A Lowell couple's unusual way to find a child to adopt raised the eyebrows of passing motorists recently, and ultimately attracted the attention of police.
A large sign placed in a truck bed parked at the former Movie Gallery, on the corner of Pike and Greene streets, read "Hoping to Adopt" and their contact information.
"It definitely caught my eye," said Kim Griffin, of Marietta, who passed it coming and going to work each day. "I wasn't sure what to make of it... (it was) definitely something I've not seen before."
Evan and Melissa Chichester, of Lowell, are seeking a child to adopt. A recent sign they put up in Marietta ended up being taken down by police.
Most adoptions are handled through private adoption agencies or through state welfare systems, but Evan and Melissa Chichester elected to pursue a less-common, private adoption method that encourages them to network and seek out a birth mother.
As part of their networking, the couple has made up fliers, joined social networking Internet sites, posted videos online, passed out cards at churches and, most recently, put up the sign indicating their desire to become parents.
On Thursday, the couple was told by police to take down their sign because of a little-known law that restricts advertising for adoption.
Common adoption methods:
- Public Agency Adoption
Public agencies mainly handle the adoption of children in the State foster care (child welfare) system. Children in foster care have been removed from their families for a variety of reasons, including abuse or neglect, and they may have experienced trauma as a result. These children range in age from infants to teens.
- Licensed Private Agency Adoption
In a licensed agency adoption, the birth parents relinquish their parental rights to the agency and adoptive parents then work with the agency to adopt. These agencies are required to adhere to licensing and procedural standards.
- Independent (Private) Adoption
In an independent adoption, attorneys assist prospective parents with the adoption process, which usually involves the adoption of an infant. Families adopting independently identify the expectant parents (or pregnant woman) without an agency's help. Each family's situation is different; it is impossible to predict the length of time you may wait for a child. Some adoptive parents and expectant mothers find each other and make a plan within a week, while other adoptive parents search for years.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Marietta Police Chief Brett McKitrick said the sign had to come down after it was brought to the attention of his department.
"I didn't like this one. I think the world needs more people like the Chichesters - a nice family looking to adopt," he said. " But we had to talk to them and ask them to take (the sign) down."
Although their banner may be down, Melissa Chichester said a proactive approach remains important to the couple.
"There are obviously ups and downs to each route to adoption, but we like that we can be active," she said. "Evan and I were trying to get creative and we considered this (sign) part of our networking. We don't feel that what we were doing was wrong, but we agreed to take the sign down."
Thomas Taneff, the Columbus attorney who has been assisting the couple with their adoption search for the past year, said couples who are seeking private adoption are allowed to network and seek out birth mothers.
"Years ago, the private (adoption) agencies and lawyers lobbied to be the only ones who should be able to advertise about adoption," he said. "Their argument was if private individuals were allowed it would encourage people to engage in 'black market' buying or selling of babies, which is ridiculous. This was nothing more than an attempt by these agencies to protect their turf. This is a business and it is a big business."
The law in question has been on the books in Ohio since the early 1950s. A total of 29 states, including Ohio, prohibit or limit advertising for adoption.
In Ohio, only a private child-placing agency; or private noncustodial agency that's certified by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services; or a public children's services agency, is allowed to advertise anything related to the adoption of a child.
Officials with Washington County Children's Services did not return a call seeking comment.
Taneff said private adoption allows for couples like the Chichesters to take an active role in their search, which can speed up the adoption process. Most typical adoptions can take from one to three years, he said.
In a private adoption, attorneys and clients seek out birth mothers. Networking is allowed by law and is encouraged, Taneff said. Also, birth mothers can choose parents through profiles, or ask to meet with them.
As with any adoption process, adoptive parents are required to pass several screenings and background checks, which the Chichesters have done.
"Some people are simply not comfortable publicizing their infertility, some people are comfortable sitting back and allowing an agency to do the work for them," Taneff said. "Then there are a handful of couples like the Chichesters who say, 'Why wait on the agency or lawyer, why not become proactive, get involved and help the process along?'"
Taneff said private adoptions sometimes cost less than a third of the cost of traditional adoptions, which can cost between $25,000 and $35,000.
Evan Chichester said he had the sign in question made a few weeks ago as a surprise for his wife.
"I got the idea from a friend who ran for office in Wood County (W.Va.), he had signs put up on a big box truck," he said. "I didn't want to buy a box truck, but I had a pickup truck and it seemed pretty simple to me."
Becca Worstell, 38, of Marietta, said she had noticed the Chichester's sign.
"I didn't see a problem with it," she said. "Especially in these economic times, I'm sure there are some women who are panicking and maybe hadn't thought about adoption."
Charles Nelson, 48, of Marietta, agreed.
"If there's someone out there looking to provide a good home to an unwanted child, I have no problem with them putting up a sign," he said. "I wish them all the luck in the world."
Taneff said he has confidence the couple will reach their dream.
"They are going to adopt," Taneff said. "They are hard-working, have hope, faith, commitment, they're aggressive and the are not going to rest until they become parents...what a wonderful thing."
Kate York contributed.