our adoption story #7: waiting for the hearing

Today, I’m writing about the post-placement process and while we waited for our finalization hearing. Adoption takes many, many steps. With infant adoption, in general, the process goes:

The State of Colorado requires families to wait at least six months before an adoption can be finalized. During this time, there are a number of procedural steps that need to occur. These steps ensure that the child is legally available for adoption and that the placement is a good fit.

If you’ve been following along with our story (and if not — I’ve linked the previous posts above), you’ll know that our story is not typical of domestic infant adoption because of our prolonged NICU stay. Typically, placement happens within a couple of days or at most a week after birth. Since placement can’t happen until after discharge, our matching and legal risk period was much longer than usual. Legal risk is the time between matching and when the birth family’s rights are terminated. The birth family has the right to decide that an adoption plan is not right for them until their rights are terminated by the courts. This is partially why things were so complicated while Sumner was in the hospital. We were his parents in all the ways that mattered from day to day, but not in a legal capacity. Any time a decision had to be made about his care, our adoption agency who had guardianship would make contact with the birth family to make sure that they were on board with the course of treatment. After a few weeks, they completely deferred to our judgment, but were still called about the big stuff.

At any rate, legal risk presents an adoptive family with an unknown quantity. On one hand, this is your child and you love them fiercely. On the other hand, there’s always a little voice in the back of your head telling you not to become too attached because the birth family could change their mind. Now imagine feeling that way with a NICU babe. It’s complicated. For us, the relinquishment hearing happened on December 5, 2019, ten days after Sumner came home. As the adoptive family, we didn’t do anything for this hearing. All we received was a text from our case worker saying that it was done. From what we were told, the hearing involves the judge or magistrate verifying all of the facts of the case and then talking to each of the birth parents about the finality of their decision and confirming that relinquishment is, in fact, what they want to do. Their caseworker from the adoption agency is also there to testify about what they know.

For our side of things, the post-placement period was for having our visits from the adoption agency and working on getting the adoption subsidy in place. In Colorado, you are your baby’s foster parents on paper during the post-placement period and the agency is required to check up on you all to make sure that things are going okay. There are three required meetings. The first one happens ten days after placement. The second meeting happens around three months after placement. Our agency typically holds the second meeting at their office. Since it was flu/RSV season and Sumner was immunocompromised, our case worker came to us for this meeting. The last meeting happens around five to six months after placement. By the time the third meeting came around, we were in full COVID lockdown and the meeting occurred via Zoom.

Each of our meetings went about the same. Our caseworker asked about what was challenging us as parents, what our favorite part of parenting was, and then she inquired after Sumner’s health. The latter usually took the longest because she wanted to find out about how his recent doctor’s appointments and therapies had gone, how his eating and sleeping was going, and what size clothes he was wearing. The last is sort of funny since he’s super tiny and usually matches his corrected age for his clothes (e.g. he’s 21 months now, but corrected to 18 months. He’s just now starting to wear 18-24 months clothes.) These meetings weren’t meant to cause us stress as they were purely check-ins for our caseworker to document that the placement was a good fit.

Part of the reason that it took so long for us to get a finalization hearing date is that we had initially decided to apply for the adoption subsidy through Denver County in order to try to keep Sumner’s medicaid. The subsidy agreement has to be in place prior to finalization. That’s also why our caseworker asked for detailed information and documentation about Sumner’s ongoing medical needs. She needed that information to complete our application. After months of going back and forth with her and the county, we decided to not go forward with the subsidy. Basically, the county wanted us to completely redo all of our caseworker’s work and with Sumner’s issues slowly resolving themselves and us already having excellent health insurance, we decided that it wasn’t worth the delay in the process. I think if Sumner’s health stuff was going to be more long-term we would have gone through with it.

Once we decided not the pursue the subsidy, we quickly got a hearing date for finalization. That will be the subject of the next post in this series.

What questions do you have?

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