Adopting a Waiting Child: A Q&A With Holt Social Worker Zoila Lopez

Holt clinical social worker Zoila Lopez answers the most commonly asked questions about adopting a child on Holt’s waiting child photolisting. 

Zoila, pictured with Charlie, one of the children waiting for an adoptive family! Learn more about eight-year-old Charlie here.
Zoila, pictured with Charlie, one of the children waiting for an adoptive family! Learn more about 8-year-old Charlie here.

Who are the children on Holt’s waiting child photolisting?

The children on Holt’s waiting child photolisting are a diverse group of kids in orphanage or foster care with individual needs ranging in ages from 1 (which is an outlier) to 16 years old. All the children on the photolisting require additional advocacy to help identify the best adoptive families for them. Every country program has different child profiles, and the range of special needs is broad. There are many children who are physically healthy whose only special needs are their age (as children age 5 or older are considered “special needs”), a history of trauma and some level of developmental delay. There are also children with very involved medical, emotional and/or developmental needs.

How would you describe families that are the best fit for waiting kids?

I believe the families best fit to welcome waiting children should have a strong desire to help usher a child from childhood into adulthood with the objective to provide a nurturing environment and the necessary resources to help the child live up to their full potential. Flexibility is also a very important quality of a good adoptive family. Additionally, prospective adoptive parents must understand trauma and institutionalization and their impact on human development, brain physiology and biochemistry.

Many people say, “Oh it’s love. All you need is love.” But that’s just not enough. Prospective adoptive parents, you have to really want to go into parenting these kids educated about their broad needs. So a desire to understand and have perspective is really important — especially for those families that already have birth children and must understand the differences between parenting a birth child versus parenting a child with a history of institutionalization, trauma and/or developmental delays.

Prospective adoptive parents also need to be mindful and aware of their own history of trauma and/or loss, so that it doesn’t muddy the waters of the relationship with their adopted child(ren). When already talking about children with complex histories, this is particularly important.

Prospective adoptive parents also need to be mindful and aware of their own history of trauma and/or loss, so that it doesn’t muddy the waters of the relationship with their adopted child(ren). When already talking about children with complex histories, this is particularly important.

What are the eligibility requirements to adopt a waiting child?

Eligibility requirements are set by each country, so they vary. Generally speaking, eligibility requirements to adopt waiting children are less stringent than those for standard adoption processes. Some families might assume, “Oh I have two birth children or I’m taking an anti-anxiety medication and that would automatically disqualify me,” but that is not necessarily true. If you have questions, contact our intake team or our waiting child coordinator to get additional information.

How much medical, personality and family history does Holt have about waiting kids?

That depends on the country program. For some of the programs, the amount of information we have is limited, but for programs such as the Thailand Special Needs Project, since we get to travel to Thailand to meet and conduct developmental assessments with the children, we have a sense of who they are and may also be able to gather additional medical information.

Broadly speaking, the range of information available is dependent on the program. We do have the capacity to follow up with orphanages or foster care homes through our in-country partners or employees, but we can’t always guarantee that we would receive requested information.

What sort of resources will families need to care for a waiting child? Should they prepare for major medical expenses?

I think it is always important for prospective adoptive parents to do research and consider what special needs they are open to and how that aligns with the resources in their communities. Since not all children have medical issues, families don’t necessarily have to prepare for major medical expenses. But if you say you’re open to a certain range of needs (medical or otherwise), you must ask yourself: Do I have the capacity and the necessary specialized resources in my community to meet such specific needs?

What are the initial steps of the waiting child process if I’m interested in a specific child?

The first step is to complete an application. I always encourage incoming families to review a range of children’s files to get a sense for the different country programs – the amount of information available, and the profiles of children (ages and needs) in the different country programs. Once a family has identified a waiting child they wish to be considered for, the prospective adoptive parents should schedule a consultation with Holt’s intake team to determine whether their family is eligible to potentially adopt from the child’s country. Assuming the intake team’s review of the family’s application results in the determination that they are indeed eligible to move forward, the next steps are to pay the necessary fees to enter the program and begin the homestudy process.

Do I have to complete a homestudy before I can be considered?

To be formally considered for match with a child, yes, you have to complete a homestudy.

What happens if other families are interested in the same child?

Assuming all interested families are eligible and have a homestudy, they are presented at a waiting child committee meeting. The committee is comprised of multiple social workers tasked with making a decision about the appropriateness of a match in the best interest of the child.

At committee meetings, the individual needs of the child (or children, if a sibling group) and the family’s strengths, resources and enthusiasm to parent the child(ren) are examined. The decision about which family to match is based on the family’s capacity to meet the child’s (or children’s) needs, as well as the family dynamics and whether the personalities of individual family members match with the child(ren).

Can families review more than one child?

Absolutely! I think it’s an important part of the process to give families an opportunity to review a few different files of waiting children to help them determine which child they are most adequate to parent. We wouldn’t want families to review endless files, but generally speaking, you can review as many profiles as you need to.

Could you be considered for different children at the same time?

No, we would not consider one family for two different children at the same time. But if you have two children you would like to be considered for,* you can go to committee for one child. And if the committee decides another family would be a better fit for that child, you can then be considered for the other child you’re interested in.

What does the waiting child committee process entail?

Once we have an approved homestudy for a family, we move forward with the waiting child committee process. The process begins with a family completing a waiting child questionnaire, followed by a social worker meeting with the family to complete a child-specific family assessment. The social worker who conducted the assessment then presents the family at committee.

Holt’s committee approval is preliminary; the central authority in the child’s country needs to approve the match as well. So if a family is chosen at committee, the family then completes and submits their dossier to the country for formal approval of the match.

Can I apply for the standard program, but switch routes if there is a waiting child we would like to adopt?

Absolutely! And if somebody is eligible for the standard process then they would also be eligible for the waiting child process.

Do you offer any kind of financial assistance to adopt a waiting child?

Yes! Right now, we have children on the photolisting pre-identified to receive $10,000 grants. These are children who have waited longest or need the most help finding the right family capable of meeting their needs. If a family wishes to adopt a waiting child who doesn’t have a grant already pre-awarded, they can also apply to receive financial assistance through Holt. Those grants are awarded on a case-by-case basis to families who have demonstrated financial need.

And of course, plenty of organizations outside Holt award grants to families who are adopting children with special needs. Then there’s the Federal Adoption Tax Credit, employer adoption assistance, low- or no-interest loans and many more ways that you can receive help to adopt a waiting child. There is hope. There is assistance.

*The original version of this blog post was worded differently. The author would like to correct her language and explains why in this article, “When Your Own Words Shock You.”

Zoila M. López, MS (she/her) is a clinical social worker with Holt’s SE Asia Team, most notably with the Thailand Special Needs Project. She has a master’s degree in mental health counseling and undergraduate degrees in both psychology and criminal justice. At Holt, Zoila is engaged in child assessment and advocacy, as well as family preparation, assessment and support. Zoila is also a former foster parent and an adoptive mother.

Mom kissing her adoptive son from China on a boat

Visit the Waiting Child Photolisting

Meet some of the children waiting for loving adoptive families. Could you be the right family for one of these children?

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