Friday, March 30, 2012

Homestudy Interviews!

Time for a little good news, bad news.  Of course, the bad news is that I should have posted this update a few days ago.  Not too terrible, but I hope all of you can forgive me for the delay!  The good news - all 4 of our homestudy interviews are scheduled!  Our first homestudy interview will actually be at our house with Katie, our counselor, on Monday, April 9th which is just over 1 week away.

So what will happen during our first interview?  Katie will get to see our house and determine if it's safe (read: not a death trap), stable (read: we actually live here and the pictures in the frames aren't of strangers), and healthy (read: all of our furniture isn't coated with a fine dusting of crack).  I joke a lot here, but there are some important and valid legal items that'll need to get checked off.  Aside from the checklist items, I'm sure Katie will chat and get to know us better.

From a counselor's viewpoint, these interviews are actually really important.  So far, we've technically only had 1 meeting for two hours with Katie.  While we've submitted loads of written information, it's important to get to know adoptive parents through face-to-face interaction.  If you were a counselor evaluating and preparing an adoptive family to welcome a baby into their home, how many hours would you want to get to know them and make sure they're prepared?
  • Application & Intake Interview
  • Homestudy Interview #1 - April 9th
  • Homestudy Interview #2
While I've discussed the first meeting, we'll have 3 others that are tentatively scheduled to take place by April 25th.  This is great for us as all four of our interviews will be done before we leave to go to Europe for 2 weeks in May.  That timing will allow Katie to wrap up our homestudy and write the 10+ page report while we're gone.  It's really exciting to know we're still on track for entering the pool of waiting families in June or July!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Financial Impact of Adopting

Adopting isn't cheap, as we're learning along the way, but there's also a lot of ways to recoup fees that we have to pay. We thought it'd be interesting to write up a post about what the various costs are for adoption, based upon our experiences. (Of course anyone else's experience could vary greatly, depending on whether they use an agency or an attorney, which agency, the geographical location, etc.)

Adoption Costs

With our agency, we have the following standard costs for various parts of the process:

Service/Event Fee*
Pre-Adoption Seminar
Application and Intake Interview
Homestudy and Family Preparation
Pool Entry, Program and Marketing
Adoption Planning I
Adoption Planning II
*These amounts are based on what we were quoted, are subject to change, may not be valid for others, etc.

These fees are "standard" because every adoption through the agency will incur them. The total standard fees are then $25,085.

In addition to standard fees, there are some additional fees that can come up on a case-by-case basis:
  • Travel Costs for Counselors: If it's necessary for the counselor to travel during any part of the process, travel is billed at an hourly rate of $30-$55 per hour, depending on the situation. We'll assume $250 in travel costs for this post.
  • Agency Attorney Fees: For adoptions finalized in Washington (our agency can finalize either in Washington or Oregon), the law requires the agency to be represented in the termination of birthparents' rights. A retainer of up to $2,500 is required. For this post, we'll assume the adoption is in Washington and requires the retainer.
  • Attorney Fees for Finalization: Finalization of the adoption in court requires attorney involvement. We'll assume an average $500 attorney fee.
  • Twins/Siblings: In the event of a twin or sibling placement, an additional $1,000 fee is assessed. We will assume only a single placement.
  • Birthmother Expenses: The adoptive family can be expected to pay for reasonable pregnancy-related expenses, such as pre-natal care or maternity clothing. We will assume $2,000 for this post.
There will likely be other miscellaneous costs that I've missed, but hopefully they aren't large-ticket items. With these fees, the total expected amount for us will be $30,335.

Financial Assistance

There are two very large sources of financial aid that we can take advantage of when adoption. The first is from the federal Adoption Assistance Program. The program offers a $12,170 tax credit for all adoption-related expenses. It's important to note that this is a credit, and not a deduction, so it will literally be a dollar-for-dollar reimbursement of our adoption expenses.

Additionally, Brian and I each work for an employer that offers $5,000 towards adoption expenses for a child, which can be used in addition to the federal credit. (It turns out that a large number of employers offer similar programs in various amounts.)

Between these two sources, we hope to receive reimbursements for $22,170 of our adoption expenses. (The federal tax credit is set to expire after 2012, but is likely to be renewed as it has been for multiple years now.) That means we expect to pay approximately $8,165 out of pocket.

Why So Much?

Open Adopt as an agency focuses very much on providing a full range of free options counseling to pregnant women. Only about 20% of the women they work with end up making an adoption plan. To that extent, much of the fees we pay the agency goes towards their counseling program. They're a non-profit agency that receives donations as well, but that only makes up some of their operating expenses.

Additionally, each counselor spends a significant amount of time working with both pregnant women and waiting adoptive families, so fees also go towards paying for their salaries. To that extent, I'm actually surprised the fees aren't higher - the counselors have to take a large number of hours to complete our interviews and homestudy!

Any variable fees that directly benefit a birthmother (paying for pre-natal care, for example) must be approved by a court before they are paid. This step is designed to make sure that there is no coercion happening, and to ensure that even the appearance of buying or selling a child is avoided.

Where We're At

The agency operates on a "pay as you go" system: whenever we move forward from one stage to the next, we pay the fee for that stage. We've currently paid for the pre-adoption seminar and the application/intake interview; we'll have to pay for the homestudy and for pool entry before we actually go into the pool of waiting families. All the remaining expenses after that will not be paid until we're chosen by a birth mother.

So there you go! Adoption can be quite expensive, but there's also assistance available, and the costs seem manageable in the end. I'm curious how this compares to a pregnant woman's healthcare costs - anyone out there have anything to add about that in the comments?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Application and Intake Interview

We've been overdue for an update for a little while, so luckily we've got some fun news to pass along!  On Wednesday, Andy and I went to the OA&FS office in Seattle to meet with Katie for our Application and Intake Interview meeting.  After completing the seminar at the end of February and submitting our application right away, we've been essentially on hold in the process until this meeting.
  • Information Meeting
  • Pre-Adoption Seminar
  • Application Submission
  • Application & Intake Interview
  • Homestudy Interview #1
  • Homestudy Interview #2
  • Homestudy Interview #3
  • Homestudy Interview #4
  • Homestudy Completion
  • Pool Entry
  • Waiting in the Pool
  • Chosen by Birthfamily
During the meeting, we talked about a lot of things such as the remaining steps in our process.  The majority of the meeting was spent with our counselor, Katie, asking questions to get to know us.  She asked several questions such as "How did you decide on adoption?" "How do you feel about openness?" and "How and when did each of you decide that you wanted to have children?".  Even though we may seem pretty far into the process already, one of the main purposes of this meeting was for our counselor to confirm that we were a fit for their program.  To put it bluntly, saying the wrong answers could either delay us from moving forward or keep us from moving forward with OA&FS entirely.  Luckily, Andy and I didn't have to worry about those issues as we are ready to be adoptive parents and support the agency's primary philosophy of openness.

On a personal level for me,  I was able to give a great story in support of openness.  I've only ever known that I am 1/4 Swedish, 1/16 Native American, and then a mix of 'Other'.  Being a dork that loves history, it feels really cool to me to be directly connected to specific cultures.  While it's easy to tie my Swedish ancestry to Sweden, my 1/16 Native American ancestry is right in my backyard and I barely know anything about it.  The best I had to work on was that my great-great-grandmother on my dad's side was "full blood Sioux."  That's sort of helpful except that Sioux isn't really a specific tribe and there are a lot of missing pieces there.  For me, this isn't a huge deal, but it is a regret that I don't know more.  This example is something that translates in a huge way to an adopted child.  Without an open adoption and contact with the birthparents, there's almost a guarantee that our child would have no idea about their heritage.

So after all of the touchy-feely questions and stories, Katie got down to the "nuts and bolts" discussion.  First off, Katie is the Regional Supervisor based in the Seattle office, so she doesn't take on too many adoptive families due to her limited schedule.  She explained that while she would be our counselor until we are chosen, there was the potential that a contractor would do our homestudy and all of the interviews.  In the end, we both felt more comfortable with having a single point of contact so we went with having Katie handle everything for us.  That decision might slow down our progress a bit due to Katie's limited availability, but it felt like the right decision for us.  After some further discussions, the two hour meeting wrapped up and we covered the remaining steps before we can begin our homestudy.  Let's just say that we've got homework to do!

Remaining tasks prior to beginning our homestudy:
  1. E-mail Katie a copy of our Adoptive Family Info Form (already prepared)
  2. Send another check to OA&FS
  3. Send Katie drafts of our ~4 page autobiographies
  4. Send out requests for 5 recommendation letters
    • 1 from family, 4 from non-family
We're thrilled that 3 of these are really easy steps.  However, the autobiographies are really hard as it takes a lot of effort to pump out the story of your life.  Not only does it have to be coherent, but it should be well-written and interesting to a potential birth family.  Andy has already thrown together a preliminary draft on his end and I have... two paragraphs.  Apparently I'd better get moving so we can get our homestudy started!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book Review: Making Room in Our Hearts

Making Room in Our Hearts: Keeping Family Ties through Open Adoption
by Micky Duxbury
Find it on Amazon

This book was "required reading" given to us by our adoption agency, and after reading it I can see why. The sheer number of personal stories alone, from adopted children, adoptive parents, and birth parents all served to put a real human face on the concept of openness in adoption that we keep hearing so much about.

First things first, I couldn't stand the editing in this book. Or really, the lack of editing. There were a ridiculous number of grammatical errors that really made me cringe. It's one thing if I'm reading an e-mail, blog post, or some other informal writing - people make mistakes, and that's fine. In the case of a published book, though, it was really grating to see commas so badly abused!

But this is a book about adoption, not a grammatical treatise. Once I got past the superficial errors, the content of this book was really great. In talking with our agency, engaging with other families, and even reading other books about adoption, everyone keeps extolling the virtues of openness without really going into what it entails. I know that openness could mean anything from sending a few photos once a year to having dinner with a birth family every week; but what would that mean for our family on a normal, day-to-day basis?

Each chapter in this book includes stories from actual people talking about their personal experiences of openness. Most of them were what I would deem "successful"; a few had bad experiences in trying to forge a relationship with a birth family; practically none of them had the relationship that they expected. One of the overarching themes that I noticed was that respect for everyone else involved is paramount. Adoptive parents and birth parents need to recognize that each has their own separate grief and emotional baggage to work through, and they need to make sure to be cognizant of the others' needs. And at the end of the day, the entire relationship is for the good of the child, so their needs always have to come first.

This was an interesting read for me before we really start the process, and of course before we meet the birth family that we'll eventually forge a relationship with.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Application Done!

We've finished our application! After taking Open Adopt's Pre-Adoption Seminar, we were allowed to send in all the application forms and start moving forward from there. Next steps: they'll assign us a counselor who will schedule an "Application Interview" with us, and will then take us through the entire homestudy process. Hopefully that interview will happen in the next 2-3 weeks, although we were told the 3 counselors they have in Seattle have been inundated recently, so it might be a few more weeks than normal before we get in for the interview.

(Yeah, there are a lot of steps in the process; see our post on the whole adoption process. We're in the middle of the second step we listed out.)

Just for the record (and because we're proud of getting them done!), here's all the forms we just had to turn in for this stage:
  1. Intake form (one each for Andy and Brian)
  2. Adoptive Family Information Form
  3. Financial Status Form
  4. Health History Form (one each)
  5. Grievance Policy Form
  6. General Release of Information  (one each)
  7. Acknowledgment of Adoption Assistance Availability
  8. Authorization for Credit Background Check (one each)
  9. WA State Criminal Background Form (one each)
  10. FBI Authorization for Release of Information (one each)
  11. Fingerprint Cards for Background Check (one each)
  12. Out of State CPS Clearance Form (one each)
  13. Federal Income Tax Return (one each)
  14. Signed Copy of OA&FS Contract for Adoption Services
Phew! Glad that's done :) The homestudy has its own set of forms we'll have to do, but those will be much different (and potentially harder). Whereas most of these were simply biographical, the homestudy forms will require a lot more thought and prose writing. For instance, we'll each have to write an autobiography, detailing all important formative elements of our lives (especially with regard to what brought us to adoption and wanting a family), and it should be under 4 pages. Yikes!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pre-Adoption Seminar, Day 2: Brian's Take

After wrapping up our last day of the pre-adoption seminar, everything is feeling a lot more real now that we've completed what is listed as the first major step of the adoption process with our agency.   We covered lots of important topics and met some adoptive parents which has been a great experience.

To start out the morning, we met a new member from OA&FS, Maria.  Depending on our counselor assignment, she could actually become our counselor which made it exciting to meet her in person.  For the last half of the day, another counselor (Courtney) took over.  In the end, we met two of our three possible counselors.  (We'll know which counselor gets assigned to us once we send in/they receive and process our application.)

So back to the seminar, we spent the morning talking about the back half of the adoption process that begins once adoptive parents are chosen by a birthmother/birthfamily.  In the afternoon, we had a discussion with an attorney, reviewed transracial adoption, and walked through the steps we have remaining until we can join the pool of waiting families!

Since it's been a rather busy day, I'll keep this post a short one as Andy has already posted his perspective on Day 2.  Over the next few days, we'll be posting some more exciting updates about our adoption journey.  Of course, I won't leave you hanging without any fun nuts and bolts-y details.  Here's a set of intriguing highlights that I scribbled down in my notes during the seminar.  I hope you find them interesting!
  • Most people in the waiting family pool are in their 40's
  • Birthparents have a lot less preparation about open adoption and the entire adoption process than adoptive parents (Ex: All adoptive parents take a pre-adoption seminar!)
  • It's common for birthmoms not to find out/accept they're pregnant until later in the pregnancy.  I hadn't thought about this, but it makes sense as most adoption cases are not the result of planned pregnancies.
  • Average ages of involved parties
    • Birthmoms - 22 years
    • Birthfathers - 24 years
    • Adoptive parents - 40 years
  • If we get a last minute placement (chosen from the maternity ward in the hospital), Andy and I would get a call and may only have 1 hour to decide if that is a good match for us.  Low stress!
  • All adopted children technically have 2 birth certificates.  The birthmom/birthfamily name the baby and a birth certificate is created.  When placement goes through with the courts, a second birth certificate is created and the first birth certificate is sealed.  Depending on the preferences of the birth and adoptive parties, the birth certificates could have the same name or different names.

Pre-Adoption Seminar, Day 2: Andy's Take

What a day! If yesterday was all about Emotions!, Emotions!, Emotions!, then today was Logistics!, Logistics!, Logistics! We spent a full 8 hours talking through every step of the adoption process, and I'm dealing with major information overload right now. It was a great seminar all in all - I just think I need a bit of time to process it all!

First off, the view from the conference room:
"This is what adoption looks like." - Brian
A Seattle law firm donates one of their conference rooms to the agency for the seminar, so we were treated to fantastic views from the 28th floor yesterday and today. If nothing else, it made for great views of the Sound whenever my mind was wandering a bit!

The first part of the morning was spent talking about how the agency does outreach and counseling to pregnant women. They were very adamant that they provide "options counseling" to pregnant women, which means they help them explore all the options available to them in the course of their pregnancy. In practice, that includes helping them choose among three options: to parent the child themselves, to have an abortion, or to place the child for adoption. Even though the agency has "adoption" in its name, adoption is actually only chosen by about 20% of the women that they counsel.

The agency's philosophy seems to really put pregnant women first here, and I like that about it. The counseling provided to women who are going through unplanned pregnancies is provided free of charge, so they are able to fully explore all avenues available to them whatever their particular financial/insurance/economic situation. As it turns out, this is where much of the fees we'll have to pay go - even though Open Adopt is a non-profit that does its own fundraising, adoptive family fees pay for much of the expectant mother outreach. And I'm glad we're working with an agency that operates this way. On the side of the pregnant women, it really seems like they'll get the attention they need to make a fully informed decision, regardless of what that decision is. And on our side, it benefits us in that very few of the expectant parents who choose adoption during their pregnancy end up changing their mind at the time of the birth, since they've been given the opportunity to look at all the options.

Next up, we got to meet some adoptive families who had worked with the agency in the past. Both families brought along their little ones (one toddler, and one who was only six months), and it was great to see a couple "success stories". It seems that at every meeting we've been too, there's always a birth mother, adoptive parent, or some other person there to provide a personal story - but that never gets old for me! In the midst of all the paperwork and process we see looming ahead, it's nice to be reminded every now and then why we're doing this.

Together, those two topics took up the entire morning session. We had a great lunch with Andrew and Angela, a couple who's traveled all the way from Milwaukee to work with OA&FS. They actually have a daughter already who's almost 3, so they're now working on their second child. It was really nice to share experiences with other people who are going through this process with us but are coming from a very different place in life. Of course, they have more work ahead of them tomorrow: since they're from out of town, they're spending another day tomorrow doing a lot of the interviews and other work that we'll have spread out over the next few weeks and months.

The afternoon mainly consisted of a session with an adoption lawyer (spelling out a lot of the legal aspects of adoption) and a further in depth explanation of all the application, interview, and homestudy work that is waiting for us before we go into the pool of waiting families. Both were really useful, if maybe a bit difficult to follow at times. The lawyer was really nice and one of the better speakers of the seminar, and did a good job of preparing us for some of the legal issues that are likely to surface for us. And while we'd heard before about what the homestudy would involve, we got a lot more detail and I feel like I know much more what to expect moving forward.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent on a number of other issues, many of which honestly weren't as memorable for me. (Maybe I was just running low on blood sugar!) We spent time talking about promoting healthy attachments to children as soon as possible after birth, transracial adoptions, prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, and general child development, among other things. All of these are important topics, yes, but we just skimmed through a lot of them. According to the facilitator, by spending a little bit of time now we were satisfying the state's educational requirement for adoptive parents; but I definitely felt like we barely scratched the surface on any of them, and so we'll need to do a lot more reading on our own in the next few months!

Over the course of both days, we had three counselors from the agency facilitate the seminar at various times. There's only one more counselor out of the Seattle office, which means we've most likely met the woman who we'll be working with throughout our application and homestudy! That seems a bit weird to me, especially since we don't know which one she'll be yet, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

Anyway, I guess I've rambled enough now - after all the information I got today, I feel like I just needed to throw out a bit of a brain dump here. Now, I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep, and then getting on with things as soon as we can!