There are numerous ways to adopt a child. Each has its own requirements and steps that you must take in order to adopt.
Adoption choices include foster care adoption, independent domestic adoption, agency assisted domestic adoption, international adoption, and stepparent adoption.
Each state has its own guidelines and requirements for meeting adoption standards. Depending on where you live, there may be more or less required of you than what I discuss here. It is important to research laws that apply to you and your area.
In most adoption situations, you will need to complete a home study. A home study is usually conducted by a social worker and involves extensive paperwork as well as home visits and interviews. The home study is one of the most time-consuming parts of the adoption process. The questions that are in a home study are very in-depth and cover things from your childhood experiences, your health background, and what your limitations might be when searching for a child. There are also several interviews with your social worker that will need to involve everyone in your household. Some interviews will be done as a family, and some will be individual. The social worker will be asking questions similar to what was asked in the paperwork. Interviews can be lengthy and personal. Home studies also require background checks of those who are in the home (in some cases even children), as well as fingerprints of adults.
Some adoptions may require that you attend classes; in some cases, there may be an hourly requirement to fulfill.
Some of the requirements have fees involved. A home study will have a fee, as well as some classes. Fingerprinting often carries a cost as well.
Next, you will need to consider what type of adoption you are looking to pursue.
Foster care adoption is the least expensive type of adoption. To adopt from the foster care system you will need to be a licensed foster parent first. Most states require that a child resides in your home for six months prior to adoption finalization. If you choose to adopt through foster care, you can adopt children from infants to teens. This will be something that you will want to discuss as a family and decide what you feel you can handle. When you decide to pursue adoption while being a foster parent, you can become an adoption resource and then take in legal risk children, or children who are legally free for adoption. A legal risk child is one who has been in foster care for a period of time, and their case is still working toward reunification with their parents but may also have a concurrent goal of adoption. This means there is no guarantee that the case will end in adoption, and the child’s biological parents still have a chance to regain placement. However, when adoption is added as part of the goal, it means the state is making additional plans for permanency since the case has not progressed in a timely manner. Legal risk placements are often placed in homes that are identified as an adoptive resource home and has a current home study completed to begin the process.
Another adoption option is independent domestic adoption. How do you adopt a child through independent domestic adoption? How do you independently find a child to adopt? Years ago, this was much more difficult than it is today.
In this situation, you have found a child to adopt on your own, without the help of any agencies. This often occurs when you are adopting the child of someone you know. When a friend knows you are looking to adopt, and their friend knows someone who is looking to place a child for adoption, and the planets align to bring you together, this would be an example of independent domestic adoption. Social media and the internet are also making it easier to skip the agencies and adopt independently. There are many adoption websites that showcase profiles of waiting parents that expectant parents can find and contact independently. This type of connection could result in an independent domestic adoption. There are also numerous pages dedicated to supporting adoptive and birth families.
When pursuing independent adoption, a large part of the financial burden will be hiring lawyers to complete contracts and paperwork. Agencies typically handle this portion of the process when you hire them to help with adoption. When you choose to adopt independently, you will likely need to hire a lawyer, as well as pay for a lawyer for the birth parents too. You will want to know the laws in your state, as all states may not require you to have an attorney to file a petition to adopt a child. Even if it is not mandatory, hiring an attorney may still be the best approach to be sure that everything happens according to the law. Sometimes the laws can be a bit complicated to understand, and paperwork is daunting.
What about agency domestic adoptions? How do you adopt a child using an agency? Using an agency can be very expensive. However, agencies tend to help a lot with the process and know every step that needs to happen, since that is their job. They will help you create a profile to show to expectant mothers who are making adoption plans for their babies. They will help to match you to your future child. When using an agency, you are typically hoping to adopt an infant and not an older child. Older children tend to be adopted in foster care or sometimes through international adoptions. The agency will help with paperwork, home studies, lawyers, and marketing. Marketing your profile to help match you with an expectant mother is one of the biggest benefits an agency provides. Because they are an agency, they have access to more information and connections than you may have alone. Agencies in your area should be well informed on the laws, and what is or isn’t acceptable or legal in your area. Some areas allow couples waiting to adopt to financially support expectant mothers through the agency, while other areas might not allow this. Knowing what is legally allowed and what isn’t is very important so you don’t accidentally do something that is illegal and considered paying for a child. Agency fees, which can be expensive, can be worth it just for all the support and guidance they can give.
The downside of an agency is that you are paying them whether the match works out or not. If the expectant mother gives birth, and she changes her mind about the adoption and decides to raise the baby, the agency still gets to charge a fee. They still completed the job they were hired to do, which is marketing your profile to find you a match, helping with paperwork and legalities, and knowing the laws in your area. Agencies may also provide support in the form of groups or individual counseling. Some agencies may have agreements that some of the cost can be applied to another adoption attempt, but not all do this.
There are typically many agencies to choose from, no matter where you reside. If you are interested in using an agency for domestic adoption, you should research the differences of those agencies available to you. Find out what their fees include, and what they don’t include. Ask for references or read the reviews people leave for them. Be sure the agency you choose offers all the things you are looking for, including support before, during, and after the process if needed. Adoption is a journey for your family that is lifelong. It may affect the family always in ways you may not be able to conceive of before you start your journey. Support is extremely important for everyone involved in the adoption process. Finding the right agency for you will be important to make your adoption journey a positive experience.
What about international adoptions? How do you adopt a child if you want to adopt internationally?
Adopting internationally is possible through agencies that facilitate adoptions with other countries. People often choose to pursue international adoption because they believe it will be faster than domestic adoption. This may or may not be true.
Adopting internationally will include much of the same paperwork and home study requirements as a domestic adoption. In addition to this, you will likely have to travel to the country from which you plan to adopt, sometimes more than once. Depending on the country you are adopting from, you may also have to be in the country for a specific amount of time prior to being able to take the child home with you. Each country has its own set of rules. The agency you choose should be familiar with the requirements that need to be met, and able to prepare you for each step of the journey. A passport will be necessary for international travel. Passports can take some time to acquire, so you will want to be sure to apply for the passport well in advance of any travel to another country to meet any children.
Part of the international adoption process is putting together your paperwork in what is called your adoption dossier. The purpose of all of the paperwork required for the dossier is to show you are willing and able to provide a stable home for a child. This dossier is made available to both countries, and an agency should be able to help assemble one with you. Some countries may have varying requirements, such as requiring notarized documents or not accepting photocopied documents. Be sure to read the information your agency provides you with thoroughly in order to prevent delays. Once you have completed the dossier, it can be made available to pursue your international adoption.
How do you adopt a child if you are their stepparent? The adoption process for stepparents is a bit easier. You have already found the child you want to adopt and are already a part of this child’s life. You will not need an agency or have a large financial burden to pursue this type of adoption. In some cases, you can even find forms online to fill out for this type of adoption.
Why adopt a stepchild? As a stepparent, you are not able to give permission for certain things that biological parents can. You may not be able to take a child to medical appointments as needed or sign to give parental permission on official paperwork.
The process of becoming a legal parent instead of a stepparent is usually not that difficult. First, the biological parent must give you permission to adopt. They will terminate their rights to the child, and you will petition the court to become the legal parent. If a biological parent is uninvolved in a child’s life and terminates their rights to allow adoption, it will also free them from any legal or financial responsibilities to that child (for instance, they will no longer need to pay child support or maintain medical insurance). In the case of stepparent adoption, sometimes biological parents cannot be found, and that can delay the adoption. Other times, a biological parent may refuse to cooperate. If this is the case, the stepparent will be unable to legally adopt the child. They can, however, pursue the adoption after the child turns 18 years old if they desire. While some may find the wait tedious and think it silly to adopt once the child is a legal adult, I can attest to the fact that it still carries great significance and validation to completing the family legally even after they become adult children. It also makes inheritance easier between the child and parents when there is a legal relationship between them.
As you can see, there are many options when it comes to adopting a child. If you wish to pursue an adoption, consider what would work best for you and your family. However you decide to proceed, there is a full network of support to help you through your journey!