Every year there are an estimated 135,000 children adopted in the United States. Although there is an increase in adoption awareness, exploring the adoption process can be a little intimidating.  Every family’s experience is different, but understanding the basics beforehand can help with a smooth transition. Breaking down the steps will give you a good starting point, and once the process has started, you will know which direction you need to go. One piece of advice is that it is helpful to compare the different adoption routes to determine which will suit your family best. These are your steps of adoption. 

Your Decision to Adopt

One of the least acknowledged steps in adoption is the initial decision. Intense soul-searching is suggested as well as asking yourself why you want to adopt, and if you are willing to confront the challenges that come with it. I love adoption and would never persuade anyone to not adopt; however, I was very naive when we adopted our son. I was unprepared to approach the legalities and the emotions involved throughout the process.  

Who Do You Want to Adopt?

There are many options to consider for who you want to adopt. Newborn babies are incredibly desired and could potentially be a long wait. Even within the newborn option there are still many preferences to evaluate. For example, would you be willing to adopt a newborn if they were exposed to drugs in utero? Unfortunately, due to the opioid crisis there has been a significant increase in the number of babies experiencing withdrawals from drug exposure. 

Other options to consider are open or closed adoptions, babies with health complications, the child’s and race. Transracial adoption is another growing demographic with 40 percent of adoptees that are a different race than their adoptive parents. Toddlers and older children are more commonly adopted through the foster care system. 

How Do You Want to Adopt?

This choice can be determined by many factors as well. If you go through an agency it is usually an inclusive service; however, there could be a substantial financial obligation. Of course, there is foster care, and with the recent acknowledgement of the number crisis of children in foster care, this could be an option that would help an immediate need. There are about five hundred thousand children in foster care and while not all of them are ready for adoption, there is still an urgency. The private adoption route is not as common. Usually, there is some word of mouth between people you know. This could be exceptionally difficult, because only about four percent of unplanned pregnancies result in adoption. There have been new developments in resources for private adoptions that assist in the exposure of potential adoptive parents. There are a lot of options to weigh and only you can determine what is the best option for your family planning. 

Adopting Through an Agency

Finding the agency that is best for you should be your priority. Every agency is unique and it would be good for you to evaluate what are the desired needs you would like the agency to fulfill. If you are concerned with emotional support through the whole process then make sure the agencies you look into are providing resources that meet those needs. Education is a commonly desired amenity in agencies. Many potential parents are interested in learning more about things like transracial adoptions, drug exposure in utero, or the benefits of open or closed adoptions. Learning more about the things you are unfamiliar with can broaden your preferences and increase the probability to be matched. It is hard to be comfortable with subjects that you lack knowledge in. Information about adoption is becoming more available through numerous studies, social experiments, and monitoring adoption placements.

Most adoption agencies offer inclusive services and provide your social worker, background check, and attorney. They have a line of communication with the expectant mother and can serve as a liaison between both parties. 

Depending on what state you live in, you can find a list of adoption agencies on your state’s social services website. For example, the state of California’s website lists the agencies in alphabetical order. It also includes their physical address and a direct link to their web address. If your main criteria is the location this would be a good start to your process of elimination. Searching for reviews through the better business bureau or social media platforms will also contribute to your due diligence. The internet will most likely be your greatest asset in your search for the right agency for your family.

Adopting Privately

There are adoption advertising agencies available to assist in potential parents’ exposure; these services can help a prospective mother locate adoptive parents. If this is your desired route please follow through with research and find reviews of the advertising agency. Although they do not include legal counsel they may have a network of trusted attorneys available to you. 

Finding a lawyer is the responsibility of the potential parents. It would be helpful to search reviews or hopefully, you can get a personal referral from a credible source. One of the perks of social media is that you are provided with endless resources to find good referrals and can eliminate the stress of searching on your own.  

Lawyers’ roles are conditional according to what their contracts include. When we adopted, our lawyer handled all the forms and documents that needed to be filed and we were responsible for finding a social worker and getting a background check with fingerprints. The difficulty of  adoption can reflect on the cost resulting in a wide price range that can be anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000. When consulting with an adoption lawyer make sure you ask if there are any variables that will cause an increase in the cost and confirm you understand, in full, all of your responsibilities.    

Adopting Through Foster Care

As of 2020, there were over 400,000 children in foster care. Adoption through the foster system makes up 59 percent of all adoptions. Adopting through foster care appears to be the most difficult, as there are many steps involved and can be a lengthy process. The ultimate goal of foster care is reunification; so the emotional toll it can take on parents can be overwhelming. My personal opinion is that fostering is the most difficult parenting role there is. I have read multiple statements from foster parents that the most advice given is always along the lines of limiting attachment. Unfortunately, it’s hard to take this advice. 

The legal process for adopting through foster care can differ per child and state. Initial preparation for fostering children includes a completion in your state’s training programs. After the training is completed child placement can take up to three months. Placement is contingent on the approval of all necessary documents and criminal background clearances.

In most cases while the child is in foster care, opportunities are provided for biological parents to be reunited with their child. Court ordered parenting classes or drug rehabilitation are commonly required to be completed before visitation and reunification is restored. Failure to complete or comply may result in the relinquishment of parental rights then the child will be eligible for permanent adoption

Legal counsel will be provided for the child by the state and potential parents are responsible for their own. There are many assistance programs that will reimburse a portion of the cost to the adoptive parents. Once legal counsel is obtained, the adoption proceeds as normal.

What All Adoptions Require

Though families’ experiences vary, all adoptions must meet certain qualifications. Every person seeking adoption is expected to have a home study with a criminal background check, legal representation, and to appear before a judge before the finalization can occur. 

Home Study

Adoptions whether through an agency, foster care, or private call for a home study. A home study is a required home assessment performed by a social worker. The history of the home study dates back to the Minnesota Adoption Law of 1917 when judges granted the request that the proper authorities could make an “appropriate inquiry to determine whether the proposed foster home is a suitable home for the child.” Although the law was in place it was not enforced often until the 1950s. Depending on the state you live in, the requirements may differ. Typical requirements include background checks, fingerprinting, home inspection, individual interviews with adoptive parents, health screenings, and financial overviews. A recommendation will be given based on the results of the social worker’s findings.  


Another step that all adoptions have in common is the finalization. While the emotional process is quite complex, the actual court proceeding is very simple. The judge examines all the documents provided by your lawyer, including your home study recommendation, and then asks you an array of questions that would determine your eligibility. Most questions consist of acknowledging the responsibilities of being a parent including legal, emotional, physical, and financial. If you are married, some judges will ask a series of questions pertaining to a hypothetical divorce. This supplies the judge the confidence needed to grant the permanent placement of the child. 

Suggestions From My Experience

My husband and I adopted privately. The adoption of our son was very unexpected and we blindly went in full force. We learned a lot as the process unfolded, but we also ran into a few hurdles. Though the stress of everything caused many sleepless nights, I found comfort in discovering my persistence and knowing that I can now help others not make the same mistakes.

The best advice I can give is to make a file or folder specifically dedicated to all adoption related things. I used an accordian file and made sections as I went, starting with everything the hospital gave me upon my son’s discharge. Keep everything! This might sound a little excessive, but I am glad I kept every piece of paper until my son’s adoption was finalized and we got a new birth certificate. This came in so handy when our fingerprints got lost. I asked for an actual ink print in addition to the electronic scan, and when our fingerprints were nowhere to be found in the system I was able to produce an actual hard copy. We eventually had to re-scan our fingerprints, but it saved us from having to pay twice. 

Do not be afraid to ask questions. It is okay not to understand everything that is going on, and no one expects you to. This is a major life event and your feeling of inquisitiveness is completely valid. Also, write down the questions when you think of them. It is easy to forget them when you are involved in important conversations. 

Take your time and process the information explained to you correctly. It would also be helpful to write notes while having discussions. This saves you the trouble of second-guessing what you previously talked about. You will be hearing a lot of information, and it is easy to misunderstand something or not remember exactly how it was delivered. When you do find yourself questioning your memory, please contact your agency or lawyer’s office for clarification. 

Becoming a Parent

Adoption can seem like a labor intensive process. There are many legal obligations to fulfill while still performing the responsibilities of everyday parenting. I have often been told that I had it easy because I skipped the birthing portion of becoming a mom, but there was nothing easy about  becoming a mom. At the end of the day, it is all worth it and I would do it again if I had to. Especially now since I have more understanding of the legalities. The reward of motherhood has far exceeded the challenges. So yes, adoption is a labor intensive process, but that should never discourage anyone from pursuing it. Nothing in life is instant including becoming a parent, no matter how you become one you have to take it one step at a time.