Below is a guest post by AGOHA adoptive mom Nicole Frederick, MA, who recently brought home her second child. She brings a unique perspective as a military adoptive mom. This week she concludes with specific steps to take to get your little one home as quickly as possible.
After investigating various offices around our duty station, I was amazed by how little information about adoption the base was able to provide. Each office I visited gave me the same response, “Hmmm. We’re not really sure. Maybe you could try___________”. And thus began the wild goose chase. I searched the internet and contacted everyone I could think of to find a way to get our daughter back to Japan quickly. Looking at all the information I had collected, I was able to piece together some useful ideas to help our adoption move smoothly and to get a passport issued for our daughter. Most of the information can help anyone who is adopting, but some of it is specific to military families.
Find an adoption agency with experience working with military families- Do your research. Find an adoption agency that is willing to accept a homestudy from any licensed social worker. Ask the agency to provide an outline/sample format of a homestudy to make the process easier for the social worker.
· Be organized- Buy a multiple section folder in which to store all of your adoption material. Before finding a social worker, ask your agency if there are specific forms needed for your medical exam, fingerprinting, letters of reference, etc. Gather these forms and complete as many as possible BEFORE beginning your homestudy. This will make the process go much faster. Items that I recommend having before completing a homestudy include: copies of every family members’ birth certificates, copies of marriage and/or divorce certificates, physical/mental health exams done by a qualified physician and/or mental health provider, copies of your most recent tax return, and five letters of reference (three from non-family members and two from family members). Begin an ongoing itemized worksheet of ALL adoption expenses including payment information, to whom the money was paid and the services performed. Make copies of everything and keep them in a separate location in your home or scan and email copies of paperwork to yourself. If traveling alone, visit your attorney or base legal office to obtain general power of attorney to sign documents for your spouse as well as special power of attorney for all adoption related decisions.
· Find a licensed social worker- If you are living in the states, finding a licensed social worker is usually not difficult. However, finding a licensed social worker while living overseas can be more challenging. Contact your base mental health clinic and ask if they have any licensed social workers that are able to do adoption homestudies. Your area may also have an online adoption forum that could guide you to a social worker. Other resources may include the Airman Family and Readiness Center, Base Legal or the LINKS program. You will need to ask your social worker to provide you with copies of their license.
· Contact an attorney-Once you are matched with a birthmother, ask your adoption agency to help you find an attorney. Ask the attorney to speak to the court in the county where the adoption will take place BEFORE you retain the attorney’s services. Make sure that the court knows that you are a military family, where you are stationed, and how your homestudy was completed. This is critical because every state (and sometimes even counties) has different criteria as to whether homestudies from licensed social worker are acceptable or if it has to be from a licensed agency. Some states will approve a homestudy from a licensed social worker as long as a local adoption agency will sign off on it. If the court is already appraised of the situation before the termination of parental rights/transfer of custody hearing, then you are less likely to have any unhappy surprises at court. Ask your attorney to request a court order for issuance of passport. This court order can usually be approved at the transfer of custody hearing/termination of parental rights hearing.
· Getting a passport for your new child- If you are stationed overseas or simply if you are traveling soon after the birth/transfer of custody of your child, there are lots of different ways to obtain passports quickly including using passport expediting companies such as visaexpress.net or passportexpress.com. However, expediting companies can be expensive and usually will not refund your money if any mistake is made on the application or if a passport photo is rejected. I was able to obtain a passport for my daughter in less than 24 hours from application time until I had her passport in hand by visiting a national passport center. Here is how I did it:
- Locate a national passport center. You can do this by calling 1-877-487-2778. You can also make an appointment at the same time.
- If you are traveling alone to adopt your child- from the U.S. Department of State website (http://travel.state.gov/passport), print out form DS-3053. Have the parent that is NOT traveling take the form to a notary and have it signed in front of the notary (usually banks on base or base legal can provide notary services). This form grants the parent that is traveling permission to obtain a passport. You will also need a copy of the front and back of your spouse’s military identification card or driver’s license.
- After your baby is born, request that the attorney obtain several original copies of your baby’s birth certificate. This needs to be an official copy with the County or State seal on it (the hospital issued certificate is not accepted). If you are fortunate enough to have a positive relationship with your birthmother, you can kindly request that she go with you to the county clerk office to obtain original copies. Our birthmother was amazing enough to go with me and I was able to obtain five originals right away for a total of $35.
- Gather the required materials: To expedite a passport from a national passport center, you MUST have proof of departure within 14 days. Proof of departure can include a receipt for travel plans, a confirmed itinerary or tickets. You will also need an original birth certificate for your child, the notarized form DS-3053 (if traveling alone), a court order for obtaining a passport, an original copy of the transfer of custody from the court, two passport photos of your little one, completed form DS-11 (also located on http://travel.state.gov/passport website).
· Military Info- If you are in the military, the active duty service member will need to register your child for DEERS (Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System) as soon as you have an original copy of your child’s birth certificate as well as an original copy of the transfer of custody. In some branches of the service, you may also need a command sponsorship letter for eligibility into Tricare (military health care program). For more information, visit the Tricare office at your local military treatment facility or your base personnel office.
· Take a deep breath- You can do this! Break up the monotony of paperwork by having some fun. Remember, you are doing this to bring your child home! Take care of yourself, eat well, exercise and spend time with friends. Doing things that you enjoy will make the time go by more quickly and make the tough times seem more manageable.