How is the adoption process started?
In Virginia there are two paths to adoption, agency placements and non-agency adoptions. Agency placements are through local social services departments or state licensed child placement agencies, this is frequently adoption through foster care.
Non-agency adoptions are for children not in custody of an agency. Non-agency adoptions are commonly family adoptions, such as stepparent or grandparent adoptions, or the adoption of an adult. And international adoptions also fall under non-agency adoptions.
For both types of adoption, the first step in the adoption process is selecting an agency to work with. Filling out an application is the next step. This is a self-report of you, your income, health and family history and other relevant information. Then a social worker will be assigned to guide you through the process once the application is submitted.
There are multiple requirements to fill before the adoption can be finalized. This includes training courses and an intensive home study. The home study will assess your suitability as a parent, and the suitability of your family and home. Each step of the process requires individual fees.
Who can’t adopt in Virginia?
In Virginia there are very few restrictions on who can adopt. Married couples, single parents, intended parents in a surrogacy contract, stepparents, individuals who already have custody of a child placed through an agency, and same-sex couples are all legally able to adopt in Virginia. The few restrictions are limited to individuals with criminal backgrounds involving children or violent crimes, or sex offenses. However, individuals with non-violent offenses will have a chance to explain their background and what they’ve learned since their conviction to the social worker during the home study.
What is a home study?
The next step in the process is the home study. The home study is an intensive investigation of you, your lifestyle, finances, home and home life. And the child, as well as the child’s situation will be investigated. A licensed agency must complete the home study and write an official report of the findings.
The home study report must, by law, include whether you as the prospective parent are financially and morally suitable, and in good physical and mental health. It must include the child’s physical and mental health status, why the child is being adopted and what role the birth parents will play, if still alive. And lastly, the report must also state what fees have been paid for any and all parts of the adoption process. This home study report is valid for 36 months and must be presented before a judge for a consent hearing once the child is at least 3 days old.
The consent hearing is a required step where the birth parents or the individual or agency in custody of the child must consent to the adoption in front of the judge. However, if the child is 14 or older they must consent to the adoption themselves.
How is adoption finalized?
In an agency placement adoption, the social worker will then guide you through finding a child for adoption, if this has not already taken place. Once a child is chosen, they will be placed in your home with regular follow up visits from the social worker. By Virginia law, the child must be in your home for at least 6 months with at least 3 visits from the social worker before the adoption can be finalized. Once the requirements have been satisfied, and the social worker is satisfied with the transition of the child, the adoption can be legally finalized.
The adoption must be finalized and officially ordered through the Circuit Court judge. Hiring an attorney for this process is highly recommended and adoption agencies can usually recommend one in your area.
What about international adoptions?
The process for international adoptions is similar but you would want to find an agency that specializes in inter-country adoptions. The main difference between intra-country and inter-country adoptions is that you will need to travel to their country of residence to follow the adoption laws there. This process can take many months – and sometimes years – of back and forth travel to complete the process.
The legal process for international adoptions includes the home study as described above. But also involves additional steps with Immigration and Naturalization Services, as well as a consent hearing with the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services consenting to the placement in court. The child cannot be brought into the country until this is complete.
How much does adoption in Virginia cost?
As far as the costs of adoption in Virginia, this will depend on which route is taken. Adopting from foster care is the least expensive option. According to American Adoptions, fees are estimated to be no more than about $300. And these fees may possibly be reimbursed after the adoption is finalized. Actual fees depend on the agency, however, and some agencies may require higher fees. According to adoption.com the fees can cost upwards of $20,000-$40,000. Some agencies provide fee discounts such as pastor or military discounts. There are also quite a few grants available to help with expenses.
Does health insurance cover adoption expenses?
According to Aetna’s 5 Questions to Ask When You’re Considering Infertility Treatment, some insurance policies may cover some adoption expenses. Contacting your employer’s HR representative or insurance representative can help clarify if and what adoption expenses are covered by your policy. Aetna also adds that Health Savings Accounts can be used for adoption expenses. So setting aside savings for adoption expenses can be done with multiple tax related benefits with a Health Savings Account. The downside is that Health Savings Accounts are only available to individuals on certain high deductible insurance plans.
What kind of support is available?
A lot of time, energy, emotion, and financial resources goes into the adoption process, whichever path you take. An Adoption Doula may be an invaluable resource during this time to help guide you through the process, physically and emotionally. If you’re interested in Adoption Support Services with Cedar Creek Holistic Services, please contact me to discuss. If you’re located in Winchester, VA, be sure to check out the Local Resources page for adoption services in the area.
Have you adopted in Virginia? Share your experience below in the comments!
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