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Archive for Sunday, March 29, 1998

ADOPTION FILLS FAMILY VOID

March 29, 1998

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The trend in open adoptions is giving more parents a say and help with adoption.

It seemed like a message from above. Infertility had left Pam and John Mitchell without children. Within months of making the decision to adopt a child, the couple found a lawyer and a birth couple. To top it off, the baby's due date was Oct. 21, John's birthday.

``I knew I wanted to have children,'' Pam said. ``And I knew if we really wanted this child we'd find a way.''

Through the attorney, the Mitchells worked out an adoption with the birth parents. At midnight on Oct. 9, the call came early, and they raced to the hospital to met their new daughter, Taylor.

About four years later, the couple got a call from the same attorney. He'd found another couple, one that wanted their child to have a sibling.

``In the back of my mind, I didn't want Taylor to be an only child,'' Pam said. ``But I would have been content.''

After meetings with the birth parents and family, a second adoption went the Mitchell's way and baby Matthew came home.

``I never thought it would happen that easy,'' John said. ``I certainly never thought if would happen that easy twice. This was really God's hand in action.''

Method of choice

The Mitchells began their quest for a child through adoption agencies. But requirements about the length of marriage and the parents' age ruled them out.

``We hadn't been married long, and by the time we met that requirement we were past the age,'' Pam said.

``Despite what they told us, we went home and told our parents we were going to explore adoption,'' John said.

A friend at church suggested the attorney who knew a birth couple, and the Mitchells began putting together portfolios.

``I thought this could be the first of many times that we do this,'' John said.

In each adoption, the Mitchells helped pay for expenses related to the baby and medical care. With that, traveling costs and attorney's fees, they estimate they paid under $10,000 to finalize each adoption, some of which was paid by health insurance. Many agency and state adoptions can cost twice as much.

In a case similar to the Mitchells', Nancy North-Farrell, Lawrence, and her family made the decision to adopt.

Through agencies, the family waited seven years and spent more than $20,000 on their first adoption. For the second, they went with an attorney-adoption in hopes of speeding up the process and cutting costs.

``In an agency-adoption, they hold all the power,'' North-Farrell said. ``I wanted a sense of empowerment.''

By dealing with the birth parents directly, the family spent only $5,000 on the second adoption, mostly in attorney's fees, and waited only a few months.

Push toward openness

Today open adoptions like those that brought the Mitchells their two children and the Farrells their last -- quickly and relatively cheaply -- are becoming more and more popular, say social workers and adoption agency personnel. The main thing pushing the openness is parents' desire to meet, they say.

Open adoptions come in many forms, from ones coordinated by an attorney to ones led by an agency, with arrangements custom-made for each set of parents.

``We don't have many adoptive parents who don't want to meet,'' said Rachel Crews, Kansas regional coordinator for The Gladney Center, an adoption agency based in Texas which opened a regional office in Lawrence on March 12. ``Over 95 percent of our clients (birth parents) do.''

Crews said that during the past few years she's seen a gradual change in people's desires to meet and interact with birth parents. In the past, adoptions were very closed and only the birth parents had any chance of opening the adoption. With many agencies now, either side can make the request and begin the process at any time.

``In the end, it can be a real positive experience,'' Crews said. ``If their child ever asks the question, the adoptive parents can say, `Oh, we met them, and they are great. This was the best for you.'''

The Mitchells said their relationship with Taylor and Matthew's birth parents helps everyone feel comfortable with past decisions. They share photos and letters with birth families and occasionally visit with Matthew's biological family.

``My feeling is if we didn't meet them these would be invisible people that we'd always wonder about,'' John said. ``Especially on Matt's side, they have this feeling this was the right thing.''

Finding the reason

In Kansas, the majority of adoption services have been farmed out by the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) which maintains some oversight in adoptions. The change was a direct result of trying to speed up, uncomplicate and reduce the cost of adoption.

Depending on the needs of the birth and adoptive parents, adoptions can take months or years, Crews said. Personal attorney adoptions tend to be quicker and cost less. An agency

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adoption will cost more and could take longer, as does an adoption through SRS. Crews and SRS representatives estimated the average adoption through organizations such as theirs will cost $15,000 to $20,000.

Douglas County's SRS office handles an average of four adoptions a month. Statewide, more than 2,000 children are available through the system, an average of 40 of which are adopted monthly. Every type of child and every type of family are in that pool.

``These are families who have some reason to adopt,'' said Ginger Bouza, adoption contract specialist with the Lawrence SRS office. ``They are able to care for people's needs and want to take care of the kids' needs. Maybe they are foster families who switch over because they don't want to do that goodbye part.''

Many families, she said, worry about dealing with those future questions about birth families a child can have; questions that may create problems.

``Adoptive kids will go through the same phases all kids do, but there are other issues that will come up,'' she said.

Classes, support groups and visiting with other adoptive parents can help ease those worries, she said. However, to meet birth parents through the state system, children must wait until they turn 18 and SRS does the contacting.

But a greater fear, Crews said, is of loosing an adoptive child to birth parents who change their minds years later.

``It's understandable,'' she said. ``In reality, if you talk to the birth parents that helps and really makes them feel better about their decision.''

John and Pam said they think daily about the birth parents, but never worry.

``It is something you hear about,'' John said. ``I think those are cases where the attorneys involved have done a poor job. I don't worry about those things.''

One happy family

With Taylor now 6 years old and Matthew just over 19 months, the Mitchells said their family is complete, but others may not be.

``I would say to others, adoption is really something that should be considered,'' John said. ``It may not be right for everybody, but if you feel you can't raise your child the way you'd like to raise them, it can be.''

North-Farrell whose battle in the system for seven years for her first daughter said adoptive parents and birth parents need to be committed to adoption and never give up hope.

``You'd better be ready for a roller-coaster ride,'' she said. ``There needs to be a level of commitment there because this is going to take time.''

``Just tell everyone you know,'' Pam advised parents who may want to adopt. ``There is a child out there for you.''

-- Selena Stevens' phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is selena@ljworld.com.

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