The Good News provides a monthly column with important content having to do with topics from the legal community. This month Bill Davell discusses public and private adoption and how to decide what’s best for your family situation with Tripp Scott attorney and Director Jeff Wood.
BILL DAVELL: Jeff, what is a public versus a private adoption in Florida?
JEFF WOOD: A public or state adoption involves adopting a child out of the foster care system, which in Florida is managed by community-based care agencies, or CBCs, contracting with the state. A great example of a CBC is 4KIDS, Inc. here in Broward County. They are an elite agency serving thousands of kids, providing safe and secure environments for healing and equipping parents and caregivers to help children thrive.
Foster children become available for adoption when a court determines it will not be safe or in their best interest to return to their parents or families. CBCs then help match children and adoptive parents, see both parties through the process and provide follow-up support.
A private adoption occurs in one of three ways: a private child-placing agency licensed by the state plays the role filled in a public adoption by the CBC; or less frequently, a licensed adoption attorney plays the role of the intermediary and manages the process, usually with agency support to prepare a homestudy. A stepparent or close relative can adopt when one or both biological parents are willing to give up parental rights.
BD: What are key considerations in choosing public versus private?
JW: Before we discuss that, it is essential to note that the number one consideration in any area of family law is the best interests of the child. While there is enormous satisfaction in welcoming a child into your home and lives, prospective parents should remember that it’s not primarily about their own wishes and desires, but providing love, stability and hope for a child.
When discussing the distinction between private vs public adoptions, this is one big difference: public adoptions generally involve older children – from a few months up to teenagers – many who may have emotional, behavorial, and/or medical needs. Private adoptions, especially international adoptions, can also involve older children, but often involve newborns, sometimes even identified when the mother is still expecting.
A second consideration is financial. Private adoptions can cost tens of thousands of dollars. State adoptions can be virtually cost-free to adoptive parents. In many cases, even court costs are paid for. Plus adopted children may be eligible for stipends, health care and even free state college tuition, depending on their needs.
BD: Are there different processes and parent qualifications?
JW: Both forms of adoption require the same level of matching, screening and qualifying of parents, handled in the case of public adoptions by a contracted CBC, and generally in private adoptions by the licensed child-placing agency. Most international adoptions must involve a child-placing agency also accredited by the State Department.
In either case, a preliminary adoptive home study is done, which must involve at least two home visits. Criteria considered include:
- the child’s choice for older children – those over 12 must generally consent
- willingness to adopt siblings, when that is in the children’s best interest
- respect for the child’s racial and ethnic heritage
- prior child-rearing and/or adoption experience
- stability of marriages or significant relationships
- sufficiency of income and housing
- adoptive parents’ health
- impact on and of other children; and
- flexibility of working parents to spend sufficient time during transition.
In some cases, usually in cases where the adoptive family does not have child-raising experience, the agency may require a parent to engage in adoptive parent training. In the case of international adoptions, the child-placing agency must also ensure that the home study fulfills U.S. Customs and Immigrations Service requirements.
A written report is generated, and if a committee of child specialists in the agency approves the study, a petition is made to the court to finalize the adoption, and the child can be placed in the home on a preliminary basis. If the court approves the adoption at a finalization hearing, additional filings are made and a final home investigation is done. Post-adoptive resources are made available to parents involved in public adoptions.
BD: What happens at the finalization hearing?
JW: Because the placement process is so thorough, usually the hearing is pretty much a formality, but it is both a rewarding and satisfying ending for the process and most of the judges make the parents feel special for their commitment. Your attorney introduces you and asks questions that demonstrate your qualifications as parents. Foster children over 12 will need to consent. The judge may also ask a few questions, and then usually will issue a formal decree of adoption. As an attorney, it has been a privilege to be a part of these hearings making forever families.
BD: Should I hire an adoption lawyer?
JW: Absolutely. Adoption involves numerous legal filings, petitions and notices, plus the finalization hearing. Legal complications can arise, sometimes involving family members, the home study, or immigration issues for an international adoption.
And an experienced adoption attorney can be a good starting place because, from an unbiased third-party perspective, we can help you sort the various options, public and private, and select the right path and the agency partner for you.
BD: Let me close by saying that there is no more qualified attorney than Jeff Wood to help steer you through the adoption process, start to finish. Jeff has been a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and the Florida Adoption Council, and most recently, Governor DeSantis appointed him to the board of the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, which funds close to a hundred programs serving children and families.
You can reach Jeff via email at email@example.com or by phone at 954-525-7500.
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