Types of Adoption

Take time to explore the different options.

Sara Graham August 30, 2019
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You may or may not realize it, but there are so many different types of adoption. It seems like as time goes on, there are more and more types of adoption available. This is great news for choosing to expand your family, but with so many different types of adoption, choosing the right path for your family can be overwhelming. I have tried to summarize the most popular types of adoption below, but there may be some other options available for specific situations that I left out. Keep in mind that these scenarios are extremely simplified, but more times than not, you will encounter a hiccup along the way. Take time to explore the different options. Talk with others and seek counsel before making your decision and find out what works best for you.

Private Adoption

Private adoption is probably what most people picture when they hear the word adoption. This type of adoption takes place with a match happening between two families: the birth family and adoptive family. This can happen between two families that find the match on their own or have previously known each other. More often, a match occurs with the help of an agency, attorney, or referral. This also tends to be the more expensive option. Within the private adoption, you have several other options to consider—things like domestic vs. international, openness spectrum (closed, semi-open, or open), same ethnicity vs. transracial, health considerations (substance abuse, health issues, or special needs), or newborn vs. child.

One common example is private domestic infant adoption. In this instance, you decide on an agency or attorney to work with and help match you with a birth family. You complete the basic application or agreement. Then, you have a home study completed, including fingerprinting, background checks, and medical history. During that time, make sure to attend any necessary training or education. Also, you’ll need to prepare an online profile and/or profile book for birth families to consider. Wait for a family to choose you and match. Next, wait for the child to be born. Then, the child is placed in your home and another set of home visits takes place. A few months later, the adoption is finalized and the child is legally recognized as part of your family.

If you go with an agency, broadly speaking, you can probably expect an experience that is more guided and likely more educational than with an attorney. The attorney-centric approach is likely to be a bit less guided and you will be more personally responsible for your own education and navigating interpersonal birth parent dynamics.

Openness

There also exists a spectrum of openness and closed-ness in adoption, particularly in domestic adoptions. There are three primary levels of openness in adoption—closed, semi-open, and open.

With closed adoption, the agency or attorney provides total confidentiality between the birth parent(s) and the adoptive family. All communication between parties goes through the agency or attorney. There are provisions made for the adoptive child(ren) to make contact, but in general, there is a firewall for direct communication in closed adoption.

In semi-open adoption, some contact information and communication may be shared between the birth parent(s) and the adoptive parent(s). This might include things like your first name, a broad sense of where you live, what kind of vocation you do, an email address, and communications may also be through the agency or attorney. Within semi-open adoption, there is a range of things that various parties are more or less comfortable with. Sometimes one party or the other is more restrictive in their desires. Semi-open adoption can vary and it is up to the two parties to determine what they want to keep private and what they are comfortable with sharing. Some families start with a semi-open adoption and after they build trust they move towards open adoption.

Open adoption means that most things are shared. Here, there is also a spectrum where, in some open adoptions, both parties can function like extended family, whereas, in other open adoptions, there is just a lot of direct contact, awareness of full names, sharing phone numbers and address, and the possibility for texting and in-person visits. While a lot of personal preference drives people’s modality on the openness spectrum please educate yourself on the merits of the various models in the best interest of the child in your unique case. As always, if you ever feel like your child is in danger, emotionally or physically, you will want to take necessary steps to protect him or her.

Special Needs

There is a broad spectrum of what constitutes special needs adoption. It is important to know that everyone labels “special needs” differently and if you are uncomfortable with specific situations, you will want to research—especially if you are adopting from another country.

Some of the special circumstances may include drug or alcohol exposure, premature births, abuse for older children, and medical conditions. Cleft palate is a common “special need” for international adoptions. Other common special needs cases can include things like Down syndrome and other chromosomal disorders, dwarfism, spina bifida, and a myriad of other medical or mental health conditions. Your best way to weigh special needs adoption is education and relationships with other people who have adopted those with special needs. Information and relationships can help demystify and demythologize stereotypes and misnomers.

Transracial Adoption

Transracial adoption refers to adopting a child of a different race of the adoptive parents. Of course, this is apparent when adopting internationally, but it can also be true for adopting in the United States of America. Adoption is always complex and has several layers. Transracial adoption adds a few more things to consider. It is no great secret that America has a complex and troubled racial history. Transracial adoption can be a beautiful thing, but it is something that should involve education on the part of the adoptive family. Will you learn and incorporate elements of the adoptive child’s culture and ethnicity? Are you willing to make sure that they have many people of that ethnicity in their lives growing up? Are you willing to have hard conversations with friends or family members who might have negative or racist attitudes toward your child’s ethnic group? A good principle to consider is that you might not want the first person from that particular ethnicity at your dinner table to be your transracially adoptive child. Education and real-world relationships are very important in transracial adoption. Learn a new culture and talk with other well-educated and experienced transracially adoptive parents.

International Adoption

International adoption is another type of adoption that many people have heard about. There are a number of agencies that work with international adoption. Other countries still work with orphanages and the match process can look very differently than that in the United States. More international adoptions remain closed and many times there is limited or no family or medical history available. Similarly to private domestic adoption, you can select the background and medical options that you are or are not comfortable with.

You will still need to complete a home study and find someone to help in the match process. The process tends to take longer between match and placement so it can be difficult to adopt an infant. You will be working within the United States guidelines, but also those of the country you are adopting from. Each country has specifics to follow and you are typically required to visit the country. You should expect to be in the country for at least a week, but some countries require the adoptive parents to be there for months. Many countries require multiple visits to their country as well. These are all important things to discuss with the agency you are working with in choosing a country to adoptive from.

Embryo Adoption

Embryo adoption is a lesser-known form of adoption that is gaining popularity. Along with significant advances in fertility science and medicine have come a surge in things like in vitro fertilization. Many families attain their intended outcomes through IVF or for other reasons, no longer need their remaining fertilized embryos. Many of these families choose to allow other people to adopt those embryos.

Embryo adoption is typically a little less expensive than conventional IVF as the costs incurred to create, harvest, and grow embryos have already been paid by the adoptive household. If you are inclined to IVF but don’t feel strongly about having genetic ties to the baby then embryo adoption might be a path worth considering. For more information about embryo adoption see the National Embryo Donation Center website: https://www.embryodonation.org/

Foster Care

In the United States of America, foster care is the alternative to orphanages. These children may have been abandoned by their parents or the parents were deemed unfit to parent a child. These children are placed in foster homes for temporary care.

Foster to adopt is another form of adoption. The foster care system prioritizes restoring children to their biological parents or extended family of biological parents when it is in the best interest of the child. However, in some instances, the state decides that it is in the best interest of the child(ren) to be afforded the opportunity to be adopted by the foster family or another adoptive family.

There are a number of challenges with going into foster to adopt as your primary plan toward adoption. Your state will likely have a number of rules or restrictions that aren’t present in other adoption pathways. These might include larger matters like rules on parenting or discipline and smaller matters like posted fire escape plans and such. Additionally, if you are inclined to want to adopt a newborn infant, these cases are generally quite rare. Conversely, there are a number of benefits to adopting out of the foster care system. Most states will provide free healthcare through Medicaid, a monthly stipend, and free in-state tuition at a public university.

Many states also have lists of foster care kids who are presently available for adoption. These lists usually have kids who are older in age along with their stories, likes, goals, and desires. If you are open to adopting an older child, this can be a good path to that end. There are often kids who are 15-17 years old who just want someone to make them a part of their forever family.

Stepchild Adoption

Stepchild adoption is when one parent of a blended family adopts the stepchildren of their new spouse. This can be a beautiful thing in the blending and bonding of a new family. Like all other cases, there will be a fair amount of legal work and attorneys needed. You will also require the legal consent of the other biological parent.

Other Types of Adoption

Sometimes there are situations where both the birth family and the adoptive family know one another and are in agreement with the adoption plan. Sometimes those parties are members of the extended family, sometimes they are close friends, or sometimes they are members of a common faith or civic community. In these instances, the adoption costs are often lower and the execution is often simpler. In many instances, all that is required is some basic counseling to work through the adoption plan and some attorney fees associated with the respective filings with the state.

Everyone has a different story. It is important to look at all of your options and do some research. Do not trust the movies to give you a full picture of what adoption or specific types of adoption look like. Try talking to several different families and listen to their story. See what might make the most sense for your family. Bringing a child home will change your (and his or her) life forever. There will be challenges along the way, and all types of adoptions come with its ups and downs. Decide what you can (and cannot) give your child and his or her birth family. Giving a child a loving family will make all the struggles worth it.

Learn how to have a more successful adoption journey. Watch 70+ adoption leaders and experts FREE at the virtual Adoption Summit. Get your free ticket.

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Sara Graham

Sara Graham is a wife, mother, educator, and business woman. She met her husband while living in England and moved back to the States where she became a middle and high school teacher. After struggling for years with infertility, her and her husband adopted two children within 18 months. Sara and her husband currently live in Central Florida where she stays at home with their children and owns and operates a few businesses. You can read more about her infertility and transracial adoption journey at MikeandSaraGraham.com


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