By Kristen Basham and Tiet Tran
Mountaineer News Service, WVU
In early October, 15-year-old, Davion Only approached the pulpit at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church and made a public plea to be adopted. In the weeks after his public address, hundreds of families reached out hoping to welcome Only into their home.
Only’s story quickly went viral, spreading on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. He participated in countless interviews, invited news organizations into his bedroom at a care center he shares with 11 other boys and even helped add content to his personal website. Only’s story did much more than just help him though, he helped bring attention to adoption issues and concerns within the United States.
West Virginia, a state with a population of less than two million, is currently home to 4,027 children under state care. Of these, close to 1,000 are available for adoption according to the North American Council on Adoptable Children. And while many families may be interested in adopting, a variety of roadblocks need to be overcome first.
The application process to become adoptive parents through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources can take up to nine months to complete. Prospective families must have sufficient income to meet the immediate and future needs of a child, and their house must pass a health, fire and safety inspection. In addition to these physical needs, all members of the household 18 and older must undergo a criminal investigation and background check, as well as meetings with social workers to demonstrate their ability to commit and provide for a child.
When an individual or family does complete the application, they then begin a wait for a match that may take months.
According to the WVDHHR website, one obstacle preventing matches between children and families is that many prospective adoptive parents are waiting for children who are not likely to be available. For example, many parents are waiting to adopt infants. Many of the children who are available for adoption are 6 to 18 years old, part of a sibling group which needs to stay together, troubled by emotional and behavioral difficulties, or from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Children in West Virginia may also be adopted through private agencies, such as the Children’s Home Society (CHS) of West Virginia. CHS also requires an in-depth home and household member inspection. Additionally, prospective parents must take a nine-week course called PRIDE. PRIDE covers topics such as child attachment, loss and grief, discipline and behavior intervention, effects of abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, working with the child welfare system, and the effects of fostering and adopting on the family.
Nick and Stephanie Strickland adopted all three of their children through CHS. Miriam, 3, was adopted as an infant. William, 2, and Scotty, 3, who are biological brothers, were fostered by the Stricklands before being officially adopted.
The Stricklands struggled with infertility issues and knew adoption would be the only way to build their family. Their application and selection process took nine months to complete.
“Adoption means everything to us. It’s the only reason we’re able to have our family, and it just all felt so natural,” Stephanie said. “Even though having three toddlers can be stressful and hectic, it’s even more rewarding.”
Stephanie’s love for adoption has recently led her to take classes in social work and change her career path to allow her to work with adoption programs.
For families who are interested in adopting, there are a variety of resources available. Mission West Virginia is a non-profit organization which aims to help families decide if adoption is right for them and navigate the intricacies of the application process.
“It’s true that prospective parents have to go through a sometimes lengthy process to register to adopt, but there are resources to help them though it, and when broken down, the tasks really aren’t as daunting. For instance, many parents worry about the cost of adopting. Generally, costs come from small things like pets needing up-to-date shots, or a back porch needing a railing added,” said, Carol Phipps from Mission West Virginia.
Although National Adoption Month came to an end on Nov. 31, adoption agencies hope to remind people that families are needed all year round.
“There are so many loving and caring kids that just need that in return from a family. We’re hopeful here at Mission West Virginia that we can ease people’s apprehension about applications and raising an adopted child,” Phipps said.
For more information on child adoption in West Virginia, contact the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, or visit AdoptUSkids.org for frequently asked questions, application guidance and agency contact information.