Adoption Assistance Provides Step-by-Step Guidance in Child Placement
Writer / Carrie Vittitoe
Julie Erwin, founder and executive director of Adoption Assistance in St. Matthews, has lived the adoption experience and uses it to help other people create families.
Erwin began Adoption Assistance in 1999 from her home in Danville, Kentucky, as an adoptive mom of two young children at the time, to help other families beginning the adoption process.
“I learned so much about adoption and I’d become so passionate about the concept,” she says.
She already had a master’s degree in guidance and counseling, so she took steps to get licensed by the Cabinet for Families and Children in Kentucky to help other families adopt.
In 2010 Erwin’s family moved to Louisville, so Adoption Assistance also got a new home. It was first in Middletown but relocated to St. Matthews six years ago. In its 22 years, Adoption Assistance has grown from a one-woman operation to a staff of 16 people, with licenses in Kentucky and Tennessee, helping people adopt children from 63 different countries.
In the early days of Adoption Assistance, Erwin didn’t advertise, but word got around that she was able to help families navigate the adoption journey.
Regardless of what type of adoption a family wants to pursue, the first step is the home study.
“It’s really two parts,” Erwin says. “It’s us collecting documents from the family, but it’s also training that family – things like attachment, grief, bonding and other really important tools when you’re going to parent a child that has been adopted.”
At the end of the home study process, which takes around six to eight weeks if families are on top of their paperwork, Erwin and her staff write a report that is basically a snapshot of the family and includes a recommendation.
“It will be pretty specific about recommending that a family adopt a child between certain ages, of certain race, of certain gender,” Erwin says. “This is the gate to allow them to have a child come into their home.”
The recommendation includes both the desires of the adoptive family and the expertise of the Adoption Assistance staff.
After the home study and recommendation, the family waits to get matched.
“Typically, a birth parent when pregnant is going to make an adoption plan, and they will choose a family to adopt that child,” Erwin says.
Erwin says a couple without children that is open to race and background can expect to be matched between six and 12 months. It can be hard for adoptive parents to know that until the child is born and the biological parents sign the paperwork, the adoption could fall through.
“I tell families eight out of 10 cases are going to go through without any problem,” Erwin says. “In the other two, that birth parent is going to change their mind.”
Erwin counsels families that despite some risk in domestic adoptions, they can mitigate risk.
“A birth mother that’s between 20 and 24, and already parenting a child, has the highest rate of going through with [an adoption],” Erwin says. “She’s very realistic about what it takes to parent that one child.”
When it comes to matching for an international adoption, Erwin and her staff follow the laws for various countries.
While matching may not take long, the international process for adoption tends to be longer. A time frame of 10 to 24 months is the norm for international adoption, but circumstances like pandemics or war can disrupt the process.
Erwin says most adoptive families use a combination of ways to help cover adoption costs, including a federal adoption tax credit of $14,440 for incomes under $247,000. An increasing number of companies provide benefits to adoptive parents as well.
“Companies often have credits between $3,000 and $15,000 as an employee benefit,” Erwin says.
Adoption costs can range between $13,000 and $40,000. International adoption expenses include translation of documents, foreign travel to pick up the child, and care of children in orphanages. Domestic adoptions can include costs for attorney fees and birth parent living expenses.
Families that want to adopt a child and are willing to adopt straight from foster care have the benefit of only paying for the home study expense.
“The state that has custody of the child picks up the rest of the cost of doing the adoption,” Erwin says.
In 2000, close to 21,000 children were adopted internationally and brought into the United States. By 2019, international adoption numbers were under 3,000. Even though the need is still there, with more than 144 million orphans in the world, governments have changed their rules or added restrictions.
Domestic adoptions have also changed over time as a result of social media. Increasingly, birth parents are finding adoptive parents for their unborn children via Facebook and Craigslist.
“Families are matched in such different ways,” Erwin says. “We tell our adoptive families to tell their story.”
The openness of adoptions has also changed over time.
“Out of 10 adoptions, eight are going to be semi-open,” Erwin says.
Of the other 20% of adoptions, 10% are closed and the other 10% are open adoptions.
“We are seeing more open adoptions than we ever have because the research says it can be so healthy for that child,” Erwin says.
Some families meet yearly, talk on the phone or send gifts. The decision on whether an adoption is semi-open, fully open or closed is made before a match happens, based on what the birth parent and adoptive family want.
Erwin says some common myths about adoptions still persist. One myth is that adoption is uncommon, but Erwin says a quarter of families raise children that aren’t biologically theirs. Sometimes this is a formal adoption with the help of an organization like Adoption Assistance, but in many cases it is a situation of a relative raising a non-biological child.
Another myth concerns the image of what a birth parent is. Some people might have a mistaken idea that a birth parent is irresponsible or uncaring, but giving up a child for adoption is a sacrifice.
“It is one of the most loving, unselfish things they can do,” Erwin says.
Erwin has adopted three more children through international adoption, and continues to offer her expertise to other families on their adoption journey. She says families now are much better prepared than she was more than two decades ago when she brought her first child home.