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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Don't Let the Home Study Scare You

One of the most gut wrenching parts of adoption for new beginners is the adoption home study.  It scared my wife and me, and every couple that I have talked to that has been there.  Like most things in life, the home study was not as bad as it seemed.  There are some simple things that you should know to get ready for the home study.

First, the home study is not an indictment against you.  All fifty states require by law that a home study be done with each adoption.  Each state has different rules for how the home study is done and the length of time to complete the home study also varies by state.  Here are the things that most home studies will ask of the perspective parents.
Auto-biographical statements - This is a story of you.  It will ask each person (husband and wife will both                complete).  You will be asked about your childhood, the type of home you grew up in, your educational accomplishments, or how you view adoption.  The depth of the interview may vary by state, but it is an in-depth look at you.  If you haven't begun the home study, you can start preparing now your autobiography now. Your agency or any agency in the state that you reside in can tell you what information will be expected in your statement.
Health Statement - The health statement is just to make sure that you are physically able to care for a child, have no medical conditions that put the child at risk, and determines if any condition you may have would limit your life expectancy and harm the well being of the child.  You will have to undergo a doctor’s physical and possibly certain blood test.
Income Statement - You are not expected to be rich in order to adopt, but you must be able to support a child and be able to demonstrate the ability to financially manage your resources.  You will need a copy of your W-2, bank, and savings statement.
Child abuse and criminal statement - This goes with out saying.  The safety of the child is the most important thing. If you have had a misdemeanor arrest and you can explain it you will probably not be disqualified, but felony arrest or any arrest involving an act against a child will be a huge strike against you.
References - Will need three or four references.  They can be close family members, a pastor, or supervisor from work.  The social worker may write a letter or make a personal visit.  Some states allow for a written reference in the form of a letter on your behalf.
Interview - The social worker will do an interview or even a series of interviews.  In our case we had one home visit from our home study provider and a follow up visit at her home.  In the initial interview the social worker will ask you questions about your family, your job, your feelings on adoption, and your personal life.  The social worker will clarify any thing considered unclear from your biography.  The social worker will also make an informal assessment of your home.  One thing that you don't want to do is make you house spotless, unless that is the way you normally keep house.  The house is expected to look lived in.  In fact, that is preferred.  The assessment of the home is again to ensure that the home is safe and secure for a child to live in.
Children at Home - If you have children the social worker may want to interview them to ensure that they are adjusting to the idea of adoption.  Their thoughts and feelings will be considered.

This is a list of things the home study will determine.

    * Personal and family background-including upbringing, siblings, key events, and what was learned from them

    * Significant people in the lives of the applicants

    * Marriage and family relationships

    * Motivation to adopt

    * Expectations for the child

    * Feelings about infertility (if this is an issue)

    * Parenting and integration of the child into the family

    * Family environment

    * Physical and health history of the applicants

    * Education, employment and finances-including insurance coverage and child care plans if needed

    * References and criminal background clearances

    * Summary and social worker's recommendation.

This is a long process and the home study is a key element.  Don't take the home study lightly because it is the beginning of your adoption journey, but don't let it intimidate you.  Once you complete the study, you will realize that it was not as bad as you thought it would be.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Don't Leave Money on the Table. Making the Most of the Adoption Tax Credit

When it comes to adoption, remember that this is an investment that you have made into the life of a child. To help make this affordable, don't leave any money on the table. The IRS allows you the opportunity to deduct the cost of your adoption up to $12,150.00 (as of 2009). This can be done over the course of five years. Here are some things you need to know.

Keep Good Records

Keep track of all your records and receipts. In the event of an audit, this will be substantiation for your deduction. Keeping a list of expenses is also beneficial if you are keeping an adoption journal (which I strongly recommend).

Information You Might Need

The information you need to claim the adoption credit is at the IRS website. That website is linked in this blog. Familiarize yourself with the rules for Form 8839. This will tell you what expenses are considered qualified and walk you through submitting this form in order to claim the credit. I would suggest seeing a tax professional if you have never taken this credit before.

Forms you will need

Form 8839
Form 1040 or Form 1040A
Form W-7A (if your child does not have a SS#)

Other Facts

  • The tax credit applies to domestic and international adoptions, but the procedure is not the same. Credit for expenses for international adoptions can be claimed only after finalization; for domestic adoptions, the credit can be applied even if the adoption does not go through.
  • The full credit can be taken for domestic special needs adoption even when the qualifying expenses don't reach that limit.
The Adoption Credit can be a very valuable resource. However, it is also one of the most complicated credits to take. There are some good tax software programs that can walk you through this credit. I filed Form 8839 for the first time using Tax Act, but I also am a tax preparer. You may need the assistance of a tax professional. The benefit of this credit is well worth the expense.

Keeping an Adoption Journal.

Keeping an adoption journal is a wonderful way to document the amazing journey down the road to finalizing an adoption. The journal can be shared with family and friends and help make everyone part of the process. This is especially a great idea if you already have children. It gives them a head start in the bonding process. There are websites like adoption that allow you to keep a journal online. Online journals can also keep family and friends involved no matter how far away they live. Blogging is also a good way to journal your adoption. If you do decide to do a journal online, take the time to also do a physical journal. Leave your child a written document of this experience. You can purchase adoption journals on-line or create your own. This is a wonderful scrapbook project.

Also remember, one day that precious child that you have adopted will grow up and have questions. An adoption journal will help you remember things so that you can be as open and honest as possible. From your child perspective, the fact that you loved and cared for them enough to document this experience so thoroughly just re-enforces to them the love you have for them.

Your child adoption journal will be a family treasure that will endure through generations. Take the time to document your journey and share it with family and friends as well as others you know who are beginning this journey for themselves. Let the gift of adoption be an inspiration.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Make Adoption a Ministry

As an associate pastor I am always looking for effective ministry opportunities that truly change the lives of people. As a father who has seen the wonderful blessing that adoption is first hand, I can think of no more powerful ministry than helping a loving Christian family share themselves with a child who needs the love that family provides. What better way for the local church to minster to lives than by establishing an adoption ministry.

Begin Small

I know first hand the challenges of beginning any ministry in the local church, especially if that church is small. How do I know? I have a bi-vocational position that carries a full time responsibility. Like any ministry an adoption ministry can begin small. Encourage members of the local congregation to consider adoption. There is a wealth of free information that can be made available. Have an adoption information center in the church foyer where prospective parents can get information to review and pray about. If a couple in your church begins the process of adoption, take up a special offering for them or make their endeavor one of the fundraiser projects of the church. You may only raise $500.00, but that is the cost of a home study. There is no such thing as a small offering when a couple faces the cost of an adoption. Remember, that couple has committed to spending from $15,000.00 and up in order to provide a loving home for a child.

Look For Ways to Expand the Ministry

Look for ways to expand your adoption ministry outside the four walls of the church. Once the church becomes enthused about supporting an adoption ministry, begin an adoption fund. There are many ways to set this up, but follow these guidelines for your own protection.

1. Create an application form. Giving money away is a big responsibility that requires much prayer and thought, and you must know as much about the applicant as possible to make a wise decision.
2. Require the applicant to have already completed the home study. This shows that they are serious.
3. Don't exclude private or attorney based adoptions. Why do I mention that? My wife and I had several bad experiences with adoption agencies. This not an indictment against adoption agencies, it is just our experience. We found a knowledgeable Christian attorney who helped us through every step of this process and we found this route much more to our liking than dealing with an agency. The bad part was that many ministries that we could have looked to for assistance did not support private or attorney based adoptions. The reason I was given was "if you can afford an attorney you don't need help. Our adoption was actually less the way we did it than had we worked with an agency.

You can expand this ministry by offering assistance to members of other congregations in the community. This is truly a community ministry endeavor. As you offer this blessing to others, encourage the other churches that you contact to assist financially with this ministry. Suggest to them the techniques in the first paragraph. Note: as more churches become involved be prepared to change the name of your ministry to reflect the diversity of the congregations.

Any one can begin this ministry at their local church and this ministry runs hand in hand with the great Commission of Jesus Christ to go into all the world and share the wonderful gospel with all that will receive.

It is Time to Share Our Family Again

Adoption is the most wonderful calling that has ever been placed in the lives of my wife and myself. Our first answer to the call resulted in the addition to our family my son, and being a father to him has been the most wonderful experience of my life. It is time that we go down this road of adventure again.

One of the most prohibitive things in adoptions is cost. There are many people who would love to share their family with a child, but the up-front cost prevents them. There are tax credits and reimbursements that many are eligible for, but they must pay first and then wait to get their money back.

We are using this blog and adsense to help fund our adoption. Periodically I will keep you updated as to the status of our adoption. Thank you to everyone in advance who read this and who assist us in this worthwhile endeavor.