For information on how to begin the adoption process, contact the SWAN Helpline at 1-800-585-7926 (SWAN).
There are two sides to the adoption process: preparing the child legally and emotionally for adoption and preparing the prospective family. Both involve a lot of evaluation, paperwork, and decision-making by judges, agencies, parents, and of course, the children themselves. It is SWAN’s mission to help both sides of the adoption process work together quickly and smoothly.
A child might be voluntarily placed into the system by parents who are having difficulty caring for their children. Or children might be taken out of their homes by a court order. Ultimately each of these children will do one or more of the following:
After the child is placed into the system, the county agency must first work with the child’s family to resolve the issues that led to placement. If a timely resolution is not possible, the agency can recommend that a child be considered for adoption. A judge will then hold a hearing to decide if adoption is the best course of action for the welfare of the child.
But even before a child can be considered available for adoption, parental rights must be terminated, meaning that the legal relationship between the biological parent(s) and child is ended. Termination can be done voluntarily (if both biological parents agree) or involuntarily when the agency is able to prove parental abuse, neglect, or incapacity that cannot or will not be remedied.
If parental rights have been terminated and no adoptive family is identified, the child is registered with the Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange. Currently in Pennsylvania, more than 3,000 children are waiting to be adopted.
The Prospective Adoptive Parents
Some prospective adoptive parents already know the child they want to adopt--especially in the case of foster parents hoping to adopt their foster children or relatives of children available for adoption. Other parents do not have a particular child in mind and need more information before they can get started. But it is fair to say that all adoptive parents enter the process with different expectations and levels of knowledge.
Parents who wish to adopt an infant will generally seek the services of a private adoption agency, while parents interested in adopting a child with special needs or an older child will most likely be working with a county agency or a SWAN affiliate agency.
All prospective parents need to fill out an application and undergo an initial screening. You will need to supply a doctor’s statement certifying that you are basically healthy, provide some financial records, and undergo a criminal background check and child abuse clearance to ensure the child’s safety. If you or any member of your household has been named as a perpetrator of a founded child abuse report, or convicted of a drug- or alcohol-related felony within the previous five years, or ever convicted of any one of a specific list of sexual or violent crimes, your application will not be considered. Personal references will also be required.
The Family Profile (Home Study)
After the initial screening, parents must complete an adoptive family profile, also called a home study. The home study is a series of meetings between you and an agency worker to determine if your home would be a safe, caring place to raise an adoptive child, as well as to help prepare you for the adoption. The format of these meetings depends on the agency; some conduct individual interviews with parents, others hold group sessions with several families.
These meetings are meant to provide you with an opportunity to ask questions and get answers. Some of the questions that may be addressed include: What will the costs be? Can the agency help identify financial aid for the child? What are some of the daily challenges of raising a child with special needs? Are there post-adoption services available? Does the agency sponsor peer support groups or provide access to parents in adoption situations that are similar to mine? Where will the child sleep? If all of the adults in the household work, who will look after the child?
During most study periods, it is required that one of these meetings is held in your home. The thought of a home visit intimidates many prospective parents. It shouldn’t. Agency workers are interested in bringing families together.
The social worker will want to know about things like your life experiences, reasons for wanting to adopt, what kind of child you want to adopt and your previous experience with children. If you are a married couple, the worker will want to know the stability of the marriage, how you handle everyday pressures and disagreements and how each of you feels about adopting. If you are single or divorced, you might be asked if there is any family member who can baby-sit or help out in case you are sick.
The Final Steps
Once the family profile is completed, the agency will begin to let you know about waiting children who might be a good match. The social worker will give you all the child’s available information: family background, including what events led to the child being removed from his or her family, or anything that might affect the child’s health, intellectual ability or ability to bond with a new family. You’ll get a chance to meet the child and spend time together before making any decisions. If you and the child both feel comfortable, the county agency with custody of the child can then arrange to bring the child into your home.
Once a child is placed with you for adoption, you will need to have your lawyer file a “Report of Intent To Adopt.” Before the adoption can be finalized, there is a period of supervision and support for the child and the new family. Usually this period lasts about three to six months; however, the child must be in the home for a six-month period prior to finalization. Foster parents who have already had the child placed with them may be able to have the adoption finalized sooner.