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When is an Adoptive Family a Family? The Post-Placement to Finalization Period

In honor of National Adoption Month, we’re bringing you a series this week on adoption and fostering. We hope “A Road to Adoption” provides helpful information for those considering the journey and those who’ve already started! 

The most commonly known aspect of adoption is that no matter how you bring your child home, it is a process. Paperwork and meeting with professionals begin far before you bring your baby home and for a while after. The time after that amazing day meeting your baby to when the process is officially a wrap is called “post-placement”.

In Texas, it’s a six-month period that includes monthly visits with a social worker and, at most open adoption agencies, monthly letters and photos to the birth parent. During this time, the parents are formally and legally referred to as “foster guardians.”

The official birth certificate with your baby’s name (and parents listed as well) is issued at the adoption finalization, which takes place in a courthouse in the city in which your adoption agency is located.

Because of the complexity of the information I shared above, it is a common perception that adoptive families aren’t “official” until six months after coming home together. Legally, this can be seen as true. Personally, it has opened a more interesting conversation to me. What is it that counts a family as a family?

The biggest resource I had in Heidi’s adoption and the number one thing I recommend to others beginning the adoption process is to find resources for candid and knowledgeable training and support. Our family was fortunate to work with Adoption Advocates, a Texas agency that provides a free weekend seminar with everything from social worker led discussions to birth and adoptive parent panels.

During this weekend, we learned a social worker’s take on the post-placement period, which was that it’s not about the validity of your family, but leaving a happy trail of paperwork so state officials can see how happy and adjusted your baby is in his or her new home. Our social worker told us that in her almost 50 years in adoption, she had never had a post-placement fail to finalize due to a court decision. This was what I needed to hear to know that the second we all climbed into my new station wagon for the first time, we really were a family forever.Lilly - Adoption Process 2

During my first six months with Heidi, I never felt like she was borrowed or that I was legally her foster guardian.

She went by the name we gave her, we took her to the doctor on our insurance and we mailed birth announcements and enrolled her in child care just like any other family. Social worker visits are a lot to juggle when trying to get a new baby on routine, and some agencies even offer visits in a group environment to make it easier on families and facilitate discussions. My advice is to make every effort when looking for an adoption agency to make sure you have a good connection with their social worker. In the end, you spend a lot more time with them than you think and often when you’ve had very little sleep or would love a moment to yourself!

All of the extra process is just a small part of the beginning of the special joy of adoption, and in the end you have a special gift – your special adoption day!

Before our day at the courthouse, I really did not think much about it. All of our paperwork was set, we had a wonderful attachment to Heidi and it seemed as process to me as getting a marriage certificate.

Lily - Adoption Process 1

I think any new parent will tell you, though, at the six-month mark who wouldn’t give the world to have someone tell you that you’re doing a good job with your child and they’re happy to remind you that she is yours forever? I was absolutely surprised by how overcome with emotion I was to hold Heidi while hearing those words, and it will always be one of my very happiest memories.

In the end, our adoption finalization did not say to me that we were a family. That was decided the first time I held Heidi, the first time I gave her a bath and the long but memorable nights learning her personality over bottles and swaddling.

Lilly - Adoption Process 3

 

I am so thankful that our adoptive training helped me let go of the common fear that comes with post-placement follow up and to open myself to it as an experience. This helped me to learn more about adoption from our social worker and to provide information to the state that continues to prove that adoption is a happy thing for children and families. The process of welcoming home our daughter might have been different, but like all other families: it started with love, love carried us through it and it was meant to be the moment I saw her.

The Road To Adoption

 

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heidi mom picLilly is a Dallasite, marketing director and mom to Heidi, who was welcomed to our family via domestic open adoption. I have blogged about my life and exploring Dallas at Pancakes and Beet Juice, and since Heidi’s arrival I’ve enjoyed sharing about our adoption there.

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