This interview with our Executive Director, Stephen Story, was originally published in two parts by Georgia Life Alliance on their blog in November 2015. We appreciated the opportunity they gave us to share in this way!
First of all, Stephen, thank you for agreeing to this interview to help us get a better grasp on adoption. When someone hears the word “adoption” many people think adopting from foster care. I know that your focus is on adoption at birth, by developing an adoption plan with the mother who has made a decision not to parent her child. So why don’t we start with the very basic. What is adoption?
Adoption is the process by which a person (usually a child) who is not biologically related to a particular family is welcomed into and made a part of that family. It is certainly a legal process, but it is also an emotional and spiritual process. Rightly understood, adoption establishes a relationship in which the adopted person has the same rights, privileges, relationships, and obligations as someone who was biologically born into the adopting family.
I understand that Covenant Care Services focuses on infant adoption, so can you tell us how many infants were adopted in GA last year?
Reliable, state level adoption statistics are not always the most up-to-date. The most recent numbers I’ve seen from the National Council for Adoption show that in 2007 there were 819 unrelated, domestic infant adoptions in Georgia. For comparison, that same year there were 27,510 abortions in Georgia. 
How many children (including foster children) were adopted in Georgia last year?
Again, these numbers are reliable but not terribly recent. According to the National Council for Adoption, in 2007 there were 3,285 related and unrelated domestic adoptions, including adoptions out of foster care, in Georgia. 
Knowing that the state does intervene in many cases, can you tell us how many of those children are still in foster care and how many of those are children have had their parents’ rights terminated, making them eligible for adoption?
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Georgia had approximately 11,000 children in foster care in 2014; 2,370 of these children have a goal of adoption, although not all are currently ready to be adopted. So out of that group, there are 250 children who are currently available for adoption and awaiting an adoptive family. 
Many people think that adoption is cost-prohibitive. Would you help us understand the costs involved?
Adoption costs vary greatly and depend on a range of factors. Is the adoption international or domestic? Is it through a public agency or a private agency? Does the adoption agency have funding other than adoption fees, or do their fees cover the entirety of what it costs the organization to operate?
I can speak most knowledgeably about Covenant Care — we are a private, non-profit adoption agency and adoption fees cover only about one third of our operating expense. Our fees are on a sliding scale based on the adopting family’s income, so each family’s situation is unique. However, fees for a typical Covenant Care adoption are $15,000 – $20,000. That’s a lot of money, but it’s still just a portion of what it costs us to make that adoption happen. We do a tremendous amount of fundraising to cover the remainder of our expenses so that adoption remains as affordable as possible for the adopting families we serve. I should also point out that there are minimal fees to adopt a child from state foster care, and fees for international adoption can vary greatly.
One of the primary reasons domestic adoption is costly is that the process is incredibly time-intensive. At Covenant Care we provide regular, ongoing counseling for clients who are pregnant and considering adoption. We may meet with and counsel a pregnant client for weeks or even months before she gives birth, and at that point she may decide to parent the child instead of placing for adoption. We never charge a pregnant client for the counseling we provide, so in a situation like this we will have provided dozens of hours of counseling without receiving any adoption fees in return. It’s not uncommon for us to provide that level of service to five or six clients before one of them follows through with an adoption plan. Our first concern is informing and educating the client and letting her make her own decisions regarding adoption. However, these costs do add up for the adoption agency, and this is one of the reasons that adoption can be so costly.
On the adoptive family side, state law requires a rigorous “home study” process in order to approve a family to adopt. This process also takes months of work and counseling to ensure that a family is prepared and equipped for this. Making an adoption happen — both on the birth parent side and the adopting family side — is a slow, tedious, and costly process.
What resources are available for families adopting?
Financially, there is a broad and ever-growing range of resources. At the national level there’s the Federal Adoption Tax Credit ($13,190 for tax year 2014). This resource alone often makes adoption financially feasible in a way that it would not be otherwise. There are national non-profits like The ABBA Fund and Lifesong for Orphans, to name just two that provide grants and interest-free loans for adopting families. On the state and local level, there are a number of faith-based organizations providing adoption assistance who live in a certain geographic area or attend certain churches. Promise686 and Chosen for Life Ministries are two organizations in Georgia, and there are others like them. A growing number of local churches provide adoption assistance funds for families within the church who are adopting. Aside from all of this, the State of Georgia provides financial assistance for some situations involving the adoption of a child with special needs.
The financial cost is one of the first things that scares many people away from the adoption process. However, in the end, it often becomes one of the most powerful and moving parts of the adoption journey, as God provides for families who are adopting and resources of the community come together in support of an adoptive family.
What are some ways that singles, unable to adopt, be part of this effort?
Those who are not married may be in the unique position of working in orphan prevention by helping those who need temporary, not permanent, support. Single foster parents can be some of the most effective in pouring into a child and birth family in need, and, thereby being part of the redemptive work that alleviates the need for adoption. Also, anyone who has a heart for adoption ministry but is not currently called to adopt (single or not!), is in a wonderful position of supporting those who are called to adoption. Support can be through direct service in babysitting, providing meals for newly adoptive families, or assisting them with fundraising prior to placement. Support can also be through indirect means, such as prompting the positive aspects of adoption through your local church or community, or volunteering for a local agency which does adoption ministry. If there’s a desire to get involved, there’s a way to get involved!
As part of our mission, here at Georgia Life Alliance, we are big on the “Alliance” part of growing a culture of life in Georgia. So would you please speak directly to that by telling us what the Pro-life Community need to know about adoption?
That there is incredible opportunity to expand the work of adoption! Adoption is a much smaller piece of pro-life work than many people assume. Pregnancy Resource Centers all over the state consistently see a very small percentage of their clients choose adoption. They share with us (and we’ve seen ourselves) what a difficult thing it is to present the option of adoption to a woman who is pregnant. So there continues to be opportunity for the pro-life community to better understand adoption and better advocate for adoption as an alternative to abortion.
There also is a need for churches to become more knowledgeable about adoption, and to understand how to promote and encourage adoption within a local congregation. There is a need for more adoptive parents within the African American community. There is a need for parents willing to adopt children who come out of difficult or troubling circumstances.
Adoption is one of the most logical and tangible answers that we can give to abortion in our state, and there remains tremendous work to be done in this regard.
Why do you believe it is so important for the church family to promote adoption and adopt themselves?
Because we who are Christ-followers have experienced the greatest adoption possible! Scripture speaks about our salvation a number of different ways, and one of the most powerful ways our salvation is explained is using the language of adoption. In Galatians 4 we read that the entire reason Jesus came to earth was, “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” We then read that because of our adoption into God’s family, we have received the Spirit of His Son so that we can address God as “Father.” In Ephesians 1 we read, “In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” Our salvation is an adopting salvation! Out of the richness and abundance of what we have already received from God, we should love, promote and encourage physical adoption, and even engage in adoption ourselves.
Considering all the reasons to encourage adoption, what do you think keeps couples from adopting?
Not everyone should adopt. But my guess is that there are people who could pursue adoption but who don’t for one reason or another. One of those reasons is simply lack of clarity about what adoption is or where to begin. There are so many different ways in which to pursue adoption that it can be overwhelming. Adoption doesn’t happen by accident, it takes some intentionality and persistence, and some people just don’t know where to start. Thankfully, this is something we can address by educating people on what adoption is and where to begin.
Fear is another very common hindrance for many people. There are so many things that we can find to be afraid of! Fear about the money, fear about the process, fear about what others will think, fear about what the child will think, fear of the unpredictable nature of parenting in general, and so on. For those of us who are Christ-followers, we thankfully have a Bible that is full of stories about God answering the fears of His people. He provides the things that we need, and most importantly He gives us Himself to ease our fears. This is true for all of life, and it is certainly true in adoption.
How can we best encourage adoption among our own circles of influence?
Talk about adoption. Celebrate it! Tell the stories of those who have experienced it first-hand. Encourage those who are considering adoption, and look for tangible ways to express your support. Especially if you know a birth parent considering adoption for his or her own child, affirm for them that making an adoption plan is a good and loving thing to consider.
I would love to see a culture in Georgia that embraces adoption as a positive choice. Especially as we think about birthmothers, there is so much room for us to improve how we as a culture think about a woman who makes an adoption plan for her child. A woman who chooses adoption for her child is doing a loving and noble thing. We should honor her decision, and we should honor her. This means creating a culture where it is safe for her to talk about her decision without being made to feel ashamed. These women are not “giving up” their children, they are making a responsible plan for the future of their child. That’s something we should all be able to respect and celebrate.
Stephen Story is the Executive Director of Covenant Care Services, a Christian adoption agency based in Macon and serving all of Georgia. Covenant Care specializes in domestic, infant adoption and works to promote adoption as an alternative to abortion. More information on Covenant Care is available at www.CovenantCareAdoptions.com. Stephen and his wife are originally from Augusta and are parents of three children through adoption. Connect with Stephen on Twitter @StephenPStory.