Ask AF



Restrictions to adopting?

Q:My husband and I hope to adopt an infant. My husband is in a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury. Will that prevent us from adopting?

A:Parents (adoptive or not) come in all sorts, shapes, and sizes, and there is no restriction on adoption by people with physical limitations. During the homestudy process, your family's ability to parent a child will be assessed. Be prepared to explain how you will handle parenting and meeting your child's needs at all developmental stages. Before selecting a social worker, adoption attorney, or adoption agency, be sure to ask about their policies and previous successes at helping people with physical limitations to adopt. It's critical to select a team that will advocate for you.

--Kathy Brodsky, Director of the Ametz Adoption Program/JCCA, New York City

Celebrating heritage

Q:We recently adopted our 20-month-old daughter from the foster care system. She is Caucasian and we are African-American. All the resources for adopting children transracially seem to focus on Caucasian parents raising children of color. How should we celebrate our child's heritage? How should we talk about race with her?

A:As a newly formed family, you now share each other's cultural/ethnic heritage. Although your daughter's race is Caucasian, she has an ethnic heritage that should be explored, along with your own. Food and music are fun and simple to explore with a very young child.

At 20 months, expect your daughter's observations and comments about differences in skin color and hair color to begin soon. Responding calmly and matter-of-factly to early remarks will set the tone of your conversations about race in the future. Discussing racial issues on a daily basis normalizes the topic and assures your daughter that race is not a taboo subject, but is one of many things that she can discuss with her parents.

--Deborah Johnson, AF's transracial parenting expert and founder of Kindred Journeys International, Minneapolis

A:The more open you are in talking about race and your different heritages, the better it will be for your daughter. Make sure that your home reflects everyone's heritage (in pictures, toys, books, and so on), that your friends (not just your daughter's) are diverse, and that she attends a school and participates in activities with children from different backgrounds.

At her young age, books are great for starting the discussion. Two I recommend are The Colors of Us and Mr. Rogers' Let's Talk About It: Adoption. And I would say, be confident in your ability to be her parents. Although the big conversations are important, the everyday things you and your partner do for her will make her a happy and secure child. Congratulations on your adoption!

--Sarah Gerstenzang, Executive Director, NYS Citizens' Coalition for Children, New York

A spouse's reluctance about adoption

Q:My husband and I have been together for eight years and are in our mid-40's. We have not discussed having children until recently, when I began to feel that I would love to become a mother. My husband is fearful of a “damaged” child and of disrupting our stable lives, and he refuses to discuss adoption. How can I open up the conversation? Or should I respect his choice and let go of my dream of becoming a parent?

A:Bringing a child into a family is a major life change, and it is not at all unusual for partners to initially disagree about adoption. (Read about other families' experiences with a reluctant spouse at adoptivefamilies.com/reluctant.)

To move forward, it would be helpful for your husband to meet families with adopted children. This is often the best way to demonstrate that these are ordinary, happy families, with lovable children, as opposed to the "damaged" children he fears. Reach out via your community or church to find adoptive families, or pursue adoption conferences and workshops that you might attend anonymously.

Second, to address your husband's concerns about the changes to your settled lives, discuss his practical concerns about parenting, such as finances, scheduling, parenting roles and responsibilities, and your life goals and dreams for the years ahead. Once he sees how it can unfold in practical ways, he may feel more in control and better able to consider adopting a child. Good luck!

--Joni Mantell, Infertility and Adoption Counseling Center, Pennington, New Jersey

Explaining foster care vs. kinship care

Q:I have a five-month-old foster child whose case was recently transferred from kinship care to foster care. What does this mean? I have grown to love this little girl, and I very much want to adopt her. Her grandmother is certain that she will be returned to the family. What will happen next, and is there anything I can do?

A:Transferring the case from kinship care to foster care normally indicates that state social services has made a legal decision that the child's extended birth family cannot provide a safe place for this little girl. However, you should clarify this with her caseworker and attend every court hearing to stay informed. Be aware that social services has an obligation to provide help to a child's mother, so that she can care for her child in the future, as well as an obligation to inform the father of his rights. While this period is not easy, you should do your best to communicate as much as possible with the child's family. If you do end up adopting, you'll have information to share with her in the future. I also recommend finding a local foster parent support group.

--Sarah Gerstenzang



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