Many parents eagerly await their child’s adoption day for months or even years. For other families, their child has been living in their home or a part of the family for a long time, and the adoption day has been anticipated for some time. No matter your adoption journey, it can be helpful to know what to expect and how to prepare as a family to celebrate this monumental occasion.
What to Expect on Adoption Finalization Day
An adoption finalization takes place in a courthouse and provides adoptive parent(s) with permanent, legal custody of a child. While every situation is different, most adoption finalization hearings are brief (about 5-10 minutes) and typically involve the adoptive parent(s), the child who is to be adopted, the child’s social worker, an attorney, the judge, and possibly other professionals. Family and friends are usually allowed in the courtroom as well, and can be a great help in providing emotional support and documenting the day with photos or videos of the hearing.
During an adoption finalization hearing, the judge may ask questions such as, “Why do you want to adopt?” or “What are you planning to do to care for this child?” These kind of questions are meant to ensure that your home is a safe and loving place for the child, and that you understand that adoption is a lifelong commitment. In addition to the formal legal proceedings, many judges will also take a photo with your family or let your child sit in their chair and bang the gavel on their adoption finalization day; however, you may need to ask ahead of time if any of these options are possibilities. These little extra special touches can add a great memory to an already exciting day.
At the finalization hearing, you will receive an adoption decree. This document signifies that the adoption is final, ensures that all former parents’ rights are terminated, and decrees that the adoptive parents assume legal responsibility for the child. Be sure to keep the adoption decree in a safe place; if you misplace it, you will need to contact the records department at the courthouse where the finalization occurred to obtain another copy. You will also be sent a new birth certificate for your child, which has the adoptive parent(s) listed as the “natural parents.” Once you have these documents, you will want to obtain a social security card for your child at a local social security office. Please keep in mind that children who are adopted from foster care are at risk of fraud due to multiple people having access to their social security numbers. You may want to have a background and credit check done and, if anything suspicious appears, consider requesting to change your child’s social security number.
Preparing Your Child for Adoption Day
Having an understanding of what will occur on adoption finalization day is important for parents as well as for children. Children may associate a judge and/or courthouse with punishment or previous traumatic experiences, so it is important to have a conversation about the meaning of an adoption finalization. Older children who spent time in foster care may recall other court hearings, so be sure to differentiate between those hearings and the adoption finalization. You may want to let the child know that the judge may ask him some questions, such as, “How old are you?” or “How do you feel about being adopted?”
It can be helpful to prepare children for what to expect in the courtroom, but also consider how to prepare your child emotionally for this day. Know that children may have a variety of feelings, including joy, excitement, hope, nervousness, fear, or anger. Planning and preparing for adoption finalization may bring up talk of the child’s birth family, which can be a great time to address her feelings. It’s normal for a child to have conflicting emotions, or feel guilty about expressing excitement toward adoption due to loyalty to their birth family. It is important to help your child express how she feels and let her know that her feelings are valid. One thing that may be helpful for young children is to role play the adoption finalization ahead of time. This allows them to express their fears or misconceptions in a nonthreatening way.
Another topic that may be part of this conversation is whether or not the child’s name will change during adoption finalization. Every child may have different views about changing his or her name. For some, changing their first and/or last name can signal a fresh start and a sense of permanence and security. For others - even children who are excited about the adoption process as a whole – changing their name may be difficult for a variety of reasons. For example, a child’s name is often one of the only remaining links to her biological family, and changing her name may bring up feelings of disloyalty. Because of this, it is important for the child to be involved in this decision in a developmentally appropriate way.
Celebrating the Adoption
After a judge declares an adoption finalization, families are welcomed to celebrate however they wish. Some families have a get-together that may resemble a birthday party or other familiar celebrations, complete with food, presents, balloons, cake, etc. If your child has a cultural or racial identity that differs from the rest of the family, consider using this day as an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate and embrace this as a family. For example, you could use this opportunity as a theme for the food, decorations, and activities for the day. However, for some children, a big celebration may be too overwhelming. If you believe this may be the case with your child, try something a little more low-key. For example, you could take your child to his favorite restaurant or to a park for some one-on-one time. If your child is old enough, he could help you plan what you will do to celebrate together. Providing him with options and a voice can be a powerful way for him to feel more in control of a situation in which he has had little say. If your family includes birth children or children with a different adoption day, consider also including them in the preparation, court hearing, and celebration (if they would like to be involved).
Adoption Day Anniversaries
After finalization, you will begin to settle in as a family. For some, life may look very similar to how it was before the adoption. In other families, children’s behaviors may shift (likely in both encouraging and challenging ways) following their adoption. No matter how your life changes, you may be surprised by how quickly your child’s adoption finalization anniversary approaches. Recognizing the day that your family was legally connected can help normalize adoption and reaffirm your family’s commitment to one another. However, it is important to understand that a child’s feelings about his or her adoption may change over time. A child who was excited to be adopted on her finalization day may become sad or angry, or a child who initially struggled on his adoption day may begin to see it as a positive change. For some children, an approaching adoption day anniversary can trigger negative emotions and remind them of past trauma, including loss. If your child does not want to celebrate his adoption day, this should be honored and respected.
Some families choose to celebrate an adoption day anniversary much like they celebrate their child’s birthday. If your child was adopted internationally, you may not know their actual birthdate due to paperwork that is incomplete or inaccurate. Making their adoption day anniversary a day of celebration can be a great way to deal with this uncertainty.
Other creative ways to recognize this day include:
- Look through the child’s life book or at family photo albums and retell the child their adoption story. Photos and other mementos are meaningful to children of all ages, but they are especially important for children adopted at a young age who do not have concrete memories of their adoption day.
- Read adoption stories to your child. Some good choices can be found in our lending library and are listed below.
- Hold a ceremony similar to a wedding in which you exchange adoption promises and a symbolic item, like a ring.
- Work on a craft project with your child, such as creating an ornament or frame using family photos.
- Take a family vacation to somewhere your child has always wanted to go.
For additional ideas, ask other adoptive parents or search online on sites like adoptivefamiliescircle.com or adoptivefamilies.com.
Life after Finalization
No matter how your family views adoption day or chooses to celebrate it, we congratulate you on choosing adoption to build your family. Adoption is a lifelong journey, and adoption finalization does not signal the end of this journey – it is really just the beginning. Many families find it is a good idea to get involved with your local Post Adoption Resource Center (PARC) to access resources and support early on in your adoption journey. Post-adoption services may include training events specific to adoptive family needs, get-togethers with other adoptive families, newsletters with up-to-date adoption stories and information, access to books and other resources about parenting an adopted child or a child with special needs, and/or referral to local resources (including support groups, adoption-competent therapists, etc.). We encourage you to develop relationships with other adoptive families and reach out to the Coalition for Children, Youth & Families if you are ever in need of support.
Touchpoints: Preparing Children for Transitions
Tip Sheets from the Coalition
From the Lending Library
- Creating Ceremonies—Innovative Ways to Meet Adoption Challenges, by Cheryl A. Lieberman, Rhea K. Bufferd
- Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child, by Beth O’Malley
- Adoption Lifebook: A Bridge to Your Child’s Beginnings, by Cindy Probst
- Happy Adoption Day!, by John McCutcheon
- Welcome Home, Forever Child: A Celebration of Children Adopted as Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Beyond, by Christine Mitchell
- The Mulberry Bird: Story of an Adoption, by Anne Brodzinsky
- A Mother for Choco, by Keiko Kasza
- Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, by Jamie Lee Curtis
- Through Moon and Stars and Night Skies, by Ann Turner
- Rosie’s Family: An Adoption Story, by Lori Rosove
- We Belong Together: A Book about Adoption and Families, by Todd Parr
Adoption Day Celebrations
What to Expect During Your Adoption Finalization
Helping Your Foster Child Transition to Your Adopted Child
Foster Care Identity Theft Information