Guest Post: Creating a Secular Adoption
Editor’s Note: This post is written by Amy Buzalsky, who has written previous guest posts, and it’s about what it’s like going through the secular adoption process. Hopefully it will help others in similar situations!
Adoption is used as a way to build families for a variety of reasons. But what happens if you are secular and looking to adopt? When you do an online search for adoption for secular families or atheists you may as well see a blank screen. Since many adoption agencies arose out of religious institutions, there are not a lot of obvious resources in the adoption realm for secular families. Don’t let this discourage you! If adoption is something you are considering as a secular family or individual, it is possible–although there may be a few extra things to think about before going into the process.
A couple of months ago, my husband and I completed our home study process through our adoption agency and we are now waiting to be matched with a birth mother. When we started the process, we chose domestic infant adoption and found a local agency that has a faith-based background but also works with secular families and we felt comfortable they would not discriminate against our non-religious status. I have read online stories of people who were encouraged to hide their secular views and pretend they were involved in a church in order to adopt. Our experience was such that we did not have to hide our secular views and we were able to be ourselves.
When I was working on our profile book for birth mothers to look at, I went online to look at examples of other couples. There was some diversity out there, but I was starting to feel like a minority! Many other couples expressed faith and a belief in God as well as offering “Christian values” as a benefit to handing over a child to them. I know not all birth mothers are looking for a family that has faith-based in religion to raise their child- they are looking for a family who they feel will love the child. I know what our family can offer a child without religion, including a loving home, good education, and by golly some critical-thinking skills. We did not disclose in our profile book we are a secular family or atheists, but the lack of acknowledgement of faith or religion makes it obvious.
When you are starting the process it can be difficult to find specific answers to questions about adoption because it all depends on where you live, what type of adoption you are doing, and what regulations and procedures they have. I am an educated social worker, and it even was very confusing to me! Initially I found a website for our state that guided me to our agency we chose. From that point, our social worker is the main person with whom we will work with through this process. We have had an excellent relationship with our social worker, but this person can make or break your success in the home study. The social worker is bound to ethical standards and organizational policies, but they are also human beings.
The overall process for adoption can be a lengthy one. For our choice of domestic infant adoption, one of the qualifications in our state is that we have been married for at least three years. After we met that qualification, we were then put on a waiting list. Once we got to the top of the waiting list we started the “home study” that includes, an application, reference letters, physicals, a letter from my oncologist stating I was healthy (because I am a childhood cancer survivor), a mental health exam, FBI fingerprints, meetings with the social worker, a home visit, payments, and a profile book. This took about another year-and-a-half from being on the first waiting list until finally being approved. Now that we were approved to adopt, we are continuing to wait until the agency matches us with a birth mother.
Adoption is a long process that can have restrictions, but being secular doesn’t have to be one!
If you are considering adoption and are secular/atheist there are a few things you can think about before starting the process:
- It is important to know what type of adoption you are open to (domestic, international, open, closed, with an agency, or private). This will help guide who you will be working with. This includes knowing what attributes you would consider for a child you are looking to build your family with (gender, age range, race). The agency you work with will ask you these questions–ours did!
- Consider foster care. The foster care system has fewer restrictions (with regards to age, marriage) and is thus more open to a variety of family backgrounds. This is a great opportunity to become a forever family for older children as well.
- Reach out for support locally and online. I joined a Facebook group for secular foster and adoptive parents, and it was comforting to know I could ask questions or vent if needed.
- Continue with your life as usual. A lot of adoption is waiting. Please do yourself a favor and continue with your work and hobbies as usual. We went on long bike rides across our state, competed in triathlons, even left the country knowing we could have gotten a phone call from the social worker saying they had a baby for us. We know what room we would have for a nursery, but haven’t set one up yet. If you spend all of your time focused and thinking about adoption and the process, that may lead to sadness and depression when the process can take a while.
Since our adoption story is not complete, I cannot yet say we have had a successful secular adoption. But I am confident it is only a matter of time before we are matched with a birth mother, and when we do, we can be confident we were true to ourselves and our story. Thankfully, we live in an area that had good resources to meet our needs. I know that not everyone will have the same opportunities we have had, and this is where networking and social media can help. You can cast a wide net by making an online profile and searching for a private adoption, you can even go across state lines if needed. Overall, the adoption plans start with the wishes from the couple or individual who are seeking to adopt, and but it is helpful to know that adoption for secular families has become increasing attainable!
Amy Buzalsky is a secular social worker who works with cancer patients. She lives in the Midwest with her husband, Leo and dogs Tyson and Bailey. Amy stays active with providing support for intersex individuals, loves a good bike ride, and watching professional soccer.
My wife and I are both atheists, and we recently adopted our 14-year-old daughter who is not an atheist. Our worries about our lack of religion potentially standing in the way of our desire to adopt turned out to be largely unfounded, even though our daughter is from a very Christian region and a nominal Christian herself.
Of course, we are lucky to have a kick-ass secular adoption agency, but it just seems to be less of a factor than you might think. This is the general experience of our agency and not just our individual experience.
It can be easy to forget that a very large portion of the Christians in the U.S.A. aren’t as wrapped up in it as the ones with the loudest voices, and it just seems that when it comes to finding a loving home for a child, most people seem more inclined to set religious differences aside. It also doesn’t tend to be as hard for single parents or same-sex couples to adopt as many people expect.
I would urge people to be careful about using foster parenting as a substitute for adoption because it can be a very different experience, especially if you live in a state that will move mountains to place a child with a relative.
I will also like to reiterate the advice to make sure you keep your own life going while you are waiting to be matched. This can take years. Also, don’t avoid making plans because you are afraid you will get the call when you are on vacation, etc. We were making calls back and forth when we were thousands of miles from home, and it worked out fine. If someone is interested in you, they will wait until you get home to have a meeting.
Lastly, I think that if you are having trouble finding a match, it is important to periodically re-examine your criteria. Are they too narrow and is that contributing to your troubles. You can learn a lot about yourself during your search. It turns out that my wife and I were less open to some things than we thought we were and more open to others.
A social worker friend of my wife’s who used to work in adoption told us that adoption is basically a sure thing if you have a good home, are open to different possibilities, and can be patient in your search. I don’t know if that is completely true, but the thought got us through some tough moments.
Above all, educate the hell out of yourself. Take classes. Meet adoptive families. Attend support groups. Read books and blogs and articles. The knowledge we got from doing all of these things was our greatest asset in our search. (Okay, my wife read the books and gave me the synopses, but I did all of the other things. :))
My family completed our adoption last year but through the multiple year process (international adoption) we often felt isolated as a large majority of the online adoption community we were connected with were intensely religious. It was frustrating for us. But last year we discovered a new facebook group called Secular Adoptive Families which has been a great way to start to interact with non-religious families who are also part of the adoptive community. It’s not a huge group yet, but it is a really supportive group. Newcomers are welcome.
Thank you for the responses! Shannon- I joined Secular Foster & Adoptive Families, which has a higher membership. It has been a tremendous help just knowing they are there if I have a question or need some resources. I know how frustrating it can be to feel disconnected when going through such a process!
Also, Thank you TheCzech for sharing your thoughts. Congratulations to your family on your adoption! Thank you for pointing out about the challenges of Foster care, as both adoption and foster care can be complicated systems and both are not to be taken lightly. I do have a feeling adoption agencies will be more inclusive in the future, and less focused on the religious families, but time will tell. I fee like after we picked the agency to work with, most of the process has been getting through to the approval and then waiting. Waiting can be the hardest part, and we have only been approved since June, but this week several people randomly asked me for an adoption update, and there was nothing to give. I truly hope there are more resources for families like ours in the future!
I am a birth mother currently looking for secular or atheist adoptive parents and cannot seem to have any luck. Even the lgbt couples who look open minded and educated have “Christian” in their profiles. If you have any information about secular adoptive parents or have the contact information of adoptive parents I could reach out to, I’d be forever grateful.
Seems like you understand the problem we have as a community with secular adoption first hand.
Are there any adoption agencies in your area that you could work with that you indicate a preference your baby go to a secular or atheist family? I am not sure where you are from.
If you would like to talk further about this I would be happy to try and help. My email is [email protected]
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