Can Military Families Adopt?

 

 

On any given day in America, there are over 443,000 children in the Foster care system.   In 2017, 123,000 of these children were waiting to be adopted, 69,000 parents relinquished their rights and 59,400 children were adopted.1  I believe one of the most untapped resources available to make a difference in these statistics exist within our Armed Forces.  Members of the military have had to be flexible and open to change and are very committed, mission-oriented people.  As a retired Navy Chief and a former member of this unique community, service members collectively bring diversity in race, culture, ethnicity, and personality, and can be good candidates for foster and adoptive programs.

Military installations have built-in support networks for military families, including substantial health-care and housing benefits and “ready-made” communities. More benefits for adoptive families include adoption reimbursements, Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) for children (as well as adult family members) with particular medical and/or educational needs, and New Parent Support Programs on many installations.2

We have successfully placed many children with military families over the years.  The process is similar to their civilian counterparts with some exceptions if living abroad:

Home studies Abroad: Social worker travels to servicemember location incurring additional costs to service member to cover lodging, meals and travel expenses.

  1. Pre-adoption Education: 10 hours of Hague required training, including supportive materials
  2. Home study visits and education provided within your home, conducted over a 3-day period.
  3. Follow up support provided via SKYPE and email

 

  • Some of the challenges that service members may experience that differ from the civilian population are frequent moves (PCS) and Deployments. Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves normally last three years or longer and the entire family moves to a new location.  Deployments, on the other hand, are meant to be of a more temporary nature, generally lasting from months to years, and only the service member leaves.  This may cause delays in completing the home study, but working collaboratively with the service member, it can certainly be accomplished.
  • A deploying military family member will need to grant power of attorney to his or her spouse (or another family member, in the case of a single parent adoption), and more information about power of attorney is available on the Military OneSource website at Military One Source. The spouse or family member should also have a mailing address for the military member during deployment, as well as a method for reaching him or her in an emergency. It is a good idea for the military parent to keep his or her command informed about the adoption process to facilitate timely completion and delivery of essential documents.
  • Dual-military families and single soldiers that are adopting may also be eligible for a four-monthdeferment of deployment or change of assignment in order to complete an adoption or welcome an adoptive child into. As with the 21 days of leave, only one member of the dual military family can take advantage of this resource. And just like the leave and reimbursement benefits, an adoption deferment must be requested within the first twelve months of placement.3

If you are stationed in the United States, you are governed by the laws of that state.  For more information on the laws governing various states visit: State Laws.

If you are stationed overseas and adopting a child in the US, your adoption may be governed by the laws of your state of legal residence as well as the state where the child resides.  If you are adopting a child from another country, you will need to comply with the laws of your country of residence AND the child’s home country (if different), in addition to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policies.  Your adoption advisor will assist you with navigating through this process.

Some of the more frequently asked questions asked by military families are answered at the Child Welfare Information Gateway site.  The following is an excerpt from their bulletin entitled “Military Families Considering Adoption”3

  1. Am I eligible for leave when I adopt a child?

Public Law 109-163, the Fiscal Year 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, allows the Unit Commander to approve up to 21 days non-chargeable leave in a calendar year in connection with a qualifying adoption, in addition to other leave. If both parents are in the military, only one member shall be allowed leave under this new legislation. A qualifying adoption is one that is arranged by a licensed or approved private or State agency and/or court and/or other source authorized to place children for adoption under State or local law. Contact your Unit Commander’s office to determine current leave options and procedures.

The non-military parent, if relevant, may be eligible for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), through his/her civilian employer.

  1. What benefits are available to help defray the cost of adopting?

Most types of adoptions may qualify for reimbursement when the adoption was arranged by a licensed, private adoption agency, State agency, and/or court, and/or other source authorized to place children for adoption under State or local law. Military adoption cost reimbursement includes up to $2,000 per child (or up to $5,000 for adoption of more than one child in a year) for qualifying expenses and is available to military families whose adoptions were arranged by a qualified, licensed adoption agency.

Adoption reimbursement is paid after the adoption is complete for certain qualifying
expenses incurred by the adopting family including adoption and home study fees. The National Military Family Association (www.nmfa.org) has a fact sheet, DoD Adoption Reimbursement Program, with more information on qualifying agencies and allowable expenses.

  1. Can my adopted child get medical coverage through the military?

An adopted child, including a child placed in the home of a service member by a placement agency for purposes of adoption, is eligible for benefits after the child is enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). Contact the I.D. Card Facility for more information or patient affairs personnel at a specific medical treatment facility.

Specific information on access and eligibility is available on the TRICARE Web site (www.tricare. osd.mil/deers/newborn.ctm) or by calling the DoD Worldwide TRICARE Information Center at (888) 363-2273.

Military benefits are available for all adopted children, not exclusively children with special needs.

  1. What other services are available for my child and family after adoption?

Child Development Programs are available at approximately 300 DoD locations, including 800 childcare centers and approximately 9,000 family childcare homes. The services may include full day, part-day, and hourly (drop-in) childcare; part-day preschool programs; before- and after- school programs for school-aged children; and extended hours care including nights and week- ends. Not all services are available at all installations.

The Exceptional Family Member Program, within the military, provides support for dependents with physical or mental disabilities or long term medical or health care needs. They will assist families who need to be stationed in areas that provide for specific medical, educational or other services that might not be available in remote locations.

Family Service Centers located on every major military installation can provide military families with information regarding adoption reimbursement and other familial benefits. Social workers may be available for family and/or child counseling. Different designations for Family Service Centers are as follows:

  • Army – Army Community Service
  • Air Force – Family Support Center
  • Navy – Fleet and Family Support Center
  • Marine Corp – Marine Corp Community Services
  • Coast Guard – Work/Life Office

Additional Resources for Military Families:

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway (www.childwelfare.gov)On this website, readers can find useful fact sheets such as Adoption – Where Do I Start?, Military Families and Adoption – A Fact Sheet, and Adoption Assistance for Children Adopted From Foster Care: A Factsheet for Families. Under the ‘Resources’ section, click on ‘Publications Search’ to find these and other topical resources easily and quickly.
  • National Military Family Association (NMFA) (www.nmfa.org)On this website, readers can find informative fact sheets such as Adoption Reimbursement Program Fact Sheet.
  • National and Regional Exchanges (www.AdoptUSKids.org; www.adoptex.org).
  • Military Spouse
  • Military One Source
  • U.S. Department of State, Intercountry Adoption

We honor our service members and look forward to partnering with you in your adoption journey!

written by CTMC Robbin Plows USNR, Ret and Nightlight Inquiry Specialist

 

1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau.  Adoption Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS), FY 2008-2017, Submissions as of 08/10/2018

2Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Working with military families as they pursue adoption. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

2Ibid

3Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Military families considering adoption. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau

 

Birth Mothers & Mother’s Day

 

 

Mother’s Day has recently passed and it has had me thinking of all the unique paths that lead to motherhood. Working in the adoption world has taught me so much about all the ways a woman can become a mother—whether that be through embryo adoption, domestic adoption, international adoption, or placing a child for adoption. While each path to motherhood is unique and has its own story, I want to focus on the story of the birth mother.

 

In my first couple years working at Nightlight, I worked strictly with expectant mothers who were deciding to place their baby for adoption.  After placing their baby, they became “birth mothers” and just as any mother, will keep that title for the rest of their lives. Adoption is all about the unconventional ways to parenthood and this includes birth parents as well. In the process of working with expectant mothers, a large conversation piece that we often had was their value and affirmation as this child’s mother at this moment. They would not be parenting this child, but they were making parenting decisions for this child based on the family they were choosing to parent them. They were choosing the life they wanted for their child and choosing it in love, and that was not taking away their motherhood, but instead, validating it. As much as I reinforced this idea to them throughout pregnancy, I’ve seen more birth mothers believe this truth most when the adoptive mother reaffirmed her of this when they hold the baby for the first time or when the final goodbye is being said. Those have been the most tear-filled moments of my job not because of immense pain or joy from either party, but because of the raw, beautiful experience that two mothers, both valid in their titles, share over the same child. It is then when humbleness and gratitude meet that all preconceived societal hierarchies of motherhood are broken down to share an immense love for a child.

 

While it is easy to recognize the parenting mother on Mother’s Day (and please do, they deserve it!) let us not forget the birthing mothers as well – the ones who carried children and made hard choices in the name of love for their babies because after all, that is what motherhood is all about.

 

So, if you are a birth mother reading this and no one has told you yet, Happy Mother’s Day to you too.

My child needs a driver’s license, but we never got a birth certificate.  What should we do?

Driver license

In California, only ONE document proving identity and birthdate is required.  Acceptable documents include:

  1. A passport
  2. A US birth certificate
  3. Certificate of Citizenship
  4. Permanent Resident card
  5. Foreign passport with unexpired visa I-94

There are several ways to obtaining the first 3 documents.  For most adoptees, the easiest form of ID to obtain is a passport.  And that’s the easiest document to provide for the driver’s license.  See here for California requirements.

Passport

For a passport, you will need a Certificate of Citizenship (mailed to you by USCIS after the adoption).  In addition, you can provide any ONE of the following

  1. Original passport (which you used to bring your child home)
  2. Original birth certificate (which your adoption agency may have a copy of)
  3. Driver’s license

See here for passport identification documents.

Certificate of Citizenship

When your child was adopted, they were most likely also declared a citizen.  As a result, you would have received a certificate of citizenship in the mail.  If you did not save this document, you can contact USCIS and ask for a copy.  In addition, you can ask USCIS for copies of all the original documents provided for your adoption (your child’s original birth certificate, original passport).

Click here to apply for replacement certificate of citizenship

Birth Certificate

You can get a US birth certificate by any of these 2 methods

  1. Do a “re-adopt” where you finalize your adoption in the US. Contact a local adoption attorney or agency to learn about the readopt process in your state.
  2. Bring the child home on guardianship, and finalize the adoption in a US court. In this case, the you will be issued a new birth certificate.  This is only applicable to certain countries (Hong Kong, Philippines).

In the Classroom: Acknowledging Foster and Adopted Children

 

 

As parents of six children, all school aged at adoption, we realized almost immediately, that adoption would need to be addressed in the classroom. We have been very involved in our children’s education, so have dealt with a lot of teachers! For the most part, we have been blessed to have amazing, nurturing and involved teachers, who truly wanted the best for our children. However, even the best teacher, may not be aware of how to be sensitive to the issues our children may encounter with some of the material presented in the classroom.

This week, I received an email from the PTA President, who’d requested the 5th grade parents to send in their children’s baby photos for the school yearbook. It brought up such sadness for me, as I thought about the children in the 5th grade at our school and others throughout the country, that would receive this assignment or others that request information or photos from early childhood. None of my children have a single photo of them as a baby or toddler.  Our youngest son looks at the early photos I took of him when he was six and refers to them as when he ‘was a baby.’ I sent a request to the PTA President to consider eliminating baby pictures from the yearbook as it highlights those children from foster care or international adoption who are unlikely to have those special photos. I was ignored, so I had to call in to the school principal.

There are a few school assignments through the years that are used to talk about genetics, family trees or a lifeline. I remember the second grade assignment to make a lifeline of major events for each year of the child’s life. I called the teacher and reminded her that my child and another child in the class that was in the foster care system, might not feel comfortable having their lives up on the wall for open house and all to see! The teacher began to cry and was very apologetic, offering to immediately cancel the assignment.

One of my daughters did the genetics assignment in school, ignoring the fact she was adopted, and identified her brown eyes coming from me and her blonde hair coming from her dad’s side of the family! I thought it was interesting that she did not want to make her story part of the assignment. It wasn’t that she was embarrassed by her adoption, or wanted to pretend her early years with her biological family did not exist. It was just that her adoption and anything related to it, even the color of her eyes, is her business, and she chose not to share her personal story in a school assignment with her peers in the classroom.

It is important that as parents, we encourage our children to feel comfortable sharing the parts of their story that they choose to share. School assignments need to include all of the students and include them in a safe, positive manner. At the beginning of each school year, I go to the school prior to the first day, introduce myself to my child’s teacher and share that my child was adopted and had some difficult years. I suggest that my child’s story is his or her own, and that we encourage sharing only if the child chooses.  Assignments need to be sensitive to that child’s history or lack of photos, etc. recognizing that for a child from Foster Care or Adoption, their story will be far different than other children in the classroom and may not be appropriate for sharing. I also provide a wonderful article from the U.S. Department of Education, “What Teachers Should Know About Adoption.” http://qic-ag.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/QICAG-Education-Brochure-v041-final.pdf I’d encourage all parents to help pave the way for their child, by following these steps, meeting with the teacher prior to the school year, giving a bit of general history, strengths and challenges of your child, along with this article. It can only help your child to feel more comfortable in the classroom and hopefully avoid some of these challenges.

Lifting the Adoption Community in Prayer

 

 

Whether you are waiting for an adoption placement, or hoping to prayerfully support a family in the midst of their adoption journey, here are some practical ways to pray for the adoption community.

Pray for Rest- adoptive families spend countless hours gathering documents and preparing for a child. There are visits before placement and after placement where a caseworker assesses their home and any family members-these visits can get exhausting.

Pray for Wisdom- at times there are unforeseen circumstances that arise in an adoption application and match process. The family, caseworker, a birthmom, must work through unexpected events that require wisdom and discernment.

Pray for Finances- the financial commitment can weigh heavily on a family. Unexpected expenses with travel or medical expenses can pop up. Finances for when they are able to care for a new child can continue far beyond an adoption agency fees.

Pray for Attachment- Family bonding and attachment are important when adopting a child both before and after the adoption process. This is relevant for both infant and older child adoptions.

Pray for the birthmom- pray for her journey in this process. She may not be supported in her decision for placement or may not even know if she is certain about placement. The unknown can be scary for both sides- adoptive parents and birthparents. Pray for the relationship between birthmom and adoptive family.

Pray for the Adoption agency and state/international regulations- the caseworkers, supervisors, courts for finalizations, foreign officials, all work in different capacities within adoption. This can be an emotionally taxing and physically demanding job, filled with uncertainty and uncontrollable obstacles. Workers who make day to day decisions that affect the family long term can to be lifted in prayer.

In what ways do you pray for the adoption community?