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A Baby Brother for AJ

Team Member: Gigi Toledo

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THE STORY:

Lilly Vallee-Wilson wrote -

(For those landing on this page for the first time, please skip the Q & A below and read the letter at the bottom. Then the Q & A may make more sense.

Q & A:

Friends - I want to take a minute to answer some questions people have sent me. We knew going into this that parts of our family’s story that would normally remain private would have to be open if we were going to do a fundraiser like this. I’d like to thank those who asked the questions directly to me and have kept this so positive for us.

 Q: Why not foster first then adopt? Wouldn’t that solve the $ money?

 A: Foster licenses are county-based not statewide (more stupidity). All legal matters around a child are driven in the county the mother gives birth in. In Jack’s case, he was born in LA County and we are licensed in Alameda where AJ was born. The way we could have fostered first would have been to take no action before his birth and let him go into foster care, navigate through cross-county red-tape, reach out to LA county DCFS and hope they acknowledge us at “family” because of AJ, request temporary placement in Alameda County, relicense in LA County (1st time took a year) and go thru LA juvenile courts for an unknown amount of time (AJ was legally in foster care for 25 months). While there is absolutely no doubt Jack would have been remanded at birth into foster home for a medically-fragile child, there are way too many variables here to make a solid plan and way too many opportunities for Jack to fall through the cracks. Therefore the ONLY other route is what is called independent, private adoption.

Q. Why ‘independent, private adoption’, and why does it cost so much?

A.  The short answer is that independent adoption is where the birth mother has already chosen an adoptive parent so you use an attorney instead of an agency (however many Adoption Law Firms do both and those were the firms that declined to take our case). Then, in spite of the circumstances, all domestic private adoptions cost approximately the same amount of money, and the average cost is between $20,000 to $35,000. So essentially since we didn’t want Jack to end up in foster care this was the only other route.

For more detailed information, please keep reading.

 

Before we learned the language of the process, I wasn’t even sure what to ask for when I started calling lawyers in Santa Monica, where the boys’ bio-mom was at the time her pregnancy. I explained the situation and got turned down by every lawyer I called for a ‘free consultation’. “We’ll pass on this one” or “That’s not the kind of adoption situation we handle.”  I would ask what kind of adoptions they did handle… well, they said: step-parent adoptions and international or domestic adoptions. How is this one different, I asked? The difference they told me is that they work with parents who don’t have a child in mind and are contracting through an agency to find a baby. In this situation bio-parents can be selective about what parents to choose, and the prospective parents also get to be more ‘choosey’ (for lack of a better term) about what they want in a child. I also learned that there are three kinds of adoption here, excluding Step-parent or domestic partner adoption: 1) International Adoption, 2) Domestic Infant Adoption, and 3) Foster Care Adoption.

Under #2, Domestic Infant Adoption there’s  Private Domestic Adoptions or Independent Private Adoption (what we are doing). The difference, as I understand it, is only that in an independent you already know the identity of the child you seek to adopt and have a tentative agreement. In an independent adoption, prospective adoptive parents are advised by an adoption attorney, instead of working with an adoption agency.” This means no agency fees but higher legal fees. Essentially the costs of either type are about the same. In our situation there would not have been an agency option, only a foster care option as it would be extremely difficult to find one that would contract with a transient, substance-abuser  with severe and debilitating mental illness (as I understand it).

The Private Domestic Adoption is where a birthparent relinquishes legal guardianship to the agency for placement, not directly to an adoptive parent. These are the situations that we have all heard about and understand take a very long time and can be very painful for parents waiting for a child (often years) to complete their families. Even more painfully, waiting parents waiting to chosen can be rejected many times before being matched with a bio-parent and a child through an agency.
 
Private Domestic Adoption (the umbrella term) according to  http://buildingyourfamily.com/infertility/post-infertility-decisions/adoption-options-whats-right/  is when “Adopting parents will choose their social worker, their attorney or agency, and, sometimes, the process by which they identify a birth mother. The timing of a birth parent match will not be predictable.” They also say that “The cost of U.S. infant adoption varies widely, from $5,000 to $40,000. Average cost is $20,000 to $35,000. Many families are eligible for the federal tax credit of up to $13,190 per domestic adoption attempt in tax year 2014. In contrast to Foster Care adoption which is essentially free but has its own challenges, or International Adoption which, due to travel and out of country legal and other fees, can be considering more expensive.

 

Per http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=1017 “Another difference between independent and agency adoption is the method by which the birthparents give their consent to adoption. In an agency adoption, the birthparents relinquish their parental rights to an agency, and the agency, in turn, consents to an adoption by specific adoptive parents. In independent adoption, the birthparents give their consent directly to the adoptive parents.” … “In independent adoptions, it is common for the adoptive parents to be present at the hospital, even at the time of birth. In addition, the adoptive parents typically can help care for the child in the hospital. It is also common for the child to be discharged from the hospital directly to the physical care of the adoptive parents.” This is exactly what happened with us, but we discovered later it did NOT mean the adoption was as good as done.

 

In fact (http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/adoption): “With independent adoptions, the natural parents take on the responsibility for finding suitable adoptive parents. Often, the natural parents will place the child in the prospective adoptive parents’ house for a trial period without the natural parents having relinquished their rights” … “To proceed, an individual cannot petition for adoption unless the court makes an official finding that the individual is “acceptable” as an adoptive parent. Before an adoption becomes official, the court must pass upon an investigatory report submitted by the state agency that the individual qualifies as “acceptably suitable” for becoming an adoptive parent. These investigatory reports are tremendously detailed, including the petitioners’ religious backgrounds, social history, financial status, moral fitness, mental and physical fitness, and criminal background. After weighing the factors, the agency makes a recommendation, which the court can accept or reject, with the court basing its decision on serving the best interests and welfare of the child.” That is why although we are already certified foster parents (therefore having done all the above in the last two years) we have to start it all again from scratch, but this time pay for it as if it were a standard Private Domestic Adoption and yet have no real guarantees albeit judicial denials sound rare.

 

I realize this is long but I hope it answers additional questions. Let me know if you have more.

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August 15, 2014

Dear friends & family,

Most of you have heard part of our story. AJ’s biological brother Jack-Christopher was born on June 9 in Long Beach. We brought him home soon after and are mesmerized by his smile and nature, and wonderful baby smell! In May we raised $11,000, just over the amount we thought we needed for the legal fees to independently adopt Jack, thus keeping him out of foster care. It's only because of the incredible support of our village that we are not paralyzed now by the growing 'Cost of a Baby'. It's unconscionable.  Jack's independent adoption ballooned to 2x the estimate. We need to go back to fundraising toward a new goal of $25,000.

This is a request for additional donations (https://www.crowdrise.com/ababybrotherforaj/fundraiser/lillyvalleewilson), goals, the rest of the story, an action plan and some facts about the foster care system.

Current situation: First – Jack is not in danger of being lost from us forever, he’s in danger of being removed to foster care if we do not complete the paperwork & the associated costs. As you know, we were not prepared for this and were under the impression that the estimated $10,000 in legal fees was the bulk of costs associated with a consensual transfer of parental rights. Boy were we wrong. So far the accumulated costs are already estimated at $20,000 and due within 45 days, impacting our ability to cover essentials. We are Jack's temporary legal guardians until the vast bureaucracy built to drain money from hopeful parents in private adoption results in permanent adoption. We are at the CA Adoption Request (Adopt-200) stage - the petition is being "investigated" by Alameda County for $4500. This is one example of how the numbers grow and grow.

This should have been so easy: AJ’s biological mother is very sick (mental illness, substances, and homelessness) which are how he wound up in Social Services in2011. But she had the presence of mind to have her social worker in LA County reach out to us when she was pregnant to take the child after birth to be raised by us with his brother. Why this should cost any money is beyond me, but it does and we need it.

  • Costs & Goal: We have set our new goal at $25,000 because we have now learned that the average private, independent adoption averages around $35,000. Since that likely includes agency fees and travel for international adoption, we believe we are closer to our real costs.

    • Mostly plagiarized from Wikipedia and other online FAQs, but I can affirm by personal experience the relative accuracy:

      • "The home study fee is set at $4,500 in independent adoption, whether done by the California Department of Social Services, or the county equivalent. [In fact we are required to do two, one through Adoption Connection and the other through Alameda County). Attorney fees can range from $1,000 to $15,000, depending upon the services required and the complexity of the adoption. Counseling fees (provided by a person called an Adoption Services Provider) are usually about $700. Some birth mothers need help with pregnancy-related expenses (medical, food, et cetera), which can range from zero to thousands of dollars…To perform the home study, provide counseling and take the birth parent's relinquishment, the fee can range from $5,000 to $35,000."
         

      • "In an independent adoption, birth parents choose the prospective parents and place the child directly with them. When making this decision, a birth parent must have personal knowledge of certain facts about the adopting parents. The birth parent placing the child for adoption must receive an advisement of rights, responsibilities, and options from an Adoption Service Provider (ASP). The birth parent must also sign an Independent Adoption Placement Agreement (AD 924), which in 30 days automatically becomes an irrevocable consent to adoption unless revoked within that time."
         

      • In addition to this there is a year-long biological father search which can land anywhere from $1,000-3,000 plus the expenses of the private investigator.

Personally, this has changed my life. The boys biological mother is not on birth control and we wonder if this choice with come to us again. We will prepare now in case we have that decision to make. But we have discussed foster in different ways, and one way in the future will be to become outspoken advocates for the rights of children who need a safe and stable home.

Back story: We never considered standard domestic or international adoption through agency means when we learned I was infertile for two reasons: 1) intellectually we couldn’t wrap our minds around paying an agency or others to join a list awaiting adoption  – it felt like buying children, a perception I find distasteful and expensive when there are kids literally around the corner who need help;  2) IVF was estimated to cost over 30k for one longshot at conceiving a child biologically ours, and the idea that a privilege like this could be commoditized was a turn-off. We wanted to adopt locally, in our hometown, in our backyard: “These children are not someone else’s responsibility; they are our responsibility.” Dave Thomas https://www.davethomasfoundation.org/. We were also privledged enough to have a friend we love and respect go through the foster/adopt process and mentor us. We love you friend.

Individual & Team-based donations and prizes:

  1. If you have not donated already, please donate at: https://www.crowdrise.com/ababybrotherforaj/fundraiser/lillyvalleewilson
     

  2. If you have donated already, THANK YOU. If you can afford to donate again, what a blessing but if not, recruiting one other person to do it would make the difference.
     

  3. Make it competitive! Form a team on Crowdrise to raise money, recruit some organizers and let’s see who wins. If your Team [name needed!] wins, the team leader will receive:

    • One home-cooked meal at our home for you and your guests.

    • One night of babysitting if you have kids, dog/cat sitting if you are a pet parent, or an evening having a surprise adventure with the Wilsons.

    • A Crowdrise t-shirt.

    • Undying love and a phone call from AJ for all who donated.

Facts about Foster Care from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/foster.cfm:

  • In 2012, there were an estimated 399,546 children in foster care. About half (53 percent) had a case goal of reunification with their families because the preferred goal for children in care is permanency with caring parents, even if the parent/s wasn’t sure they wanted reunification, didn’t complete drug or alcohol programs, had long-term degenerative mental illnesses like schizophrenia they will not commit to manage with medication, have histories of 5150s and/or choose transience.
     

  • "128,640 to 211,720 children in out-of-home care had a parent with a substance use disorder in 2004. In that same year, approximately 295,000 parents receiving treatment for substance use had one or more children removed by child protective services."

  • The estimated 399,546 children in foster care on September 30, 2012, were in the following types of placements:

    47 percent in nonrelative foster family homes
    28 percent in relative foster family homes
    9 percent in institutions
    6 percent in group homes
    6 percent on trial home visits (situations in which the State retains supervision of a child, the child returns home on a trial basis for an unspecified period of time, and after 6 months the child is considered discharged from foster care)
    4 percent in preadoptive homes
    1 percent had run away
    1 percent in supervised independent living

  • Of the estimated 399,546 children in foster care on September 30, 2012:

    • 42 percent were White.

    • 26 percent were Black or African American.

    • 21 percent were Hispanic (of any race).

    • 9 percent were other races or multiracial.8

    • 3 percent were unknown or unable to be determined.

       

  • In 2012, about 640,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care.

  • In 2012, more than 58,000 children who were living in foster care and waiting to be adopted had their biological parental rights permanently terminated. And, while states should work rapidly to find safe permanent homes, children spend an average of nearly two years (22.2 months) waiting to be adopted.

  • In 2012, more than 23,000 young people aged out of foster care without permanent families. Research has shown that those who leave care without being linked to forever families are highly likely to experience homelessness, unemployment and incarceration as adults.

Over 50% of children in California live under the poverty line. If we hadn't been blessed enough to bring AJs brother home what would have happened to him? If we couldn't get help from our community how could we adopt him?

This system is totally fucked up, and it's not fair for children. But I will tackle that after Jack is safely ours with papers. If we are blessed enough to meet our goals, any remaining money will be donated to Step Up On Second (http://www.stepuponsecond.org/) and Advokids (http://advokids.org/).

It wasn’t easy to come back to this forum, but we need you. Your love and help is so deeply appreciated.

Lilly, Chris, AJ, Jack-Christopher & Buddy Holly the dog.

https://www.crowdrise.com/ababybrotherforaj/fundraiser/lillyvalleewilson

Facebook:        https://www.facebook.com/lilly.valleewilson
Twitter:                       @LillyInValley
Hashtags:         #ababybrotherforAJ #fostersibling #family #foreverhome #fostercare #fostertoadopt #adoption
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