When my husband and I first thought about adoption, I must admit I had no idea where to begin. No one in our family or circle of close friends had been touched by adoption. A quick Google search led to a seemingly endless road of possibilities. What type of adoption was right for us? What could I see our family looking like? What age of the child was right for us? And where and how do we even begin? Here’s what we learned in how to start the adoption process.

Five years and two adoptions later, I have learned much about the adoption process. I know the different types of adoption available and we learned how to discern which type of adoption was right for us. Ready to learn how to start the adoption process? Follow these five steps:

1.      Consider if Adoption is Right for You

The first step in the adoption process is to consider if adoption is right for you. Though this may seem like a simple question, there are many factors to consider. Adoption entails loving and raising a child who is not biologically related to you. For some prospective adoptive parents, this is an easy leap. For others, it may take a few months, or even years, to process what a relationship would look like. If you come to consider adoption after struggling with infertility, make sure you give yourself time to grieve for the biological child who will not join your family. Adoption is a long rigorous process and you want to ensure you are physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared for the journey. How is your relationship with your partner/spouse? A solid foundation is important before embarking on adoption. If you are adopting as a single parent, are you ready to become a single parent? Search and identify sources of support that can help you when you need it.

Know that adoption is not a single act. It is a lifelong journey. What may begin as attachment issues at placement can turn into questions of identity in adolescence. Know you will face these challenges and know that as a parent you will get through them. Know that people will inquire about your children. Always. Some will be well-meaning questions and for others, you will need to develop strategies to answer and deflect. Know there is an adoption triad involved, even if one part of that triangle is unknown. There will be relationships to navigate and tough questions about your child’s origin to answer. But know that adoption can be one of the most incredible journeys on which you ever embark. It will teach you about yourself, and your values, and expand your capacity for love beyond what you thought possible.

2.      Consider the Different Types of Adoption

Families learning how to start the adoption process should also consider the three most common forms of adoption: private domestic adoption, adoption from foster care, and international adoption. Private domestic adoption is when a prospective birth mother chooses the prospective adoptive parents and then, when the child is born, voluntarily places that child with the adoptive parents through the act of private adoption. The prospective adoptive parent(s) may match with the birth mother either through an adoption agency or independent adoption. The match typically occurs after the prospective birth parents have created an adoption profile for prospective birth parents who are considering an adoption plan. You may or may not reside in the same state as the birth mother. Prospective birth mothers may match with prospective adoptive parents at any point during their pregnancy, so wait times from matching to the child’s birth vary. The cost of private domestic adoption varies between $30,000-$50,000 with the reported average of $43,000. Costs vary based on agency fees if the prospective adoptive parents employ an adoption consultant, advertising fees, birth mother expenses, and travel expenses. Each state varies in its consent laws, so the time for the adoption to be completed may vary from a few minutes to 10-14 days. The adoption is finalized in a court of law after a minimum of six months, and after post-placement requirements and visits have been met.

Adoption from foster care occurs when a child enters the state welfare system after the parental rights of their biological parents and/or caregivers have been terminated. Children enter foster care through no fault of their own. Children available for adoption in foster care come from all backgrounds and range in age, though the average child available for adoption from foster care is 8 years old. To adopt from foster care, families can choose to work with either a private agency or a public agency. With a private agency, the agency may help the family identify a waiting child. In public adoption, typically the family identifies a waiting child through a state-run Department of Social Services site or a photo listing site. Once a child is identified, families work with their social worker and the child’s social worker to evaluate if the match is a good fit. If it is, the child will be placed in your home and the adoption will be finalized in a court of law within a year after all, post-placement requirements and visits have been met. The cost to adopt from foster care ranges from $0-$5,000. The most expensive part of the process is the home study, for which many states offer subsidies to foster-to-adopt families.

Another form of adoption to consider is international adoption. International adoption is the adoption of a waiting child from another country. Per the Hague Convention on Intercounty Adoption, for a child to be eligible for international adoption, every effort must have been made to place the child domestically first. As a result, older children and special needs adoption are quite common in international adoptions. The children are available for intercounty adoption range in age from 6 months to teenagers. Some sending countries, such as India, refer younger children, while other countries, such as Colombia, refer more school-age children. Almost all intercountry adoption must be completed with an agency. Though some sites offer photo listings of waiting children, many families first submit their dossiers and then receive a referral from their agency. Once a referral is accepted, the family will then travel to meet their child and bring them home. Sometimes more than one trip is involved to do this, but rules and regulations vary by country and, occasionally, by country region. When the family travels, the adoption will be finalized in that country, though readoption is always recommended when the family returns home. The cost to adopt internationally is between $20,000-$40,000 and varies due to program fees, country fees, and travel fees.

3.      Consider Which Type of Adoption Is Right for You

The next thing to evaluate when thinking about how to start the adoption process is to consider which of the three types of adoptions is right for you and your family. Close your eyes and picture a photo of your family. What does it look like? Are the faces of your family similar or different? Is everyone in the picture of the same race? Are they of the same ethnicity? How important is it to you to look like your children? Remember there are no wrong answers. Adoption has to work for every part of the triad and you, as the prospective adoptive parents, are part of that triad. Think about the holidays. Does your family celebrate Christmas or Chanukah or Diwali? Are you open to incorporating other holidays and customs into your family? What about your extended family? If the idea of welcoming another country into your hearts and home excites you, then international might be right for you. If a child must look like you, then private domestic adoption might be your journey. Think too about the age of the child you are open to adopting. If you are open to school-age children, think about adoption from foster care. If having the experience of raising a child from infancy is important, then pursue private domestic adoption. And if you are open to special needs adoption, then consider international adoption. If you choose international adoption, the next step will be to consider which country is right for you. Is there a country with which you have a particular connection? What culture could you see folding into your family’s own fabric? It is important to note, too, that not all countries engage in intercountry adoption so do some research before choosing. A great place to start is simply to visit the U.S. Department of State’s website on intercountry adoption. Here you can find a complete listing of adoptions from every country and those country’s requirements for prospective adoptive parents.

4. Attend an Adoption Fair

Whenever someone asks me how to start the adoption process, after the above steps, I always recommend attending an adoption fair. Many agencies offer adoption fairs and it is a great way to go and speak to both social workers and agency administrators. Most adoption fairs feature private and public agencies with all three forms of adoption so take some time and visit each booth. Ask any questions. If there are adoptive parents present, and they’re almost always are, ask them about their journey. Ask them how they came to choose the type of adoption they did. Then reflect. Does their story resonate with you? Or could you not imagine walking the same path? Meet other prospective adoptive families and take the time to connect. Adoption is a journey and it is helpful to have others with whom you can share your frustrations and joys during the process.

5.      Find an Agency or Adoption Professional

The last step in how to start the adoption process is to do some research into adoption agencies and/or adoption professionals. Attending adoption fairs is a good first step. Some fairs feature many agencies while others are agency-specific adoption fairs. Take the time and visit a few. If you are pursuing a private domestic adoption, does a larger agency resonate with you or do you like the prospect of working with an adoption facilitator and an adoption attorney? If you are interested in international adoption, what is the agency’s history of adoption in your country of choice?

Regardless of the type of adoption, you are pursuing, ask what type of support is provided to prospective adoptive parents. Inquire as to the average wait time and how many families are in the program at any given time. Does the agency operate a waiting list or are families on equal footing, regardless of when they became eligible to be matched with a child/birth mother. What are the overall costs of adopting with this agency or adoption professional? Are the fees fixed or do they vary? Is the agency able to provide a fee schedule of how much is due when? How is communication handled at each stage of the adoption process? Will someone be available at all times to answer any questions or concerns you might have? If you are adopting internationally, what are their contacts like “on the ground” and what kind of support do they offer in-country? And for all adoptions, what part of the adoption process does the agency or adoption professional handle? All aspects, some aspects? Lastly, ask to speak with families who have recently completed their adoption? All agencies and adoption professionals should be able to provide a list of reference families. Do not be shy about contacting the reference families. You should be able to ask them any of your questions and they should answer them honestly and give their advice.

The next step after selecting an adoption agency or an adoption professional is to submit an application and then begin the process of a home study. Once you begin your home study you are no longer considering adoption but well on your way to building your family through adoption.

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.

The Gladney Center for Adoption

With decades of experience under their belt, they’re the go-to for anyone navigating the adoption process. From birth parents weighing their options to hopeful families ready to open their hearts and homes, Gladney provides practical support and guidance every step of the way. It’s not just about paperwork; it’s about real people finding real solutions and lasting family bonds. In a world full of uncertainties, Gladney offers a steady hand and a reassuring voice, ensuring that every adoption journey is as smooth as possible.