Interstate Adoption

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How does one adopt a baby or child from another state? If you are working with a national agency, chances are you will be traveling to another state to meet your birth mother and new baby. A large number of private adoptions also happen across state lines. Whether you are flying across the country, or driving twenty minutes to your neighboring state, you will need to comply with the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) before you may bring your new baby home.

ICPC is a legal agreement between all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands, enacted to ensure that children being adopted across state lines were going to safe and suitable homes. Adoption laws are widely variable from state to state. Because there is no federal law regulating adoption, an ICPC office is set up in each state to review specific paperwork for each non-relative, interstate adoption placement. The state where the birth mother resides is referred to as the “sending state”. The adoptive family’s state of residence is called the “receiving state”. ICPC administrators are tasked with making sure the laws and regulations in both states have been followed before they allow the adoptive parents to travel home with their new baby.

Your lawyer or agency will prepare a packet of documents for the ICPC administrators to review. The process is primarily the same in each state, but because the state laws differ there are occasionally variations in what the ICPC offices require. When you have an out of state adoption plan, you should always prepare to be out of state for at least two weeks once your baby is born. The ICPC process can take less than a week, up to two weeks, or even longer. There are many factors which influence the length of the ICPC process.

Generally, the steps in an across state lines adoption include the following:

1. The adoptive parents will travel to the sending state before, or once, the baby is born.

2. The baby is discharged from the hospital usually into the adoptive parent’s custody.

3. There may be a waiting period before the birth parents are legally allowed to consent to the adoption. A signed consent is mandatory for ICPC.

4. Your attorney, working in conjunction with the birth parent’s attorney, will submit the necessary ICPC paperwork and supporting documents to the sending state’s ICPC office. This paperwork includes the home study, certification as qualified adoptive parents, medical records on the baby, the birth parent’s consent, information on how the adoption plan was conceived and an accounting of fees or expenses paid by the adoptive parents.

5. The sending state approves the ICPC request and sends it to the receiving state, which then conducts a similar review.

6. Occasionally, one of the ICPC administrators will request additional information. For example, if the baby was born with a medical disability, or drugs in his system, ICPC will want to see an affidavit from the adoptive parents that they have been fully informed of the medical health of the child and attendant risks and that they accept the risks.

7. Once the sending state approves the ICPC request, the administrator will contact the adoptive family’s attorney, who then contacts the adoptive parents that they have been cleared to take their new baby home.

ICPC approval means a potential stay out of town with a newborn baby for a week, maybe longer. There are several factors that contribute to the period of time it takes to obtain ICPC approval. In some states, a birth mother must sign her relinquishment of rights in court in order for the consent to the adoption to be valid. In other states, such as New York, the birth mother may sign her consent as soon as the baby is born and while she has 45 days to revoke her consent, the ICPC paperwork may be filed as soon as she signs. It often takes a day or two to obtain medical records from the hospital where the baby was born. ICPC packets may not be filed without a complete set of the baby’s medical information. In addition, it generally takes a day or two for the attorney or adoption agency to complete the file and submit all necessary documents. Of course, there is always the variable in how fully staffed an ICPC office is and whether the baby is born on or around a government holiday or weekend.

Preparation is important! Adoptive parents are wise to find a comfortable extended stay hotel and bring an infant car seat with them when they travel to their baby’s birth state. If you have special medicines or dietary concerns, pack wisely and take what you would need for potentially 2-3 weeks. It is always everyone’s intention to get the new family home as quickly as possible, but it is wise to plan ahead.

Single Parents and Adoption Profiles

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Creating an adoption profile is an important step in your adoption journey. The profile enables a birth parent to learn about you and to help her make the difficult decision of who she will choose to parent her unborn child. The adoption profile is your chance to make a first impression with a prospective birth mother. As many birth mothers are single women, they typically look for a married couple to adopt their baby. Single adoptive men and women have an extra hurdle to jump in convincing a birth mother that they are up for the task of parenting on their own. In addition to presenting a beautiful profile full of warm, loving, images, single adoptive parents must show they are a capable of being a single parent and will provide a full forever family to child. There are many ways to overcome any potential concerns by a birth mother by addressing them upfront on your online adoption online and in your profile books. If you are single and considering adoption, please find below several useful tips, from Creating a Family* when building your adoption profile.

Who is your support system? Remember to share photos and descriptions of your family and friends. Include images of holidays spent together, special events shared, or just every day happenings enjoyed with your loved ones.

Focus on the stability of your job and your financial ability to raise a child. Explain where or what you do for work, your career goals reached, and a plan you have in place to accomplish your next challenge.

Who will take care of your child when you are at work? Describe the childcare arrangements you will put in place. Will you use a day care center? Will you have help at home?

Explain how you hope to achieve balance in your life as a single mom or dad. Is your employer family-friendly? Does your job allow for flexibility?

Share why you want to be a mother or a father even though you are not married or do not have a life partner. Explain what parenting means to you and why you know you will be a good mother or father.

Who will be male or female role models for your child? Share the other relationships in your life that will allow a child to connect with other adults.

Do you have single parent role models? If yes, explain how meaningful those role models are to you and why.

* Creating a Family is a nonprofit organization that provides education and support to families touched by infertility, adoption and foster care.

Recent Updates in Adoption Law

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The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 was struck down this month, as unconstitutional, by a federal judge in Texas. ICWA is a federal law that pertains to every domestic adoption, private and foster. The law was enacted in response to a practice of removing Native American children from their families and placing them in non-Native American homes. At that time, intentional separation of native children from their families, culture and language was thought to be in their best interests and many agencies were proponents of their assimilation with white families. ICWA was enacted to protect and strengthen Native American parental rights. When a child was removed, state courts were mandated to institute placement preferences starting with a child’s extended family members, then other members of the child’s tribe, and finally by members of other Native American tribes.

Judge Reed O’Connor determined that ICWA discriminates against non-Native American adoptive families by giving preference based on race, in all domestic adoption proceedings, thereby violating the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection under the law guarantee. The judge also ruled that the law violates the Tenth Amendment’s federalism guarantees, specifically the anti-commandeering principle, which was established by the Supreme Court in a 2018 sports gambling case. Specifically, the judge found that ICWA unconstitutionally mandated that state courts implement a policy dictated by the federal government. Pennsylvania and California have used this same argument to block the Trump administration from cracking down on sanctuary cities. In short, Congress cannot command states to modify their laws.

ICWA was passed to correct an unfair and disproportionate pattern of removal of Native American children. In the late 1970’s, data showed approximately 25 to 30 of Native American children were removed from their homes by non-tribal public and private agencies and placed outside the tribes for adoption. The children were losing touch with their families and their culture. This ruling has stunned Native American rights advocates. Fears are that Native American children are far more likely to be removed from their families than nonnative children and this ruling, if upheld, may jeopardize decades of legal precedent affecting tribal sovereignty. Additionally, there is concern that this will have a chilling effect on all Indian law. This is the first time that a federal statute enacted to benefit Indians has been found unconstitutional on the grounds of equal protection. ICWA does not impose an all out bar on non–Native American families from adopting or fostering Native American children, but it requires they show “good cause” that the child cannot or should not be adopted by other Native Americans.

The judge ruled that ICWA was not “narrowly tailored” enough because any Native American family would be given preference over a nonnative family as adoptive parents, even if the child did not belong to the same tribe. The judge also objected to the fact that even children who were not officially members of a tribe, but whose biological parents were members, would still qualify for ICWA. The judge called these children “potential Indian children”.

As an ICWA declaration is required in every domestic adoption in the United States, private and foster/public, this ruling has thrown a measure of uncertainty into the formula for children with Native American ancestry, the ability of their birth parents to select adoptive parents and those wishing to adopt.

Teething Tips

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Your poor baby is crying, drooling, feverish… in short, she is miserable! When I was a baby, the grandmothers used to say rub a little wine or brandy on her gums to dull the pain and help her sleep. They meant well, but I think we know better nowadays! How do we know whether our baby’s discomfort is due to teething, or if their symptoms are due to something else such as a virus? What are the safest and most effective ways to comfort our cranky babies?

The first teeth usually start to show up between 5 to 7 months of age, but every baby is different. Danelle Fisher, MD, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Ca., explains that symptoms such as low-grade fever, diaper rash, fussiness and slight loss of appetite may be a sign of teething, but if any of your baby’s symptoms are not mild or last longer than 24 hours, you should consult your doctor, as it could indicate something more serious. WebMD notes that recent studies found that while teething may make babies cranky, it does not typically cause fever or serious digestion problems.

How do you relieve baby’s pain safely and effectively? My brother-in-law, a pediatric dentist, once told me that teething is like spending the day with a terrible headache. Use caution picking up a teething ring from the drug store. Many teethers, even those labeled BPA-free, or “non-toxic” have been found to contain levels of toxins, chemicals and endocrine disrupters. Jonas Sickler, from ConsumerSafety.org, says, “Since teething products are regulated by the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), they don’t have the same chemical limits that the FDA requires for food and drugs. If you are unsure about a product, check with your pediatrician when choosing a pacifier or teether.

So what are the safest, most effective ways to relieve baby’s pain from teething? Experts from the Mayo Clinic suggest offering baby a cool, clean washcloth to chew on (partially wet the cloth and put in fridge or freezer until cold), a clean finger and gentle pressure may help as well. Keep babies skin dry to avoid irritation from excessive drool. If your doctor says it is ok, baby Tylenol can provide needed relief.

Super Moist Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

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Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter room temperature
1 cup brown sugar packed
1 large egg beaten
3-4 ripe bananas mashed
2 cups all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place a folded piece of parchment paper in a loaf pan and spray with cooking spray and set aside.

2. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar together for about 2 minutes until well combined. Add the egg and the mashed bananas. Mix for 20 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

3. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and vanilla. Mix until well combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

4. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan. Bake for 55-65 minutes until a knife inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 5-6

Gluten Free Caramel Apple Oatmeal Crisp

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Ingredients:

2 cups gluten free oats
1 cup butter or margarine, melted
5 or 6 large apples, peeled, coarsely chopped
1 cup caramel topping
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray bottom and sides of 13x9 inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray.

2. In large bowl, stir oats and melted butter until crumbly and set aside.

3. In another large bowl, toss apples, ½ cup of the caramel topping and the cinnamon. Spoon into baking dish and sprinkle with cookie mixture.

4. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender. In small microwavable dish, microwave remaining ½ cup of caramel topping uncovered on high for 20 seconds. Drizzle over crisp. Serve warm.

Serves 5-6

My Favorite Pumpkin Quick Bread/Muffins

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Ingredients:

1 can pumpkin (2 cups)
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola or safflower oil
3 eggs
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup white or black raisins optional

Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Spray 2 large loaf pans with cooking spray.

3. Add and mix first 4 ingredients.

4. In separate large bowl, mix flour and spices.

5. Make a well in middle and add wet ingredients to dry.

6. Mix by hand and do not over mix. A few lumps are ok.

7. Divide batter among prepared loaf pans and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Test with a knife in middle of bread. It’s best if you don’t bake it till knife comes out completely dry. Can also make one loaf of bread and use remaining batter for muffins, but check after ½ hour.

Serves 5-6

Brunswick Stew

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Ingredients:

2 large chicken breasts, on the bone, skin on
5 cups water
3 slices bacon, cut into 1inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 bag frozen green peas, or lima beans (whichever preferred)
1 bag frozen corn
1 teaspoon sugar
2-3 teaspoon salt
Dash of red chili pepper flakes
Black pepper to taste
3 tablespoon butter, melted
3 tablespoon flour

Preparation:
1. In large soup pot, stew chicken, water, bacon, onion and 1teaspoon salt for 40 minutes over medium-low heat.
2. Remove chicken to a bowl, cool, skin and remove meat from bones. Cut or shred into small bite sized pieces and return to soup pot.
3. Add remaining ingredients, except for corn, butter and flour.
4. Cook for ½ hour, cutting tomatoes with a fork or knife as they stew.
5. Add corn.
6. Mix melted butter and flour in small bowl and add by the spoonful to stew. Adjust salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste.

Serves 5-6

How to Choose Your Adoption Attorney

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Whether adopting privately, or through an agency, all New York courts require a lawyer to represent adoptive parents at finalization. Choosing your adoption attorney is an important decision and one that should be made with careful thought. Here is a short list of tips to consider when deciding which attorney you will choose to guide you through your adoption journey. 

1. Choose an attorney that specializes in adoption. The practice of family law does not always include experience in adoption. When interviewing attorneys, ask how many years they have been in practice and confirm that they have significant experience in adoption law. Your uncle, the real estate attorney, may be a terrific guy but do not ask him to handle your adoption!

2. Be sure your adoption attorney is licensed in your state. Adoption laws differ significantly from state to state across the country. If the birth mother of your adoptive child resides in a different state, your attorney should be prepared to help find a lawyer for the birth parent and be comfortable considering which state’s laws best suit you to govern the adoption. 

3. Hire an attorney who works with a social worker. Whether your attorney is a solo practitioner, or works for a larger firm, it is important that they have a social worker to rely on for home studies and counseling. Adoption is a very special and sometimes emotionally challenging process. Work with an attorney who can recommend an experienced adoption social worker to provide you with additional support from the beginning of the home study through post placement and finalization day.

4. Ask for recommendations. Adoption is a personal process filled with life changing decisions. Be sure to talk to family, friends, and people you trust who have been through the adoption process and can give feedback about their attorney. Hearing personal stories about relationships with adoption attorneys can better inform you when choosing the right fit for your family. Don’t be afraid to ask your attorney for references.

5. Discuss lawyer’s fees prior to deciding whom to retain. Some adoption attorneys work at an hourly rate while others charge a flat fee. Be sure to ask questions about fall through fees, time limits of the representation, and any other costs that may arise. Adoptions, whether through an agency or a private attorney, can be expensive with lawyer’s fees, birth mother expenses, birth mother attorney’s fees, and travel costs. Budget concerns should be taken into account early in the process.

6. Look at the attorney’s website. Be sure to read the lawyer’s website to find out more about their practice. Does the lawyer represent birth mothers too? Does the website reflect sensitivity to issues birth mothers face? 

7. Ask about the attorney’s policy for returning phone calls and emails. Some attorneys work 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. Others are available seven days a week. It is important to have a realistic expectation of how quickly your attorney will respond to your questions. Knowing how your attorney works will better prepare you during your journey.

8. Interview multiple attorneys. By meeting with several lawyers, you will be able to compare and contrast different working styles. A good personality fit, a strong rapport, and a connection you can trust during the process is paramount! 

9. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether related to fees, time frame estimates, how many adoptions the attorney has finalized, or whether a prior criminal arrest will pose a problem—every question is important at every step in the adoption process. You should feel comfortable asking your attorney for guidance, information, and support.

10. Find out what services the attorney provides. Are there separate fees for the pre-certification process? Does the attorney guide clients through profile creation and advertising strategies? Many agencies charge a separate fee if an adoption plan fails. Does your attorney charge such a fee? Be sure to have a clear understanding of what your attorney’s services include to avoid surprises.

New Adoption Laws Around the Country

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August 1, 2018 ushered in a comprehensive, new “Adoption Option Act” in Louisiana. Legislators unanimously passed and the Governor signed into law Act 562, which limits adoption expenses paid, by adoptive parents for birth parent expenses, to $7,500. The new law changes the word “reasonable” expenses to “actual” when listing the types of expenses with which adoptive families may assist an expectant mother. Allowable expenses will continue to include medical costs and legal fees, temporary housing, maternity clothes, food and personal hygiene products. The law specifically excludes living expenses such as vehicles and leisure activities. In addition, the law provides that lying about pre-natal expenses shall be a crime punishable by up to $50,000 fine and 10 years in prison. 

This spring, Georgia updated their state’s adoption laws for the first time in almost three decades. Act HB 159 reduces the length of time a birth mother has to change her mind and revoke her consent to an adoption from ten (10) days to four (4) days. A second piece of the legislation allows for adoptive parents to assist a birth mother with certain living expenses in private adoptions. The legislature is still debating a proposal to allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to work with same-sex couples. 

In a more negative trend in state law, Oklahoma passed a law in May, which would allow private adoption agencies to discriminate against L.G.B.T.Q. couples on religious grounds when placing children. The Governor, Mary Fallin, explained the law allows agencies to choose not to place children in certain homes if it “would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies”. Critics of the law, which also applies to private agencies working in foster care, said it was unconstitutional and would hamper efforts to find secure, permanent homes for children. 

Parenting A Multi-Racial Family

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Today’s world of multi-cultural, bi-racial, trans-national and blended families creates new challenges in parenting. As a white mother of two white sons, I do not pretend to have first hand knowledge of the special issues that arise when parenting a child of different racial and cultural heritage. To help me understand the issues and the conflicts multiracial families face, I have listened to and read the work of many experts and absorbed the personal stories shared by my clients. Their insights and suggestions have been thoughtful and eye opening. The following is my attempt to share some of their wisdom. I hope it can be helpful to all of us. 

Talk, communicate, discuss and talk some more! Talking about race, as a white person, is often challenging for lack of experience and fear of getting it wrong. However, there is no such thing as being “color blind”. Pretending racism does not exist in our world is unhealthy for your child and potentially dangerous. When a child is very young, their focus is centered on their family. Your child may express that he wishes he looked more like you. This is a wonderful opportunity to let him know you validate who he is and  that you would not want to change one thing about him! Celebrating one’s differences does not just mean celebrating the cultural aspects of a different ethnicity. You may want to educate yourselves on the ways your child’s ethnicity, race and culture developed differently from yours. This is a perfect time to dig into your ancestry and when, how and why your family came to America, as well as your child’s ethnic ancestry. Share your ancestry with your children. Very few of us had ancestors on the Mayflower!

As they age, children live more in the world and race begins to matter. Children learn about colors in pre-school and they know we are not all the same color. Particularly in school, children become aware of their differences on a daily basis, whether it be the shape of their eyes, skin color, hair style, even religion. It is critical for all parents to learn to talk about race. All of our identities are valuable and should be honored, not swept under a rug by pretending we are the same. Racism exists and if a parent leads the way in recognizing it and addressing it, the child will know their home and family is a safe space, where they can talk about the tough stuff. As children get older and experience racism in the outside world, it is healthy for them to be able to bring these issues home and express themselves freely in their family. If they cannot come home with their troubles, they are in danger of internalizing and absorbing the racism as personal. The lesson I heard over and over was “do not wait until your children are old enough” to talk about race.

Does your home reflect your and your children’s race? The art, books, children’s movies, media such as television should reflect all members of the family throughout your home. Does the family in your daughter’s dollhouse look like your family? Multi-racial books and toys, artwork throughout the house, not just in the child’s room, affirms for your child that the whole family cares about race and it is not just important to her. Is your child isolated in a white community? Introduce role models who share the same racial background as your child. It is not enough to expose your children to famous actors or sports figures of the same race. Role models can be friends, teachers, doctors, coaches, clergy and others who have a real role in your child’s life and with whom they can connect in a real way. 

Remember children like to fit in. Hairstyles often bring up issues in trans-racial adoption. Are you imposing generational or white prejudices on what is “good” or “bad” hair or what style looks pretty? Style is important to children of all ages. Your child may want her hair to reflect what she sees in her world, on TV, at school, or in her community. At the same time, parents should keep in mind that some style choices may not be the most practical. While braids and beads might not fit comfortably under an ice hockey helmet, they might be the best style if your child is on the swim team. Parenting professionals say the key is to remain child focused with this issue. Children should feel proud of how they look, how they perceive they fit in and of who they are.

How does a parent help his child cope with prejudice? It is critical for your child to learn to trust that you are open to discussing these issues. Respect for ourselves and for others starts at home. It is far safer and healthier for your child to talk openly with you about how to deal with ignorance and racism, than for her to feel she is alone and that no one in her family would understand if she encounters it in her outside world. Find supportive friends or family members, especially other parents, to help you manage issues that you have never had to consider. Trans-racial families face unique issues at all stages of child development. During every step of the journey, families should share a commitment to having open communication, listening and forever honoring and celebrating our differences. 

There are numerous, wonderful resources you can find on these issues. We would like to share and recommend the following wonderful resources: Multiracialsky.com, Inside Transracial Adoption by Gail Steinberg & Beth Hall and What Do I Say Now by Carol Bick and M.C. Baker. 
    

    


 

New York Paid Family Leave

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In 2016, Governor Cuomo signed into law the nation’s strongest and most comprehensive Paid Family Leave policy. As of January 1, 2018, the New York State Paid Family Leave Program provides New Yorkers job-protected, paid leave so that working families will no longer have to choose between caring for their loved ones and risking their economic security.

ELIGIBILITY

Who:

  1. Full-time employees, who work a regular schedule of 20 or more hours per week, are eligible for Paid Family Leave after 26 consecutive weeks of employment.
  2. Part-time employees, who work a regular schedule of less than 20 hours per week, are eligible after working 175 days, which do not need to be consecutive.

Why:

  1. To bond with a new child;
  2. To care for a loved one with a serious health condition; or
  3. To relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service.

BENEFITS

In 2018, the Paid Family Leave benefit is 50% of your average weekly wage, capped at 50% of the New York State average weekly wage. Leave can be taken all at once or in full-day increments. You may take the maximum time-off benefit in any given 52-week period. The 52-week period starts on the first day you take Paid Family Leave.

The benefits of Paid Family Leave phase in over four years. During 2018, an employee may take up to eight weeks of Paid Family Leave and receive 50% of the employee’s average weekly wage, capped at 50% of the New York State average weekly wage. An employee’s average weekly wage is the average of the last eight weeks of pay prior to starting Paid Family Leave. The New York State average weekly wage is updated annually.

Example: An employee who makes $1,000 a week would receive a benefit of $500 a week (50% of $1000). Another employee who makes $2,000 a week would receive a benefit of $652.96, because this employee is capped at one-half of New York State’s Average Weekly Wage, which is currently $1,305.92. Half of $1,305.92 is $652.96.

HOW TO APPLY:

    1.    Notify your employer. An employee who wants to take Paid Family Leave must notify her employer at least 30 days before the leave will start. If the leave is not foreseeable, she must notify her employer as soon as possible.
    2.    Obtain required forms. Notify your employer or employer’s insurance carrier to obtain the necessary forms, or find them at https://www.ny.gov/new-york-state-paid-family-leave/paid-family-leave-information-employees and download the particular forms for your type of leave request. 
    3.    Complete and submit forms. Fill out the Request for Paid Family Leave (Form PFL-1), follow the instructions on the cover sheet, make a copy for your records, and submit to your employer.
    4.    Obtain and attach supporting documentation. The specific documentation and forms required for each type of leave are described clearly on the required request forms.
    5.    Submit your request forms and documentation. Submit the forms and attachments to your employer’s insurance carrier. You can submit your claim before or within 30 days after the start of your leave. The insurance carrier must pay or deny your request within 18 calendar days of receiving your completed request.

For more information visit https://www.ny.gov/programs/new-york-state-paid-family-leave

What Is the Adoption Home Study and How Can I Prepare For It?

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What is a home study? Do I need one to adopt and how do I have one completed? This article is designed to answer your questions and reduce your anxiety over the home study process. In the State of New York, every adoptive parent is required to go through a home study process, whether for private or public/foster adoption.* The home study is actually a written report, describing the prospective adoptive family. The home study is prepared by a licensed social worker, after a thorough in person interview.  Your home study will be submitted at different stages in your adoption, to different entities.  

In a private, independent or non-agency adoption, your attorney will help you contact a social worker, experienced in preparing adoptive home studies. The social worker will meet with you and each member of your household, at your home. Your family and your home will be described in detail in the report. The social worker will give you an advance list of the documents she requires. Please understand that the social worker is not there to trip you up, or make you feel uncomfortable. Rather the social worker is part of your adoption team and should be regarded as a valuable resource on all things adoption. Your social worker is tasked with preparing a report for the Family Court, which gives a complete picture of you. Accordingly, you will be asked for biographical information, including details about where you grew up, your extended family, education, hobbies and interests. You will also discuss your relationship with your partner, if you have one, and your motivation for adopting. The social worker will explore, with you, your finances, religious practice, parenting philosophy, medical and psychiatric or counseling history. Some of the documents required include personal letters of reference, driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or visa, social security cards, tax returns, and recent physicals. 

In addition, the social worker will ask about any history of, or present use of illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol, domestic violence, child or sexual abuse. Child abuse and criminal history checks will be conducted. It is important to be fully truthful with the social worker as the court will not look favorably upon information that is withheld and later uncovered. It is not uncommon for an adoptive parent to have a prior arrest for a minor crime or a history of emotional counseling. Most often, this type of history will not preclude you from adopting. Your attorney and social worker will answer your questions about whether these issues rise to a level of concern for your certification as an adoptive parent. Typically, they do not.

The Family Court judge reviews your home study during the pre-certification process in New York. You must be certified as a qualified adoptive parent before you may bring home a baby or child. The home study is an integral part of the certification process. Later, if you are bringing a child home from another state, your home study will be forwarded to the agency or attorney assisting us with that state’s Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). This administrative office exists in every state and the administrator reviews the home study before an infant or child may cross state lines for the purposes of adoption. After your baby comes home, the social worker will come back for a post – placement visit and prepare an updated report, called the post placement report, expressing her opinion that your family is adjusting well and giving her support for the adoption to proceed.

The home study is one of the first steps on your journey to becoming an adoptive parent. Your social worker is there to gather information and educate you on the adoptive process and adoptive parenting. She should be a wonderful resource for you for books and other adoptive parenting resources. Remember, the social worker is there to be an advocate for you during the process and a strong source of  support during the adjustment of becoming a new family. 


*If you are planning to adopt through the foster system, you will also need a home study but you will not be required to hire a social worker to prepare it. The social services agency, with which you are working, will prepare you to become a certified foster parent and as part of that process, an agency caseworker will come to your home and interview you for a home study.

How Do We Find a Social Worker to Prepare Our Home Study?

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One way to alleviate stress about the home study process is to choose the right social worker. Most often, your adoption attorney will provide you with a list of licensed social workers for this purpose. It is a good idea to speak with the social worker and get a feel for whether you would like to work with this person before hiring them. Listed below are questions to answer before hiring a social worker to prepare your home study.

1.  What is your accreditation in social work and have you prepared adoption home studies before? You do not want your home study to be the social worker’s first, as there are specific state/legal requirements that must be included in an adoption home study and if left out will cause delays in your adoption process.

2.  Have you worked with my attorney or agency before? How recently? It is important that the social worker and attorney collaborate during the adoption process and helpful if they have a prior working relationship.

3.  How much does the home study cost? Make sure to ask about additional fees for Post Placement visits, which may be required by the court, or by different state laws, after you bring the baby home. If you move or change jobs will it necessitate an updated report and if so, will that be an additional fee?

4.  How long will the home study interview take? Ask about the steps of the process and how long after the home interview does it normally take to complete the home study report? 

5.  Will you have an opportunity to review the report before it goes to the attorney or to the court? If regulations prohibit you from seeing the report prior to its submission to court, what happens if there are inaccuracies? 

6.  Who owns the home study? If you work with an agency to obtain a home study but ultimately decide to pursue private, independent adoption, will the agency share your report and original documents with your attorney and send whatever necessary to the court for your pre-certification process? Will there be any additional fees for working with a private attorney, rather than pursuing an agency adoption or vice versa?

7.  Can the social worker do the necessary clearances for the home study? In a private adoption, the court will obtain criminal and abuse clearances but some states require additional federal clearances and it is occasionally necessary to have an agency back a social worker’s home study. Does the social worker have an agency which will back her home study and obtain clearances if necessary?

8.  Will the social worker provide you with adoption and parenting resources? Will she be available to talk through your worries during and even after the adoption process? 

There are many wonderful social workers, well versed in adoption, who are available to be a part of your unique journey. Do your homework!

Even with Landmark Decision for Same Sex Parents in New York, Second Parent Adoption is Indispensable

Let me start with the legal truth that an adoptive parent is a legal parent and has the same rights and responsibilities toward his or her child as a biological parent. 

On August 30, 2016, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled decisively in favor of parenting rights for unmarried, same sex couples.  In The Matter of Brooke S. B. versus Elizabeth A., the Court ruled that with respect to an unmarried couple, a partner with a non-biological, non-adoptive relationship to the couple’s child may be legally recognized as a parent and allowed to seek custody and visitation rights.  The non-biological, non-adoptive partner, however, must show by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive and raise the child together to establish his/her right to custody and visitation.

While this ruling is good news for non-biological parents and non-adoptive partners, relying on the new precedent and forgoing adoption may be dangerous.  It is true that along with marriage equality, many states have begun to recognize a more modern and flexible definition of who is a legal parent.  Laws on same sex parenting, however, still vary from state to state.   The fact remains, that only an adoptive parent of a non-biological child has the same unequivocal rights and responsibilities toward his or her child as a biological parent.  

Adopting your non-biological child is safe, responsible parenting.  It can be accomplished quickly and inexpensively.  No one wants to be kept away from his or her child pending the outcome of a lengthy custody battle.  Obtaining the second parent adoption order saves one from the burden of proving his or her status as a parent in the event of divorce, separation, and even death of a partner.  I envision scenarios where the couple separates and the biological parent moves with the child to a state with less friendly parenting laws, or passes away, and the extended family claims custody of the child over the non-biological partner.  Adoptions are court orders, which all states are required, by the Full Faith and Credit Clause, of the Unites States Constitution, to recognize.   This guarantees a parent’s rights and takes the guesswork out of whether one has standing to sue for custody of one’s child.

An adoptive parent is a legal parent and may make all the same decisions for the child as the biological parent.  An adoptive parent has the right to make decisions concerning the child’s education, health and medical well - being.   An adoptive parent is financially responsible for the child and the child is able to inherit from his or her adoptive parent even in the absence of a will.  A non-adoptive parent may find obstacles in claiming his child as a dependent for health or tax benefits and may not even be allowed to provide permission for school field trips.

The requirements to complete a second parent adoption in New York are not lengthy.  They are the same requirements for a step-parent adoption among married couples.   You will need to retain an attorney and obtain a home study from a licensed social worker.  The court will require medical and financial updates, letters of reference and criminal and abuse background checks.  Your attorney will prepare several affidavits and a petition for adoption for your signature.  The court will hold a 5-10 minute finalization hearing, at which you will be invited to bring friends and family to witness and celebrate the adoption.   The whole process should not take more than 4-6 months.  The benefits, however, exist for a lifetime.   Your family is worth it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/31/nyregion/new-york-court-parental-rights.html

https://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/Decisions/2016/Aug16/91-92opn16-Decision.pdf

http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2016/08/30/in_new_york_a_landmark_ruling_for_estranged_gay_and_lesbian_parents.html

LGBTQ Parenting Rights and Second Parent Adoption

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LGBTQ PARENTING RIGHTS

Over the past few months, at least five states have introduced bills or passed laws limiting same-sex adoption across the country. Each with different language, the legislative initiatives allow states and agencies to refuse services to same-sex couples. This discriminatory legal trend not only denies children in the foster care or adoption agencies loving homes if the prospective parents are LGBTQ, but the laws serve as a building blocks to restrict all rights of LGBTQ parents. Given the terrifying political and legislative landscape, now more than ever, same-sex parents need to reach for and secure their parenting rights before the legislators erode them completely. LGBTQ couples can protect their families forever through quick, simple, and inexpensive, second-parent, or step-parent adoption.

The recent legislation is a huge step backwards for LGBTQ families. In March of 2017, the governor of South Dakota signed a bill allowing child placement agencies to discriminate based on “religious belief or moral conviction,” protecting any agency from government retaliation if they choose to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Soon after, Alabama and Texas signed similar legislation allowing adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples based on “religious beliefs.” The Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee also added a discriminatory section in their adoption bill targeting LGBT people with an amendment that allows agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples and refuse to work with LGBTQ prospective parents if doing so meant going against “their mission.” And, in Tennessee, a bill was enacted that requires the words “husband” and  “wife,” and “mother” and “father” be interpreted by their “natural and ordinary” meanings indirectly restricting the rights of LGBTQ parents and their ability to adopt privately or through the foster care system. 

Second-parent adoption is the adoption of a child by a second parent who may otherwise not be considered a legal parent. In New York, when the parents are married the process is called a step-parent adoption, versus a second parent adoption when they are not married. Regardless of marital status, for same-sex couples building families, this process is an important legal tool. Without second-parent adoption, the partner of the legal parent, even when married, is not a legally recognized parent and has no parental rights. Once a second-parent adoption is finalized in court, the child has two legal guardians and parents with the same parenting rights recognized across state lines. In the event of a divorce, dissolution of a relationship, or death, both parents’ rights and the child’s rights are unequivocal and an indispensable part of family preservation.

Clearly, LGBTQ parenting rights are on the legislative chopping block. With second or step-parent adoption, mothers and fathers are protected from being denied custody, visitation, the ability to make medical decisions, and the joys of being a part of their child’s life without states standing in their way. Quick, simple, and inexpensive, second-parent adoption protects LGBT forever families.

Adoption Books

Since 1994, Tapestry Books has been a leading literary source for adoptive families, birth families, adoptees, and adoption professionals. Hand picked by the team at Tapestry Books, enjoy this carefully selected mix of best sellers about adoption as well as publications for the whole family that last a lifetime. Click on an image if you are interested in purchasing the book online.

You can learn more about Tapestry Books at http://www.tapestrybooks.com. Their phone number is 716-544-0204 and they are happy to make more recommendations.

Enjoy!

ABC Adoption & Me


by Gayle Swift 



A wonderfully simple children’s book that is perfect for younger children. This book artfully introduces the concept of adoption to young readers.

Inside Transracial Adoption


by Beth Hall and Gail Steinberg



Inside Transracial Adoption is an authoritative guide to navigating the challenges and issues that parents face in the USA when they adopt a child of a different race and/or from a different culture.. 

What Do I Say Now?
 

by M.C. Baker and Carol Bick



This is a Tapestry Books’ favorite! This book brilliantly details how to respond to awkward and difficult questions about adoption. 

Three Little Words
 

by Ashley Rhodes Courtier

 

This a wonderfully written account of a young girl’s experience in the foster care system and how she overcame the many obstacles she faced growing up.

Ithaka
 

by Sarah Saffian



Sarah Saffian recreates her personal account of reuiniting with her birth family as an adult. Saffian expertly describes the adoptee perspective as well as the emotions associated with finding the missing pieces of one’s identity. 

Tips for Creating An Adoption Profile Book

Your profile book, whether digital or bound, is often the first impression you make upon potential birth parents. Your pictures and captions can tell your story better than 1000 words.  Below is a list of ten suggestions to help you tell your story and make a beautiful, attention grabbing profile book.  

1.  Start by compiling lots of fabulous, smiling pictures!  Pictures should show you with your loved ones, friends, pets, on vacation, enjoying your hobbies or sports and celebrating holidays.  Crop your photos so we can see the faces of the people in the picture.  Use clear, in focus pictures and lots of them!

2.  The next step is to introduce yourself.  Your first page is a picture of you, whether you are single, a couple, or perhaps you have children already at home, it is your nucleus family.   Also on your first page is a short, gentle hello inviting the birth parent(s) to learn about you by looking through your book and briefly describing your dream of building your family.  

3.  DO NOT go down the path of telling the birth parent(s) you understand what she is going through or how difficult you understand her decision to be.  You do not understand what she is going through.  It is nice to wish her good health, peace and serenity.  It is ok to thank her for taking time to read your book. 

4.  The next two pages are dedicated to each of you.  It is particularly nice when one spouse writes about the other, describing his/her partner’s best qualities and what he/she loves about the other.  Dedicate one page of pictures and text to each of you.

5.  If you have a child, dedicate a separate page describing him/her.

6.  Fill out your book with pictures showing your extended family, hobbies, travel and sports adventures, holiday traditions, wedding pictures, and outings with friends.  It is ok to have a short narrative explaining some pages, but equally fine to use captions under pictures to make your pages more attractive and less wordy.  Captions should be catchy!  Why say, “We like to cook” when you can say “Sunday morning buttermilk pancakes bursting with blueberries, fresh maple syrup and bacon!”

7.  It is always nice to include pictures of your home and neighborhood.  You might highlight pictures of your Christmas tree, a beautifully set dining room table, or cuddling in your favorite den chair with the dog/cat!  If you have a lovely garden, backyard or live near a park or beach, by all means show it off!  You have to be in the picture though – the picture should be you hanging the Christmas decorations or building a sand castle, standing over your bike in the neighborhood.

8.  The first pages of your book/website should be an introduction to you alone.  Save your friends and family story for the middle pages.  It is great to share a couple pictures of you with friends and extended family, especially nieces and nephews.  Make sure you are in the pictures as often as possible and that everyone is smiling!

9.  One of the more creative pages adoptive parents may want to add is a “Favorites” page.  Create a chart of categories where you each list a few of your favorites such as: food, vacation place, sport, song, movie (books are not as universally known as movies), maybe even something silly like favorite superhero!  Do this near the end, as it is a light and fun way to finish up your book.

10.  The last page should be a nice sized photo of you with contact information such as a toll free 800 number or specifically designated email.  It is best to consult with your attorney or agency concerning what contact information you list, but you will need a way for the birth parent(s) to find you.  Always say thank you for reading your book!