The decision to become a parent through adoption is one of the biggest decisions made in a lifetime. Adopting is not just a snap decision made overnight. People who have adopted may have thought about it for years prior to taking the first step to becoming an adoptive parent.

There are many things to consider and learn about before starting the process of adoption:

1. The different types of adoption.

The three types are often referred to as domestic/private, international, and foster-to-adopt.

Domestic/private typically refers to when a child is placed through an agency into the home of adoptive parents. The birth parents are often involved in the matching process. It may also refer to a private arrangement between an adoptive family and birth family in placement of a child with the help of an attorney.

International adoption refers to the matching and placement of a child from another country into the home of approved adoptive parents. There is agency involvement with these adoptions. Since each country has its own set of requirements regarding adoption, it is vital that families are well-informed and do their research about agencies that offer this type of service.

Foster-to-adopt adoptions occur when a child who is in the protective custody of the state is adopted by either his or her current foster family, or by an approved adoptive family selected by the child’s professional team. Relatives and kinship families can also be selected. There are both federal and state requirements that families must meet in order to be licensed and approved as foster/adoptive parents. It is important for families considering foster care adoptions to research their state’s requirements and process of approval.

2. The difference between open and closed adoptions.

Open adoption refers to the open relationship between the adoptive parents, and the birth parents or family of the child’s origin. Not every adoptive situation is appropriate for openness, however. If the child has been abandoned or was adopted from another country, openness may be impossible. Sometimes the specifics of a foster care situation may make it quite difficult to have openness.

Closed adoptions refer to no contact at all with birth families. Prospective adoptive families should discern their own feelings and comfort level with an open adoption. While not appropriate for some situations, research has shown that open adoption can have a very positive impact on the adoptee’s life. Also, openness does not necessarily mean direct contact with birth families and the children. It may mean letters, pictures, and communication between the adoptive parents and the birth families.

3. The impact of adoption on both the child and the adoptive family.

Adoption is a wonderful experience; however, it can present many challenges as the child grows up. Prospective adoptive families would benefit from learning about the experiences that adoptees have had. At the same time, they would also benefit from learning about the experiences that adoptive families have had. Read books or blogs that are written by adult adoptees. Talk with other adoptive families about their experiences and challenges that are unique to adoptive families.

4. The impact of trauma on a child’s life.

It is important to know that not every child who is adopted has experienced abuse, neglect, or other types of trauma. However, children who have experienced difficult situations, whether it is physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, institutionalization, multiple caregivers, prenatal drug exposure, and poor to no prenatal care, are at a greater risk for behavioral issues, developmental delays, and cognitive challenges.

The separation from family of origin is difficult on a child.  Even in newborn adoptions, the child may wonder or worry about his or her birth families as they grow up. Prospective adoptive families need to be aware that there is grief and loss in adoption. There is also what is referred to as “crisis moments” in adoption. These moments can range from birthdays and holidays to major life events such as marriage, the birth of a child, and illness for the adoptee.

5. The expenses tied to adoption.

Expenses are related to the type of adoption a family chooses to pursue. Families need to consider which type of adoption is the best fit for their family, and the affordability of it. It does not “feel right” to consider finances when thinking about the blessing of children, but families need to be realistic about what they can afford. Researching the various agencies that offer adoptive services is an important part of making the decision to adopt. Expenses can range from extremely high (mostly seen with domestic/private and international adoption) to very low/no cost (foster care adoption). There are grants, scholarships, fundraising events, and other types of financial assistance that families can access, but all of these do take time, effort, and work!

6. The availability of services and support. 

Many families feel called to adopt children with medical and other special needs.  There is a great need for this, and there are many waiting special needs children around the world. Prospective adoptive families need to consider that children with medical and other special needs may need ongoing services and support long after their adoptions are finalized. It is important to research the assistance needed—and the availability of assistance. Families should also look into joining support groups or networks with other families who have adopted children with similar needs.

If you are considering adoption, it is so important to do your research. You can attend informational meetings, adoption awareness events, and other types of training that are related to adoption. Each prospective adoptive family should consider what type of adoption is the most appropriate for their situation. Learn as much as you can so that you can make an informed decision.

Adoptive parenting is a huge blessing to both the children who are being adopted and the adoptive family. Regardless of the type, adoption is a life-changer. It breaks your heart, at times. It fills you with joy, at times. And it reminds us all of the incredible importance that children possess in our world.