Adoption Isn’t Just for Civilians

Adoption Isn’t Just for Civilians

Why military families make great adoptive families

Hey, Military Mom: Have you considered adoption but figured your nomadic-like lifestyle wouldn’t be seen as “stable” enough? Have you thought maybe Tricare would be a turn off to agencies or potential birth parents searching for the best home for a child? Figured you couldn’t possibly afford it on a military salary?

Despite all this, adoption can work well for military families. In some ways it’s already part of the way we live: Given how often we move and how far away we are from family, we are inclined to make fast friends. Often we “adopt” our friends as our chosen family.

Here are two reasons why military families could make great adoptive families:

  1. Military families are global families. As we make our homes all over the globe, we become citizens of the world. Take a look around your house. Do you have a shrunk in your living room from Germany? Earrings from Saudi Arabia? How about some Polish pottery? A hand-woven rug from Afghanistan? Mink blankets from Korea on the guest bed?
  2. We are an empathetic lot. We volunteer in our communities, in our Family Readiness Groups, on our installations. We line up to bring casseroles to new moms. We pass babies around the room at coffee. We take your kids for the day when you’re under the weather. We sit with the bereaved for days and weeks on end after that knock came on their door. In short, we are hardwired for this—to love a child not born of our flesh.

But if you decide to pursue adopting a child, here are some things to consider.

Challenges of adopting: Military life is stressful enough. With deployments and PCS (Permanent Change of Station) moves, it may seem like an impossible task to find an agency, complete a home study, get matched, and finalize an adoption. But it can be done.

Find an agency: The first step is to narrow down what kind of adoption you want. Are you looking to adopt domestically? Internationally? A newborn? An older child? From within your extended family (known as kinship adoption)? From foster care? (Despite a common misconception, military families can adopt through the foster care system; it just takes a bit of extra work.)

Do your research: Your best bet is to call several agencies and visit their websites. Ask for some initial information to be sent to you. Read online reviews written by adoptive parents and birth families. There are a lot of resources on the web that can help you choose an ethical adoption organization.

Define type of adoption services needed: Next, you’ll need to decide what type of adoption professional to use. Local agencies work with birth parents and potential adoptive parents from within the state. National agencies match birth and adoptive families from across the country; many also handle international adoptions as well. International agencies can help you decide which country you’d like to adopt from. Since not all agencies are certified to work with every country, if there is a specific nation you’re hoping to adopt from, be sure that agency is licensed for that locale. Facilitators are often the least expensive, but they are not legal in every state. They tend to make matches only within the U.S. and do not perform home studies or offer legal services. Adoption attorneys merely handle the legal aspect of adoption and do not offer counseling for birth parents or preadoption education (which may be required by law in your state of residence). While the price tag on national and local agencies may be higher, they are more likely to be all-inclusive and full-service programs.

Special considerations for military families: If you think you might PCS at any phase of your adoption, it is advised to choose an agency certified to work in every state. If you do receive PCS orders at any point during the process, you will have to update your home study in your new state of residence and comply with any state-specific adoption laws (i.e. your new state may require a certain number of hours of adoption education, whereas your previous state did not). If the adoption is close to finalizing, you may wish to stay behind for a few weeks or months while your spouse moves ahead to the new duty station, particularly if it is an overseas PCS. If the service member is deployed during an adoption, be sure to get an adoption-specific power of attorney so that you’ll be able to sign paperwork on his or her behalf, appear in court, and take custody of the child in the service member’s absence. In fact, it is best to get one as soon as you begin the adoption process. That way, if a short-notice deployment comes up, you’ll be covered. A general power of attorney will not work for this; your adoption professional will know exactly what the document needs to say.

Financing an adoption: Adopting from foster care is usually the least expensive option; the state pays for the home study and associated fees. International adoption tends to be the most expensive, as it typically includes travel to the country of the child’s birth. Domestic private adoptions, where the birth parents voluntarily make an adoption plan for their child, can also be expensive if the expectant mother does not have health insurance or if she lives in a state where adoption law permits her to receive living expenses during her pregnancy. All adoptive families can take advantage of the Federal Adoption Tax Credit, which offers reimbursements of qualifying adoption fees (up to $13,190 for adoptions finalized in 2014). Military families also qualify for $2,000 adoption reimbursement after the adoption has been finalized.

Defying military family stereotypes: A difficult aspect of adopting in the military is combating the mistaken notion that a military lifestyle isn’t stable or desirable. If you’re pursuing a private domestic adoption, you’ll have to put together a profile book. A profile book tells the story of your life, home, and family so that expectant parents can choose the adoptive family they feel is the best match. Expectant parents who may not know much about the military may be intimidated by it at first, so be sure to choose photos for your profile book carefully.

Suggestions for creating a great profile book: A picture of your service member at the range or in field gear carrying a weapon might seem scary to a young birth parent, so it might be best to skip those kind of shots. But you also don’t want to hide the fact you are a military family, so by all means, include ball photos or pictures from the last homecoming ceremony. Make it clear you won’t always live where you’re living now, and if you’re matched locally, the birth family needs to understand you will eventually PCS. If you live on a military installation, play on the strengths it provides: a tight-knit community, safety, neighborhood children, and parks and playgrounds. And although it may not feel like it when you’re repeatedly hitting redial on the Tricare appointment line at 6:00 a.m., you actually have excellent health benefits at minimal cost, particularly for children with special needs.

Birth family contact: Families who adopt internationally tend to have the least information regarding their child’s beginnings and biological families. If you adopt from foster care, you’ll likely have some information about the child’s early days/months/years, but birth family contact is often necessarily limited as children available for adoption through the foster care system are more often than not removed from their homes as a result of abuse and neglect. With kinship adoptions, the entire family will need to come to an agreement on boundaries and what information will be shared with the child and when.

Today’s domestic adoptions: In recent years, domestic newborn adoptions have tended to become more open. Gone are the days when unwed young mothers were sent away to give birth in shame and were involuntarily separated from their babies. Today birth parents choose the family that will adopt their child, and the vast majority of domestic newborn adoptions in the U.S. today are open or semi-open. Semi-open typically involves exchanging letters and photos through the agency or attorney. Open adoption most often involves in-person visits, the terms of which are initially worked out with the help of the adoption professional. As time goes on, the birth and adoptive families communicate directly and forge a relationship independent of the matchmaker.

Open adoption: The open adoption relationship has been likened to that of an in-law relationship; it is the coming together of two families who have the best interest of one person at heart—but instead of it being a spouse, it is a child. Studies show that children raised with information about their birth families tend to fare better in terms of mental health and emotional well-being than children in completely closed adoptions. Regardless of what kind of adoption or the level of openness, it is always advised to get as much information as possible regarding the birth family, medical history, and any other pertinent information. Children who were adopted tend to have questions about their adoption as they grow.

For more information on adopting in the military, see the National Military Family Association.


Amy Burris is an Army veteran turned longtime Army wife, a volunteer, and a Solo Mom to two kids during her husband’s deployments. She speaks and writes about adoption issues, and enjoys a fully open adoption with her youngest daughter’s birth family.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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