Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Adopting a child is a life-changing experience. Numerous local resources can help make it less daunting.

The decision to adopt a child is monumental. But that's just half the battle. It's essential to learn the best way to proceed and what considerations to weigh in the quest to expand your family.

Do you prefer to work with a private adoption attorney or a public agency? Do you want to adopt a newborn or an older child? Are you adopting in the United States or in another country? Many decisions need to be made.

Cost alone may prove an issue for some prospective adoptive parents. In 2014-15, the average cost of international adoptions was $42,000, while the average U.S. newborn adoption was $38,000, according to the most recent Cost & Timing of Adoption Survey from Adoptive Families Magazine.

On the other hand, it can cost little or even nothing to adopt a child in the foster-care system.

Fortunately, credible information is readily available to guide prospective adoptive parents through the process, according to central Ohio adoption professionals.

"Read, read, read," said Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the Columbus-based Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. "And work with our partners. Here, it's Franklin County Children Services."

Adoption classes are available locally, too. Each spring and fall, a program designed to take the mystery out of the adoption process is offered through a partnership between the Family and Youth Law Center at Capital University Law School and Nationwide Children's Hospital.

"Our mission with it is to give prospective adoptive parents neutral, educational information about the adoption process from start to finish," said Megan Heydlauff, staff attorney for the center.

The eight-week Adoption Academy series features attorneys and other professionals who share expertise in several key areas: explaining the domestic adoption process step by step, dealing with foreign governments in international adoptions, understanding the financial implications of adoption, and emotional, social, cultural and medical considerations.

The program concludes with a panel of professionals as well as adoptive parents, birth parents and adults who were adopted-all of whom discuss their insights and experiences. The session, Heydlauff said, often is cited by attendees as their favorite part of the Adoption Academy.

The program's organizers work to ensure objective information is provided by the class presenters. "For lack of a better word, we vet adoption agency representatives and attorneys," Heydlauff said.

Attendees appreciate the effort, she added. "The feedback we tend to get is, 'Wow, this is so much information. Thank you.' "

To adopt children in foster care, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption provides "a step-by-step guide at a very basic level," Soronen said.

The foundation was established in 1992 by Wendy's founder Dave Thomas "with a very singular focus and mission to dramatically increase the number of adoptions of children in North America's foster-care system," she said.

About 107,000 children are in the U.S. foster-care system and need permanent homes, she said. Their average age is 9, and the number of boys and girls is about equal.

Many have experienced a succession of foster homes. When they turn 21, they automatically age out of the system and are at risk of having no family. (Ohio is among a growing number of states that have extended foster-care eligibility from age 18 to 21.)

Children are in foster care through no fault of their own, Soronen said. Many have experienced traumatic abuse or neglect, and have birth parents whose parental rights have been terminated.

The foundation works hard to "dispel the misperceptions about why these children are in the system," she said. Through robust use of social media, it shares adoption success stories, and a national poster campaign features foster kids with bold messages such as, "I'm not too old," and, "I'm not too damaged."

The organization also awards grants to public and private adoption agencies to fund recruiters who work to move kids from foster care to adoptive families. These Wendy's Wonderful Kids recruiters, who number more than 200 throughout the U.S. and Canada, work with local agencies such as Franklin County Children Services, using evidence-based practices to find adoptive homes that meet a foster child's individual needs.

The program has finalized nearly 6,000 adoptions, with an average adoptee age of 12, Soronen said.

Parents don't have to be rich or own a home to adopt a foster child, she said. "You simply have to be able to adequately care for these children."

The foundation is part of a coalition that sponsors National Adoption Day. Celebrated annually the Saturday before Thanksgiving (this year it's Nov. 19), the event has helped move nearly 58,500 children from foster care to permanent homes.

Heydlauff and Soronen said they have witnessed more single people and same-sex couples exploring adoption in recent years. Twenty years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine adoptive parents being anyone other than a traditional two-parent household, Soronen said. "That's changed significantly in practice as well as policy."