Welcome back to Basic Questions and Answers about Adoption.

Today’s question is often asked both by prospective adoptive parents and members of the public in general.  There are kids who need homes and parents who want to adopt them.  Why can’t we bring members of these groups together without dragging the process on for months or years?

Good question.  Here’s why:

On the prospective-parent side of things, the answer boils down to the need to determine that the parents will be suitable parents before children are placed in their homes.  Prospective parents are subjected to extensive background checks, social workers interview them and anyone who lives with them, their finances and medical histories are investigated, etc.  Agencies, birthparents and any involved governmental bodies all want to ensure that no child is ever placed in a home that in any way will be unacceptable for a child.  Of course, it would be great if all of these investigations could take place in a rapid and efficient matter.  Occasionally, I’m sure, they do.  But there are so many places for things to get stuck.  Officials have backlogs, agencies are underfunded, people have overused fingers.  (That last one happened to me.  Seriously.  Read about it here.)

With respect to the child-side of the equation, reasons vary depending on whether we’re talking about domestic or international adoption.  Domestic adoption can happen very quickly if prospective parents are willing to adopt an older child with special needs, or it can sometimes take years if parents want a healthy, Caucasian infant because far fewer such children are available for adoption in the U.S.  Also, in the U.S., the statutory requirements granting birthmothers the right to change their minds about placing their children for adoption for specified amounts of time (time periods vary from state to state) mean that a minority of adoptions do fall through and the adopting couple must begin the process again.  So yes, sometimes domestic adoptions can take a long time.

In international adoption, adoptive parents must fulfill the requirements of two national governments and one state government within the U.S.  That’s a lot of paperwork right there.  Several factors go into these requirements.  First, both the U.S. government and foreign governments (if they’re doing things right) require extensive documentation to ensure that children placed for adoption are truly orphans and/or do not have parents or other family members who can or want to care for them, and they are not the victims of child trafficking.  Second, contrary to popular belief, many foreign governments are not eager to “offload” their children onto families in adopting countries.  Some governments and citizens of countries that “adopt out” children feel ambivalence or even shame over what they perceive as their inability to care for their own children.  Consequently, they go to great lengths to make sure that there is no alternative for an individual child other than international adoption before they will grant that child’s approval.  Third, sometimes foreign governments’ procedures or wait times can change in the middle of the process, thereby lengthening adoptive parents’ waiting periods in the U.S.

So those are the complicated, rational reasons adoption takes so long.  But there’s one more reason the adoption process can drag on: red tape.  In adoption, as in so many areas where multiple governmental entities are involved, bureaucracy happens.

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