What Control Do Adoptive Families Have?

During your journey, you might hear an Adoptive Family Specialist use a car metaphor in relation to the adoption process – the birth mother is in the driver’s seat, choosing which road to take, how fast to go and is even free to stop and get out of the car whenever she wishes. The adoptive family is in the backseat, going along for the ride with the birth mother.

While it is true that a birth mother is given the ability to choose a family for her baby, every adoptive family has the ability to limit or expand the pool of birth mothers to which they are shown based on criteria delineated in the Adoptive Family Questionnaire (APQ).

But before viewing this aspect of American Adoptions’ adoptive process as the tool you will wield to be matched with exactly the baby you envision, keep in mind: the more restrictive you are on your APQ, often, the longer the wait.

American Adoptions’ founder Scott Mars explains:

"Imagine a pool of 100 birth mothers, and that your family has completed an APQ in which you were open to every possible situation … then we could show you to all 100 birth mothers.

"That is why it is a good idea to sit down with your spouse and decide as a team what aspects of a baby’s background are most important to you, which ones you feel less of an opinion about and finally, which things matter the least. Doing so will maximize your exposure to birth mothers, while remaining within your own comfort zone as a couple.

"Of course, you will likely be open to some situations and not to others. When we review your APQ, we can share with you what we see more commonly in adoption and can also provide feedback on how your APQ responses might affect your waiting time,” Mars says.


One of the first decisions you should make as a couple is your financial comfort level for your adoption. The budget you set for yourselves will predetermine two main factors: the program you will join and the level of medical and living expenses you feel comfortable providing for the birth mother who chooses your family for her baby.

Program Type

American Adoptions has two adoptive family programs to choose from – the Traditional Program and the Agency-Assited Program. 

American Adoptions’ Agency-Assisted program involves the adoption of African-American or bi- and multi-racial babies with African-American heritage. The average wait-time for couples in this program is the lowest – typically between one and six months, because there are both fewer families and more birth mothers that fit into this category. Costs are lower in this program because American Adoptions subsidizes some of the costs for this program, as there is, unfortunately, a shortage of families for African-American babies in the adoption community. 

Desired Race Combinations

In this section of the Adoptive Family Questionnaire, you will select the race or combination or races with which you are comfortable. Ultimately, this is an important decision to be based on each adoptive family’s individual comfort level. However, it is important to note how being open to other race combinations besides Caucasian will dramatically increase your exposure to all birth mothers – including those giving birth to Caucasian babies, potentially decreasing wait time.

Continued Contact with Birth Parents

There are three main categories of continued contact with birth mothers in adoption: open, semi-open and closed, though you will find that each adoption professional may have a slightly different meaning associated with each type. Here are American Adoptions, most of our adoptions fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum – in the semi-open adoption category. This means that no identifying information is exchanged, but you agree to send pictures and letters to the birth parents every six months until the child turns 18.

Each birth mother chooses the level of ongoing contact with which she feels most comfortable, and in your APQ, you will do the same Through our many years of experience in adoption, American Adoptions maintains that the comfort a birth mother feels knowing she will receive pictures and letters throughout her child’s upbringing greatly increases her sense of subjective well being in the long term and greatly decreases the chance of a disruption in the short term.

>Substance Exposure

For some adoptive families, coming to this section of the APQ can be an emotional challenge – many wonder, “how am I told ever possibly feel comfortable knowing that my baby’s birth mother might have used drugs or drank alcohol while she was pregnant? I know I never would have!”

At first, this may seem like a reasonable course to take, but, as with many aspects of the adoption process, an adoptive family’s best course of action is actually do the research, rather than merely relying on assumed knowledge.

The truth is, countless doctors, psychologists and researchers have spent decades studying the long-term effects drugs and alcohol have on development. Contrary to popular belief, the conclusion is … inconclusive. Throughout the research are just as many examples of children who were widely exposed to illicit substances throughout their prenatal lives, and grow up to be healthy and extremely intelligent. Likewise, babies are born every day from mothers who avoided every substance – from second-hand smoke to tuna and nail polish – who are fraught with physical or emotional abnormalities.

While, of course, adopting a baby whose prenatal existence was pure and devoid of exposure to any possibly detrimental substances would be perfect, such APQ stipulations could dramatically lengthen your wait-time.

Research does, however, indicate a much stronger correlation between a baby’s post-natal environment and ultimate outcome – that is to say, it is quite possible that taking a child from an unhealthy or unstable circumstances and raising him or her under healthy conditions can actually change that child’s long-term outcome!

The most important aspect of this process is to allow yourself the time to read and research to your heart’s content, and make decisions based on your own findings – not what those less-informed might think about adoption.

“In the end, you need to be only open to situations with which you feel comfortable,” Mars says.  

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