The adoption process, as we all know, can feel mysterious and impossible at times—until you know what you need to know to get from Point A to Point Forever Family. Just like adoption in other states, the adoption process in California has its own unique set of rules, regulations, tips, and insider information that you will no doubt become familiar with as you make your way along the journey.

Independent or private adoption; agency or foster care to adoption; and international adoption are three popular pathways in California to start your family or to grow your family. While one of these avenues may be right for some people that doesn’t mean it is the one you have to take or should take.

In this article, we will walk through the types of adoption and the common threads between all of the options starting with what prospective parents should consider, and what you should do before you even begin the adoption process in California.

Rules and Regulations

Before you move forward with the adoption process in California, it’s important to know whether or not you are eligible to adopt. As the terrain is always changing, it is recommended that you consult with a California adoption lawyer to make sure you receive accurate information pertaining to your situation.

According to state laws, which are similar to those of many other states, California law requires prospective parents to be at least 10 years older than the adoptee. Consent is needed from children ages 12 and older. Subject to the rules and regulations, in general, any single adult or married couple may be eligible to adopt. Stepparent/domestic partner adoption, where the spouse or domestic partner of the child’s parent adopt, is the most common type of adoption and typically simpler since one of the adopted child’s birth parents is involved. Adoption.com offers an overview for those considering stepchild adoption.

According to the Family Connections website, before the state will consider prospective adoptive parents for approval to move forward with the process, all adoptive parents will need to complete a home study, including submitting to a criminal background check and fingerprint kit. You will be required to complete the following items during your adoption home study:

-You will need to submit fingerprints and background checks

-You will need to complete a physical examination by an authorized physician

-You will need to attend adoption training classes (online and/or in person)

-You will need to complete individual interviews with your assigned social worker

-You will need to complete an in-home visit and investigation with your assigned social worker

As in any state, the purpose of the home study is to confirm that your family is able to provide a safe and loving home. The home study allows the social worker to understand and determine the best type of adoption plan for the family. It provides guidance and support to the family by preparing them for the adoption process to come.

The home study is not meant to scare or intimidate families and is more so an opportunity and tool to ensure that all parties involved in the adoption process in California are not just eligible, but prepared to bring a child into their home.

According to the Family Connections website, reasons why a home study would not be approved include the determination that any adult living in the home has been convicted of a felony for child abuse/neglect, spousal abuse, a crime against a child or a crime that has involved sexual assault, rape, or homicide. Other felonies that would discount a prospective adoptive parent include having committed a felony within the past five years for physical assault or an offense involving drugs or alcohol.

Choosing an Agency

When picking produce, you don’t just grab the first available fruit or vegetable in the bin and call it a day, do you? You stop to take in all of your options, carefully picking and choosing the one that looks, smells, and feels the best. Why on earth would you settle for less? You should use that same amount of time and determination when choosing an adoption agency—after all, your agency will play a major role in the adoption process with the end goal of matching you with an adopted child.

Make sure to research all available agencies and do your due diligence. Checking out a website is one thing—anybody can post inspiring photos and appealing bullet points—but it’s more important to check them out in person. Attend an orientation meeting, speak one-on-one with representatives of the agency. Ask the big questions and the little questions; they’re all important and should be taken equally seriously. Determine the agency’s views on adoption: How do they view the birth families, the children, the adoptive families? What are their fees compared to other agencies you’ve contacted? Talk to other families who are considering or who are already going through the process. What is your takeaway about what you’ve seen, smelled, and felt?

Just like no two adoptions are alike, neither are agencies. Do your homework and make sure that the agency is there to support you and work with you—not the other way around.

You can find adoption agencies as well as attorneys, consultants, and facilitators in California here.

Financing Your Adoption

According to Family Connections, California adoption laws regulate birth parent expenses. Childwelfare.gov offers information concerning the fees often associated with private or independent adoptions, as opposed to adoptions completed through the foster care system which typically involve minimal fees at best such as the home study and fingerprints.

Agency and international adoption expenses are much higher. The average cost to adopt a newborn in California in 2015 through an agency was just over $41,000. This number is high and can be attributed to several costs involved in the process, including advertising, counseling medical expenses, legal services and in some cases, living expenses during the birth mother’s pregnancy and recovery.

Adoptive families can look into the Federal Adoption Tax Credit, as well as research possible loans, grants, assistance through employers, and consider traditional fundraising to help pay down expenses.

It is difficult to estimate the average cost to adopt internationally. Parents should make sure to ask their agency and facilitators upfront for a “menu” of anticipated services and fees, including your home study (which is still required although you will be adopting from another country and working with their legal system to finalize your adoption), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services application and registration, documentation and authentication (certifications, notarizations, apostilles) of paperwork, travel costs, and the legal fees needed to finalize or re-adopt in the state of California.

Independent or Private Adoption Process in California

This type of adoption occurs when neither an agency nor the California Department of Social Services is involved in the process. The terms of the adoption and parental rights termination remain between the adopting parents and the birth family.

As stated on CA.gov, “in an independent adoption, birth parents choose the prospective parents and place the child directly with them. When making this decision, a birth parent must have personal knowledge of certain facts about the adopting parents. The birth parent placing the child for adoption must receive an advisement of rights, responsibilities, and options from an Adoption Service Provider. The birth parent must also sign an Independent Adoption Placement Agreement (AD 924), which in 30 days automatically becomes an irrevocable consent to adoption unless revoked within that time.”

Agency or Foster Care Adoption Process in California

There are thousands of children in foster care in California. A small percentage of these children are placed with relatives, but the majority will return home to live with their biological family at some point. While a few thousand children are adopted in California each year and there are still more children in need of an adoptive family every day.

CA.gov indicates that “in an agency adoption, the public adoption agency or CDSS adoptions regional office requires that you pay a fee of no more than $500 prior to submitting a favorable report to the court. This fee may be deferred, reduced, or waived under certain conditions. You should also expect to pay for fingerprinting, medical examination, court filing and other adoption-related costs that usually total no more then $100-$300.

“Families who adopt children who are eligible for the Adoption Assistance Program may qualify for the Non-recurring Adoption Expense Program.”

International Adoption Process in California

While international adoptions mirror domestic adoptions in many ways, there are additional responsibilities and standards involved as you are required to comply with the country you are adopting from. It is important to note that the rules and regulations associated with international adoption vary by country.

You will still need to complete a home study and associated background check within the state of California before you can be approved to adopt a child. It will be important for you to research adoption agencies who are familiar with international adoption and even better if you’re able to connect with an agency that is licensed for international adoption and has had a lot of experience working with the country you hope to adopt from.

Per CA.gov, California has an intercountry adoption program which 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 and must meet the following criteria:

-”The child is under the age of 18

-”The adoption of the child has been finalized

-”The child is a U.S. lawful permanent resident, and

-”The child is residing permanently in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the United States citizen parent.”

After the international adoption process has been completed, adoptive parents will need to re-adopt their child through the state of California. According to the Family Connections website, this process involves a post-placement visit and a state review of the foreign adoption procedure. While it sounds more complicated than it actually is, the re-adoption process is important and adoptive parents should be prepared to provide the following documents when going to court (in some cases it is not necessary to hire a lawyer), according to the Family Connections website:

-Your adoption petition

-Your certified translations of all foreign adoption legal paperwork

-Financial documentation

-Your home study

-Your final adoption order or decree.

Post-Placement Visits as Part of the Adoption Process in California

Adoptive families in California will undergo at least six months of post-placement supervision before the final adoption decree will be granted. Post-placement supervision will include a minimum of one in-home visit and three additional visits in or outside of the home. These visits are a way for your social worker to gauge how well the family is adjusting and to determine whether or not additional support services are required.

Becoming a Family

While the above information and linked articles and websites provide an overview of the how to navigate the adoption process in California, your journey does not end once your child comes home, but rather, it is just the beginning.

Adoption.com offers many helpful articles and guidelines to help you through the initial transition of becoming a family. The article “How Can I Bond with My Adopted Child” offers an overview of information concerning this very important aspect of becoming a family through adoption. While “The Basics of Bonding and Attachment. A Guide.“ presents ways that you can reach out to your adopted child at any age.

No matter what path you decide to take to adopt a child, it’s important to be open-minded and always ready and willing to learn what you don’t know. California residents may take advantage of groups like California Adoptive Families. Many adoptive families find it helpful to lay the foundation for resources and support groups ahead of the adoption, from reaching out to pediatricians and medical professionals familiar with adoption, to your local school district, to community organizations. Sharing your plans and educating involved family and friends will also prove invaluable to you and your adopted child throughout the process and well after placement.

Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.