A child is never too old to need a family.
Ashley Smith, the Division of Family and Children Services Region 2 adoption unit supervisor, makes it her job to impress this message on those looking to adopt in Northeast Georgia.
She said Region 2 of DFCS, which includes 13 counties in Northeast Georgia, currently has 55 children available for adoption, 38 of which are older than 12.
To shine light on teenage adoptions and celebrate national adoption month, DFCS Region 2 is holding its first Fall in Love with Adoption event from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Level Grove Baptist Church in Cornelia.
Smith said the event is for all walks of parents involved in the adoption process, including those who are fostering, people who have adopted and families interested in hearing information about adoption.
The day will kick off with a ceremony to honor all of the region’s families who have adopted children within the past year through DFCS.
The morning will then lead into a panel hosted by parents who have adopted teenagers. Smith said the day’s other panel discussions will focus on teenage mental health.
“Teenagers need adoptive homes too,” she said. “We want to break the stigma around the diagnoses kids get labeled on them and make that a little less scary.”
DFCS has also invited a group of private child-placing agencies that can license families to foster or adopt through the organization. Some of these agencies are All God’s Children, Families First and Bethany Christian Services.
“We’re really putting a lot of effort with collaborating with those private agencies,” Smith said. “DFCS gets overloaded with approving homes and training. At the end of the day, it’s still the same goal — having more foster parents in our area.”
Child-placing agencies contract with DFCS to place children in foster homes.
Attorney Susan Brown of Susan D. Brown & Associates in Gainesville specializes in adoption.
While adopting through DFCS is a viable option for many families, Brown said there are other pathways people can take.
These options include working with a third party –– commonly called a private adoption –– doing an international adoption or adopting from a relative or as a step-parent.
Third-party private adoptions don’t involve DFCS or an agency — they involve the voluntary placement of children for adoption by their birth parent or parents.
In the case of international adoption, Brown said the agreement is usually finalized in the child’s birth country.
Brown has dealt with many cases of adoptions from out-of-state, including those involving DFCS, private adoption agencies and third-party adoptions. Out of the three, Brown said most of her clients take the agency adoption path.
“Folks have more flexibility with agencies as to where they adopt from and some are more comfortable going out of state,” she said. “They don’t want to run into somebody (child’s birth parents) in a grocery store.” She also said some states have more newborns available than others.
Brown considers taking the DFCS route a risky endeavor.
DFCS or a private child-placing agency working with DFCS will place a child in a foster home, with the goal of eventually reunifying the child with family. If parental rights are terminated by the court or surrendered by the parents, the child may become available for adoption.
“Children in foster care by definition have the possibility of being placed back with a parent,” she said. “... It’s a question of certainty with how long the system takes. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, are willing to take that risk and don’t need certainty of having a child, fostering to adopt is the way to go.”
Smith said fostering to adopt through DFCS is a draw for many potential adopters because of the cost.
“DFCS foster parents have way less of a financial burden,” she said.
For private and international adoptions, the adoptive parents are the ones spending the money. With DFCS, the adoptive parents may spend some money up front to get their home approved, but as long as the approval goes through, they get reimbursed.
Smith said most of the children in DFCS care and available for adoption qualify for adoption assistance, which includes ongoing monthly payments, Medicaid coverage and a $1,500 non-recurring fee for an adoption attorney.
People can learn more about adopting through DFCS by visiting the Fall in Love with Adoption event.
DFCS staff will be there to offer information about the adoptable children in the area.
Lunch and child care will be provided and foster parents have the option of earning 3.5 training hours at the panel discussions.
“We’re really excited,” Smith said. “This will be our first event, and we do hope to make it annual going forward.”