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5 Things You Should Know

1. You're more qualified than you think!

Years ago, adoptive parents were typically childless, young Caucasian couples seeking infants. Today's adoptive parents are as diverse as the children who are waiting for them. The primary requirement for adoption is the ability to make a permanent commitment to provide love and security to a child. Nowadays, most people who adopt are between the ages of 25 and 50, but people much older can qualify too.

You don't have to be "well off" financially to adopt. You don't have to own your own home or have a separate bedroom for each child. You can adopt as a single parent unless a particular child has needs that require a two-parent family. But you will need to be able to meet the child's basic needs in your home, and your personal health is important. Keeping up with the demands of children requires lots of energy. It definitely helps to have a supportive network of friends and family!

In short, agencies are not looking for perfect people. They are looking for loving, secure people with the flexibility and maturity to take on the commitment of caring for another human being.

2. You may be the right family for a kid who needs a home.

Matching a waiting child with a suitable family requires that a family take a good look at its own resources, limits, and desires in adopting. Some prospective parents enter the process knowing they want to adopt a healthy infant. Others have decided that they want to offer a home to an older child or a child with special needs. Some are new to adoption and want to learn more before reaching a decision.

In the world of adoption, "special needs" refers to a broad category of children. Their one common need is for a permanent home with loving parents. Many of these children have physical or emotional problems, and they need someone to help them turn their lives around. Some of their problems can be easily resolved; others cannot.

A child with special needs may have developmental disabilities or a high IQ. He or she may be open and affectionate or shy and withdrawn. Some children have been moved around in the system, so they have not been able to thrive. However, a child with special needs may also mean a child who is over the age of five. Older boys make up a majority of waiting children.

Many waiting children are African-American. For these children, there is a great need for minority families or Caucasian families who display a willingness to help the child grow up with an appreciation for his or her ethnic heritage.

Some children are defined as "special needs" because they are part of a group of two or more brothers or sisters. These children need families who, if they cannot adopt them as a group, are willing to help siblings maintain contact with each other. Keeping siblings together as a family is a top priority.

Watching your child reach a fuller potential because of the love and support found in your family is a uniquely rewarding experience. Families caring for children with special needs usually have loads of extra patience and take joy in small day-to-day victories. Special needs adoption is not right for everyone, but the right combination of child and parent can result in a lifetime of love.

3. Adoption is not necessarily expensive.

Adoption fees can vary greatly. Depending on your income and whether or not you are adopting a child with special needs, your home study and legal costs may be free or reimbursable. The age or other circumstances of the child are also factors in determining the adoption assistance that may be available for the child.

4. There are post-adoption services and subsidies available to help you.

Adopting a child is an enormous personal commitment that is guaranteed to provide unexpected challenges. That is why SWAN's commitment to adoptive families does not end with the adoption. SWAN can help you locate parent groups for peer support, as well as advocacy and respite services. You can find these resources here.

Many people who adopt a child with special needs are able to get financial help to cover extra costs, medical and otherwise. Adoption assistance may include medical assistance coverage for medical care or other special services. Depending on the child's circumstances, families can receive a monthly payment to help cover the costs of raising a child with special needs or payment to help out with initial adoption costs, such as travel for pre-adoptive visits, home study fees, and legal expenses. The child's need for ongoing social services may also be addressed.

5. The process of adopting a child through SWAN has many phases.

The paperwork and legal steps involved in adoption can cause some delays. For a parent waiting for a child, especially a child he or she has met and knows, these delays can be frustrating and anxiety-producing. Try to keep in mind that the adoption process takes time, especially in the case of a child with special needs. Part of SWAN's mission is to clarify and expedite the process so that everyone involved knows what is reasonable to expect and when.