How to Adopt in 10 Easy (?) Steps

Nothing's really "simple" in adoption, but here's a start.

Robyn Chittister January 31, 2015

I believe that the number one most frequently asked question in adoption is, “How do we start?” To answer that question, here are some not-so-simple steps on how to adopt.

Decide to Adopt and Commit to It.
1. Decide to Adopt and Commit to It.

For some people, deciding to adopt is easy. I never had fertility issues. I always wanted to adopt, so the decision was easy. But for others, it's definitely not. Some people suffer from diagnosed infertility, some don't know why they can't seem to get pregnant and stay pregnant, and some find themselves single longer than they expected but still yearning for families. Resolve any grief you might have about not having biological children. Research all of your options. If you decide that adoption is the best choice, then commit to it, and don't waver.
Learn more about making the decision to adopt.

Choose the Right Type of Adoption for You.
2. Choose the Right Type of Adoption for You.

There are three main categories of adoption: international adoption, private domestic adoption, and foster adoption. All three have their pros and cons. Read some books, browse some blogs, and ask some questions in online forums. Don't let anyone try to tell you that one type of adoption is better than another. What may be true for one family may not be true for your family.

Learn more about the different types of adoption.

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption has created a comprehensive guide to adopting children from foster care. You can get it here.

Start Your Home Study.
3. Start Your Home Study.

All adoptions require a home study. (Read our Guide to Surviving Your Home Study)..

A social worker provides you with piles of questionnaires that you must answer. You may be required to take classes. You will probably be required to learn CPR and basic first aid. You will also probably need a physical that is slightly more rigorous than your normal yearly check up. The social worker will visit your house, but you don't have to clean every nook and cranny. He or she is simply trying to make sure that the environment is safe. The specifics of the home study vary based on the type of adoption you're pursuing and on the state in which you live.

At this point, you can choose a full-service agency or a home study agency only. A full-service agency does it all--provides home studies, adoption services, and post-adoption services. A home study agency provides only home studies; it does not provide any matching or referral services. Your state may also allow you to hire an independent social worker to do a home study.

If you choose to adopt through foster care, your county's social services department can provide the home study.

Learn more about home studies.

Pick Your Professional.
4. Pick Your Professional.

This step can happen in conjunction with step three, or even before step three. If you're pursuing an international adoption, you will want to find an ethical adoption agency that provides services and referrals for the country you choose.

If you're pursuing an adoption from foster care, you can choose to go through your county's social services department, or in some states, you can choose an agency that contracts with that department.

If you choose to adopt privately in the US, you have many more choices. You can choose a private agency, an attorney, or, in some states, a facilitator. What's the difference? Well, that's a subject for a more in-depth post. Just note, all adoptions that are not through foster care are private. If you use an agency, that's a private agency adoption. If you use an attorney or facilitator, that's a private independent adoption. It can be very confusing!

Learn more about choosing an adoption professional.
Read our guide about selecting an adoption agency.
Find out 4 Essential Criteria for Selecting an International Adoption Agency.

Create Your Profile (Domestic).
5. Create Your Profile (Domestic).

For private domestic adoptions, you will create an adoption profile. This is a document from 2-20 pages in length that shows who you are as a person, couple, or family. Its length will be dictated by your adoption professional. Its contents are totally you. What should go in it? Again, that's another post. What would you want to know about the people you were choosing to parent your child? In a nutshell, that's what should go in.

For foster adoptions, prospective parents are often asked to put together a short scrapbook to show to the children who will be coming into their care. Your social worker should be able to tell you what should go in it. This document isn't to "sell" you as a family. It should allow the children to familiarize themselves with you prior to placement. For international adoptions, prospective parents may also be asked to create a short scrapbook like this.

Read more about creating your profile.

6. Wait.

This is actually the hardest part. During steps one through five, you are actively doing something. Now, you're actively doing nothing.

If you're pursuing private domestic adoption, you may choose to network. (Perhaps we should call that step 6a.) You may create pass along cards to leave at certain places, send email or snail mail to everyone you know telling them that you're hoping to adopt, advertise (if allowed by your state), or create an online profile check out (Parent Profiles) or Facebook page devoted to your adoption. Each one of these items can easily fill its own blog post. To get started learning more, check out our Learn more about waiting.

Make a Match or Receive a Referral.
7. Make a Match or Receive a Referral.

In private domestic adoption, prospective adoptive parents are often matched with women (and sometimes their partners) who are pregnant and considering adoption for their unborn children. You could be matched early on in a pregnancy, or you could be matched days before delivery. Some parents are open to baby-born situations, in which new mothers wait until they have given birth to choose families for their newborns.

In foster adoption, matching varies from county to county. Your county may have formal match meetings, where the child's case worker meets with you and explains the situation, or you may simply receive a call stating, "We have this child for you. What do you think?" A match may take hours, days, or months, depending on the situation.

In international adoption, you generally receive a referral for a child who is in a foster home or orphanage. You will usually receive a picture and some basic information, including some medical information, about the child.

Learn more about this step.

Wait Some More.
9. Wait Some More.

Now that you have a real live child to hope for, you may choose to set up the child's room. Perhaps some friends or family members will throw a shower for you, but if you'd prefer not to have one, that's okay, too. At this point, the goal is to be cautiously optimistic. You hope that the match or referral will result in the child or children being placed with you, but it's not quite a done deal.

This is a wonderful opportunity to baby- or childproof your home, make arrangements for childcare, alert your health insurance company, and prepare your other children for the arrival of a new sibling.

Bring Your Child Home.
10. Bring Your Child Home.

Whether you have to go to the next street over, halfway across the country, or halfway across the world, this is the time you travel to bring your child home.

In private domestic adoption, there is always the chance that the new mother will choose to parent. In that case, you go back to step six and wait and hope some more. The Adoptive Families Cost and Timing Survey indicates that many families have one false start before finding the match that results in bringing home their child.

Finalize the Adoption.
11. Finalize the Adoption.

There is some time between bringing your child home and the adopt becoming final. In foster adoptions, if you are open to legal risk placements, your children could go back to their biological parents or other relatives. In private and international adoptions, the time between placement and finalization is one for a social worker to monitor your progress as a family to ensure that everyone is adjusting well.

Your finalization could take place in court, or you could simply go to your mailbox one day and find your adoption decree. It depends on the type of adoption you've pursued and the state in which you live and in which the child was born.

So, there you have it. Adoption in 10 easy--hahahaha--steps.

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Robyn Chittister

Robyn is a full-time writer and mom through private, domestic, open, transracial adoption. She resides in New Hampshire with her family of two adults, two children, and a fluctuating number of animals. She is seriously passionate about adoption and tries to use her words wisely--both here and at her personal blog, Holding to the Ground.

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