Adopting A HIV Positive Child

If you’ve considered adopting, you are probably more than aware of the challenges the process presents. It’s not easy―and shouldn’t be. After all, it’s the well-being of a child at stake. Fortunately, many adoptive parents are longing to fill their home with a child they can love, protect, and nurture. Unfortunately, the process itself is often predisposed to long waits and other legal maneuvering.

Many families have looked outside the country to adopt. Recently, even those avenues have become difficult as their popularity has increased. However, for some families, there are other options. Most adoptive parents have a loving home they want to share with a child. Yet, the process can still seem daunting. And for those parents looking to share their love with a child, sometimes they find the opportunity more trying than thought.

Consider this: there are many adoptable children waiting. Further, many of those children are from developing countries. Add to the fact that these children have disabilities or a disease, and their chances of adoption drop. Dramatically. For example, in developing countries, adoptions of children with special medical needs are few because potential adoptive families do not have the resources to care for these children.

Increasingly large numbers of HIV positive children are waiting for adoption. Adopting them is becoming easier. It does have its challenges, as does raising any child, but they are much easier to overcome than once thought.

Making the Decision

Let’s set aside the basics of HIV and its treatments for a moment. First, let’s dig into the logistics of making this decision.

Understandably, most adoptive parents are appreciative of the financial considerations that adoption agencies place on them. However, consider this: beyond the typical financial challenges adoption and child-raising bring are the additional costs of raising a child with significant medical needs.

For day-to-day activities, there isn’t much to be concerned of that is different. However, take these following considerations seriously.

First, is your family in a position to cover the costs of treatment? Note that income is not the only determining factor. Check with your health insurer about options available since most insurance plans cover treatments for HIV. But you’ll need to confirm the deductibles and copays that are applicable under your policy.

Secondly, caring for any child is an emotional journey. Are you ready to handle the emotions that could entail caring for a child who is HIV positive? What concerns have your extended family or friends expressed? Today, having HIV doesn’t (and should not) have the stigma that once accompanied it. But some people will voice concerns. Take charge and be prepared to educate yourself, and then your wider social circles. You will not only be a parent, but an advocate.

For some parents, adopting a child with HIV is not a choice, but a surprise. Increasingly, state adoption agencies are looking to place children with HIV. While some parents may be wary, take heed. All things considered, having a child with HIV is not what most people make it to be.

The Basics of HIV

Knowledge is always the best ally. Arm yourself with the basic facts about HIV. Then, with certainty, you’ll be able to take on any argument against adopting a child who is HIV positive.

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It’s the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), a disease that attacks the immune system. Unlike other diseases, AIDS doesn’t kill its victim. Typically it is another, often simpler infection that brings about death in an AIDS patient. Thus, the weakened immune system is no longer able to stop infections that in most healthy people are typically little or no cause for concern.

Transmission of the virus is what will concern most people. As a refresher, sexual fluids, blood, and breast milk can transmit HIV. HIV is not transmittable through saliva or casual contact. Hugging and kissing are safe. While sweat, tears, vomit, feces, and urine may contain HIV, there are no reported infections through these bodily fluids. Here is a fact to proudly make known: there has never been a case of infection reported involving casual contact between a family member and an HIV patient. Does your family need more proof? Have them consult with their physician or local health agency. The evidence has dismissed the fears of infection bandied about by those lacking knowledge of HIV and AIDS.

Finally, you are going to have to advocate for your child. Fortunately, the public perception of HIV and AIDS has shifted in favor of patients and their families.

Legal Considerations

At one time, it was dramatically more difficult to adopt a child who was HIV positive. Today, those legal hurdles are a way of the past. Instead, potential parents can look forward to an adoption process that is more open. Visa restrictions that limited adoptions of HIV positive children from abroad have been relaxed. The timeframes are similar to adopting a child abroad without health concerns.

That being said, it’s always wise to consult with a legal professional when adopting. This applies to any adoption. It’s an emotional decision. As a parent, having someone advocate on your behalf removes some of the worry from the decision making process. Likewise, it’s refreshing to have a knowledgeable professional offering you the best and most up to date information available.

Be happy in this time, but proceed with the best interests of your growing family in mind. I understand how easy it is for parents to grow attached to a child. Even during the early stages of the process, that parental bond will develop. Nurture it, and allow someone to guide you through the tough decisions that you will need to make.

While adoption laws across the United States are fairly uniform, some variations do exist across state lines. Likewise, international adoptions pose their own set of unique characteristics. While most parents choose to work with an agency, and find it helpful, I can’t stress enough the importance of obtaining a second opinion on the legalities surrounding your individual adoption process.

This is Your Chance to Make a Difference

While some biological parents place their children for adoption out of economic or social circumstances, other children really face a challenging future. If you’re looking to adopt outside of the United States, that is a harsh reality for many children. Being an adopted parent will make a difference in the life of any child, especially one up against staggering odds for survival.

For a child, a diagnosis of HIV underscores this reality. Consider the fact that here in the United States, having HIV is no longer a death sentence. Instead, it’s now a considered by many in the medical field to be a chronic, but manageable medical condition. This applies only when current treatments are available.

What does this mean for you? Look at the child you’re planning to adopt. She has HIV. But outwardly, she shows no signs of being ill. The fact is that with proper treatment, most children with HIV live normal lives and have average life expectancies, like the rest of us.

If you’re adopting within the United States, it’s likely that the child will be on a prescribed medical treatment regimen. The child will be like any other child. As a parent, you will be ensuring that they have access to continued treatment. Add in your loving home, and they will experience a lifetime of experiences that circumstance tried to steal from them.

When you consider adopting abroad, the opportunities increase. For many communities in poorer parts of the world, adoptive families are unable to afford the medical care required. It’s estimated by UNAIDS that up to half of all HIV positive, orphaned children do not receive proper treatment. So yes, you can make a difference when adopting abroad. Indeed, a huge difference.

Individual Safety Concerns

Once you bring your child home, there will be concerns. Take the skinned knee, for example. Do I wear gloves or not? Is it safe to dress small wounds? The answer is to always take precautions. It is safe to dress small wounds. For some caregivers wearing gloves is an added layer of personal security. However, with current therapies, HIV blood levels are near to zero, making transmission during treatment highly unlikely.

Also, a person won’t contract HIV from changing diapers, hugging, or kissing. HIV won’t be transmitted when sharing a bath or swimming with an infected person. All the joys of childhood are safe for all to enjoy.

What’s even more interesting is the effectiveness of the medications. Pregnant mothers who are on drug therapies are up to 99% unlikely to transmit the virus to their unborn baby. This is quite a feat that we’ve achieved in treating and preventing HIV. It’s also one of those facts that quiet the fears in family members concerned with infection through casual contact. Again, as a parent, you will also be an advocate. Take the time to educate your family and friends. The resources available are limitless.

What it comes down to is openness in communication. Discuss the disease with your family. As your child grows, involve them in the conversations. Because as they age, prevention will also be their job as they grow into advocates for their own benefit.

Let family and friends know that there are people in their lives with HIV. Though they may not know it, people with HIV are active and thriving in our communities.

Keep in mind that living with HIV may not always be easy. But it’s become easier over time. For children with HIV today, the prognosis is bright.

You Can Do This – But Not Alone

Parenting is not easy. That is a fact. Even more, parenting a child with a severe medical condition is even harder. Look around. Take note that there are plenty of parents in your area with children facing medical or psychological challenges. With that in mind, having HIV is no different in that people will struggle to be understanding. This will, unfortunately, be a constant battle for awareness. At the outset, some people may not give your child the opportunities they deserve. If you do your best as a parent and advocate, these issues will pass.  

In your community, reach out to groups that can help. Be educated before adopting. Know what you are getting into. And realize that you are doing it out of a place of love. It’s cliché, but it’s what the world needs more of. Parents who take the chance to love a child that others have given up on are true heroes. Likewise, so are the medical and social professionals who fight for the rights of these children and their families.

So, before adopting, get to know your so-called tribe. It will be a second family. And the truth is that you will be welcomed into the mix for your openness and sincerity. Parenting is all about stepping up for our children, the most vulnerable members of our society, who often cannot speak for themselves. You are becoming that voice. Channel it and practice using it.

Additional Resources

For more information, resources abound for parents. Some of the best on the web are through the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and UNAIDS.

Are you a member of a specific faith community? Check with them for guidance. In addition to being another layer of support, many also offer adoption services to parents.

Locally, many state and community based services are available to parents with HIV children. Check also with local hospitals and clinics for support groups that meet in your area.

Smiling eyes at the end of the day. That’s what adoption brings. Adopting a child with HIV is no different. Those eyes will still smile up at you. Someday, those eyes will smile brighter, because they will know you decided to bring those little eyes into your home and give them the chance to see the world.

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