When first considering adoption there are many questions to explore. Is adoption right for you and your family? What type of adoption might be the best fit? How do you begin the adoption process? How long will it take? And what individuals are involved in the whole process? The questions may seem overwhelming but take a deep breath. Here is everything you need to know about the child adoption process in 10 steps.

1.   Decide if Adoption Is Right for You

The first step in the process of adoption is to decide if adoption is right for you and your family. People come to adoption for different reasons. Some have always wanted to bring a child into their lives through adoption, others come to adoption after struggling with infertility. Whatever your path, before you begin the child adoption process, take some time to explore your reasons for adopting and consider if you are prepared to open your hearts and home to a child who is not related to you biologically. Adoption can be financially and emotionally stressful so make sure you are confident in your decision before beginning the process. And remember, adoption is not a single act. It is a lifelong journey.

2.   Decide What Type of Adoption

Congratulations! You have decided adoption is the right way for you to build your family—but what type of adoption is right for you? There are three types of adoption for prospective adoptive parents to consider: domestic, international, or adoption from foster care. Close your eyes. What child do you picture with you and your family? Does the child look like you? Or do you see a child of a different race, ethnicity, or even a different nationality?

If adopting an infant is important to you, then private domestic adoption is right for you. Interested in bringing both a child and a new culture into your home? Then international adoption might be right for you. With international adoption, the children tend to be older (typically between the ages of 18 months to 12 years at placement) and special needs adoption is common. Special needs adoption varies from minor/medically correctable needs (like vision or hearing impairment, limb differences, and cleft lip/palate) to more severe needs (like cerebral palsy and Down syndrome). Finally, there are 443,000 children in the U.S. foster care system on any given day. Approximately 70,000 of these children have had their parental rights terminated and need a forever home. Prospective adoptive parents interested in adopting from foster care may adopt a child of any age (though school-age children are common) and a child of any race or ethnicity. The biggest need of any of these children is a loving, supportive, and permanent environment.

3.   Do Your Research

The next step in the child adoption process is to do some research. Depending on the type of adoption you wish to pursue, this might mean different things. For families adopting internationally, you will need to do some research into which country is right for you. Countries vary on adoptive parent eligibility guidelines, travel requirements, timelines, and the type of children available for adoption. Interested in a domestic adoption? Then you will need to consider if open or closed adoption is right for you. Because domestic adoption is handled on the state level, each state varies in its guidelines for advertising restrictions, allowable birth mother expenses, and consent laws. Families interested in adopting from foster care will need to decide if they wish to foster to adopt or adopt directly from the state or through an agency.

4.   Select an Agency

Deciding on which type of adoption is right for you is a huge step. Next, in the child adoption process, you will need to decide which agency you would like to work with, or if working with an agency is right for you and your family. Families pursuing private domestic adoption have the choice to either work with an agency or to adopt independently. If a family chooses to work with an agency, it is important to take the time, do your research, and ask the right questions when interviewing agencies. Families adopting internationally typically use adoption agencies to facilitate and complete their adoption. Like domestic adoption, it is important to interview prospective agencies and to research the history of each agency on its work within your country of choice. It is possible to adopt independently internationally but the countries which allow such adoptions are non-Hague Convention compliant. As such, there is no guarantee these adoptions will be ethical, within an anticipated timeline, or within anticipated costs. Families adopting from foster care with the option of either working with a public agency or a private adoption agency. The main difference between the two is public agencies typically are for families interested in both fostering and fostering to adopt and private agencies are mostly for families only open to adoption from foster care.

5.   Complete a Home Study and Pre-Adoption Education Requirements

Regardless of what path you choose, every prospective adoptive parent will complete a home study in their child’s adoption process. A home study is essentially a look at the different aspects of the prospective adoptive parents’ lives. The home study includes financial statements, employment verifications, physicals, background checks, fingerprinting, and reference letters from friends, employers, and (if children are already in the home) current childcare providers and/or teachers. A home study also involves, typically three, in-person interviews with a state-licensed social worker. During these visits, the social worker will ask questions about your background, your view of family, your values, and your child-rearing beliefs. They will also help you answer what type of child would be the best fit for you and your family and address any concerns or questions you might have. Once you have completed your home study, the social worker will write up a report and submit it for approval. Once your home study is approved, and you have completed your pre-adoption education training, you are eligible to be matched with a child.

During the home study process, prospective adoptive parents will also complete several hours of pre-adoption educational training. Depending on the type of adoption a family is pursuing, the topics of education may include attachment issues, becoming a conspicuous family, feeding and sleeping challenges, caring for a child who has experienced loss and/or trauma, older child adoption, and navigating open adoption. The number of pre-adoption educational hours varies from state to state, but a total of 20 hours is typical. Families pursuing adoption from foster care or international adoption can expect to complete an additional 10-20 hours of training.

6.   The Matching Process

Once your home study is approved and educational requirements have been met, you are eligible to match with a child. For families pursuing an independent domestic adoption, sometimes it is possible to match with a prospective birth mother before the home study is complete. Families pursuing domestic adoption will typically work to create an adoption profile to advertise themselves to prospective birth mothers. Families may choose to market themselves in other ways as well, and some may choose to hire a media specialist or an adoption consultant.

For families adopting internationally, the process is very different. Upon completing their home study, the next step in the international child adoption process is to complete a country-specific dossier. A dossier is similar to the home study but all documents must be authenticated and apostilled. Once the dossier is completed it will be submitted to the country’s central adoption authority by your adoption agency. The central adoption agency will log you into the system and, upon acceptance, you are eligible to be matched with a child. Most agencies have a “matchmaker” on staff who goes through the country’s central adoption authority database of waiting for children to find a match. 

Families adopting from foster care may identify a child they are interested in through photo listings or other sites. Once a child is identified, the family’s social worker will reach out to the child’s social worker and an evaluation of the family will take place. If the family is found to be a suitable match for the child and vice versa, more information will be provided about the child to the prospective adoptive family, and the process of introducing the child to your family will begin.

7.   Receive and Evaluate a Referral

Next to meeting your child, finally receiving a referral after months of waiting and mounds of paperwork is one of the most amazing feelings. But before you jump in feet first, it is important to evaluate a referral. For families adopting domestically, you may be matched with a child at any stage of the birth mother’s pregnancy. When you match with a birth mother, take some time to connect either over the phone, in person, or through your agency. Be honest with yourself and address any concerns you might have. Families pursuing international adoption will receive a referral with the child’s medical, social, and background information from their agency. It is important to have an international adoption specialist review the child’s file before making a decision. Ask questions if you have concerns and don’t be afraid to turn down a referral if there are red flags in the child’s file that might be too much for you to handle.

8.   Meet the Child

At last, the day has come! You finally get to meet your child! For families adopting domestically, this can be a day filled with complex emotions as you navigate your way through the birth of your child. Talk about plans and expectations for the hospital with your prospective birth mother ahead of time so all parties are prepared for the big day. Once the child is born, you may take custody of the child but will likely remain in the state (if adopting across state lines) for a few days before consent is given. Families adopting internationally will need to travel to the child’s country of origin. Countries vary in their adoption law and occasionally (in countries like South Korea and certain states of India) families will meet their child a few weeks or months before the adoption. In other cases, you will meet your child at the orphanage or state-run adoption authority office one day, then return the next day to formally adopt the child. Families adopting from foster care will meet and get to know their child over the course of a few visits. This process of the introduction allows both the child and the family to get used to one another in a safe setting.

9.   Return Home

Once your adoption is complete you will return home and begin the process of either finalizing your adoption or re-adoption. The first few days and weeks home can be difficult to navigate so be sure to take the time you feel you need as a family. Remember, no one knows what you and your child need more than you do. An excellent way to handle your first few weeks together as a new family is to cocoon. When cocooning, you provide primary care to your new child through feedings, changings, and comforting. Even with an older child, this can be a very effective method. Your child has been through a lot in their first few months/years and it will take some time for them to realize they will be safe and loved with you. Cocooning is a way to facilitate attachment with a child with whom you are still essentially a stranger.

10.   Complete Post-Placement Visits

All families who adopt will need to complete a series of post-placement visits. The purpose of these visits, which are facilitated by a state-licensed social worker, is to check-in and see how you are adapting to life as a new family. Post-placement visits will check on the health and well-being of both the child and the new adoptive parents. If you are having any difficulties or if you have any questions, ask your social worker. They are there to help you. Families who adopt domestically or from foster care can expect to complete at least six months of post-placement visits. Families who adopt internationally must meet state post-placement requirement visits as well as meet their country-specific post-placement requirements. These post-placement requirements may take place over two, three, or five years or may extend until the child is 18 years of age. Though it may seem like there is no need to report after a few years here, it is important to remember that post-placement reports are vital to the process and continuance of international adoption.

The last step in the child adoption process is to finalize your adoption. For families who adopt domestically or through foster care, you will need to finalize your adoption in a court of law. Adoptions may not be finalized until all post-placement requirements have been met in the state in which you reside. The process of finalizing the adoption is an easy one and most agencies will walk you through the process. Families who adopted independently may choose to work with the adoption lawyer who facilitates their adoption. For families who adopted internationally, the adoption is usually completed overseas in the child’s country of origin. Regardless, it is still a good idea to go through the process of re-adoption when you return home.

But the most important thing to remember about the child adoption process is that adoption is not a single act but a lifelong journey. The road ahead will be filled with navigating various relationships with birth families, answering questions of adoption in the classroom and from curious family and friends, and supporting your child as they struggle through questions of identity. Remember to stay open, be supportive, reach out when you need help, and listen.



Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.