Adoption by Military Families: Patching Adoption Pieces Together

Dixie van de Flier Davis

Kathleen MoaklerDixie van de Flier Davis, Ed.D. (pictured at left)
President/Executive Director, The Adoption Exchange, Inc.
Kathleen Moakler (pictured at right)
Government Relations Director, National Military Family Association

Summary: The reality of military adoptions has never fit the stereotypes. The often unexamined strengths of military life—including ability to deal with adversity and access to supportive services—contribute to the success of adoptions by military families.


Families in the military who want to adopt face many challenges. Some have experienced stereotyping that discouraged their interest. Some have been rejected by agencies that consider them too difficult to work with due to restrictions placed on them by military regulations or perceive them as being cold, distant, rigid or as having strict personalities. Families sometimes worry that the process of adoption placement will be complicated by the risk of transfer.

The reality has never fit the stereotypes. Military families are excellent candidates for adoption—and for adoption of children who wait in our foster care system. Consider children of color. Almost 40% of military personnel are persons of color. Or consider children with special needs: attention deficit disorders, attachment disorders or other disabilities where structure and consistency are helpful to the child. Although military families do not follow the “rigid” stereotype, they do understand and respond to discipline and order, traits in parents that are very appropriate for children with those disabilities. The average military family is a strong family unit that has learned to put up with adversity (e.g., risk to personal safety, family separations), causing them to be more flexible than rigid, capable of meeting challenges head-on.

Does the average civilian family have health insurance as comprehensive as that offered to military personnel? Do they have a reimbursement program to defray costs of adoptions? Do their employers consider how a transfer will affect a child with a disability or whether there will be appropriate medical or educational facilities for such a child? Do they provide housing to accommodate the number of children in the family? Military families receive such benefits.

The close-knit military community makes newcomers feel welcome. A child coming into the family finds a neighborhood of children on the installation ready to include her.

Everyone needs to be flexible. Despite challenges, it is a mistake to believe a transfer or the possibility of a transfer can or should preclude an adoption agency from working with a military family. The same can be said for today’s climate of frequent deployments. All it takes is a little thinking outside the box.

Conducting an adoption finalization by telephone or allowing families to give their depositions to the court before they move or a parent is deployed or moving the adoption process along to completion before the family leaves the area are two ways courts can be flexible.

The security blanket for our children is made from many services, stitched together like a patchwork quilt. Another agency can probably be found to pick up where one agency ended its work with a military family. Of course, this requires communication. The Adoption Exchange has joined with VIDA (a private placement agency with headquarters in New York) and the National Military Family Association to provide a service we call Global Connections. VIDA has staff affiliates throughout the world, so it is possible to work with the same agency from start to finish. The National Military Family Association provides information on military-specific information and benefits and ways to work within the system. We think of our services as a sort of patchwork quilt, where each of us does our part. In the end, everybody wins.

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