Over the last five years, the number of employers offering benefits that cover adoption has doubled. Individuals and couples consider adoption to start or grow their families for a variety of reasons, and Maven is here for them through every step of their journey. It can be a challenging process, and what we hear most often from Maven members—echoed through the questions asked by the HR leaders we partner with to design inclusive family benefits—is: Where do I start? How can I learn more about the process to decide whether it’s right for me? And where can I get specialized, expert guidance and support along the way?

In order to bridge that gap, we turned to an expert: Maven Adoption Coach Amy Twombly. Amy founded adoption consulting group Hello Baby Adoption Consultants after her own journey to help other individuals and families navigate the domestic infant adoption process. We sat down with Amy for an Adoption 101 that can help individuals, benefits and HR leaders, and others who are looking to learn more about the adoption process.

Here’s our Q&A with Maven Adoption Coach Amy Twombly.

Let’s start with the basics. Can you share more about what you do as an adoption coach?

Adoption is very complex and there are a lot of misconceptions about the process. Individuals often don’t think it can happen or that it will take years, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Knowing where to start is really challenging and there’s a lot of research and education that’s needed, as well as guidance and support, to be able to carve out the right path.

As an adoption consultant, we help guide and educate families through the entire process—from beginning to end. And it’s definitely a process. Adoptive families can consider international adoption, foster-to-adopt, or domestic infant adoption—which is what I specialize in. With domestic infant adoption, every state has different laws regarding adoption, and every agency and attorney has different processes and procedures. So, nothing is step-by-step or streamlined with adoption. There’s never going to be one journey that’s the same for every individual going through adoption.

For so many individuals considering adoption, they don’t know where to start. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, what are the first steps you recommend someone take?

Education and research at the beginning is key for any individual or family considering adoption, because they need to understand what their options are and how to find the right agency or agencies to work with, which is one of the most critical pieces.  This means finding the right adoption agency that fits the family’s profile, preferences, as well as budget. Even as an expert, trying to find the right agencies for each individual is one of the biggest challenges. Not every agency is going to be the right fit for every family or individual.

Working with an adoption agency is what I think of as a full-service approach. A good agency is going to guide you through the entire process, and they’re also there for the expectant mothers who are placing their babies for adoption. These agencies are finding and vetting expectant mothers, and providing counseling and support for these moms, as well as guiding the adoptive family through the process. Many agencies have in-house legal teams to help families through the legal process as well.

What we hear from Maven members is that they don’t know what the right questions are to ask an agency when determining whether it’s right for them. What questions do you recommend individuals who are considering adoption ask to evaluate agencies?

When individuals start looking into agencies, I recommend that they start with these four key questions:

  • How many placements do you do a year?
  • How many waiting families do you have at one time?
  • What are your upfront fees to become a waiting family?
  • Do you offer counseling and support to expectant mothers?

Because if they’re only doing 10 placements a year and they have 50 waiting families, odds are you’re going to be waiting for a long time, and it certainly doesn’t have to be that way.

“Adoption is very complex and there are a lot of misconceptions about the process. Individuals often don’t think it can happen or that it will take years, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Once an individual has chosen an agency or agencies to work with, what are the first steps in an adoption process?

In order to become a waiting family in any adoption process, an individual needs an approved home study. This is a 10-20 page document that provides details regarding every single aspect of a family, from medical and financial history to home environment. And what it does is ensures that the individual or family is able to provide a loving, stable, financially-secure home to a child.

It typically takes about 8-10 weeks for a home study to be complete. It depends on the state and the home study provider who grants approval—this does have to be done within the adoptive parent’s home state. The fees for home studies vary greatly by state and agency.

Also before becoming a waiting family, you have to create a profile book, including text and pictures to showcase your life and your family. Believe it or not, it’s the only thing that expectant moms look at when choosing the family to place her baby with, so it’s a real mission-critical piece of the journey. And a big tip I give to people is these moms don’t want to know every detail of your life; they want to be able to envision what their baby’s life would be like as part of your family.

What should LGBTQ+ individuals or same-sex couples know about starting an adoption process?

With the right guidance and emotional support through their process, adoption can be a really positive experience for LGBTQ+ individuals and couples. Unfortunately, some adoption agencies do have limitations for LGBTQ+ individuals and same-sex couples. Many faith-based agencies, for example, have specific criteria for families that are able to apply. But everyone should know that there are plenty of agencies out there who are LGBTQ+ friendly, and who work with many expectant mothers who are open to all individuals and families—including LGBTQ+ parents, same-sex couples, and single parents.

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What are some of the most common missteps that individuals or families take in beginning an adoption process that can impact their experience?

First, a lot of families going through domestic infant adoption don’t realize that adoption is nationwide, so they can be matched with a baby in their home state or in another state. And this can be critical because there are states that are referred to as being more “adoption-friendly states”, which has to do with the amount of placements in those states as well as the laws that dictate when mom can consent to signing her rights and when they become irrevocable.

Second, what a lot of families don’t realize is that you don’t have to only work with one adoption agency. You can actually work with multiple adoption agencies. And that’s what our approach is at Hello Baby.

Can you also share more with us about adoption preferences and what those mean for individuals?

There are five main preferences we talk about in adoption:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Substance abuse within mom, dad, or immediate family
  • Mental health issues
  • Openness, which means openness to having the biological mom or parents in the child’s life after the adoption

A lot of families who come to us have this certain vision of what a child will look like that will come to their family. And once they become educated about the realities of adoption and what adoption really looks like, they tend to open up their preferences more. And the more open a family is, the more cases they’re going to see with the best possible chances of being matched.

We know financial considerations are key for many individuals who may want to pursue adoption. What can someone expect in terms of adoption fees?

There are fees associated with many stages of adoption that we’ve addressed, including home studies and working with agencies. Individuals don’t have to pay exorbitant upfront fees, which are required by agencies to become a waiting family within their system. Agencies with low upfront fees typically charge anywhere from $100 up to $3,000. On the high-end of the spectrum, there are agencies that require $10,000-15,000 upfront. As you can imagine, you’re only applying with that one agency because it is a large investment for any parent or family—and these upfront fees are non-refundable. You’re locked in with that agency regardless of how long it takes, because if you walk away, you’re losing that money. We help individuals to find the highest-quality agencies that match their preferences and needs with the lowest upfront fees.

How do you work with Maven members on our platform?

As a Maven Adoption Coach, I help guide and support individuals at any part of their process and really meet them where they are in their own journey. My goal is to be there for Maven members to answer questions, direct them to resources, and provide support and guidance as they consider adoption or as they navigate bumps along their own adoption process: where to start, how they need to plan for an adoption, what they need to look for in an agency, navigating options if they’ve been waiting for a long time, and more.

What is the #1 misconception that people have about adoption?

The number one misconception is that adoption takes years and years, or that it just doesn’t even happen for some individuals. What many people don’t know is that there are adoption professionals like me who want to guide and support you throughout your unique journey, making your wait time less. And that’s why I became an adoption coach after adopting my daughter.

Can you share more about your own adoption journey that led you to become an adoption coach?

I would not be here today if it wasn’t for my daughter and my adoption journey. I was a stay-at-home mom for 17 years before I became an adoption coach. We had three biological boys, who are now just about 16, 18, and 20. We always knew we wanted more children; the years went by and life got in the way, but that desire to grow our family didn’t stop.

We talked about adoption but we didn’t really know what that meant or how to begin. It was my older son who really inspired us to start looking into the  process. His close friend’s family adopted, and he just thought it was amazing. He loved the relationship that his friend had with his sister. And one day he just asked us, can we adopt?

After that, we started really talking about it. It was very scary--not knowing how to start or what to do or how this would impact the family that we had for so many years. We had also been through a really emotional in-vitro process for our second son as well, so knowing the emotional challenges of adoption was something we had to really ensure we were ready for.

When we finally decided that we wanted to move forward with adoption, we didn’t know where to start, so we began with the child welfare system, which is very different from domestic infant adoption. We were the pre-adoptive family for a 13-month-old little girl and we had a relationship with her for over a year; her track was going toward adoption. We all fell in love with her—the boys especially—and after a year, she ultimately was reunified with her mom. Looking back at it now, that is where she should be, but obviously it was devastating for us. The boys were heartbroken.

We learned that adoption was something we really wanted for our family—and needed. So we moved to the domestic infant adoption process. I didn’t know about consultants or coaches, and we had no idea what we were doing. I did do a lot of research but there’s so much information out there that it gets very overwhelming. We chose to move forward with a couple of agencies, and we had an unbelievable experience. We were told that because we had 3 children already that it would take a long time to be matched (I don’t find that to be true always now, as a coach), and we were matched just 3 weeks after we were home study approved. Our baby came home 4 months later. We established a very close relationship with my daughter’s birth family, which we still have today. They’re extended family members for us--they visit with us at our home, and we visit with them at their home.

After adoption, I became so passionate about the process and helping others through it to have an experience like ours. There were so many misconceptions that almost led us not to start our adoption journey, and I wanted to help others navigate the process so they could have a positive experience and make their families whole.

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