Domestic Infant Adoption

Adopting a Newborn in the United States

Many prospective parents seek to adopt healthy infants, often of a background similar to their own. Waiting times for infant adoptions vary tremendously and can be as long as 2 years or more. Many agencies now involve birth parents in choosing adoptive parents and have discontinued traditional "waiting lists" (first come, first placed) because so few infants are available through agencies.

In the United States, agency criteria for prospective adoptive parents are often more restrictive for infant adoptions than for adoptions of older children, again because fewer infants are available. Expenses for domestic infant adoption can range from $5,000 to more than $40,000. (An amount between $10,000 and $15,000 is common).

While public agencies handle the adoption of children in the State child welfare or foster care system, if you wish to adopt an infant from the United States, you may choose to work with a licensed agency, an attorney (sometimes called "independent adoption"), or an unlicensed adoption facilitator (if allowed by laws in your State). Licensed private agencies need to meet State standards for licensure and have more oversight to ensure quality services. Unlicensed agencies and facilitators often do not have the same State oversight and consequently there may be more financial and emotional risk for adoptive and birth families using these services.

Licensed Private Agency Adoption

In a licensed agency adoption, the birth parents relinquish their parental rights to the agency. Adoptive families then work with adoption agency professionals toward placement. Licensed agency adoptions provide the greatest assurance of monitoring and oversight of professional services, because these agencies are required to adhere to licensing and procedural standards. The wait for an infant through a licensed private agency may be longer. Prospective parents may not have an opportunity to meet the birth parents face to face. Social workers in agencies make decisions about the match of a child and prospective adoptive parent. In addition, agencies may give preference to certain types of individuals or couples (e.g., due to faith or marital status). Expenses range from nothing (if a private agency contracts with a public agency to place children from foster care) to $40,000, but they are generally predictable.

Adoptive parents working with private agencies often have little control over the process of identifying a child. This process varies greatly depending on the agency. Some agencies are faith-based and give preference to families from a particular religious background. Many agencies allow birth parents to choose a prospective adoptive family for their child based on profiles or books that families create to share information about themselves. As a result, the wait for your child may be unpredictable and, in some cases, quite long.

Independent Adoption

In an independent adoption, attorneys assist families; however, birth parents typically give their consent directly to the adoptive family. You will interact directly with the birth parents or their attorney if you choose this option. Attorneys who facilitate independent adoptions must adhere to the standards of the Bar Association. Some attorneys who specialize in adoption are members of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, a professional membership organization with standards of ethical practice. Legal Issues of Independent Adoptions provides more information. State law regulates allowable expenses (such as the birth mother's medical care) that can be reimbursed by adoptive parents. Read State Regulation of Adoption Expenses for more information. Expenses in this type of adoption can be less predictable. Not all States allow for independent adoption; check with your State Adoption Specialist.

Families adopting independently identify the birth parents without an agency's help. Each family's situation is different; it is impossible to predict the length of time you may wait for a child to be placed. Some adoptive parents and expectant mothers have found each other and made a plan within a week, other adoptive parents search for 1 to 2 years. Infants are usually placed with the adoptive parents directly from the hospital after birth.

Even if the birth mother and adoptive parents locate one another independently, they may still take advantage of services offered by a licensed agency. This is called "identified adoption." The agency's role is to conduct the home study for the adoptive parents and counsel the birth mother and father, if available.

Facilitated/Unlicensed Agency Adoption

Adoptive placements by facilitators (or those by unlicensed agencies) offer the least amount of supervision and oversight. A facilitator is any person who links prospective adoptive parents with expecting birth mothers for a fee. Adoption facilitators are largely unregulated in many States; families often have little recourse should the plan not work out as expected. Some States do not permit adoptions by paid facilitators. Check with your State Adoption Specialist.


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