Identifying an Adoptable Child

by Linda Michie, Executive Director and Founder at Wishing Well Adoption & Family Services

In order to adopt a child in Virginia, the child must be legally available for adoption. This means the biological parents have either had their parental rights terminated by a judge, or the biological parents are willing to legally entrust the child to others for the purpose of adoption. Only after you are certain of a child’s status should you begin the process. How does one identify a child to adopt? It’s not like shopping for a car or a house. And we don’t want to sound or feel like we are shopping for a child, but the truth is that there are some ideas we should consider before we begin, and we can safely talk about them here.

When we have biological children, there are no guarantees connected with how they will turn out, but we do have some good indicators to begin with: They will probably look similar to us, they share our health history and our family’s mental health history. They may have some of our personality traits. We are aware of our pre-natal care and alcohol and drug use, etc., etc., etc.

With adopted children, we may know some of those things, or think we know some of those things, but there is a greater potential for the unknown with an un-biological child.

We want our adopted child or children to fit with us, and us with them.

We want them to not only be a part of our family but to feel like part of our family. We want them to want to be there as much as we want them to be there. So, we try to make some sort of a match. It can feel like a profile at first but soon turns into a real person. And we want it to work.

Tips on Finding an Adoptable Child - Wishing Well Adoption and Family Services, Virginia BeachSo, first consider how much unknown you can comfortably tolerate. Some children are known to their agency or current care provider. Sometimes the agency or care provider know the biological parents as well. But sometimes children who need to be adopted are much more mystery than fact. Health history can be an important factor in helping to estimate the future health care needs of the child. Mental health history can play a tremendous role in determining parenting style, discipline used, doctors chosen, and medications to use. Past behaviors in a child certainly play a role in estimating future behaviors, but many children’s behaviors change when they are placed in a permanent and loving home. The unborn child is, of course, the biggest mystery of all. What is your tolerance for not knowing?

In terms of approving a home study, the first thing we consider is how many children a family would potentially adopt. This is determined by the family’s wishes, skills, and the size and composition of the home. Adopted children over the age of three are not allowed to sleep in the same room if they are opposite in sex.

Next, the sex of the child is considered. Are you dreaming or raising a girl or a boy? Or perhaps you have no preference. You many have several available bedrooms or only one.

The third consideration is race. Are you open to children of your race only? Other races? Mixed races? Sometimes the race of a child will not be known until after the child is born. Your family culture should be considered by you as well as by your agent when determining what race or races you will pursue.

Next is age. Do you want to take a baby home from the hospital? Or would you prefer to skip the diaper phase? If your goal is to offer an older child a family, the older child may have had a traumatic past. Are you willing and skilled in dealing with children who have suffered trauma?

The final determination used for home study approval is the level of behavioral or health challenges a child will present at the time of adoption. This, of course, does not apply to unborn or newborn children, but considerations for identifying birth mothers will be discussed in another blog. Challenges are usually classified in terms of being mild, moderate, or severe, and relate to physical health or mental health (behaviors). For example, with physical health, you may lead a very active, outdoors kind of life that you want to share with your adopted child. So for you, a child with a limited ability to be active or mobile would not be a choice that would make any of you happy. It is absolutely acceptable for you to tell your adoption agent that you would not consider a child who is wheel-chair bound. Some children require hospitalization or medical treatments on a regular basis. This may fit with your lifestyle and therefore be an acceptable choice. Some children have health care issues that are easily managed with medication. This, too, is OK to say.

Mental health issues sometimes require a great deal more consideration. Children in foster care often have diagnoses, medications, and treatment plans for therapy that need to be addressed. Children in foster care come with reports (that their social worker may only be willing to share with your agent) that go into detail concerning the child’s past behaviors and placement history that you will need to know about to make an informed decision. Some agencies have created checklists that you can work with to determine what behaviors you would be able to tolerate in your home, and which behaviors are deal-breakers for you. We will go into more detail about this in another blog also. Sometimes the behaviors that children use in foster care to get adults to notice that they need help are behaviors you won’t see in a loving, permanent home. Sometimes they get worse before they get better. Often children who are available for adoption have been abused or neglected and need nothing more than safety to settle right in.

One more thing in considering a child. Some children have connections that need to be kept for their well-being. You will have to determine how available you will be to supporting those connections. Back in the old days, there were mostly “closed” adoptions. Although we don’t use the terminology anymore, in a closed adoption there is no contact with the biological family. After much research, we have determined that in many cases there is a great benefit for children to know, and even see their biological or previous foster families. There are formal agreements that can be put in place to describe the conditions that would best benefit your child. Your agency can help you decide what works best for your family. In some cases, no contact is best.

Please read the blog concerning considering expectant mothers, or adopting from foster care if one of those addresses your area of interest.

Wishing Well offers free consultations to Virginia families who are considering beginning the adoption process. Just call Linda at (757) 739-2118, or email:

Linda Michie

Linda Michie

Executive Director and Founder at Wishing Well Adoption & Family Services
Linda Michie holds a Master's degree in Urban Studies, and a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice from Old Dominion University.
Linda has worked in the child welfare field since 1999 and is a Licensed Child Placing Agent.
Wishing Well assists in domestic adoptions in the state of Virginia, and provides parenting coaching, and supervised visitation in Virginia Beach, VA.
Linda Michie

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