THE SEATTLE TIMES
OPEN-MINDED ATTITUDES HELP MAKE WASHINGTON ONE OF THE NATION'S BEST PLACES FOR ADOPTION
Author: CATHY REINER
TIMES STAFF REPORTER
Correction: CATHOLIC COMMUNITY SERVICES SERVES CHILDREN, PREGNANT WOMEN AND PROSPECTIVE ADOPTIVE FAMILIES OF ALL FAITHS NOT JUST CATHOLICS. THEIR SEATTLE OFFICE IS AT 1715 E. CHERRY ST., SEATTLE, WA 98122. THE PHONE NUMBER IS 323-6336
Mike and Claudette Keyes spent years trying in vain to have a second child. Three years ago, they turned to adoption. And like many families who consider adoption for the first time, they wanted a healthy infant
``We talked older kid, overseas, interracial and special-needs adoptions. But we hoped for _ and got _ a healthy newborn of our own (white) race,'' says Mike.
It was almost two years and $4,000 before the couple adopted Christopher, who's now a rambunctious 1-year-old. But that was less time and much less money than the Keyeses (an adoption code name they use to protect their privacy) had been led to believe it would take.
``We had heard families wait five to 10 years for infants,'' Claudette says. ``We had heard people pay $10,000 and more for babies.
And we heard that couples who have children already can't get babies.
``As Christopher proves, we'd heard wrong.''
They hadn't heard entirely wrong. In many parts of the United States, people go to tremendous lengths and costs to adopt ``perfect babies'' of their own race. But the situation has changed recently in the Northwest, and particularly in Washington state.
Today, waits for healthy infants can be less than two years, and in some cases less than nine months, at costs ranging from $2,000 to $7,000. The process to adopt older, multiracial or disabled children is often shorter and less costly. Waiting lists at several local agencies are as short as they've been in years.
Why? Open minds and open adoption, say adoption professionals.
Washington residents are increasingly open-minded about adopting a variety of children. Rather than compete for a relatively few healthy, same-race infants, many choose to adopt children of other races, older children and disabled children.act with the adoptive family and child.
With this method of adoption, say the experts, a small but increasing number of birth parents are choosing adoption over abortion. The result is more adoptable infants.
``If you're hoping to adopt a child, Washington state is one of the better places in the nation to live,'' says Joe Kroll, president of the North American Council on Adoptive Children. ``There are children available and cooperative government and private agencies to put them together.''
Kroll credits much of the cooperation to the strong network of adoptive parents working within local adoption systems and to good communication between government and private adoption agencies. ``These people care about children and work very hard to make adoptions go smoothly,'' he says. ``There's less bureaucracy to fight than in most states. The energy is expended finding good homes for kids.''
Last year, 3,700 children were adopted through Washington courts. Many were adopted by step-parents or relatives, but at least 2,000 were placed through adoption agencies or attorneys, according to state Bureau of Vital Records estimates. About 400 of them were infants.
Two thousand children may sound small compared with the 68,081 children born in this state last year, but it is many more adoptions than were made in many states, say adoption experts.
``The West is a leader in changing attitudes,'' says Jeff Rosenberg of the National Committee for Adoption in Washington, D.C.
``People there, more than in many places, are realizing that a baby, or at least a healthy same-race baby, is not the only or even the best choice for every family.
``That means many of those desperately seeking a baby are channeled to more needy children, be they older, handicapped or of a different race. That takes off some of the demand for infants. All in all, more children find homes.'' Much of the change is credited to parent- and adoptee-run adoption support groups. KIN (Kids in Need), WARM (Washington Adoptive Rights Movement) and Adoption Information Services are among the local volunteer groups that have been working to provide emotional support, counseling and education about adoption, says Janice Nielson, director of Adoption Services of WACAP.
WACAP, the state's largest adoption agency, was founded a decade ago by the Western Association of Concerned Adoptive Parents. It believes every child deserves a home and that all kinds of people can be good parents.
``Kids are the priority here,'' Nielson says. ``It used to be that only `perfect parents' _ young, married and established couples _ could adopt, and that only `perfect children' _ healthy infants and toddlers _ were adoptable.
``Today all sorts of people are adopting all sorts of kids, in a wide variety of ways.'' WACAP was among the first agencies to advocate contact of birth parents and adoptive parents through open adoption, the method chosen by the Keyes family.
``Other families who'd been through the process said having birth parents involved was a positive addition to their adoptions,'' says Claudette Keyes. ``We were very wary, but now we agree. Lynda, our birth mother, is a very important part of Christopher that he'll always have. Before he was born, we exchanged letters and pictures, she handed him to us in the hospital, and she recently sent presents for his first birthday.''
But the North Seattle family will maintain privacy by using the adoption code name, Keyes, until Christopher is older.
``She knows us as Keyes and we can reach each other through our agency,'' Claudette says. ``We'llstay in touch as our shared son grows.'' Sandy and Dennis Barnes chose a different route to adopt Danny, now 3, and Suzanne, 9 months. When they decided on adoption, after years of infertility, they didn't want to spend more years waiting for an infant.
They learned that several agencies were placing infants from Korea with waits of less than a year. They also learned the risks of overseas adoption: Often little information is available about the baby's parents or why the child is available for adoption, and there's no way to see the child first.
``We didn't think those risks were worse than the risks of any adoption _ or of many births,'' Sandy says. Less than a year after they applied, 2-month-old Danny arrived. Last spring, Suzanne joined the family.
``People stare at us sometimes, I know they want to ask about our kids,'' she says. ``There's no question about it: They're Asian, we're not. We debated whether we wanted to bring another culture into our lives and ultimately decided it could only enrich us as a family.''
Talking with other adoptive families is crucial if you consider adopting anyone besides an infant of your own race, say Mary Ellen and David Haley, who have six interracial children. Ten years ago, the Mount Baker couple adopted Matthew, a black-Vietnamese child who is now 13. He has been joined by three black and two Vietnamese siblings.
Some adoption professionals prefer to place children only with parents of their own race, but the Haleys say that concept has to be tempered by reality.
``The number of these children desperately needing a home far exceeds the same-race families available,'' she says.
The Haleys have not adopted all of their children. Their teen-aged foster children will live with the family until they can live on their own, or their families immigrate here.
That kind of foster parenting, through ``permanency planning'' programs, is another avenue to adoption, says Pat Webber, adoption manager for the state Division of Child and Family Services.
``In the past, foster parents were discouraged from adopting or committing themselves to a child in their care,'' Webber says. ``Today foster families are being asked to consider long-term programs that place children who may become free for adoption or who need a permanent home anyway.''
Anne and Ron Roberts adopted their son Ronald, now 11, through a foster placement.
``We were much too old to adopt a baby, and we were intrigued by the idea that older boys were available,'' she says. Three years ago, the South Seattle couple discovered Ronald through the Children's Home Society of Washington, an agency that works with emotionally troubled boys aged 8 to 13. The first months he lived with them went beautifully.
Then, ``we had two solid months of tantrums, arguing and hitting,'' Anne says.``We were so depressed, but the agency gave us tremendous support. We worked through it and adopted him.'' Parents who adopt an older child must be committed to a few years of very hard work in the family, Anne advises. ``The child knows he's been abandoned. You must be willing to work with counseling and ease him in.''
Children like Ronald are often placed through the Northwest Adoption Exchange, which has a multistate picture catalog of waiting children and provides profiles of them for Sunday's Child, a column featuring hard-to-place children which runs in The Times.
``Older boys are often the hardest children to find adoptive homes for,'' says Jill Jasper, director of the exchange.
But even that is changing through aggressive adoption placement activity, she says. ``Since Sunday's Child began, we've placed 74 percent of the 240 children featured, plus an indeterminable number of similar children. Many went to people who might never have considered such a child otherwise, and to some who never before considered adoption.'' Cheryl Homiak is one of those people. A few years ago, the blind 33-year-old teacher from Bellevue would never have been considered as an adoptive parent. And Rachel, a blind, developmentally handicapped 6-year-old, would never have been considered adoptable.
``I wanted a special-needs child,'' Homiak says. ``The trick was convincing other people, and finding the right child.''
In Homiak's case, it took four months to find Rachel.
``The moment we met, last January, there was a current between us,'' Homiak says. ``It has gone so well, I'm already thinking about a brother or sister.''
``Washington is a wonderful place to live if you're thinking about adoption,'' she adds. ``There are people to talk with, people to share the joys and the crises. People who care about adoption and about families.''
SUPPORT GROUPS, AGENCIES OFFER STARTING POINT How do people learn about adoption and available children? Adoption Information Service, a volunteer group whose organization heads the telephone listings under adoption, fields many of the first phone calls.
``People don't know where to start,'' says Sandy Barnes, an adoptive parent and president of the information service. ``They don't know anything about adoption. All they know is that they want a child.
``Jump in and start asking questions,'' she advises. ``Most agencies and support groups can put you in touch with experienced adoptive parents. Some agencies require that you go through several briefings with other parents before you do anything else.
``Their experiences really help through the adoption process,'' Barnes says. ``On your own it can be long, unpredictable and fraught with emotions.''
Here are the steps to adoption in Washington state:
Learn about adoption, agencies and programs, through adoptive parents, support groups and area agencies. One place to start is Adoption Information Service (325-9500), a group of volunteers familiar with local adoptions.
Determine what types of child you are interested in and seek an agency best suited to it.
Look for an agency that provides counseling for both the adoptive and birth parents. If you adopt independently, you may contract an agency for counseling for you or the birth parents.
If you consider an independent adoption _ finding a child to adopt through an attorney, doctor or other contact _ develop an attractive family resume and letter requesting an adoptable child.
Many prospective parents, usually those seeking a newborn, mail hundreds of these requests to doctors, lawyers and everyone they know.
This shotgun approach can be successful, but risky.
One family who sent out 800 letters received 10 answers. Of those, one led to the child they eventually adopted, one led to a probable black-market situation where a contact asked for $10,000 up front. The rest were dead ends.
Don't be afraid to talk money. Adoption is not child-buying, but there are considerable fees involved. Does the fee cover the home study, legal fees and pre- and post-placement? In a foreign adoption, does it cover transportation, visas and medical exams?
In any adoption, be careful whom you deal with.
Baby selling came into the news recently when several Washington families found that the babies they adopted through a Mexican-American contact came into the country with forged documents, making the adoptions illegal and possibly invalid.
``Deal with a licensed adoption agency wherever possible,'' advises Jill Jasper at Northwest Adoption Exchange. ``Their people are trained social workers who've been through adoptions before. If you have doubts, check with the state Division of Child and Family Services. If you go independent, be sure to check references.''
Whichever route you go, be aware that Washington courts require a home study, a series of interviews where an agency or a social worker learns about you and you learn about the specifics and legalities of your pending adoption.
Agencies charge $200 to $600 for home studies, which normally take a month. Some counties do home studies free for waiting child or hard-to-place children.
After a child is placed, file an adoption petition in county superior court. The prospective parents and home-study preparers go to court and a judge determines whether to approve the petition.
A GUIDE TO ADOPTION AGENCIES Adoption Information Services and Kids in Need, two local adoption resource groups, are hosting a free informational meeting at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 in the North King County Multi-Service Center, 10501 Meridian Ave. N.
Titled ``A child is waiting for you,'' the meeting includes a discussion on adoption by a panel of adoptive parents, plus presentations by representatives of area adoption agencies. Here is a sample of local nonprofit adoption agencies. Many religious social-service agencies, such as Catholic Community Services, make adoptions to families of their own denominations. See the Yellow Pages under Adoption for their numbers.
Adoption Services of WACAP, P.O. Box 88948, Seattle 98188, 575-4550, will place about 500 American and foreign (Colombian, Korean, Indian and others) children this year, through a variety of programs, including Options for Pregnancy, an open adoption infant program. Fees: $250 to $7,000.
Americans for International Aid and Adoption, 209 N.W. 191st St., Seattle 98177, 542-1510, places children from Korea, India and Latin America. Fees: $1,500 to $6,000.
Children's Home Society of Washington, 3300 N.E. 65th St., Seattle 98115, 524-6020, places mostly emotionally handicapped boys, ages 8 to 13, who have been in residential treatment programs.
Extensive counseling included. No fee.
Hope Services/Burden Bearers, 424 N. 130th St., Seattle 98133, 367-4600, places infants with Christian families who have no more than one child. Fees: $100 to $5,000.
Lutheran Social Services, 19230 Forest Park Drive N.E., Seattle 98155, 365-2700, places infants and children, particularly special-needs and older children. Special emphasis on permanency planning to find foster families who can become adoptive families for singles and sibling groups who will probably be relinquished. Fees: $250 to $6,000.
Medina Children's Service, 123 16th Ave., Seattle 98122, 324-9470, places infants and young children; also programs for black and special-needs children. Fees: free to $4,000.
Travelers' Aid Adoption Service, 909 Fourth Ave., Room 630, Seattle 98104, 447-3888, places foreign infants and children to age 16, primarily from Korea. Fees total about $5,000.
Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Adoption Program, MS OB 41-C, Olympia 98504, toll-free 1-800-562-5682, places handicapped, minority and hard-to-place children to age 18, some sibling groups. No fees.