SIKESTON -- Adoption has always been an option for couples, but most recently celebrities have grabbed national attention with their adoptions, leaving others to wonder about the process of legally obtaining a child.
"Making a phone call is the first step in finding out more about the adoption process," said Molly Strickland, director of the Southeast Missouri Office of the Lutheran Family and Children's Services of Missouri in Cape Girardeau. Strickland said basically there are three ways to adopt: through the public foster-care system, a private agency that specializes in domestic (the adoption of any child in United States) or international or through an adoption attorney.
Home studies are required with all adoptions and there are thorough checks into a family's background, Strickland said.
"The assignment of placing a child is very important, and they want to make sure they're placing a child in a good, solid family," Strickland said. Indeed there's a lot of paper work, home study process includes writing autobiographies, showing W-2s and letters of references from eight different people. Birth certificates, finger prints and other paper work is also required. "The amount of paperwork almost doubles for international adoptions," Strickland said.
Since 1990, National Adoption Month has been celebrated across the United States during November to create national attention for adoption and the many children waiting for a family. There are approximately 114,000 children in the United States and more than 2,035 children in Missouri waiting for adoption.
But gaining in popularity is those seeking international adoptions. "International adoptions for China increased from 1,000 in 2001 to another 1,000 or 1,500 more in 2002. It's been a steady increase of 4 or 5 percent every year," Strickland said.
The top countries for international adoptions are China, Russia, Guatemala and Korea.
"People seek international adoptions for several different reasons," Strickland said. "One reason is there are so few Caucasian infants available (in the United States), and a lot of people don't like the openness available in domestic adoptions today."
Plus, internationally, the waiting time is less than domestic adoptions. International adoptions can happen within a year to 18 months with most parents traveling to pick up their children and bring them home, Strickland said. The average domestic adoption takes anywhere between 18 months and two years, she said.
However, international adoption is much more costly. But parents are finding ways to afford adoptions.
"We had family who had four sons and adopted from Russia. They took out a home equity loan," Strickland said. "Some companies will help their employees with taking out loans to adopt a child."
Fees for private adoptions are less than international and are based on people's incomes; however, fees can also be negotiated, Strickland said. The average cost of an adoption is $20,000.
Unlike private domestic adoptions, with international adoptions, most countries will accept a single mother for adoption, Strickland said. Cheryl and Tony Parrish of Dexter received their son, Zachary, through a domestic adoption a year ago in August.
"When we started our home study, I was really concerned it was going to be this grueling thing. But going through the agency was the best thing we could do. Our social worker was right there the whole time," Cheryl Parrish said. The Parrishes had to get background checks and physicals.
"There is a lot of work when you look at everything as a whole, but the agency is good about going step by step with you," Parrish said.
The most common question others asked the Parrishes after Zachary came home was: "Aren't you scared the birth mother is going to change her mind."
"There was a six-month waiting period, but it wasn't for the birth mother -- she'd already signed over her termination of parental rights," Parrish explained. "What that time period was for was for the agency because they were responsible for him and making sure we were all going to live together well and whether we were good parents."
All of the paperwork, waiting and other preparation was well worth it in the end, Parrish said.
"The process (in obtaining a baby) is different, but once he's here, it's not," Parrish said.
The best advice Parrish can offer those considering adoption is to educate themselves, she said. Look into different options because there's a lot of different resources both online and regionally.
"If anyone ever wonders if they can love an adopted child as much as their biological child, they can," Parrish said. "That's not even a question."