Adoption: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Information courtesy of the Child Welfare Information Gateway

Are you or someone you know thinking about adopting a child? Read these important steps, outlined below, to familiarize yourself with the various adoption options possible for you.

Step 1: Educate Yourself

What You Should Know
At times, the adoption process can seem complicated, time consuming, and frustrating. However, many resources exist to help prospective adoptive parents educate themselves about adoption.

Local community colleges, adoption exchanges, adoption agencies, hospitals, religious groups, and other organizations may offer adoption preparation programs.

Adoptive parent support groups often are willing to assist people considering adoption. In addition, regional adoption exchanges, local agencies, and State adoption specialists can send you information to help get you started.

There are also many books, magazines, and Websites on this topic. See the resource list at the end of this factsheet for more information.

Some Places to Go
To learn more about what to expect when pursuing specific types of adoption, see the related Child Welfare Information Gateway factsheet Adoption Options: A Fact Sheet for Families and companion chart Adoption Options at-a-Glance, as well as the resources listed at the end of this article.

The National Foster Care & Adoption Directory, available from Information Gateway, provides lists of adoption resources in every State, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to assist families in their pursuit of adoption.

Step 2: Understand the Law

What You Should Know
State laws and regulations govern U.S. adoptions. Learning about the adoption laws in your State, or any States involved with your adoption, can help avoid frustrating situations.

Some Places to Go
The State Statutes Search highlights specific adoption-related topics and provides a quick overview and comparison of laws across the States. Information regarding who may adopt, timeframes for consent and revocation of consent to adoption, and termination of parental rights laws are provided in the database, and can be searched by State, territory, or region.


Step 3: Explore Your Options/Select an Agency

What You Should Know
Families wishing to adopt have many options. The following is one way to think about how choices in adoption may flow from one another:

Where will our family’s child come from? (Domestic or intercountry adoption?)

If we adopt domestically, what type of adoption is best for our family? (Domestic infant or foster care adoption?)

If we choose domestic infant adoption, who will assist our family with the adoption? (Licensed private agency, independent, facilitated, or unlicensed agency adoption?)

The way you choose to adopt will depend on the characteristics of the child you wish to adopt, how long you are willing to wait for your child, and other concerns.

Some Places to Go
For more information, see the related Information Gateway factsheet Adoption Options and companion chart Adoption Options at-a-Glance.

Step 4: Complete a Home Study

What You Should Know
No matter what type of adoption you choose to pursue, all prospective adoptive parents must have a home study or “family study.” A home study involves education, preparation, and information gathering about the prospective adoptive parents. This process can take from 2 to 10 months to complete, depending on agency waiting lists and training requirements. States vary regarding home study requirements, so you should check with your State adoption specialist to learn about the specific regulations in your State.

Some Places to Go
The Adoption Home Study Process, an Information Gateway factsheet, provides more information regarding what is generally included in a home study. The National Foster Care & Adoption Directory, on the Information Gateway website, lists the State Adoption Specialist in each State and Territory.


Step 5: Engage in the Placement Process

What You Should Know
Once your home study is completed, you are ready to begin the placement process—the time when a specific child is identified for your family. Depending on the type of adoption you are pursuing, this process and the potential time involved in waiting for your child vary greatly.

If you are pursuing an independent adoption, an attorney or facilitator may help you identify expectant parents or you may locate them on your own if allowed by State law.

If you are using a licensed private agency to pursue a domestic infant adoption, the expectant parents may select your family from among several prospective adoptive families.

In the case of foster care adoption or intercountry adoption of older children, you may review information about a number of children who are waiting for families. You will often have the opportunity for pre-placement visits, to get to know a child before he or she moves into your home in foster care adoption. Also, many foster parents in the United States adopt the foster children in their homes if the children become available for adoption.

If you are adopting an infant internationally you may receive a referral during this time.

Some Places to Go
The Information Gateway factsheet, Obtaining Background Information on Your Prospective Adoptive Child provides suggestions for obtaining a child’s medical, social, and educational history.

Information Gateway has a number of resources for expectant parents who are considering adoption including a factsheet Are You Pregnant and Thinking About Adoption?

Intercountry Adoption, another Information Gateway factsheet, provides more information on the placement process when adopting a child from another country.

Foster Parent Adoptions: What Parents Should Know, an Information Gateway factsheet, outlines considerations in this type of adoption.

Most adoptions of children from foster care are handled by public child welfare agencies. The national online photolisting AdoptUSKids provides pictures and general descriptions of children in foster care around the country who are waiting for families. The Information Gateway resource listing, State Child Welfare Agency Websites provides links to photolisting services in each State.


Step 6: File Necessary Legal Documents

What You Should Know
All adoptions need to be finalized in court, though the process varies from State to State. Usually a child lives with the adoptive family for at least 6 months before the adoption is finalized legally. During this time, a social worker may visit several times to ensure the child is well cared for and to write up the required court reports. After this period, the agency or attorney (in the case of independent adoption) will submit a written recommendation of approval of the adoption to the court, and you or your attorney can then file with the court to complete the adoption. For intercountry adoptions, finalization depends on the type of visa the child has and the laws in your State. The actual adoption procedure is just one of a series of legal processes required for intercountry adoption. In addition to your State laws, you must also follow the laws of the child’s country of origin, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (formerly INS) requirements.

Some Places to Go
The National Foster Care & Adoption Directory provides an attorney referral service for each State. The Information Gateway factsheet Intercountry Adoption provides more information.

Step 7: Parent Your Child

What You Should Know
The final, and most important step, in the adoption process is to parent your adopted child. Adoption is a lifelong process. Your family, like many families, may need support adjusting to life with your new child. Your family and your child may have additional questions at different developmental stages.

General Adoption Resources
Extensive index of adoption resources on the Internet.

You’ve decided you want to adopt. Now what? These helpful tips will walk you through the process.

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