California, like many other states in the U.S., allows people who meet certain criteria to adopt domestically through the foster care system, privately, through an adoption agency, or internationally. There are several avenues people can explore to expand their family, and this article will delve into those general terms while highlighting those specific to California. Of course, it is best to consult with the state for up-to-date information.

Guidelines for Adoption in California

Domestic Adoption in California

Many adoptions in California are domestic, which means the child is born in the U.S., and often these children are already living in California. Domestic adoption can be facilitated through an agency or independently. Agency adoptions can be further classified as public or private, which serve different types of children. Regardless of the type of adoption agency, they must be licensed by the state of California, which can be found on the California State Department of Social Services website. Public agencies are set up to find homes for children living in the foster care system, who are often older and may have other siblings, while private agencies generally focus on placing newborns. There are exceptions to both scenarios. Independent adoption in California requires that the birth mother selects the adoptive parents and cannot turn over this responsibility to anyone else. This process is initiated once the birth mother relinquishes her parental rights, which will be irreversible 30 days after signing. If the biological father is not married to the birth mother, and he does not come forward to object, then his consent to relinquish his parental rights is not mandatory for his rights to be terminated. The birth mother will undergo preplacement counseling to help her cope with all the changes and ensure that she understands her decision. For these reasons, the adoption will often proceed without issue. Once the birth mother has relinquished her rights, she will take an active role in selecting parents for her child. This process involves showing photo resumes of hopeful adoptive parents to the birth mother, followed by an in-person meeting to select the final family. A preplacement home study is not required unless it is an interstate adoption, though a six-month home study after placement will occur. Assuming all the requirements are met, the hopeful prospective parents will become the legal parents.

Foster Care as a Path to Adoption in California

It’s no secret that one of the greatest deterrents people experience when looking into adoption is the financial burden to embark on the process. For agency and private adoptions, prospective parents should assume it will cost tens of thousands of dollars. What people may be unaware of is that becoming a foster care parent can be a path to adoption for a fraction of the cost. Of course, as much as the small outlay of money to become a foster parent may be appealing, one should understand that some foster parents may not have the option to adopt the first child placed with them as the intent of the foster care system is to reunite the family.

All the children placed in foster care are victims of their circumstances by no fault of their own. More than 9 million children call California home. Unfortunately, home is a broad definition and includes 43% who are low income, 20% who live in poverty, and 21% who are food insecure. Nearly 56,000 of those children are in foster care. They may come from physically or emotionally abusive homes, or perhaps the parent or parents are working such long hours that the children are neglected. Whether or not the parents consent to have their child placed in the foster care system, there is an enormous feeling of loss and pain for all parties involved, and this is something a foster parent must be prepared to deal with and try to heal. The job of the foster care parent is to support the child and provide him or her with stability and love for an undetermined amount of time.

For some people, the uncertainty of knowing whether or not they will have the option to adopt the child placed in their home is an emotional barrier to consider this route. But it’s helpful to remember that life is full of uncertainty, and the one guarantee of becoming a foster parent is that you will make a difference in the life of another.

Once you’ve decided to become a foster care parent, your residence must be formally certified to be a foster home, which is considered a home study. This includes interviews, home visits, paperwork, and training classes with a social worker. You can also request to meet the prospective child. Once this part of the process is approved, the child will be placed in your home where a social worker will continue to monitor the situation and interview both you and your child separately. If it is determined that family reunification is not possible, and birth parental rights have been terminated by court order, there will be an option to adopt once the child has spent a minimum of six months in your home. Additional paperwork must be completed, and an attorney will be hired generally at no or little expense to you. Once the adoption paperwork has been filed with the courts, you will have to appear with your family on the hearing date to legally welcome the newest member of your family home.

International Adoption in California

Now that the world is full of people who move around so often, the U.S. has become a heterogeneous population, and Californians looking to adopt may desire a child who matches their cultural heritage. When that is the case, international adoption makes sense. When it comes to international adoption, California abides by the law set forth by the sending country in addition to those in the United States. Each country has specific requirements and can range from limits on age, sexuality, marital status, financial status, and so on. It’s essential to work with an adoption agency that is familiar with the local laws to ensure the process goes smoothly.

California has an intercountry adoption program that utilizes licensed private adoption agencies who are specialized in supporting California residents with adoptions of children born in another country. Said children must be classified as orphans by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). Prospective parents must file certain paperwork like the Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition and the Petition to Classify an Orphan as an Immediate Relative through their BCIS regional office to start the process of adopting (your adoption agency will help you with this). Each adoption is different, but here is a guide that will provide you with general information about what to expect with this type of adoption.

Even though you may be adopting a child who shares your ethnic background, the culture she came from and the one she will be raised in may clash. When considering this type of adoption, you should be sensitive to this discrepancy and do your best to help your child adjust to his new surroundings. You will also need to help him keep a part of his history alive.

Financial Resources

Once you decide you’d like to adopt, another hurdle to overcome is the expense if you don’t adopt through the foster care system. The federal adoption credit can be applied to nearly any type of adoption except stepchild adoption. The other restriction that makes one ineligible has to do with the family income, which can not exceed $247,140. Aside from that, most people will qualify for the credit, which allows families to claim up to $13,810 per child for adoption-related expenses.

Specific to California, the Adoption Assistance Program was established to provide medical resources and financial aid to people who adopt a special needs child. The goal of the program was to ensure that these children’s access to a stable and secure permanent home is not lost due to a family’s inability to provide the extra support that a special needs child requires. The Adoption Assistance Program can provide benefits such as a monthly negotiated rate, state-sponsored medical coverage, adoption expenses that are nonrecurring, reimbursement for eligible out-of-home placement, as well as others specific to the particular situation.

In addition to the entitlements California will provide for special needs children, the California Family Rights Act along with the federal Family Medical Leave Act, allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to bond with an adopted child without fear of losing their job.

California is considered a progressive state by many, and the employer benefits often reflect this. When looking at how to make adoption work for you emotionally, logistically, and financially, utilize your human resources representative as he or she could be a surprising resource to you as you go through the journey of growing your family.



Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.