By Susan M. Brown
As lawyers, we are called to be both advocates and counselors. Clients may come to you for help with legal filings about an adoption. But to advise them wisely, you should be sure they have realistic expectations about this most important decision. Here are a few basic considerations to help your clients make informed decisions.
For International Refugee Adoptions
Entry into the U.S.
This involves complex political and legal issues, best handled by professionals. Clients should work through a child-placement organization to get the child into the U.S. Otherwise, see the article in this issue about Ukrainian refugees.
The child will enter the U.S. on a special visa for refugees or some other protected group. The child will not have permanent U.S. citizenship until the clients complete a complex application process with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. There are several paths to citizenship depending on the child’s age, time here, adoption status, family circumstances, and situation in the home country. Applications may take anywhere from nine months to five years to complete.
Refugee children have been displaced in the most sudden and frightening way possible. They need love and stability above all. For children who have no surviving family, immediate adoption may be the best answer. American children whose parents have died or are unable to care for them also suffer greatly and often have abandonment issues later in life, even in the best of circumstances.
Adoption in Alabama is handled by the probate court for the clients’ county of residence. This process can be lengthy. The clients will have to pay for a home study and a post-placement report, court fees, notification fees, and attorney fees. Even some uncontested adoptions can take anywhere from six to 18 months. Once the process is completed, your clients will need to apply for a new birth certificate for the child.
Long-term counseling for the child and for your clients’ existing family is essential. The child has been through trauma that will have lifetime consequences. Clients should expect to guide them through post-traumatic stress and abandonment issues. It is essential that the child learn good coping skills. Regular counseling will help.
Your clients and their children will also need support. For the good of their own children, experts agree that it is best not to disrupt birth order in the home. That is, it’s best for all children in the home to take in a child younger than the youngest. Counseling will help every family member adjust.
They’re a Parent!
Legally, adoption is like the birth of a new person. Your clients will have lifetime responsibilities as parents to the child they take in. The child will inherit from them just like their biological children. They are responsible for health care, education, shelter, discipline, etc., just as if this child were their biological child.