Adopting Older Children in Southeast Michigan
From application to acclimation, it's a complex process. But these local parents are committed to giving kids a chance at security and hope – and a loving home.
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Shannon and Joseph Mackie's adoption story is unusual. For one, the Detroit couple, still in their 20s, decided to adopt not as a last-resort to parenthood but as their primary path. They also bucked the norm by opting to adopt older children – siblings who where 15 months and 4 years old when they adopted them two years ago – instead of adopting a child in infancy.
"We had decided that we were able to love a child, or children, that are already here," says Shannon Mackie.
And "decided" is the operative word, Mackie says.
For people who have biological children, or have adopted their children as infants, the process of feeling like a parent is pretty straightforward: You're handed a little squirming bundle, and some powerful hormones start kicking in that help create that feeling of intense love and close bonding that any parent feels for their child.
But when parents choose to adopt older children, that process is different – for both the parent and the child. Instead of a helpless infant, parents need to get to know and love an older child who can walk and talk, has opinions and is most likely dealing with the effects of the trauma in her life that led to her being available for adoption.
And the children are learning to adapt to a new household, new rules – and a whole new parent. For them, "mom" and "dad" aren't concepts that bring the same sense of security that a child from a more functional family would have – instead, something happened that led to the severing of their relationship with their first parents.
Adoptive families and adoption experts say that while adopting an older child has its challenges, it's also a wonderful way to form a family. Yes, these families are different in how they began, but they can have the same close connection as any other family. Yes, older children available for adoption may have had a difficult past – but they are just children, who need love, stability and a place to call home.
A great need
The need for adoptive families is great. At any given time, there are about 3,000 children waiting for adoption in Michigan. Children with disabilities, African-American children and kids over age 9 are the hardest to place; sibling groups are also harder.
The Judson Center in Royal Oak coordinates the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange, or MARE, which acts as a central repository for information about waiting children in the state. Prospective parents can go to MARE's website and view photos, read a little about each child listed, and learn about what impairments kids might have. Those can be as simple as a mild learning disability or as complicated as multiple physical and mental impairments.
A common misperception is that adopting a child from the foster care system requires that parents be well-off, live in a large home or be married. "We're looking for regular, real people on all ends of the spectrum who are willing to provide a home for kids," says Maggie Vink, an adoption navigator for MARE – and an adoptive mother herself. "It's all right if you're in an apartment. If you can provide a safe, loving home for a child, that's what we're looking for."
Starts with a home study
Prospective parents start by choosing an agency and then arranging for a home study. This is an intensive process that requires gathering a great deal of paperwork, sometimes paying fees and submitting to lengthy and probing interviews. It can take as long as six months. Typically, a home study includes the following:
- Personal history: Current family life and each prospective parent's past experiences and how they will impact their capacity to parent an adoptive child are discussed and evaluated. This helps the adoption worker determine what type of child would best fit into your home. Children will also be interviewed about their feelings about adoption and adding to their family, and any other adults living in the home are interviewed, too.
- Health statements: Each person living in the home must provide a complete medical history and records from a recent physical. Conditions that are under control usually will not prevent a person from being able to adopt.
- Criminal background check: All adults living in the home will need to be fingerprinted, complete a state police check and get clearance from Child Protective Services as well as local police, depending on the county.
- Income statement: Proof of your income, such as a copy of an income tax form, a paycheck stub or a W-2 form, must be supplied. You may also need to provide bank statements and insurance policies.
- Personal references: Three unrelated personal references that can share their knowledge about your experience with children, the stability of your marriage and/or household, and your motivation to adopt.
- Training: 12 hours of Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education (PRIDE) training.