Adoption is a lifelong process that does not end with the legal filing of court documents.
The process of adopting a child can prove lengthy, costly and be laced with emotional ups and downs. Despite this, parents and hopefuls across the world continue to embark on the journey with the goal of expanding their families and bringing home a child.
Once families have done the research and decided to adopt, the search begins for a child. Choosing which avenue to travel is a key factor in cost, wait and placement. While there are many paths to adoption, there are four avenues that are most common domestically: foster care, foster-to-adopt, infant adoption and independent adoption. Other factors such as an open adoption, allowing some contact with birth family or a closed adoption which limits all identifying information with sealed records play a role.
Intrafamily adoption allows a child to be born and adopted within the same family. Used commonly for stepparents, intrafamily adoption can occur with any family that shares a bloodline. A family in Detroit knew this would be the best route for them.
“I’ve always wanted to adopt for as long as I can remember. We started this process when my partner’s cousin lost custody of his kid. Either the baby went to foster care or a family member. For us it wasn’t a question. You take care of your family. So, when the birth parents’ parental rights were terminated, we knew we wanted to adopt,” says Zoey Smith.
The adoption process is laden with paperwork and home assessments. It can prove tedious when agencies comb through financial, medical and other records. But potential parents must prove to be in compliance with Michigan laws to be considered for adoption
Each year, approximately 135,000 babies are adopted in the United States. In 2019, of all children adopted, over 32,000 were white. Black children accounted for just over 11,000 of those adopted, with many being left in foster care. A Detroit organization is helping to place Black children in safe homes via adoption. Homes for Black Children, established in 1969, is the oldest Black adoption initiative in the country. Recognized in the Congressional Record, the organization has helped to place thousands of children.
“We are considered a child–placing agency which means we have services in adoption and in foster care. We are a referral source for the Department of Social Services when they have children who have been removed from their home after allegations of abuse or neglect and we work with the family attempting to reunion children with birth family,” says Jacquelynn Moffett, president of the organization.
As of 2020, more than 12,000 children are in foster care and close to 3,000 children are ready for legal adoption across the state according to Michigan’s Adoption Services Program. While foster care is one of the most common ways adopted children are placed, the process can be long. Average wait times can exceed more than 18 months for the process to be finalized.
“We are still in the adoption process. We started with foster care. So, to give you a timeline we have had our son since he was 17 days old and he is now 19 months. We hope everything will be finalized by his second birthday,” says Smith.
Adoptions can occur internationally but require more than one country’s government to be involved. A report released by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, 4,059 children were adopted internationally in 2018. Black children born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Ethiopia and Uganda are most sought after in adoptions. Despite high numbers of children needing placement both internationally or domestically, Black families are adopting at a great rate.
“One of the misnomers is that Black families don’t adopt and that’s not the case. Statistically, Black families adopt at a higher percentage than any other ethnic group. Going back to slavery, Africans Americans have always taken care of children that were not their birth family, so, we have a history of being caretakers for our community,” says Moffett.
Black families looking to adopt are encouraged to deep dive into agencies and methods to find the best fit for their family.
“Adoption gives children a permanent home who otherwise may not ever experience a real family,” says Smith. “I think that more Black families should consider adoption because our children definitely deserve better. It can be messy, especially when it involves family, but from the beginning we made a decision to put the needs of this child first and not feed into the egos of adults.”