Some prospective parents enter the adoption process with very definite ideas about the child they want to adopt.  When they first call or email, they provide very specific information on the child they want and ask what the process is to obtain such a child.  While well meaning and likely based on previous thought and discussion, the reality in adoption—as well as childbirth—is that you cannot choose an exact child to parent, nurture and love.  Children are individuals, shaped by their environment, designed by biological parent genetics, and influenced greatly by their individual experiences, as varied as those may be. Each child will be wonderfully unique!

If you are adopting, certainly you should take time to truly examine what type of child would most successfully fit within your home, family and personal lifestyle.  Gender, age range, cultural heritage, race, and number of children can be listed as preferences as you begin your wish list.  These characteristics are usually chosen based upon your home composition, space available, existing number/gender/age of children, family schedule, finances, neighborhood environment, support system, and personal bias/desires.  Be realistic in looking at what is best for you and your family.

Once determined, then you will identify the special needs—medical, behavioral and developmental characteristics that you and your family could potentially support in an adopted child, by offering that child individual care, medical treatment, mental health interventions, educational services, specialized parenting skills, and dedicated lifestyle adjustments.  Not only should you look at your personal capabilities here, but also those of your spouse, existing children, extended family, and friends as everyone will in some way be part of your support system.  What services are available in your community and in your school system?  Do you have comprehensive health insurance to help cover any costs?  What does your parental “time available” really look like?  Are you willing to adjust your parenting style to accommodate a special needs child?  Will you participate in family mental health services?  Do you have reliable capable respite care?  It is also important for you to connect with a physician, preferably an international doctor, to review the potential special needs list, to assure you clearly understand any diagnoses, their needed treatments, and future responsibilities.  You will want to be well prepared and understanding of what future services may be needed so you cannot only assess what is right for you, but if you and your family can realistically handle such a condition.  It is important that you not accept more than you know in your heart that you can actually do. If that happens, you may find that the adoption will not be successful, and no adoption should ever be considered less than permanent. Go into it with confidence that you are being honest with yourself.

In adoption, whether domestic, kinship or international, no child is completely a “healthy child”. Think about this. Health is not predicated solely on medical needs; emotional well being is equally as important.  In adoptive situations, EVERY child has faced the trauma of losing their biological parent(s), the instability of not having a permanent home, and  fear of the unknown.  Additionally, many children have also experienced exposure to abuse and neglect, malnutrition or food insecurity, substance abuse by caregivers, poor maternal health care practices, elevated levels of stress and fear, and the loss of their home/friends/family/ pets/culture. Along with this can be a loss of trust and ability to easily attach. Any child who has seen or experienced any of these things cannot honestly be deemed “healthy.” Somewhere along the line that child will need to process and come to terms with the adversities he has experienced.  For some children, this may be easier than it will be for others.  Regardless, you should go into adoption with your eyes wide open to the needs that are commonly seen in adopted children, so you can be prepared to provide help to them when needed.

Why are we telling you this?  Simply, to be honest and forthright.  We want all adoptive families to understand that if they consent to adopt a child that the adoption MUST be permanent.  It is in no one’s interest to consider it “permanent with any conditions attached”. Permanent is forever!  Thus, it is crucial that you educate yourself on the cultural, behavioral, emotional, medical, developmental, and familial challenges that may occur.  Prepare as best you can.  Find and solidify a strong support system.  Explore the local services in your community. Obtain comprehensive health insurance. Find out the services your school can offer to your children. Budget for unexpected occurrences. Be willing to obtain help for yourself or your other family members if needed. Go outside of your comfort zone to learn new parenting techniques, those that work best with challenging children. Build a list of names to whom you can easily reach out for help and advice.  Nurture a sense of humor and wonder.  Prepare to be amazed!  Come into the wonderful world of becoming a loving and nurturing adoptive home both prepared and aware!  Because Adoption IS truly a wonderful world, a loving option, and a joyful way of building your family.

Karlene Edgemon works as MLJ Adoptions’ Director of Social Services. Throughout her 25 year social services career, Karlene has been able to watch adoption transform the lives of children and she is always brainstorming new ways to support adoptive families before, during and after their adoption.