Sunday, January 22, 2012

Picking Our Agency, Part 2: Amara Parenting

See also: Picking Our Agency, Part 1: The Adoption Fair

After we narrowed down our search to two agencies, it was time to get more information. It's really important to find an agency that's a good fit, since they're involved every step along the way and facilitate the entire process. Both of the agencies had free informational sessions coming up, so we signed up to attend each of them.

Amara Parenting was the first agency we visited. It was a cold Saturday morning, and it was earlier than either Brian or I really wanted to be up. I drove us to their location in east Seattle (Madrona), and we ended up about 15 minutes early sitting in the car in the parking lot.

"Do you want to go in, or should we wait in the car another 10 minutes?", one of us asked. The reply: "Let's wait."

I won't speak for Brian, but I was terrified! Even though we weren't making any commitments, going into the building felt like a big step to me at the time. I didn't know what to say, who would be there, or really anything at all about what to expect. So we waited for a few more minutes, I took a few deep breaths, and eventually we walked on in.

We ended up in a room with maybe 20 people. I think a lot of them were in the same place as us - excited, apprehensive, and just kinda waiting to see what would happen next. It was pretty quiet overall, but there was a nervous energy that I could feel pervading the room. Or maybe I was just projecting my own emotions on everyone else.

A woman named Megan eventually came in and started her presentation. We found out a lot more about this particular agency: their history (operating in Seattle since 1921), their size (10 full-time staff members), their mission (most of their work is with Washington state's foster system). All of their prospective adoptive families enroll in the foster-to-adopt program, and then can optionally participate in the relinquished infants program as well (in which case they wait for whichever placement comes first). As Megan worked through all the details of her agency, the mood in the room gradually relaxed - people started asking more questions, getting more into it, and a lot of my initial nervousness wore off.

Megan talked a lot about the general adoption process as well, and how it worked at Amara. First they would do the application and home study (which would take about 4-6 months); then they would match us with a family (on average 10-18 months); and finally their post-placement processes would last anywhere from 6-24 months after placement. Because they work with foster children who are wards of the state, the finalization process is significantly different than in a private adoption.

The highlight of the session by far was about an hour in, when one of Amara's "success stories" visited. In came a family that seemed tailor-made for us: two dads, and the most adorable little boys you've ever seen! First off, we knew that Amara worked with same sex couples, but it was very reassuring to see an example right there in front of us. And then the kids were seemingly perfect: very cute, and also extremely well-behaved. They were 5 and 3 years old, if I remember correctly, and were biological half-brothers; they had previously been fostered in separate families before eventually being adopted by their "forever family".

We had a chance to talk to the parents about their experiences adopting (especially as it related to Amara as an agency), and that was probably more valuable to me than anything else in the session. Being reminded of the end goal suddenly made me remember why we were signing ourselves up for what's sure to be a long and involved process.

After the session, Brian and I went and had a great brunch at the nearby Hi Spot Cafe. (Side note: if you're in Seattle, go there for brunch! It's amazing!) After getting so much information in such a short amount of time, I needed to decompress a bit and process everything we'd just heard. I liked Amara as an agency, and felt comfortable with the people we met who worked there. However, Brian and I had already discussed that we wanted to adopt an infant, and most of the children in foster-to-adopt were somewhat older. In the end, we concluded what we'd already known: that no decision would be made until we visited the other agency as well.

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