoption a beautiful and loving choice for them. Unfortunately it may seem difficult to know how to begin. To simplify matters, think of adoptions in this way – agency adoptions which involve a state child welfare agency placing a child for adoption and private adoptions which include either placement by a parent privately or placement by a private domestic or international agency; and step-parent adoptions.

As a birth parent, choosing to free your child for adoption is a loving and beautiful choice. Many parents fear the label of “bad parent” if they place their child for adoption when it may be the most selfless act of love that a parent can ever make. As a proud adoptee I simply want to help children achieve the life that they so richly deserve.

To locate an agency the internet is a valuable resource. For the Missouri Children’s Division, go to the Missouri Children’s Division where you can find a wealth of information to begin the process. For domestic or international adoptions click go to Adoption Agencies By State to find a list of agencies by state. It is important to look up any reviews of the agency you want to work with and try to locate a parent group for advice and support from those who have been through the process already.

In all but a select few situations, you must go through a home study. If you use a state agency, you might be asked to go through classes as many adoptions begin as foster placements during which a home study will be completed.  The home study is a written report to the court which includes information regarding the condition of your home as well as your educational, financial, marital, medical and psychological status. Things you might be asked to do include providing the names of personal and professional references, undergoing a physical, and providing information about your family history. You must also undergo a criminal background check which might include a check of the state’s child abuse and neglect registry and submitting your fingerprints to the FBI. The report’s conclusion is whether you would be recommended as an adoptive placement. In many cases, there may be a cost associated with the home study.

Except in exceedingly rare situations, you must have an approved home study to complete your journey. The one case where a home study may be waived is in a step-parent adoption where the ex-spouse has signed a voluntary consent to the adoption. However, you will still have to undergo a criminal background check.

In private and state agency adoptions, the home study will come first.  In state agency adoptions where you are the foster parent, you will have gone through a home study to ensure that you are suitable to accept placement of a child as a foster parent.  The home study will then be updated and turned into an adoption home study once you are chosen through a process called an adoption staffing.  In private adoptions that do not include an agency the home study will be ordered by your attorney during the process and after the child has been placed with you. This holds true for step-parent adoptions as well if the non-custodial parent has not signed a consent.

In private agency and private placement adoptions the birth parents will sign a power of attorney handing over legal authority to either the agency or the adoptive parents.  The birth parents will also sign a consent to termination of their parental rights.  In cases of newborns, this permits the adoptive parents to go home with the child.

At some point, depending upon when an attorney became involved, the paperwork process begins.  In all but state agency adoptions, the paperwork can be filed with the court immediately (or in the case of newborns 48 hours after the baby is born).  In state agency adoptions, the adoptive parents enter into a contract with the state known as an adoption subsidy.  This is a contract between the adoptive parent and the state wherein the state offers to perform certain tasks such as maintaining the child on Medicaid, covering certain medical and/or mental health needs for the child, and paying for the legal fees associated with the adoption.  In the contract is a start date. Depending upon which county the adoption is being filed in the paperwork can either be filed immediately or only after the start date however, regardless of the county the adoption cannot be completed until after the start date.  Each county handles the start date a little differently.  It is vitally important to know when the start date is because completing an adoption before the start date nullifies the contract and, at least the legal fees, will be the responsibility of the adoptive parent.

Once the paperwork is filed, it is time to schedule the matter for a transfer of custody hearing.  At that hearing, the court will grant legal custody with the adoptive parents.  After that, under Missouri law, six months must pass before the adoption can be finalized.  In some cases, where a person has had “lawful and actual” custody of the child for a period of six months or longer the transfer of custody period may be waived.  This is in instances of step-parent adoptions, foster children, children under guardianship, and, other limited situations.

In either case, at the hearing to finalize the adoption, the Court terminates the parental rights of the biological parents and finds the adoptive parents to be the natural parents.  Birth certificates are ordered, names are changed, and the child is now deemed to be the child of the adoptive parents as though born to them.

This is a short explanation of the process.  There are more steps involved.  Many attorneys will advertise that they handle adoptions even though they have never filed a single one.  Adoptions are complex and require strict adherence to Missouri Law.  Any failure to complete a step along the way could subject the adoption to being overturned down the road.  Speak with several attorneys before choosing one so that you are comfortable that you have chosen an attorney knowledgeable in the adoption process.