POSTED ON NOVEMBER 30, 2011:
The Adoption Process
No piece of cake, but worth the effort it takes
Alesia Clement knows all about the process of adopting. She works in the adoption transition unit at Oklahoma Department of Human Services and is an adoptive parent herself. "It can be a tedious process. It's not for everyone. I say it's truly a calling to be either a foster parent or an adoptive parent," Clement said.
If you are interested in fostering or adopting through OKDHS, they will first send you an information packet, which includes a book, a DVD and a list of requirements you must meet. You will need to fill out an application, provide a financial statement and begin the lengthy home assessment. This includes background checks and interviews with all members of the household.
The purpose of the home assessment is to ensure your home is appropriate for kids. "We just do a real thorough assessment of whether or not a family is capable of adopting or fostering a child," Clement said.
OKDHS refers to those fostering or adopting as Bridge Resource Families. "My goal is to keep the child connected to kin, culture and community. And that's what our bridge concept is about," Clement said. "A lot of research has shown that when you pair a foster parent with the birth family, children tend to go home quicker. It doesn't happen in every case, but that's our goal." The bridge program helps reduce the number of moves a child might endure. Often volunteers will offer to keep a child until he or she finds a permanent home, whether it is back with the birth parents or with a new adoptive family.
"A lot of families start out fostering. They get attached to the children. You can't take children into your home and not get attached; 75-85 percent of our recent foster parents adopted. You can go either way," Clements said.
Linda and David Smith fostered first and ended up adopting the child, and are currently going through the process again.
While fostering, one knows the child might return to the birth family. "It does tug at your heart strings a little bit. You know what you're getting into with this process. The whole goal you have to keep in mind is that you're doing this for the benefit of the child. We feel our job is to keep them in a happy, loving environment until the decision can be made. There's times when it does get a little emotional, but we have to keep reminding ourselves why we're doing it," Linda said.
"We have to keep our focus on the child. As resource parents, reunification is always the number one goal," David said.
The Smiths visited their child's birth mom several times, which was a positive experience for them. They keep the lines of communication open and share pictures and updates with the birth parents occasionally.
OKDHS works with Family and Children's Services to compile the children's medical information, birth certificates and any legal information needed and create a profile that documents their entire history. They disclose the information to the families before placement in their home.
"When you become a foster parent, I think the biggest stigma they have is that you're going to get some child you can't handle, but they give you so many choices when you fill out the paperwork. You literally tell them exactly what kind of child you want," Linda said.
The couple fostered for over a year before going through the adoption process, which took about 6 months. "It's long, it's drawn out, but it's definitely worth it," David said.
Becoming a Parent Overnight
For Sara and Travis Marshall, adopting through OKDHS was a good experience -- better than they thought it would be. "We just couldn't afford to go through an agency. And I had also worked with a lady who had just adopted through DHS and just raved about it and said the child was wonderful, so I felt good about it," Sara said.
The Marshalls adopted their daughter when she was two years old. She had been with two or three foster families, but her birth parents were no longer in the picture, which made the process somewhat easier.
The home study took about three months, but they expected it would be longer. After that, they only waited two months before the child was placed with them. "They called us and said 'we have a child we need to place immediately' and brought her the next day," Sara said. Since they had not fostered first, they had a six-month trial period, during which there were monthly home visits. Just 10 months after she was placed in their home, the adoption was finalized.
"It was one of the toughest things I've ever done, but most worthwhile. It's tough becoming a parent overnight. They can train you for a long time and you'll never be prepared. Developing this close, intimate relationship with that child and figuring each other out is hard, but it was worth it," Sara said.
"I think what isn't well known is that, as foster parents, you really do get a lot of help from the community and from DHS," said Linda Smith. There is no cost to foster or adopt through OKDHS. They even pay for childcare and cover most medical expenses.
To find out more about becoming a Bridge Resource Family, call 866-612-2565 or go to okdhs.org. Children in OKDHS custody are also featured in the Waiting Child Heart Gallery at heartgalleryofoklahoma.com.
"Some people aren't called to be foster parents, but they can help the resource parents by doing things like providing food or toys," said David Smith. Any help is greatly appreciated.
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