McHenry County families: Adoption process can be long, emotional

Jill Berg reads to her son, Joejoe, 3, at their home Monday in McHenry. Berg adopted her son in December after waiting for more than two years.
Jill Berg reads to her son, Joejoe, 3, at their home Monday in McHenry. Berg adopted her son in December after waiting for more than two years.

In April 2010, Larry and Jill Howe Berg took in 11-month-old Joejoe as a foster child.

They wanted to adopt Joejoe, but final placement became an issue. Another foster family had Joejoe’s younger sister, and an adoption agency contracted by the Department of Children and Family Services wanted to reunite the siblings.

The Bergs, of McHenry, and the other family had to say why they had the better home. Twice the Bergs received two-week notices that Joejoe would be moved, even after he started calling Jill and Larry mom and dad.

There are 2.1 million adopted children in the country, according to the 2010 Census. The length, cost and difficulty of the adoption process varies depending on each situation.

For those who have long waits, it can be frustrating. But some who have gone through that process say the rewards are worth it.

“It’s a great thing, but be prepared for the lengthy process and the emotional ride,” Jill Berg said.

The Bergs got an attorney, and spent about $100,000 in legal costs to fight to keep their eventual son.

“What was the alternative? He gets moved,” Larry Berg said. “His whole life gets uprooted. I didn’t have a choice. He deserves more than that.”

Eventually DCFS decided that Joejoe could stay with the Bergs and his sister with her foster parents. The children still see each other, and the families are amicable, Jill Berg said. Joejoe’s adoption was finalized in December.

“In the end, it paid off,” Jill Berg said. “Everyone got what they wanted.”

For those wanting to adopt, there are agencies that can guide families through the process.

LaNell Hill is the director of adoption for Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois, which helps people looking to adopt and prepares applicants for the process. The agency also helps birth parents.

“Often it’s financial – they don’t feel they’re able to be a parent or parent another child,” Hill said. “They may have goals for themselves and don’t see themselves ready to take on that responsibility, or this is something they can’t do and want to make a plan to care for their child’s future.”

The agency helps conduct the necessary home studies of prospective parents, interviews, fingerprinting and background checks, among other things, Hill said.

The state also requires training for adoptive parents, Hill said, so the agency discusses with them how to talk to their children about adoption, how to work with birth parents if they want a relationship with the child or how to handle cross-racial or cross-cultural adoptions, so the child is aware of his background and culture.

Hill said the adoption process costs from $5,000 to $40,000, depending on whether the adoptive parents already know the birth mother or if someone is going the international route.

Hill said her agency looks for financial stability, stable relationships and a loving home, among other things, when determining whether someone can adopt.

“We’re looking for stability and the capacity to love and nurture a child not born to them,” Hill said.

Rona Roffey of Volo is a single mom who adopted her daughter, Addison, from China two years ago. She worked for six years to adopt a child, going through multiple background checks, home observations, government paperwork and fingerprint checks. The checks are good for 15 to 18 months, Roffey said, which led to repeating some steps. She estimated she spent about $35,000 trying to adopt. A 10- to 15-page single-spaced report eventually went to China for review. In February 2011, Roffey was approved.

“I couldn’t believe it was happening because I had waited so long,” Roffey said. “I wish I had a megaphone to yell to my family, ‘I got my daughter!’ ”

Joe and Jill Cramer of Woodstock, on the other hand, had relatively easy processes adopting their three children.

“All of mine fell in my lap,” Jill Cramer said.

Their most recent adoption was in April, when daughter Eloise joined the family. Her 21-year-old birth parents were not ready to be parents, and the mother “wanted things for her daughter she wouldn’t be able to provide,” Jill Cramer said.

The Cramers send pictures and updates to the birth parents, who live in Michigan, and they will likely come to Eloise’s first birthday party, Jill Cramer said. The Cramers had to go through an adoption agency check, which wrote reports for Illinois and Michigan. There was a six-month waiting period after Eloise was placed with them to make sure everything went well before the adoption was finalized.

“To me, it was more important for me to be a mom than for me to give birth,” Jill Cramer said.

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