We know that you want to adopt a child. But you need information and guidance first. You’re probably wondering, “All I know is, I want to adopt a child. But, where do I even begin? I started looking around the web, and, wow. There’s so much information out there! How will I afford it? Should I adopt a baby in the United States or internationally? Is adoption really right for me?”
So many questions. And, guess what? We’ve got answers.
So, from now on, consider this site your “home away from home” on All Things Adoption. We are your landing page in your journey to adopt a child. This portal page is your safe place—your home base. We’ll start you here, and we’ll lead you to wherever you want to land—domestic adoption, international adoption, financial resources, mastering the process, learning the lingo, and the list goes on. And, if you’re not even sure of where you want to land, we can help with that, too.
If you want to adopt a child and are seeking information on how to do that, you’ve come to the right place! You no doubt stopped by because you’re either seeking information, feeling overwhelmed by all the information you already do have and need some guidance or both.
Regardless of your reasons for being here, look no further. We’re here to help.
And, welcome home.
We hope that, soon enough, you will be doing some “welcoming home” of your own—in the form of bringing a child into your family via the amazing experience and journey called adoption. Parenthood is an extraordinary adventure—and yours awaits.
Without further ado . . . we’re off!
WHAT IS ADOPTION?
If you’re here, there’s no doubt you already know what adoption is, but, we’re going to tell you anyway. As explained in this helpful adoption overview, adoption is “a legal process in which parental rights to a child (whose biological parents’ parental rights have been severed) are bestowed on adopting parents, creating a parent-child relationship where one did not previously exist. The adopted child has all the same legal rights and responsibilities as a biological child, including rights of inheritance.” The first step in knowing that you want to adopt a child is knowing what adoption is in the first place!
Adoption is not just a legal process, but a child-parent matching process as well. It is more than legal: It’s situational. Emotional. Logistical. And, as adoptive families would agree, in the end, it usually ends up being perfectly logical and at times magical, regarding who becomes family with who. Adoption.com explains it like this: “Adoption is the process by which parents are matched with children who have none, either through death or inability to provide for [those children].”
HISTORY OF ADOPTION
Adoption’s roots run deep. Many ancient communities practiced formal systems of adoption—the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Babylonians. They all had set procedures for families who wanted to adopt a child. Adoption is even mentioned in the Bible, as evidenced by the well-known story of a certain Hebrew baby named Moses who was adopted into the Pharaoh’s family.
As for the United States, procedures regarding adoption weren’t official or formal at the outset. There was no legal procedure of any kind until the 1850s. Before then, families transferred children to new homes very informally. Reasons were often economic in nature (rural families needed help on farms/ranches; immigrant families ended up not being able to care for their children due to limited financial resources). Attitudes and laws surrounding adoption changed in the 20th century, though—everything from more formality to the sealing of records to the stigma of an unexpected pregnancy and the culture of secrecy surrounding adoption. Looking for a much more detailed history of adoption? Check out the Background section of About Adoption. Seeking an even more probing, in-depth history of adoption? Then, Adoption History is one of the most comprehensive and reliable resources you’ll find. Sections cover topics on pre-20th century adoption, open versus closed adoption, the Indian Child Welfare Act, American orphanages, and the rise of foster care. The adoption process may seem like a daunting journey for those taking their very first steps in the process, but the laws and “hoops” that parents must jump through are designed to protect not just the children, but also the parents who hope to adopt a child.
The story of adoption is indeed a fascinating one—and the one thing that resides at the heart of it all is change. Loosely quoting the famed philosopher Heraclitus, “The only thing that is constant is change.” That truth cannot be more abundantly clear when it comes to the culture and history of adoption. Its past is peppered with both joy and pain, during a much younger time in our country’s history when adoption—and the rights and well-being of all those in the adoption triad—was very much misunderstood. All of that has changed, and the journey—complete with its hoops and hurdles—is a remarkable adventure.
Speaking of change, are you ready to adopt a child and have your entire life altered, for the better? Then, keep on reading. Lots of good stuff is in store for you!
THE ADOPTION PROCESS
The process of adoption differs depending on a lot of factors: Is the adoption domestic (i.e., within the United States) or international (i.e., the child was born in a different country)? Is it kinship adoption (i.e., the child is being adopted by a family member, stepparent, or close friend of the family)? Is it foster-to-adopt (i.e., foster parents of the child have submitted an adoption application)? What state or province is the adoption occurring within? (In the United States, the adoption process is governed by state laws, not by federal ones. And for international adoption, there are not just U.S. state laws to follow, but also laws put forth by the country of your adopted child’s birth.
Regardless of how you adopt a child, the process can be quite overwhelming and complicated. Sandra Benointon says it best in the How to Adopt a Child Guide: “The adoption process is a roller coaster of emotions, paperwork, and love. Although it can seem overwhelming at first, knowledge is power.” Bennington explains that there are nine basic steps in the process of every adoption:
1. Decide to adopt. There’s a lot to this decision, and it’s a serious commitment. Author Robyn Chittister explains. “After you decide to adopt, you will be successful only if you commit to it. You cannot half-heartedly pursue adoption.” Read Robyn’s full article, “Decide to Adopt and Commit to It.” For another take on this not-so-light decision, check out these tips by Jenny Jerkins in the article, “How Do You Know It Is Right?”
2. Choose a type of adoption. There are so many different kinds of adoption! The two overarching types are domestic adoption (within the United States) or international adoption (from another country). But within those two overarching types, there are many variants: You might not even realize it. The options include infant, toddler, older child, same race or a different race, special needs, foster care, foster-to-adopt, and grandparent/stepparent/kinship adoption.
3. Get professional help. You can do this by seeking assistance from an adoption agency (private or public), an adoption attorney, and/or an adoption facilitator. We’ll get to what all of these terms mean in a bit.
4. Research your financial options. This is a big one—so much so, we have devoted an entire section of this portal page to this very topic.
5. Get a home study. Start by finding a home study professional. (Wait: What’s a “home study”?)
6. Do some networking. Get the word out to family and friends. Especially in the case of domestic adoption, creating your parent profile is an essential part of this networking step. Check out Parent Profiles, a website specifically dedicated to highlighting individuals and couples looking to adopt a child. If you’re ready to get started right now on creating your parent profile, we can help you: Right now!
7. Prepare for the possibilities. Bennington explains: “Educate yourself and create a post-placement contact/openness plan that you and the birth parents feel comfortable with. Whatever your relationship is to be with the child’s birth parents, begin now to cultivate respect and unconditional love for these individuals who are your child’s first parents.”
8. Wait. This is by far the most challenging step. During this time, you can prepare yourself psychologically and emotionally by diving into All Things Adoption. You can also distract yourself by staying busy—whether it be working hard, playing hard (whether that means a hike in the wilderness or a day in the city), getting your child’s room ready, or engaging in your favorite hobbies. You can also use this time to make connections with other waiting parents and/or adoptive families who have been down the same road you are now traveling on. Lean on your shared connection, and learn from fellow parents who survived “the wait” and are now happily raising their adopted children.
9. Adoption. Congratulations! Your wait is over, and your child is home. After hoping and waiting and working hard to adopt a child, you are now a parent!
The adoption process is very much a marathon—not a sprint. Just take it step-by-step: Remember, the laws and the paperwork and the professionals exist for a reason: To protect the well-being, the legal rights, and the safety of all parties involved—the child, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents. All three members of the adoption triad have rights that need to be respected through the enactment of, and firm adherence to, state laws that govern the adoption process. Here is more information on state laws.
TYPES OF ADOPTION
Adoption comes in many forms, as you’re probably finding out in your research. To make it easy for you, we’ve broken down the various types of adoption by providing a brief explanation/definition, followed by several foundational articles that will really help you understand the different types of adoption—and help you decide which one is right for you. Speaking in a broad sweep, the two strictly “major types” of adoption are domestic adoption and international adoption. But, in the sections below, we break it down beyond just those two major categories. Some of the categories below can actually span across both domestic and international adoption, so, keep that in mind.
Domestic adoption is the adoption of a child who lives in the same country as you do. For most of us reading this web page, this means that you (the adoptive parent) live in the United States and are seeking to adopt a child who also lives in the United States. Children who are available for domestic adoption in the united states are not just infants—they are toddlers and older children, as well. And, oftentimes, these older children are more difficult to place because of their age. So many people want to adopt a child who is an infant: Adopting older children can be equally if not more rewarding than adopting a newborn baby.
Special Needs Adoption
The term “special needs adoption” is one that often needs clarification for those new to the adoption world. Adoption professionals almost universally dislike this term because it can be misunderstood and can carry negative connotations by unassuming parents-to-be. Author Kristy O’Neal explains: “The term ‘special needs’ is broader than you think. Many children who are legally free for adoption can be labeled ‘special needs’ or ‘hard to place.’ These terms can mean quite a lot of things, so . . . it’s important to keep an open mind and find out the details of their story before making assumptions. Some children do have medical, intellectual, or behavioral special needs, yes, but they also might be harder to place because they’re older or because they’re part of a sibling group.”
International adoption means pretty much what it says: You are seeking to adopt a child who was born in another country. A good place to start in your research is the International Adoption Guide, which offers helpful information for those of you embarking on this life-changing adventure. Like domestic adoption, international adoption involves a waiting game, complicated paperwork, the know-how to navigate the laws of both the United States and your child’s birth country, and a deep level of commitment, patience, and stamina. Those parents who have adopted a child internationally are frequently cited as saying, “Although the wait was hard, and the paperwork process was tough, now that our child is home with us, we can barely remember how tough that wait was.” International adoption requires some emotional toughness and a healthy dose of stick-to-it-iveness, but it’s worth the wait!
The top five countries for international adoptions are China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, South Korea, and Ukraine. Are you not seeing your country of choice on this list? No worries; you can find it in this alphabetical list of countries.
For perspectives and guidance on everything from one family’s journey to China to articles written about Superman being adopted, see this web page for literally HUNDREDS of articles on international adoption, written by adoption experts, professionals, and adoptive parents.
When family members formally adopt a child who is a relative of theirs, this is known as kinship adoption. It also may be called (depending on the situation) stepparent adoption or grandparent adoption. In the United States alone, 7.8 million children are currently being raised by family members who are not their birth parents. That is a staggering number. Most of those family members cited in that statistic (2.6 million, to be exact) are grandparents. For that reason alone, kinship adoption warrants its own listing in our breakdown of the types of adoption that exist!
Of all the subtypes of kinship adoption that exist, by far the most prevalent (and on a continual upslope, even now) is grandparent adoption. These aging adults are stepping forward to parent the children of their children because those parents are not capable of doing so themselves, often due to mental health issues or substance abuse. An important law was recently passed related to grandparent adoption. This legislation enabled the creation of a federal task force to support grandparents who are raising their grandchildren and to protect their financial, emotional, and physical well-being as these aging adults step forward to meet the demands of parenting their children’s children (often for reasons directly related to the rising opioid epidemic in this country). For further reading on this important legislation and the critical role that grandparents are playing in keeping families together, check out these two articles:
Stepparents are also stepping forward to adopt the children of their spouses. As author Heather Mitchell explains, “The stepparent is a rapidly growing role in today’s society, one that has a great amount of influence on a child.” In her article, Mitchell explains that parenthood requires love, not DNA. For stepparent adoption, a great place to start is the Adopting Your Stepchild Guide, which purports, “You want to provide your stepchild with the benefits that will come with being legally bound as a family. This guide helps you understand the process of stepchild adoption.”
Foster Care and Foster-to-Adopt
Foster care is a critical component of adoption—mostly domestic adoption. In fact, if you are adopting a toddler or older child (versus an infant) through a domestic adoption arrangement, it is likely if not required that you agree to be the child’s foster parent first. One important fact must be kept in mind when considering foster care and foster-to-adopt as a potential way to build your family: In the U.S. foster care system, the goal is ALWAYS reunification of the birth family and the child. Adoption is permitted only after it is deemed by the courts that termination of parental rights (or, TPR) is necessary and is in the best interests of the child. See also the very next section of this web page, titled “Single-Parent Adoption.” This type of adoption can be a component of foster care. In domestic U.S. adoption, single-parent adoption typically involves foster care as a first step.
Adoptive parents do not have to be couples; in the case of certain countries, and especially within the domestic adoption world, single parents are permitted to adopt. In fact, single-parent adoption constitutes 30% of all domestic adoptions! As the single adoptive parent of two children who she adopted through the U.S. foster care system, author Shannon Hicks says, “There are many agencies that are willing to work with prospective single parents, and the U.S. government can’t discriminate against you. I’ve worked with my local department of social services for the past five years, and I’ve always felt validated and supported by them as a single parent.”
Although certain countries allow only married couples to adopt children, certain countries allow singles to adopt. Read this article by Jennifer S. Jones, titled “Top Five Countries That Are Single-Parent Friendly”; all five are Hague Convention countries. (What’s a Hague Convention country?) See also this article, which covers the top 10 most popular countries to adopt from and nicely sums up each country’s policies (in this article, you do have to look closely at the criteria under each country to see whether single-parent adoption is okay; look under the heading, “Who can adopt?”).
OPEN ADOPTION VERSUS CLOSED ADOPTION: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
In the adoption world, you’ll hear the term “open adoption” tossed around—a lot. That’s because it’s a very important component of domestic U.S. adoption. So, what is open adoption? According to the Adoption.com Wiki on open adoption, it’s “a broad term essentially meaning that there is at least a minimum level of contact between an adoptive child’s biological parents and adoptive parents.” Author Meghan Rivard explains: “Open adoption is when the birth parents, adoptive parents, and child have a relationship. The extent of the relationship and communication can vary greatly among the families who choose an open adoption, from an occasional picture and visit with the birth parents to a very structured plan of interaction. However, what is important is that it never has any negative effects on the adoptive child and offers flexibility to adapt to the needs of the child.” For more information on open adoption, check out Rivard’s full article, Open Adoption Guide, which covers the basics about open adoption and explains how open adoption can be beneficial for everyone involved.
Much earlier in the history of adoption in the United States, open adoption was not only rare—it was actually discouraged by adoption professionals. The open adoption wiki explains: “Beginning in 1917, with one state beginning to restrict adoption records, a trend began that would grow slowly over the next four decades until nearly all of the states had similar restrictions on adoption records. As closed adoptions became more prevalent in the 1960s, the movement to return to open adoptions began.” Now, the tables have turned in strong favor of open adoption, like those in the adoption community realized just how beneficial an open adoption is for the child.
The opposite of open adoption is a closed adoption. Also known as a confidential or traditional adoption, in this situation, no relationship exists between the adoptive family and the birth parents. Neither family knows any identifying information about the other.
FEES, FORMS, PAPERWORK, AND FINANCES
This is probably the least favorite topic of every single person in the adoption community, but, it’s an important hurdle that you absolutely need to clear to become an adoptive parent.
Adoption Costs and Fees
When we refer to “adoption costs,” we mean the costs that adoptive parents pay for the services of various adoption professionals—everyone from social workers and caseworkers to home study providers to adoption agencies to translators (in the case of international adoption), and the list goes on. This does not ever refer to “paying for a child.” Such practices are illegal and are never condoned by the adoption community.
So, how much do adoption services run? It varies quite widely, depending on the type of adoption. From a broad-sweeping perspective, you can expect to pay between $20,000 and $40,000 for newborn domestic adoption in the United States. You can expect to pay about $35,000 for international adoption. Foster adoption services cost much less: Typically, these fees run less than $1,000 in total (for the vast majority of foster adoptions). Most families who engage in foster adoption receive a monthly adoption subsidy—about $707 per month. Keep in mind that these numbers are estimates—for actual costs, it’s best to ask the individual adoption service provider (e.g., adoption agency, facilitator, attorney, home study agency, etc.).
This wiki on adoption costs gives a comprehensive overview of all costs involved and lists estimated dollar amounts for everything from home study fees to in-country travel expenses to legal fees. Check it out!
Managing the Paperwork
If you own a home, you know something about what the concept of “mountains of paperwork” looks like. Remember when you closed on that home and the stacks of forms and paperwork that sat in front of you? Well, put your patience cap on because the adoption process—be it domestic or international—means even more mountains. But that’s why this page exists—to help you navigate those mountains and make them passable so that the adoption of your child can happen.
If you’re looking to adopt internationally, start with “Managing Your International Adoption Paperwork” or “10 Important Papers That Adoptive Parents Need to Know About.”
If you’re adopting domestically, one of the first things you’re going to have to do is to find an adoption provider, who will guide you through the entire paperwork process. You can search adoption providers by state or by service. And there are finer details in the paperwork process that new parents won’t necessarily think about, such as obtaining a social security number for your domestically adopted child.
The home study is a BIG part of the paperwork process of any adoption (domestic or international). It’s such a big deal, it warrants its own section—so, keep reading!
You want to adopt, but you’re not sure you can afford to pay the fees for adoption services. Where do you start? First, take a deep breath. There are WAY more options to affording adoption than you think—everything from grants to loans to fundraising. Start with this helpful Guide to Affording Adoption.
Think outside the box, and research your options carefully. Learn all there is to know about the ways a family can afford to pay for the adoption of their child. Talk with other parents who have been there and who are now parenting their adopted child! The options that exist include adoption grants, loans, and fundraising.
For example, consider applying for an adoption grant. Grants help offset the costs of adoption. Such resources are out there, and money is available—you just have to know about the various grant programs and then apply! Grants are usually specific to particular countries or children, or they might have other criteria specific to the organization offering the grant.
Although grants typically do not cover the entire spectrum of adoption costs, they also do not require repayment. That statement bears repeating: GRANTS DO NOT REQUIRE REPAYMENT. That’s why they are called grants and not loans.
Speaking of loans, they’re available, too. There are various types of adoption loans, but by far the most enticing ones are the no- or low-interest loans (by low, we mean 3% or less). Do your research. And, don’t let your current debt situation deter you from adopting. Lita Jordan explains that you do not have to be debt-free to adopt!
If you’re ready to apply right now, you can go to Adoption.com and get pre-qualified for an adoption loan in just a few minutes.
Fundraising has recently come into its own as a viable source of funding for adoption. Engaging your friends and family to be part of your adoption journey can help you not just get the emotional support you need as a waiting parent, but it can also reduce the financial strain. Fundraising takes some creative thinking, but if you’re not the creative or crafty type, check out these “8 Creative Adoption Fundraising Ideas.” Crowdfunding to raise money for your adoption service fees is the newest form of fundraising—and is surprisingly successful. Don’t discount the generosity of friends, family, and yes, even strangers! In just a few clicks, you can start your own online crowdfunding campaign.
Post-Adoption Financial Support
Even after your adoption is finalized, you can still get financial support. One way to do that is when tax time comes around, and you have an additional family member to claim on your taxes! Enter the adoption tax credit, a sweet benefit for adoptive parents who reside in the United States. The best way to learn about this is to read the Adoption Tax Credit Guide, a comprehensive resource for adoptive parents that answers all your questions.
Another way to get financial support even after the adoption is finalized is through taking advantage of employer benefits that cover adoption.
THE HOME STUDY
This is a big one. But stay with us; we’ll get you there!
Regardless of whether you’re adopting domestically or internationally, you’re going to need a home study. The term home study sounds like one, concrete item, but it’s not: It’s a catch-all term that refers to an overall process—not one specific, tangible “thing.” The home study encompasses not just the physical home visit (a term referring to one specific step in the overall home study process) but also the collection of forms, documents, steps, background checks, and processes that you must complete before you can adopt a child. Author Amy Harmon explains: “This process can include a background check, home evaluation, social work visits, education, health status, references, and financial statements.”
Adoption author Rachel Skousen explains that the home study is “the process by which a licensed professional determines whether a couple or individual is approved to adopt. Sometimes people get a home study confused with a home visit, which is just one of the requirements of a home study.”
Start learning about the process by reading through this home study section of Adoption.com (scroll down BELOW the big gray box titled Find a Home Study Professional). The topics covered on this web page include everything from What Does a Home Study Involve? (hint: time, effort, and patience!) to “8 Aspects of a Home Study.”
Deep breaths. It’ll be okay. Just take the time to carefully work your way through the checklist of items involved in your adoption process. Remember, the professionals are out to help you and your child—the hoops and hurdles are necessary (and yes, sometimes annoying) parts of the process. Adoption is a legal process. That means paperwork. There’s no way around that. But, as the social worker told the adoptive couple interviewed in this article said to them, upon her arrival, “I am not here to fail you.”
If you’re new to the adoption community, you’ll notice that not only do you get a warm welcome, but you get introduced to a whole new world of legal lingo, acronyms, and unfamiliar terms. Relax: We’ve got you covered. That’s what an Adoption Glossary is for! Also, check out these articles: “14 Legal Terms Everyone Involved in Adoption Should Know” and “The Alphabet Soup of Adoption: Bowled Over by Acronyms.”
LEAN ON, AND LEARN FROM, “THE VILLAGE”: JOINING THE ADOPTION COMMUNITY
As a potential or current adoptive parent, you must immerse yourself in the adoption community. Who might that be? Fellow waiting adoptive parents, fellow foster parents, friends who have since brought their child home and can speak to you about their experiences and give you guidance and support, and (in the case of international adoption), families with ties to the country in which your adopted child or future adopted child was born. It’s so important to surround yourself with like-minded people who are in similar family situations—families that look like and feel like your own. It’s another way of “coming home” to a new community—your adoption community. You will be amazed at how welcoming and warm fellow adoptive families are.
As you are waiting, you can join online adoption communities and forums. The discussion threads in these forums cover literally every topic you can think of. Check out our adoption forums, and join one or several of them while you endure The Big Wait! Even if you’re not big into socializing or chatting, you can always just be a “lurker” and read the various discussions and conversation threads—and learn that way. If you’re more of an interactive person who enjoys chatting with people, throw a question out there into the forum—you’ll be surprised and pleased at how quickly you’ll get responses from all over the country, perhaps even all over the world!
If you are seeking to adopt a child, you must familiarize yourself with the laws governing adoption. Adoption laws vary, depending on the state, province, or country in which the adoption occurs. Because there is such variability, it’s nearly impossible to generalize overall adoption law or give a brief overview (it varies too much depending on type and location of adoption). For example, international adoption requires adherence to laws not just in the United States but also to the laws of the country in which your child was born. That’s why it’s best to dispel the generalities of adoption law and just go right to the specifics! Learn the adoption laws based on your geographical location or the area in which your adopted child currently resides. If the adoption is international, familiarize yourself with the adoption laws in that country.
If this task of researching and learning about adoption law (as it applies to your situation) seems too daunting, that’s what adoption attorneys are for! Contact an adoption attorney in your local area. They’ll be able to help you.
For international adoption, it’s best to use an adoption agency versus hiring an adoption attorney or facilitator. (It’s usually the only option.) The agency takes care of all communication with its counterpart agency in the country of the child’s birth (although you will still have to find a home study provider here in the States). In such situations, you must adhere to the laws of not just your state, but also the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS, formerly INS), the U.S. State Department, and the laws of the specific country. For example, a family in Baltimore, Maryland, who is adopting a child from South Korea might use a Baltimore-based adoption agency, which then works with the overseas adoption agency in South Korea. The adoption agency in South Korea also works closely with the South Korean embassy and other South Korean government entities to ensure that the intercountry adoption goes smoothly and complies with all international adoption laws.
LEGAL PATHWAYS TO ADOPTION
Author Crystal Perkins explains that in both major types of adoption (domestic and international), there are essentially two legal pathways to successful adoption: Agency adoptions and independent adoptions.
Think of adoption agencies as the middle ground between birth parents and adoptive parents. Agencies are either local public agencies (depending on the state, they may be called foster care, child welfare, or social services) or licensed private agencies (which is legal in most states and many countries).
An independent adoption (also called direct placement or private adoption) occurs when prospective adoptive parents and birth parents have found one another on their own, through no intervention of any agency, legal professional, or caseworker. Most states allow independent adoptions, and some agencies will even help with placement. Independent adoption can be facilitated in one of three ways: by an attorney, by an adoption facilitator, or on your own with the help of in-country professionals (this last one is rare and is done only in the case of a small minority of international adoptions). Each of these options offers varying degrees of risk. Choose carefully based on what level of risk you are comfortable with. Read Perkins’ full article (“What Are the Different Types of Adoption?”) for a complete breakdown of which risk you might be most comfortable with.
Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.