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Tim and Heather Felton interact last week with their newly-adopted daughter, Irina Jean Felton, 8. The couple recently returned to the U.S. with the girl, who was adopted from an orphanage in Ukraine. November is national adoption awareness month.
After unsuccessfully trying to have a child of their own for more than 12 years, an 18-month adoption process that included a two-month stay in Ukraine was a journey that has left a local couple with a new daughter.
Tim and Heather Felton, of Reno, returned from their trip abroad last week with their newly-adopted daughter, Irina Jean Felton, who recently turned 8.
The bright-eyed little girl was abandoned by her mother at delivery and spent her entire life up until last week living in an orphanage in northern Ukraine.
"We've wanted to be parents as long as we've been together and we really believe the Lord led us to this beautiful child," said Heather Felton, 35.
November is National Adoption Awareness Month, something now near and dear to the Feltons, who were happy to share their story.
The Feltons were married 12 years ago and said after years of trying to have a child on their own they began exploring their options though a fertility specialist.
"We realized very quickly that there were no guarantees and that this could get very expensive very quickly," said Tim, 34. "At that point, we both agreed that we would be better off exploring adoption. There are just so many children out there who need homes and being parents was more important to us than how any child would come to be with us."
Since returning to the U.S. last week, the couple said they've been spending time getting to know each other and enjoying family time. Tim, 34, said he was granted time away from his job at Dimex though next week.
"Everything is a first," the new dad said. "I can't imagine seeing the world though her eyes right now. She lived with 96 other kids at the orphanage, but they really didn't get out much. She's been just so amazed at little things like traffic lights ... She loved getting on our plane and flying ... She loves pizza and pretzels, but doesn't like mac and cheese."
Irina speaks very little English but frequently paused last week from playing with a puzzle to let her new parents know, "I love you momma and daddy." She also loves to hug and seemed to enjoy joining her new father in singing an Ohio State fight song that ended with a high-five.
"The language barrier has been the toughest part of this but we're picking up on some of her language and she's quickly learning ours," Heather said. "When neither of us are on the same page, we usually figure it out with pictures or by pointing. Before our trip, we had actually started to learn some Ukraine but she's from a northern region where they actually speak Russian."
Tim said the couple chose international adoption after seeing the success some friends had with the process. Private adoption agencies and public agencies, like children services departments, are the other common ways to adopt.
A typical adoption can cost anywhere from $2,500 to more than $40,000, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Adoptions from public agencies are generally the most affordable.
The Feltons estimated they will have spent approximately $30,000 in the adoption of their daughter, including time from work, travel, agency costs, legal fees, required background checks and social services home studies.
The couple expects to get about $12,000 of their expenses back through a federal adoption tax credit.
The Feltons said their costs were compounded a bit after they arrived in the Ukraine and committed to adopt Irina. It seems the family judge for that region went on vacation, delaying the process by four weeks.
"We learned that they don't just take a week or two vacation like we do," Tim Felton said. "When they take a vacation, they mean it ... And it was still cheaper to stay the extra time rather than head home and come back."
The couple said their adoption agency arranged for an extended stay in a small apartment near the orphanage where Irina was living. They were able to visit with the child each day until the adoption could be finalized.
According to Tami McBride, an adoption caseworker at Washington County Children Services, there are 38 children currently living in foster care in Washington County, with four children eligible for adoption. The adoption process for each of those children has begun.
"We have a lot of hoops in place to let people really know what they can expect before they adopt and to allow us to learn more about the adoptive couple," McBride said. "The idea is to make sure we have a good picture of this family, they know about this particular child and to make sure it is a good match."
Ohio Department of Job and Family Services spokeswoman Angela Terez said there are approximately 2,500 children waiting to be adopted from foster care in Ohio. Terez said so far this year, nearly 1,000 children have been adopted from foster care statewide.
According to the Adopt U.S. Kids website, www.adoptuskids.com, there are 115,000 U.S. children in foster care available for adoption.
McBride said many people fear adopting from public agencies.
"With public agencies, you are typically dealing with children who have been abused or neglected and who have not been able to be reunified with their birth families," she said. "These children range in ages from infancy to age 18, and especially with some of the older children, the poor parenting skills they've been exposed to are catching up with them. That's something adoptive parents must understand and be ready to dive into."
Private adoptions, which include private agencies or independent adoptions though an attorney, generally include the adoption of a newborn. Private adoptions are generally the most expensive method of adoption. Also, the process can range from just a few months to several years, according to statistics at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Feltons' international adoption was a "blind adoption," meaning that they went to the Ukraine to adopt a child and didn't know if they would be leaving with a boy or girl, or how old the child might be.
"When you get there, the State Department of Adoption Services shows you 10 pictures and they ask you if any stand out," Tim Felton said.
The couple said they could have asked to see other children from the photos, or requested to see another set of photos. If none of the children were met with approval, the
couple would have had to start the adoption process over.
"I guess maybe we were lucky because both of us took one look at Irina and we just knew ... We felt a connection," Heather Felton said.
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