What Are the Different Types of Adoption?

What are your options? How should you start looking?

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In the U.S., those hoping to adopt have two basic options, whether choosing to adopt domestically (in the U.S.) or internationally (from another country). There are different kinds of adoptions in both of these categories: agency and independent.

Agency Adoptions

Adoptions agencies are intermediaries between birth and adoptive parents. There are two general kinds of agencies:

  • Local public agencies (also known as foster care, child welfare, and social services);
  • Licensed private agencies (permissible in most states and many foreign countries).

Independent Adoptions

These are identified or designated adoptions where prospective adopting and prospective placing parents have located each other themselves (allowed in most states, and some agencies will assist with these placements). This can happen in a variety of ways:

  • using attorneys or other intermediaries defined by state law;
  • using adoption facilitators (allowed in only a few states and some foreign countries);
  • doing the work yourself (permitted for some international adoptions) with the aid of in-country assistance.

Since adoption laws in the state where you live govern your options, it is essential that you know what types of placements are allowed or not allowed by your state’s laws. If you pursue an adoption across state lines, you must comply with the laws in both states before the child can join your family. States have enacted interstate compacts, or legislation that governs how children can be placed across state lines.

For international adoptions, laws and regulations of your own state, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS, formerly INS), the U.S. State Department, and the laws of the specific country will apply.

In weighing your options, you should evaluate your ability to tolerate risk. Here are the relative levels of assurance offered by the above options:

  • agency adoptions provide the greatest assurance of monitoring and oversight since agencies are required to adhere to licensing and procedural standards;
  • independent adoptions by attorneys at least provide assurance that attorneys must adhere to the standards of the Bar Association. Some attorneys who specialize in adoption are members of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, a professional membership organization with standards of ethical practice;
  • adoptive placements by facilitators offer the least amount of supervision and oversight. This does not mean there are not ethical professionals with good standards of practice; it simply means there are few or no oversight mechanisms in place at this time.

In addition to risk factors above, other considerations in selecting the type of adoption you pursue can include

  • costs,
  • country restrictions (international adoptions),
  • open adoptions,
  • child health, and
  • your age, marital status, sexual orientation, etc., among others. 
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