By Tiffany Taulton
Reverend Michael Murray’s childhood and his faith played equal roles in his decision to adopt. “I came from a large family of 12, including my parents. I grew up in a happy home. When you grow up in a happy home, you see the difference between enjoying your life and seeing what others put into it. So, once I wanted to develop a family, I wanted a big family.”
In addition to raising his three biological children, Rev. Murray has adopted seven and fostered 22 children. His fifth, sixth, and seventh adoptions were of three siblings. His fostering experience started by chance through kinship care when a family member was struggling to take care of their child. That first experience reminded him just how much of a difference having a person fully invested in a child’s life could make.
In Pennsylvania, nearly 15,000 children are currently in foster care. Another 3,000 children are waiting to be adopted into loving homes. For National Adoption Awareness Month, The Homepage invites you to learn more about adoption, how you can support kids and families in need, and ways to celebrate adoptions in your family or social circle.
People choose to adopt for many reasons, from infertility to wanting to fill an empty nest. Some want to have a family, but do not have a partner. Others may feel called to show God’s love by caring for children. As long as they genuinely love children and are able to give them a safe home, they may be a candidate for adoption.
Who can adopt
Pennsylvania is one of the least restrictive states with respect to adoption. Same-sex partners and single individuals can adopt. Those who are over age 21 can both foster and adopt. The main requirement is to be a loving adult with the space and financial security to take care of a child or children.
There are two ways to adopt: through a private agency or through the state foster care system. Private adoptions, whether domestic or international, are typically of infants and can cost up to tens of thousands of dollars.
Adopting through the state foster care system, however, is nearly free as the state will cover most major expenses. The person or couple seeking to adopt must pay for their clearances and other minor expenses.
Once the application and background checks are completed, prospective adoptive parents must complete training courses on topics like trauma, attachment, prudent parenting, legal issues, adoption resources, and supporting a child’s cultural identity.
Prospective parents also must provide personal references and undergo interviews to make sure they are financially and emotionally ready to foster or adopt, and identify what kind of child or children would be best suited for their home. The foster-adopt licensing process typically takes about six months.
However, once the process is completed, it is not unusual for a newly licensed home to receive a call for their first placement within the same week. Those who want to adopt will find they typically have to foster for six months to two years beforehand. The state of Pennsylvania prefers family reunification and usually does not end parental rights except in extreme cases, and only after a prospective adoptive parent is found.
Before the adoption is finalized, prospective adoptive parents will have biweekly visits from their state social workers to ensure both they and the child or children are adjusting well. They will have to take the child to scheduled visits with the biological parents and any medical appointments. They may need to continue taking them to their previous school if removing them from both their home and their school at the same time is considered too traumatizing. However, once the adoption goes through, the adoptive parents will have full authority over the child’s travel and education.
Families and communities can celebrate finalizing an adoption with a party. Others can help a friend celebrate an adoption anniversary by chipping in to send them on a family vacation. During Adoption Awareness Month, you may also want to share articles and videos on social media about adoption and encourage others to open their homes to a child in need. Adoptive families can use this month to watch positive adoption movies with their child and spend time re-telling them their adoption story.
While foster parenting and adoption have their challenges, they also offer tremendous rewards and can become a life-long calling. This was the case for Rev. Murray. “I made a pledge to God and myself that as long as I’m capable I’ll make a safe haven and a have a rescue mission.”
Sidebar: What is open adoption?
Open adoption means keeping in contact with an adopted child’s biological family. This may mean exchanging photos and letters frequently or every few years. It may mean phone calls or visits. How this looks depends on a lot of factors, including how much contact the biological parents want, where the adopted child and their families live, and the kind of relationship the adoptive and birth parents have.
Adopted children need their birth families. Kids need to know where they come from. If they worry about their birth family’s wellbeing, contact reassures them. Open adoption tells children that their biological family did not reject them. Adoptive parents who maintain contact with their child’s birth parents are giving their child a powerful message about love and acceptance. This approach has been researched for many years and has been shown to help children become more attached to their adoptive parents.
For resources on open adoption, go to https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/adoptive/before-adoption/openness/.