By Colleen Sparks

The ways to build a family are as diverse as the people who live in Gilbert and around the country, but they aren’t always easy or free.

However, people of all ages, backgrounds and sexual orientations who want to adopt a child can often get financial or emotional support from non-profit organizations, the foster care system and adoption attorneys.

One such organization, the national non-profit Gift of Adoption, is expanding its reach in Arizona following an event in the East Valley. The Illinois-based non-profit gives grants to people to help cover their costs for the final stage in the adoption process, putting a priority on the most vulnerable children.

“People build their families so many different ways,” said Gilbert resident Susan Perlman, a member of Gift of Adoption’s Arizona board of directors. “Knowing there’s an organization out there that will help complete that journey for you no matter how you’re building that family is a huge benefit to a lot of people.

“The one thing that really attracted me to this organization is they offer the grants to families regardless of religion, marital status, sexual orientation, age or race,” Perlman added. “A family is a family period to me.”

She and her husband, Michael Perlman, got their adopted now 8-year-old son, Dylan, when he was only a few days old after going through fertility treatments and trying unsuccessfully to conceive a baby.

“From the moment we held him in our arms, we were just sort of awestruck,” Perlman said. “It just always felt like he was meant to be with us.”

The Perlmans went through another local non-profit organization to find a baby in Arizona and get help navigating the steps to adoption.

Susan, a marketing director for a healthcare company, says she and Michael, a self-employed consultant, were lucky their families helped them pay for the extensive costs of adopting their son. She wishes she had known about Gift of Adoption back then so they could have sought a grant.

Gift of Adoption is in the process of forming its Arizona chapter and seeking more board members.

The organization says the average cost for a domestic adoption last year was $38,000, while the average cost for adopting a child who was living outside the United States was $42,000. Adoptive parents can face fees to the agencies that help them find a child, legal fees if attorneys are helping them, paperwork costs and fees to pay for required home visits, where social workers evaluate their homes.

Gift of Adoption has given over $5.4 million to help bring more than 1,800 children to a permanent, adoptive family in the United States. The organization has given more than $51,000 in grants to help Arizona families adopt 19 children over the last 20 years.

Attorneys say adopting a child is a complicated process that varies greatly depending on the potential parents’ desires, the state they live in, whether the child lives in the United States or another country, whether they’re related to the child and other factors. States have different adoption laws.

“Every single family has a different journey and a different path,” said associate adoption attorney Tiffany Hill of the firm Kathryn A. Pidgeon P.C. in Phoenix. “There are plenty of single individuals who adopt, lots of same-sex couples.

“They all make wonderful parents,” Hill added.

She said many children adopted through the foster care system in Arizona are eligible for an adoption subsidy, which typically covers the costs of medical insurance, legal fees, monthly maintenance payments and applicable special services.

More than 100,000 children are waiting to be placed in a permanent home in the United States, and most of them are living in foster or group homes, according to National Adoption Center.

People can choose to do a private adoption, going through an adoption agency that will match the adoptive parents with a child, or even find a child on their own and go through an attorney to get them adopted.

Phoenix associate attorney Robert J. Ross said the amount of time it takes to get a child adopted can vary greatly.

“Some adoptions require home studies and certifications,” where social workers visit the potential adoptive parents’ homes, Ross said. “Some do not.

“There is always a mom and dad out there somewhere,” he added. “You have to figure out who’s adopting, what the relationship is, if any, and where the biological mom and dad are.”

Julie Alvarado of Chandler said she and her husband were already raising her step-son when they decided to adopt a two-and-a-half-year-old boy and his one-and-a-half-year-old sister from foster care. Their adopted son, Aaron is 16 now and adopted daughter, Dominique is 15.

The Alvarados also have an eight-year-old biological son.

“It was just part of our journey that we always intended to adopt,” Alvarado said.

She said Catholic Charities in the Mesa office offered helpful classes to prepare them for the adoption.

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Bettina Vance-Johnson, a board member of the Arizona Gift of Adoption chapter, has three adult biological children, but she’s considering adopting a young child.

“I still feel very young and vibrant,” said the 48-year-old Vance-Johnson. “I’m not too old to say I may still want to nurture a child and raise child.”

To volunteer with or learn more about Gift of Adoption, visit giftofadoption.org/get-engaged/arizona-chapter.

To find out more about adoption laws and processes, visit the Arizona Department of Child Safety at dcs.az.gov/services/foster-care-and-adoption, National Adoption Center at adopt.org or National Council for Adoption at adoptioncouncil.org.

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