The decision to adopt is likely to come with a range of emotions. It may bring feelings of hope and excitement as you begin to imagine your family growing; for some couples and individuals, it can also be one of the most difficult and perhaps challenging decisions to make. Adoption is a very personal choice. Whether you are considering adoption after struggling with infertility, out of concern for health or medical reasons, are single or in a same-sex relationship, or you have the desire to provide a supportive and loving family to a child in need, there are many things to consider before beginning the process. As you begin thinking about whether or not adoption is the right path to take, you may be asking what are the steps to adopting a child?
The First Question You May Have Is “Can We Adopt?”
In general, most people are eligible to adopt. Race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, married, single, income level, disabilities do not automatically qualify or disqualify someone from being able to grow their family through adoption. There may be guidelines or restrictions dependent on a specific agency i.e. faith-based or domestic versus international adoptions. Ultimately, the determination of eligibility is decided upon the completion of a home study, an assessment done in combination with the prospective parent(s) and a social worker. (More information about the home study process will follow.) Cost is a big factor for some when determining if an adoption is possible. The cost to adopt an infant or child can vary depending on the type of adoption which will be discussed next.
What Are Your Choices?
Part of your planning process will include determining if you are wanting to foster a child(ren), adopt a child from foster care, use a private adoption agency or private adoption lawyer to adopt a newborn, domestic or international adoption, or use an adoption facilitator or not. Before you can decide what may or may not be right for you, you need to know what each of these options entails.
Children awaiting adoption through foster care are in temporary custody of the state they reside in. They may be living with a foster family or in a group home while awaiting reunification with their biological family, or if parental rights have been terminated, waiting to be adopted. If they are in foster care, it is likely they have experienced some form of neglect, abuse, or abandonment by their birth parents. Because children in foster care have likely experienced direct or secondary trauma, a couple or individual seeking to adopt will need to go through some additional training or classes to gain a better understanding of the effects early childhood trauma can have on the developing child brain and learn effective, supportive ways to help the child heal so he or she can go on to develop healthy relationships. Most children in foster care range from toddler to teenager, though it may be possible to adopt an infant.
Infant adoptions take place either through public or private agencies or by utilizing an adoption attorney independently. Public and private agencies are licensed and regulated by the state. Public agencies typically take care of placing children in adoptive homes who are wards of the state due to neglect, abuse, or abandonment by birth parents. Private adoption agencies are those connected to social service organizations or charities. Private domestic adoptions in the United States take place through private adoption agencies when an expectant woman chooses to make an adoption plan for her child. She legally terminates her parental rights, and as part of this process, chooses an adoptive family to place her child with.
National adoption agencies are larger with adoptions occurring across all 50 states and usually have more resources available for birth and adoptive parents. Including pre- and post-adoption counseling, financial assistance, and the ability to connect with a wider range of waiting families and expectant mothers.
Private adoption agencies, while smaller in scale as compared to those on the national level, also provide training and education on topics important to the family of adoption. Things such as parenting a child of a different race, techniques for creating secure attachment and bonding with your adopted infant or child, level of openness and relationship building. They will guide you through the home study process, match you with a birth mother, and help you stay on track with all the paperwork and legal proceedings according to your state laws. Working with a private adoption agency allows for more control for everyone involved in the process as compared to foster adoptions. You will likely have more information about the child such as health and medical history, nationality, family traditions, or religious beliefs due to the agency having direct access to the birth family. Depending on the level of openness chosen, you may also have the opportunity to meet and get to know the birth family.
Two other options worth noting include using an attorney for an independent adoption, which bypasses an agency, and also working with an adoption facilitator or adoption consultant. Independent adoptions require more active steps from the prospective adoptive parents to match with a birth mom. If you follow hashtags about adoption on social media, you may have come across posts from individuals or couples announcing they are adopting and seeking a birth mother. With this option, you will be doing more of your own leg work networking and essentially advertising yourself to find a birth mother to match with. Lastly, with an independent adoption, there may be little to no post-adoption care and counseling available for the birth mother.
Adoption facilitators are not licensed adoption agencies. Facilitators or consultants have developed relationships with adoption agencies and lawyers. They work with individuals and couples offering additional guidance and support throughout your adoption journey, and they can utilize the professional relationships they have built to network clients seeking to adopt to a broad range of adoption professionals. Very often, facilitators are members of the adoption triad themselves, and this personal experience combined with their training can be very beneficial when you are learning and going through the steps to adopting a child.
Level of Openness
In addition to deciding which avenue to take in your adoption journey, you will also want to think about how much openness and contact you would like to have with a birth mother, birth father, and potentially other birth family. In open adoptions, you will have a chance to meet and build a relationship with the birth mom. Birth mothers who are seeking a couple for an open adoption are comfortable with personal identifying information being shared and want the option to have contact with their birth child after placement. The level of openness is dependent on what each mother wants and needs. But typically, this means being able to watch her child grow up through receiving pictures, letters, phone calls, and even visits.
In semi-open adoptions, a social worker from the agency or adoption lawyer serves as a go-between and letters and photos are passed through them and given to the birth parents. This makes it possible for adoptive parents and birth parents to communicate and exchange information while maintaining confidentiality of identifying information.
Closed adoptions differ from open and semi-open in that there is no contact between the birth parents and adoptive parents. Very basic information such as medical history and background of the birth family may be provided.
This is a really important area to reflect and think about your own comfort level prior to matching with an expectant woman. If you are not comfortable with the idea of exchanging identifying information or keeping in touch with a birth mother, including arranging visits with her six months, six years, or even 18 years down the road, then it is only fair to not seek matches with mothers desiring an open, ongoing relationship with their child.
It is natural that you may feel uncertain about the level of openness you are comfortable with, and I would encourage talking with other parents to hear about their arrangements and experiences. Current research has shown that open and semi-open adoptions are more beneficial for children and birth mothers alike.
The home study process can feel intimidating, and may even create some anxiety. The process of completing a home study is one of the main steps to adopting a child. Its primary purpose is to ensure that children are placed in safe, suitable homes that comply with state and local laws.
The process itself may differ depending on the type of adoption you are pursuing, but following is a brief look at what you can expect. As you prepare for the home study, you will be required to provide information about your education and employment, family income, health and medical background, and parenting styles; they will want to hear about your social life and other relationships and reasons for adopting. The home study professional will note the details of your home and neighborhood, looking for any issues that would be considered potential safety issues, i.e., if you have a pool it needs to be fenced in, smoke detectors need to be installed and operating. A criminal and child abuse background check will be required on federal, state, and local records. And three to four references from people that have known you for several years will help the home study professional develop a more complete picture of who you are and the types of support and resources you have in your life. On average, this process can take from three to six months.
Next Steps to adopting a Child
So far, we have discussed the following:
Making the decision to pursue an adoption
Choosing what type of adoption (foster adopt, infant, domestic/international, open, semi-open, closed)
What type of adoption professional to work with (foster care, private adoption agency, independent adoption lawyer, or facilitator)
Basics of the home study process
What happens next? With your home study approved, you will need an adoption profile to present to prospective birth mothers and birth fathers. This is the very first impression an expectant woman will have of you and your family so no time like the present to start thinking about what you will say.
The adoption profile is your opportunity to introduce yourself and share your story. It will include a Dear Expectant Mother letter, pictures of you, your family, hobbies, and things that are important to you. Consider what you want a potential birth mother to know about you. Do you have family traditions around holidays that you look forward to sharing? What type of parent do you see yourself as? What are your top five personal values that drive how you live your life? For example, if one of your values is to be physically fit and you run marathons or compete in Tough Mudder, consider telling a brief story about that and include pictures from some of your events.
How will you present this profile? There are several options on the Internet to create photobooks which can be sent to birth parents. It may also be helpful to create an online version that can be easily shared. Read more tips here for making your adoption profile stand out.
If an expectant woman is interested in your profile, she may ask to talk to you before making a final decision. Your adoption agency can help prepare you for this exciting and probably nerve-wracking call or meeting.
It’s a Match!
Once you are matched with a birth mother and depending on the type of adoption you have decided on, the time until the baby is born centers on building a relationship with the birth mom and birth dad if possible and preparing to bring your baby home! Depending on the state, once the birth mother signs paperwork relinquishing her parental rights, there may be a revocation period before finalization is complete.
The process and steps to adopting a child can be overwhelming at first. Take advantage of workshops, adoption forums, blogs, and reputable websites to do your initial research. Consider keeping a journal to track questions, thoughts, and concerns along the way. Hearing from other adoptive parents can be a great resource, and I also highly encourage listening to the experiences of birth mothers and adoptees so you can have as much information as possible as you decide how you will create your family through adoption. These have the potential to be some of the most rewarding yet complicated relationships in your lifetime which also makes them among the most important and worthy of taking steps to create lasting, positive connections.