“Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone,
but still miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute,
you didn't grow under my heart, but in it.”
Fleur Conkling Heyliger
Fifteen years after I started the process—affectionately known as the “paper pregnancy”— to adopt my daughter, I am still in awe of how God knits families together. Adoption was His plan for my family, as it is for many others.
I vividly remember every stage of my “paper pregnancy.” The first “trimester” comprised a prayerful and careful search for an adoption provider. The second “trimester” involved seemingly endless paperwork, including applications, reference letters, a certification from my doctor that I was healthy, and confirmation from my employer that I had a job and made enough money to support a child. There was also the nervousness that accompanied multiple home visits from a social worker.
The final “trimester” was “the wait.” All the paperwork was done. I had done everything required of me, and now all I could do was wait. Wait for the moment that occupied both my prayers and my dreams. Wait for the moment when I would finally hold my baby in my arms.
Just like a physical pregnancy, adoption is an extremely emotional and demanding process. It is incredibly important that adoption professionals who understand and share your hopes, dreams, and values accompany you on this life-changing journey.
There are many adoption providers that can process the required paperwork, but it takes a special group of people to shepherd a family into being. My Christian faith is central to my life and deeply informed my decision to adopt. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans …” James 1:27 (NIV). Not surprisingly, I chose to work with a Christian adoption provider.
I am still grateful for the many times my adoption coordinator encouraged me with passages from Scripture and prayed with me when the whole process seemed overwhelming. I am not sure who cried harder when she finally called on a Friday morning in late July to tell me that I had a daughter.
While it is important that prospective adoptive parents have a choice of adoption providers, it is even more important to put children first. It is essential for children waiting for “forever homes” that the providers serving these children do not face governmental harassment, fines, or closure for operating in accordance with their fundamental and deeply held beliefs. If adoption providers are not protected, waiting and vulnerable children will suffer.
Many faith-based adoption providers are now facing lawsuits and closure for their policies—policies often based upon Scripture and sacred Christian tradition. Catholic Charities’ adoption and foster care services have already been shuttered in Boston, the State of Illinois, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. for seeking to serve children consistent with Catholic teaching about the importance of children having both a mom and a dad.
And defenseless children are being hurt as a result. For instance, Catholic Charities typically takes on the most difficult placements, including older, abused children and children with special needs. Who is going to fill in the gap to tirelessly work to find “forever homes” for these kids?
Misguided efforts to shut down faith-based adoption and foster care providers are also underway in other states. For example, the ACLU is suing the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, seeking to prevent St. Vincent Catholic Charities and other faith-based providers from partnering with the state in providing foster care and adoption services because of the providers’ religious beliefs. And the City of Philadelphia is seeking to shut down Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services because of their commitment to finding moms and dads for kids.
It is estimated that 1 of every 25 families in the U.S. has an adopted child, and that approximately 135,000 children are adopted by American families each year. While this is encouraging, there are still over 100,000 children in foster care waiting for placement. And sadly, more than 20,000 children age out of foster care each year without finding a permanent family. This has a tragic impact on both our children and our society. Recent research has shown that only 2% of children who age out of foster care will go on to get a college education. And 80% of the prison population is comprised of adults who were in the foster care system at some point during their childhoods. We must do more to bring these children into loving, permanent families.
As more faith-based adoption providers face governmental mandates to either shut down or violate their beliefs in how they place the children in their care, more children will be deprived of loving families. And the consequences for both these children and our society will be catastrophic. Thankfully, federal and state legislators are trying to remedy this grave injustice.
Nine states have enacted laws protecting adoption and foster care providers from discrimination based on their beliefs to ensure as many providers as possible stay in the field. Congress is also considering the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017, which would prevent federal agencies and state governments from discriminating against child welfare providers on the basis of their religious beliefs or moral convictions.
After adopting my daughter, my heart—while bursting with love for my new daughter—remained haunted by the children who were not going to find “forever families.”
Why wouldn’t we want to give these children more opportunities to be placed in loving homes? We need more providers and adoption professionals, not discriminatory government mandates. We must put the welfare of children ahead of the political agendas of adults.