For nearly three years, Ken Mullner has served as executive director of the National Adoption Center in Philadelphia, which expands adoption opportunities for foster children throughout the country. Previously the executive director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for 14 years, Mullner welcomed a chance to work in the adoption field after he and his wife adopted a little girl. Through his work and life experiences, Mullner shares his advice with prospective parents.
Alexis, now 9, was adopted domestically with an attorney as the intermediary. She was not adopted through an adoption agency. She came to live with us—my wife, Marina, and our daughter, Samantha, then 8—immediately after she was born. In fact, my wife and I were in the delivery room. She was a beautiful baby and Samantha loved her instantly. We felt immediately that she was our daughter, the one meant for our family.
During the adoption process, we felt nervous that a child wouldn’t be found for us, or that we wouldn’t “measure up” as potential adoptive parents. We felt totally comfortable with the idea of adoption and we were looking forward to expanding our family this way. We talked with Samantha, our daughter, and she, too, loved the idea of having a sister or brother. I think it’s important that any children already in the family must be part of the decision to adopt because it’s a milestone in the family’s life and affects everyone in different ways.
Because some adoptions are not finalized the day a child is placed with the family, we were concerned that her birthmother or father might change their minds and want her back. I think this is a common fear among adoptive parents, and there’s not much you can do except think positively and wait it out until the child is yours legally. This usually takes from six months to a year, depending on where you live. For me, by the time that happened, I had forgotten that Alexis was adopted. She’s my own child just like my biological daughter, Samantha. I feel no difference.
Be prepared to have a lot of patience and perseverance. Read anything you can about adoption and network with others who have gone through the same process. Become educated about adoption. There are adoptive parent groups that can give you support or just the assurance you can get from talking one-on-one with other adoptive parents.
The pros are that you’ll be providing a home for a child who might otherwise not have one and enriching the life of your own family. You’ll be incurring little or no cost.
The cons are that these children are not babies, so you won’t experience parenting right from the beginning. Many of the children have emotional issues because they have been abandoned or abused in their early lives. You may have to wait for positive feedback and trust from your child because he has been rejected in the past.
More than 115,000 children in the country wait to be adopted. They are school aged and older; they may have a physical, developmental or emotional disability; some are siblings who need homes together; and many come from minority cultures. You may encounter a 13-year-old boy with learning disabilities, a sibling group of four with one autistic child or a nine-year-old boy who has lived in four foster homes and has difficulty trusting adults.
Am I open to adopting an older child or a child with a disability? Am I prepared to wait for feedback from the child? Am I willing to look for the therapeutic, medical or educational resources the child may need? How do I feel about adopting a child from another race? How will my immediate and extended families feel about my adoption? Are they prepared to be loving and helpful? Can I expect support and love from friends? How will I tell my child about his adoption?
There’s little or no cost to a foster care adoption. The length of time it takes depends on the “match” between the kind of child you want and the children who are available. Someone willing to adopt a teenager with moderate emotional problems may have a briefer wait than someone who will accept only a girl under seven with minor emotional issues.
Prospective adoptive parents can get information through the Center’s web site, Adopt.org, or by calling the office at (215) 735-9988 and requesting a packet of information. Advocacy can also be offered through the center, and those willing to travel can attend the center’s “match” parties and teen events, where prospective parents can meet children who are waiting to be adopted.
This is a magical time in the life of your family—take the time to savor it. You might even want to keep a journal so that you can preserve the memories, your feelings and create something special to give your child when he or she is older.
At the same time, be prepared to be sleep deprived if you have adopted a baby. If you can, sleep when the baby sleeps. Be flexible and take the time—even if it’s just a few minutes—to do whatever relaxes you. It may be reading the headlines and drinking a cup of tea. For me, talking to a neighbor who had just adopted also was comforting.
I believe that change creates opportunities and opens you up to experiences you could have never imagined.
...It keeps you energized and enthusiastic and presents you with a new and exciting way of looking at life.
Adopting my daughter and becoming executive director of the National Adoption Center.
For more information about Ken Mullner, visit www.adopt.org.