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N.D. adoption agencies offer choices, support

Adoption agencies offer choices, support

Like floor plans for constructing a house, building a family through adoption comes with a variety of design choices.

Semi-open, special needs and identified are just a few of the terms used to describe the options available to birth and adoptive parents.

Choosing adoption typically starts with choosing who to walk through that journey with you. The State of North Dakota requires adoptions to be handled by an agency, with the exception of most adoptions by relatives.

Adoption agencies commonly provide counseling, education, home studies and post-adoption services as well as assist in reconnecting birth parents and adopted individuals whose adoptions processes had been closed, resulting in no information previusly being shared.

Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota has adoption records dating to its founding in 1919 and can assist in facilitating contacts within its system, said Sue Grundysen, program director with the LSSND/The Village partnership, Fargo. She said finding people still can be challenging, but with the advent of DNA testing, the internet and the help of good researchers, it is possible to overcome those challenges, she said.

“By and large, when we search for people, they are glad to be found,” she said.

About 80% of U.S. adoptions now are considered either open or semi-open, said Jeannie Nasers, adoption and birth parent caseworker with Christian Adoption Services, Bismarck. Semi-open is most common and involves sharing of basic information and possibly more, she said.

Catholic Charities of North Dakota, which has been facilitating adoptions since 1923, experienced the openness movement that took hold in the mid-1980s and now sees a trend toward increasing openness.

“It truly is best for the child, and for those birth parents and adoptive family as well,” said Kristie Urness, adoption caseworker with Catholic Charities in Minot. “Research and studies have shown that is in the best interest for everybody.”

“It’s just a lot more peaceful and it removes the fear of the unknown,” Nasers said. “I just love watching the dynamics. It’s almost as if the adoptive families and the birth parents all kind of adopt each other because they become their own family in a very unique way.”

Fully open adoptions, called identified adoptions, often involve a familiarity between the parties that began before adoption was initiated. In any open adoption, birth parents have more say in in the adoption plan.

Here to help

“Just by talking to an adoption agency does not mean that you are signing a contract that you’re going to create an adoption plan and place your child for adoption,” Nasers said. “We’re here to help men and women walk through their choices and their options and really consider what they want to do and what they want for their child, and if they can really provide what they want for their child.”

Naser said agencies also can assist birth mothers with accessing health and other services.

For adoptive parents, financing an adoption shouldn’t be a hindrance to giving a child a home, she added. Nationally, an adoption can cost $20,000 to $50,000, but in North Dakota those costs can be at the lower end, especially for agencies with strong donor support, she said. People shouldn’t discount possible support from family, friends and community, she said.

“I do really wish that people knew how generous other people are and willing they are to help,” Nasers said. “You can definitely make things happen as long as you’re willing to accept the generosity of others.”

Among adoption options are international or special needs, involving children in foster care. Catholic Charities has the contract for the North Dakota’s Adults Adopting Special Kids (AASK) program for the adoption of special needs children.

Micaela Haider, AASK adoption specialist with Catholic Charities in Minot, said the agency works closely with social service agencies and tribal partners. Most adoptions involve North Dakota children, although Catholic Charities also can assist in adoption from foster care into other states or from other states into North Dakota. Adoptions have involved children as young as nine months and as old as 17.

“We always say we’re trying to find the right home for every child,” Haider said. “We’re really focusing on the child, their needs and finding them the right family.

Families wanting to know more about special needs adoption can participate in a virtual inquiry meeting Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. For information, call 852-2854.

Catholic Charities also is North Dakota’s only Hague-accredited agency for international adoptions. The accreditation signifies an agency meets an international standard of practice based upon the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.

LSSND/The Village also facilitates international adoptions, mostly recently with China and India. However, COVID-19 restrictions on travel have placed adoption completions on hold for families. International adoptions are more complicated, but they appeal to families with a bigger, broader view of the world and have a sense of adventure, Grundysen said.

“They often have a heart for children that are already born and living in poverty and have nobody,” she said.

International adoptions typically take no longer than domestic adoptions.

The national average is two years from the time an adoption is initiated to completion of the home study to become ready to adopt, Nasers said.

It varies by agency, though. In North Dakota a year or two years is common. People looking to adopt may place their information with additional agencies in other states to expedite their chance of being selected by a birth parent.

The comprehensive home studies for prospective parents are intense. Urness said agencies must determine if a family is emotionally, mentally, physically and financially prepared to adopt a child. Catholic Charities also places emphasis on following the Indian Child Welfare Act and the adoption plans of Native American birth mothers.

“If that child’s eligible for enrollment, we want to make sure he or she is enrolled and connect them to that culture,” Urness said.

In North Dakota, a court hearing is required for termination of parental rights, at which time the agency takes custody, although the child can continue to be in the adoptive home. If all goes well during monthly follow-up visits by the agency, custody can be transferred at six months.

For those who choose adoption, a long-term resource is The N.D. Post Adopt Network, which supports adoptive families and families who provide guardianship to a child in their home. Services are free. The group advocates for children, hosts monthly events and provides general support and crisis management.

More adoption choices

All About U Adoptions and Building Forever Families are two other adoption agenices that operate in North Dakota.

All About U Adoptions, with an office in Burlington, also operates in South Dakota, Nebraska and Arkansas. Founded in 2006, it is a nonprofit, licensed, full-service agency that primarily focuses on private domestic infant adoptions but also provides counseling and support to women and couples facing an unplanned pregnancy. AAU also provides services for identified/matched adoptions, as well as home studies for embryo adoptions.

Building Forever Families, founded in 2015, is licensed in North and South Dakota and has an office in Watford City.

Barb Pearson-Cramer, executive director, is based in South Dakota and has worked with adoptions since 2006.

“I started this agency because I really wanted to provide a personal touch. I am an adoptive mom and just really wanted to make an experience for families similar to the one that I had. We do a lot of one-on-one with the families. We try to get to know each family really well so we can best serve them,” she said.

Building Forever Families handles many interstate placements from various states through a vast network of agencies and adoption attorneys. The agency’s primary programs are infant/child voluntary adoption and foster care adoption involving children across the country whose parents have had rights terminated. It is contracted for foster care adoptions with the state of Texas.

Anyone in North Dakota is eligible to apply for adoption through nearly any of the agencies in North Dakota by passing the background checks and studies. If married, a couple should be married for at least two years.

Christian Adoption Services has tighter eligibility rules. Founded in 1985 to serve Minnesota and North Dakota, the agency only provides adoptions to heterosexual, married, Christian couples.

Christian Adoption Services also provides adoption education through schools, businesses and in speaking to groups. The education includes an understanding of adoption language, Nasers said. For instance, birth mothers come to the agency not to give up children for adoption but to make adoption plans.

“Whenever we hear the word ‘gave up,’ we think they didn’t want to try, or they weren’t strong enough. The more appropriate thing to say is, ‘She created an adoption plan for her child,’ because it is very intentional. Every single birth parent loves their child so much that they’re willing to put their child’s needs before their own. So they very intentionally choose a plan for them and choose a family for them,” Nasers said.

Adoptive families also deserve admiration, Grundysen said.

“There needs to be a certain kind of fortitude, I guess, to do adoption, because it is not easy, and most of the families who pursue adoption have struggled with infertility, which is a huge blow,” Grundysen said.

Once couples work through the infertility so it’s no longer impacting them in a negative way, they are ready to consider adoption, she said.

“They’ve already worked hard. Adoption is more hard work, but they persevere in a way that is quite miraculous actually,” she said.

Series will continue on Thursday.

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