So, you’ve decided to adopt! You are embarking on a selfless, exciting, and rewarding adventure.

While it would be great to wave a magic wand and make your new family appear, adoption can be an involved process. It is important to look at each option carefully before investing time and money in a chosen path.

Here are 10 exciting steps to adoption.

1. Consider Types of Adoption

Every adoption path has positive and negative elements. Before choosing an agency, lawyer, or social service, you will need to know what you are getting into.

Foster care adoption is by far the least expensive adoption option. In many states, the cost of $2,000 to $3,000 for the adoption finalization is covered through a subsidy. It may also easily be recuperated through the adoption tax credit. It is entirely possible that your foster care adoption will be free.

There are currently over 100,000 children who are already available for adoption from foster care in the U.S. While it is possible to adopt a baby from foster care, children available range from toddlers to 21 years old. The median age for children waiting for adoption is about 7 years old, according to the FY 2018 AFCARS Report. Children available through foster care may be older, members of sibling groups that need to be adopted together, or part of racial or ethnic groups that exit the system at a slower rate. They may have experienced trauma or neglect, and need extra love, counseling, and support.

Children under a year of age make up 19 percent of the total number of children entering the foster care system and most children adopted through foster care are under the age of 3, according to the AFCARS Report.

If you wish to adopt a baby, however, you will likely need to foster your child first. While your social worker may be able to help you identify children who are more likely to become available for adoption in the future, they cannot guarantee that parental rights will be terminated. So, if you are determined to adopt a baby, foster care adoption will likely carry some risk.

Agency adoption is a popular option among families looking for an infant. Agencies will locate birth mothers for you and set about matching families together. Agency adoption is significantly more expensive than foster care adoption, at around $20,000 to $30,000 per child. There are, however, ways to recover much of the cost, as we will talk about below. Expect to wait around a year or more before you are matched with a child.

Most adoptions through agencies are open. This means that you will have at least some contact with the child’s birth mother as they grow up. In many cases, text and email updates are sent on birthdays and holidays.

Private adoption is also popular among those wishing to adopt a baby. Parents who adopt privately work one-on-one with a lawyer to locate birth mothers and finalize the adoption. At around $15,000 to $20,000 per child, private adoption may be a bit less expensive than agency adoption. You may, however, find that you are placing ads and answering phone calls in order to help your lawyer find birth mothers.

International adoption is usually the most expensive adoption option, at $25,000 to $40,000 per child. Remember that you will also be expected to travel to another country for at least a week, so the cost includes travel and lodging. Many parents choose international adoption because they will have an opportunity for a closed adoption. They will also be able to experience the culture of a country they may have a connection to.

2. Consider How You Will Pay

Your budget is a significant factor in considering adoption. You may, however, be surprised at how affordable it actually is.

The national adoption tax credit provides $14,080 per adopted child. While you will not get the funds in one lump sum, it is money that you will not have to pay in taxes after your adoption is finalized. Talk to your accountant about how you can claim it. In order to qualify for the full credit, your income combined with your spouse’s needs to be less than $211,160 per year. If your combined income is between $211,160 and $251,160, you will be eligible for partial credit. Many states also offer additional tax credits.

Many employers also offer adoption assistance the way they would for infertility treatments. It is usually a flat amount per child. Check with your HR department to see what kinds of benefits there are.

There are also a number of adoption grants that folks apply for in order to fund their adoptions. Many are specific to certain types of adoptions, such as sibling adoption or adoption from China. Be sure to do your research and find the right grant for you.

Remember that if you choose to foster your child first, you will be entitled to a stipend each month that will support the basic needs of your child, including food, clothing, and childcare. Your child will also be eligible for free healthcare in the form of Medicaid after your adoption. Some states also provide college assistance or even free college to children adopted from foster care.

3. Choose an Agency

There are over 3,000 adoption agencies in the United States. Before choosing one, you will want to consider the type of adoption you are interested in. If you are adopting domestically, find out how many families are waiting for an infant, and how many children are placed each year. If you wish to adopt internationally, find out which countries your agency works with first. Ask about a typical time frame and the ages and needs of children who are usually adopted.

Be sure to get some references when doing your research. Ask families how long it took them to get their children, and how well the agency communicated throughout the process. Read online reviews before making a decision. Chances are that if many former clients are making similar comments, you will have an experience like theirs.

It helps to develop relationships with other parents who have adopted through your agency, foster care system, or lawyer. If there is ever a delay or concern, they will be an invaluable resource you can turn to for support and comfort.

There are many popular agencies throughout the U.S. like the Gladney Center for Adoption and Spence-Chapin. Local smaller agencies may serve your area or children in a particular country, and they may suit your needs better. Just be sure to do your diligence before filling out an application.

You may find that the agency you are most comfortable working with is not in your state. Do not let this deter you. They can usually partner with a social worker or agency in your area for the home study and post-adoption reports.

4. Apply to Adopt

One of the exciting first steps to adoption is a simple application. This may come with a small fee, and it lets your agency know you are serious about working with them.

Your adoption application will require a limited amount of basic information from you, including where you live, where you work, your combined salaries, and your age. Most other information will be gathered by your agency or social worker during your home study.

5. Get a Home Study

A valid home study is required for every type of adoption, including foster care and private adoption. You will be interviewed both inside and outside your home about your history, parenting philosophies, and reason for adoption.

Your home does not need to be glorious, or even immaculate, in order for you to pass a home study. The social worker is usually simply looking for a safe, comfortable place for a child to be raised in.

The home study may also be an opportunity for you and/or your spouse to discuss your preferences in terms of children you wish to adopt. You may be hoping to adopt a child of a certain gender, age, or need level. Your social worker will also want to know about how you were disciplined, and what you think the best way is to raise a child.

The home study process will also involve fingerprint clearances. You will need to get a medical exam proving that you are healthy enough to raise a child, and provide some non-relative references attesting to your character.

Some agencies may also require photos of your family and home that can be shown to prospective birth mothers. This is especially important with domestic agencies. Oftentimes, an online photo gallery will help birth mothers make emotional connections that may lead them to choose you as a family. Be sure to include any pets, favorite sports teams, or family traditions that would resonate with birth mothers.

6. Pre-Adoption Training

Most social organizations and agencies also require at least 10 hours of training before you are allowed to adopt a child. Disciplinary techniques that can be used effectively with children who have experienced trauma and abuse are some of the most important topics covered.

You will discuss ways to bond with your new child, how to understand your child’s coping mechanisms, and where to turn to for support. Even if you have “read up” or already parented a child, pre-adoption classes can give you some valuable insights. Many can be completed online.

7. Be Matched with a Child

Once you have completed your required home study and training, you will be eligible to become matched with a child. You will receive information about their age, developmental needs, and medical status from your agency, along with pictures.

Before accepting a match, you will need to be certain that you are aware of the prospective challenges you will face during your journey and have a plan for how you will tackle them. Many parents find that they are aptly equipped to raise certain types of children after they take a few courses or read some good parenting books.

8. Bonding

One of the steps to adoption required by many agencies is a bonding period. If you are adopting from another country, a bonding period might be assigned while you are overseas to make sure that the family is a good match. If you are adopting through foster care, you may have visits scheduled at a local community center before your child comes to live with you.

This is an opportunity for you to get to know your child, including their likes, dislikes, and emotional needs. You may find that you bond over singing a favorite song or decorating a cake. Many children will warm up right away with a little shared spontaneous fun. Both you and your child will be more relaxed about adoption once you have had time to build a relationship.

9. Complete Your Adoption

In many cases, you will need to travel before completing your adoption. If your child is within the U.S.,  you may need to spend a few days in another state. If you are adopting from another country, you may be spending anywhere from a week to two months there while you are waiting to finalize the process.

Most adoptions, including those from foster care, are finalized in court. Just remember to dress appropriately and present your best self. After the finalization, you will receive a new birth certificate in the mail.

10. Post-Adoption Reports

Many agencies require post-adoption reports to be written for about a year after placement. You and your child will be interviewed about successes since you adopted, as well as any challenges you may be experiencing.

Be prepared to report on your child’s eating and sleeping habits, and how they are adjusting to school. While it is important to be positive, you may be able to request additional resources, including counseling services, that can help you best support your child.

Steps to Adoption

Depending on which path you choose, there are a number of exciting steps to adoption. Remember that the journey can be one of the most exhilarating parts of the adoption process, so you will want to relish in every move along the way. And remember that every step is one inch closer to becoming the family you have always dreamed about.

Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.

Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.