Downturn takes toll on adoptions

Parents are expected to make sacrifices for their children all the time. But for Vanessa and Brian Palenske, those sacrifices came long before the baby.

Since 2006, the Basehor couple has been saving money to adopt — bargain shopping, cutting back on vacations and dining out less frequently.

But a year into the process, the Palenskes have had to turn down several matches because the $25,000 they’ve saved up wasn’t enough. Much of the unexpected costs, which is sometimes $10,000 more, comes from the attorney’s finder fees.

“The price is so astronomical, and to be honest with you, that part has been extremely frustrating,” Vanessa Palenske said. “In my mind, it doesn’t make sense for things to be so costly because we are talking about placing a price on a life.”

Economy affects adoption

Because of the economy, some couples are putting adoption plans on hold.

Some potential parents are being more conservative and others have dropped out of the adoption process altogether, said Shawn Kane, executive director of American Adoptions, an adoption agency in Overland Park.

“We have families tell us that job layoffs or cutbacks is one reason, and others are just fearful of a future layoff, so they just decide to fall out of the process,” Kane said.

Meanwhile, there’s been an increase in women who are considering giving their child up for adoption, Kane said.

“The No. 1 reason why women contact us is almost always financial. A lot of times you are dealing with women who are single parents, a lot of times they have children so they already know how hard it is to parent. Fathers many times are not in the picture,” Kane said. “They definitely love the child and they want to make sure that child has a lot of opportunity, but I think there is a lot of guilt that they can’t provide the kind of opportunity that they would like to.”

Adoptions slowing

While economic hardships haven’t deterred some families from wanting to adopt children, Rodney Huey, a spokesman for the National Council for Adoption, said it has made the process harder.

“There are no figures, but intuitively it is down because everyone is under these hardships,” Huey said.

Last year, new regulations and practices were enacted as part of the Hague Adoption Convention, which has made international adoption more complicated.

Adoption agencies nationwide have folded — either victims of the economy or the tighter restrictions and shutdowns in overseas adoption, Huey said.

The drop in the number of agencies has made the wait longer for couples.

Credit crunch

Depending on the method of adoption and whether it’s a domestic or international adoption, the price can range from $10,000 to $40,000. Federal and some state tax credits are available to offset the cost.

In the past, potential parents could fund those costs by taking out a second mortgage on their home or getting a special “adoption loan.” But those sources of funding have tightened up with the recent credit crunch. And the stock market has taken a hit on their savings.

“The downturn has made money less available, made credit less available and it has slowed the process down,” Huey said.

The Walrods

Paul and Cherri Walrod of Eudora are among those who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on adoption and have gone into debt to do so. Along with their three biological children, the family includes three children adopted internationally. One-and-a-half-year-old Samara joined the family in October.

While still paying off debt from the adoptions, Cherri Walrod has seen the income from her home day care business drop by about $1,000 a month.

To help make ends meet, the family is looking at dropping their cable television, selling a vehicle and not eating out as much.

Despite the tightening budget, Cherri Walrod said she would do the adoptions all over again.

“Our plate is obviously full, but are hearts are, too,” she said.

Parents still interested

Not everyone is seeing a decline in interested parents.

Allan Hazlett, a Topeka attorney who does 30 to 50 adoptions a year, said his office is busier than usual.

“People who choose to adopt are willing to make whatever sacrifices financially necessary to do it, and it is expensive,” he said.

Among Hazlett’s clients are the Palenskes.

At the beginning of the process, Hazlett set out an itemized list on how much the process would cost, Vanessa Palenske said. But it’s the costs from other attorneys and agencies in matching the child with the parents that has been unexpectedly high.

They are still hoping for a child. In the past four weeks, they’ve been flooded with interest from birth mothers looking for adoptive parents.

Currently they have their fingers crossed on a 3-month-old baby girl.

After rushing their portfolio to an agency in Maine, they are waiting to hear whether the birth mother selects them.

Having saved a good chunk of money and with secure jobs — Vanessa is a clinical social worker and Brian is self-employed working in concrete construction — the couple wonders whether they will have an advantage over other potential parents in this economy. Still, their budget is limited.

“If this (baby) truly is meant to be ours, if this is whom God intends us to be matched with, then it will happen no matter what,” Vanessa Palenske said. “When the money comes up like that, then my thought is, then it wasn’t meant to be ours.”