Ah, gotcha day*. The adoption equivalent of a birth story. The day the little man showed up on our doorstep was a very interesting one. Since I wasn’t blogging at the time, I’ve never really shared the story until now. I’ll leave out some of the details to respect our (and others) privacy. But here it goes. . .
Our adoption process was difficult. We worked through our local DHS office to adopt a child from the foster care system. I’m happy we decided to do this, but I’m not sure if I would ever have the strength to go through that chaotic process again. The whole process took two years from beginning to end for us – we hit some hiccups along with way when we moved counties, had to re-do our paperwork, but still ended up trapped in the old county system until the error was discovered 15 minutes before our scheduled home study. That was apparently the first time our worker looked at our address. [She would have been late to our appointment even if we still lived in her county.]
The adoption process is invasive – it wasn’t a shock however, they are very clear about the process in the informational meetings. Paperwork, doctor’s appointments, classes, interviews, etc. We had to talk to strangers about our sex life.
We were required to complete nine weeks of classes. I found them to be utterly useless. There was some basic parenting information, but a lot of the class focused on trying to understand the process from your social worker’s point of view. This was not helpful.
If it were up to me, those classes would be restructured to help the foster/adopt families understand our side of the process. We would focus on where to call to get answers, how to plan visits, why things take so long. Then we would spend a huge portion talking about how to navigate the system when you have the child in your house (for a family adopting in Arkansas, the child remains in state custody for six months – most other states have a similar arrangement). Finally, we would finish up with practical information about dealing with many of the common issues these kids face and where to find help in the future. Foster and adoption families spend so much time in this process, they should be over-prepared when a child enters their household. Instead, most of us spend a huge amount of time learning to navigate the system on the backend. Unfortunately, I’m not in charge [and wouldn’t want to be! I know they are dealing with very difficult situations!], so the classes end up being more of a nuisance.
Early in the process we had a worker do a quick walk-through of or house. I don’t remember the official names for these meetings, but it was basically just to make sure we didn’t have any big problems that would prohibit a child from being placed with us – only one exit from the home, not enough space for the child in a room, non-working plumbing, etc. The full walkthrough came later in the processes and was very different than what the classes prepared us for. The little time we spend on how to prepare our house was very rigid and rule-centric. The actually experience with our social worker was much more fluid and flexible. For example, we were required to post a fire escape plan a couple of places in the house. This made no sense for us, as we were adopting a young baby, so our social worker didn’t spend a lot of time checking to make sure our plans met the strict guidelines.
Eventually, photographs and files of children start arriving in your email. In our case, what she sent us rarely matched up with our “requests.” It didn’t really matter in the end. We decided to add a 4 ½ month old son to our home – he totally went against all of the “rules” we set for ourselves in the beginning. He was still a baby. He was born with drugs in his system. It didn’t matter. He was our son. Sometimes you just know.
Next time = Part II: The Arrival
*Yes, I realize there is some controversy around the term “gotcha.” We don’t celebrate the day, so I’ve never really considered what to call it before.