More and more people are considering adoption as a way to grow their families, but the process can be a long and arduous one with many twists and turns along the road. Where do you turn for help and what can families expect as they make the journey toward parenthood?
"The very first thing we require (prospective parents) to do is to attend an orientation. We explain each type of adoption — international, domestic and foster care — then we do breakout sessions," said Susan Cape, the Georgia assistant branch director of Bethany Christian Services.
"The next step is education. These classes deal with the actual process," Cape said. "They are all face to face except for the international classes. Those are online and require about 20-30 hours of training, and Bethany Christian Services provides the classes."
After that, Cape said: "A stack of information is required. (The prospective parents) start working with a specialist, and they do a home study."
The cost of a domestic adoption through Bethany Christian Services is about $23,000, with international adoption running between $20,000 and $40,000.
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"It's an expensive endeavor, but there are lots of grants, loans, and there are adoption tax credits," Cape said, adding that some companies will give money to people who want to adopt. Many people also raise money on their own.
According to the Georgia Division of Family and Children's Services, anyone who is a resident of the state for more than six months, who is 25 and more than 10 years older than the child to be adopted can apply to become an adoptive parent.
If the applicant is married, the age limit can be reduced to 18. Both spouses must agree to adopt the child. Georgia law does not allow adoption by one spouse without adoption by the other except in the situation of a stepparent adoption situation.
Michelle and Alan Shaw, who have three biological sons, adopted twins in October 2002.
"Alan wanted to adopt [children] from Africa, and we also knew we wanted girls. We did it through an agency located in California. They had an orphanage in Sierra-Leone, and we did most of our interaction online," Michelle Shaw said.
"Waiting was the most frustrating part,"she said. "We had to go back and forth with INS, (now the Department of Homeland Security), and do lots of paperwork."
She said a mistake in paperwork caused a delay in the courts, and the children's birth father caused the birth mother to second-guess her decision.
"We started the process in November of 2000 and finally got them October 2002," Michelle Shaw said.
Laura Balzer and her husband, David, also adopted twins, but decided to do an open, domestic adoption.
"Ours happened really fast. In August of 2009, we started filling out our paperwork (with Bethany)," Laura Balzer said. "(Around the same time), a friend from church asked if we were interested in twins. She said she had a friend whose sister had come to live with them and was pregnant with twins.
"It took a few months for the birth mother to make her decision," Laura Balzer said, but the agency called a few months later telling them the mother wanted to meet.
The birth mother had made the decision to adopt and wanted the the Balzers to be the parents, Laura Balzer said. "We had approximately five weeks to prepare. She had them on Dec. 16.
"At first, we were not looking for an open adoption, but we went to a seminar and, after hearing from a birth mom who had an open adoption, (we) were encouraged to look at it more," she said.
"Our birth mother is the most wonderful girl in the world. She made the best decision. She was so mature," Laura Balzer said. "It's been wonderful, and I wouldn't do it any other way.
"The first few meetings (after the babies were born) were hard for our birth mother, but she was strong,"she said.
In Georgia, you can adopt through the Division of Family and Children Services or through a licensed agency. You can see all children in foster care who are available for adoption on the Wednesday's Child website.
Licensed agencies can charge fees to adoptive parents for their services. Fees are not charged to birth parents for placement or adoptive services. Find out more here.
Except for an application fee, Bethany Christian Services said that there is no cost for foster care adoption of special needs children. Children are considered 'special needs' if they have been in the system for two or more years or if they are a part of a group of siblings.
Whichever route your adoption journey takes, there are plenty of guides to help the trip go more smoothly.