By Amy Taylor
November is Adoption Awareness Month, with National Adoption Day being observed on November 21, 2020. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center, in 2016 Virginia was ranked 49th in the nation for kids aging out of the foster system. This means 19% of foster children available for adoption grew too old to be cared for by that system before they were adopted. In honor of Adoption Awareness Month, we wanted to dive into what adoption entails, figure out why Virginia is ranked nearly last in the nation for adoption and how we can start to change this moving forward.
In Virginia, there are two types of adoption placement. You can adopt a child through an agency or non-agency placement.
Agency placement is when you get custody of a child through the local department of social services or a licensed child-placing agency. When you adopt through an agency, they terminate the child’s birth parents’ parental rights and the agency will agree to the adoption.
Non-agency placement is when the birth parents or legal guardians place a child with the adoptive parents. These adoptions usually take place when a stepparent adopts their stepchild, a close relative adopts a child or someone over the age of 18 is adopted.
Types of Adoption
When you adopt a child the agency or social services will help decide what type of adoption is best for the child. If you adopt through foster care, the birth parents’ rights have already been terminated and social services will decide the appropriate type of adoption. If you adopt through a non-agency placement you and the birth parents will work out the type of adoption, sometimes with attorneys guiding the process. Here’s some more information on the three types of adoption.
- Closed adoption. You and the birth parents agree that the child will have no contact with the birth parents after you adopt the child.
- Open adoption. You and the birth parents have an agreement that allows the birth parents to have contact, updates and sometimes visitation with the adopted children.
- Semi-open adoption. This type of adoption has more contact than a closed adoption, but less contact than an open adoption. The child’s birth parents may receive updates and some contact with the children.
Adoption Misconceptions and Facts
There are a lot of misconceptions about adoption that might prevent people from even exploring it as an option. Here we will look at common misconceptions and facts about adoption.
- Myth: Adoption fees are too expensive.
- Fact: If you adopt a child from foster care you can do so for little to no cost. Most adoptions from foster care are free or require minimal fees, many of which are reimbursable. You can also receive post-adoption resources like medical assistance and financial adoption assistance, which are based on the needs of the child.
- Myth: You have to adopt children of your race.
- Fact: You can adopt children of any race or ethnicity. There is a federal law that prohibits denying adoption placement based on race or ethnicity.
- Myth: You have to be married to adopt children.
- Fact: If you’re 18 years old and have the time and energy to give a child a lifetime commitment, you can adopt a child. You can be single, married, widowed or divorced.
- Myth: If you foster a child you can’t also adopt them.
- Fact: In Virginia, over 60% of kids in foster care are adopted by their foster parents according to the Virginia Department of Social Services. If you foster children that do not return to their birth families, you can adopt them.
- Myth: If a child you know personally, such as a neighbor or friend’s child, goes into foster care for adoption you can’t adopt them.
- Fact: If a child you know personally or professionally is in need of adoption, you can apply to adopt that child. Social workers prefer to place children with adults they already have relationships within the community.
- Myth: You can’t adopt children if you’re older.
- Fact: Seasoned parents and empty-nesters make wonderful adoptive parents and are highly encouraged to apply! Anyone over the age of 18 can apply to adopt.
- Myth: Once I adopt a child the birth parents may take the child back.
- Fact: Once the adoption process is complete the birth parents may not regain custody of the adoptive child.
Why is Virginia Ranked (Almost) Last in Adoption?
According to the Children’s Home Society of Virginia, one of the factors that contributes to the high percentage of children going unadopted in Virginia is that “Virginia has a higher percentage of older youth in foster care (21%) than the nation as a whole (16%). Sadly, older youth are adopted at a much lower rate than young children.”
There are hundreds of children waiting for an adoptive parent in the Virginia foster system right now. If you’re considering adopting a child you can reach out to the Virginia Department of Social Services online at https://www.adoptuskids.org/states/va/index.aspx or by calling 800-DO-ADOPT.