Obtaining Background Information on Your Prospective Adoptive Child

Why is background information important?

In any type of adoption (agency or independent, domestic or intercountry), involving children of any age, it is important to obtain as much thorough and accurate medical, genetic, and social history information as you can about your prospective child. While adoption, like any form of parenting, involves a certain level of risk, background information is useful for the following reasons:

  • It enables you to make an informed decision about accepting a child. When you have complete and accurate knowledge of a child's needs (medical or emotional) prior to placement, you will be better able to determine if your family is prepared to care for this child. You are also able to consider whether you have the emotional and financial resources to meet any special needs that may be identified for the child.

  • It may enable you to access Federal or State adoption subsidies available for children with special needs. Adoption subsidies (sometimes called adoption assistance) are available for some children with special needs. Not all children will qualify for adoption subsidies.

  • It provides an opportunity for your child to develop an accurate sense of his or her own history. Without accurate information, adopted children may develop unrealistic fantasies about their history or may blame themselves for the separation from their birth families. They may feel disconnected from their past or like a piece of themselves is missing and incomplete. As they grow older, they will also lack information critical to their own childbearing decisions.

  • It provides an opportunity for early diagnosis, treatment, and intervention for developmental problems and conditions. Knowledge of medical problems or genetic predispositions in a child's birth family may help you diagnose and treat conditions more quickly. Knowing whether a child has been tested for a specific disease or condition, and the results of such tests, avoids duplicative testing.

Where would I find background information about waiting children?

Contact your local agencies and ask about the types of children their agency usually places with adoptive families, the ages of children who generally are available for adoption, and the general backgrounds of the children. Keep in mind that each child is an individual with his or her own potential problems, as well as his or her own strengths, abilities, talents, and charms. Agencies will often share more specific information about each child after your family has completed a home study and expresses an interest in adopting that particular child.

National online adoption directories and photolistings can provide pictures and general descriptions of children around the country who are waiting for families. Because the descriptions in photolistings are so brief, it is important to understand what might be meant by certain phrases. For example, a description such as "very active, impulsive, needs a lot of attention and acts out" may suggest a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; a child described as "developmentally delayed" may be diagnosed with mild to moderate mental retardation. Be alert to any phrases that would indicate what it might be like to live with this particular child. After your home study is completed, talking with the child's caseworker and others who know the child, such as a child's former foster parents or teachers, will give you a more complete sense of a particular child.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified attorney specializing in adoptions.

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