It happens all the time, people tell me that they would love to adopt but they are intimidated by the process or don’t know where to start. If you are one of those, here is a short guide on what to do and how to do it.

Stage One: Starting the adoption process

This might seem obvious but the decisions you make during this stage may determine how successful your adoption process will be. It involves:

  • Making the decision to pursue adoption. If you have a partner, you need tomake this decision together.
  • Choosing a social worker and / or agency. Popular culture has led people to believe that they can adopt without a social worker. This is incorrect and frankly inadvisable. You need a social worker to help you navigate through all of the legal challenges of adoption and shield you from exploitation (there are always people who will take advantage of you if you are desperate for a child).

Top tips:

  1. Only social workers accredited for adoption are able to process adoptions. Be sure to check your social worker’s credentials before you begin.
  2. Where possible, try to get a personal recommendation before you choose a social worker. If in doubt, contact the National Adoption Coalition for a list of reputable social workers and agencies.
  3. Remember that your social worker will evaluate your suitability to be adoptive parents and drive the process of selecting your child so it is essential that you are compatible and able to trust her.
  4. Agencies and social workers vary is their pricing, timing and policies. Be sure that they disclose these details and that you take them into account when selecting one.
  5. If possible, avoid agency hopping—it can be a cause of concern for social workers.

Stage Two: The screening process

The screening process may seem quite daunting but don’t be put off— while time consuming, these tasks are relatively easy for you and your partner to complete. They include:

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  • Participating in a series of qualifying interviews with your social worker
  • Obtaining a police clearance
  • A medical, including blood tests and a chest x-ray
  • A psychological assessment
  • Compiling a summary of your finances
  • Obtaining clearances from the National Child Protection Register and National Register of Sexual Offenders
  • A marriage assessment (or an evaluation of your previous relationships)
  • Submitting references (three per partner)
  • A group session
  • A home visit from your social worker
  • Creating a family profile (without identifying features). This is given to biological mothers who want to choose their child’s adoptive family and the social workers who will match your family to a suitable child.

If everything is in order, your social worker will confirm your eligibility, list you on the national adoption database and start looking for a child for you.

Top tips:

  1. Social workers are very busy people but for the most part, the screening process will move as quickly as you want it to.
  2. Some of these tasks involve expense (such as the medical, police clearance and psychological assessment). Be sure to budget for them.
  3. Social workers are open to you stating your preferences regarding your child (including age, gender, health, race and whether the child was abandoned or given up for adoption consensually). Be specific, but realistic (for example, if you are an older couple with children and you want a white new-born baby, you may not be successful). Also remember that some criteria make it harder for the social worker to find you the right child and this will make your wait longer.

Stage Three: Waiting for a child

This is often the hardest part of the process. After a period of heightened activity everything goes quiet for a bit and it seems that not much is happening.   But nothing could be further from the truth. While you are waiting, your social worker is busy looking for suitable children and your child’s social worker (usually not the same person) is ensuring that the child selected for you has been qualified for adoption.

Stage Four: Meeting your child

And finally you get the call—your social worker has a child for you. She will brief you about the child and ask if you want to proceed. If you agree, she will organise for you to meet your child.

Places of Safety handle these meetings differently. We visited our daughter for three days before taking her home. We learnt her routine and preferences and were allowed to feed, bath and change her, put her down for naps and introduce her to our family.

While everyone is understandably anxious to take their child home immediately, this time is essential for bonding and if the child is older or particularly anxious, homecoming may be delayed.

When you take your child home, the Place of Safety will provide you with the necessary documentation which will authorise you to keep him or her in your home until such time as the legalities are finalised.

Stage Five: Completing the legalities

The last stage involves completing the legalities through the Children’s court. This includes:

  • The social workers submitting all of the documentation to the court.
  • Adoptive parents signing papers to effect the child’s change of name.
  • The court granting the adoption order and changing the child’s surname to that of the adoptive parents (if required).
  • Sending the order to the National Adoption Register for registration.

The child then becomes the legal child of the adoptive parents (as if s/he were born to them) and has all of the same rights as a biological child.

Once the legalities are complete, adoptive parents can apply to Home Affairs for a new birth certificate which includes the adoptive parent’s details and the child’s new name. This should take three to six months.

The adoption process may seem lengthy and complex, and to some extent it is. But from experience, I know that one day when you look into your child’s eyes, it will all be worth it.