What to Know Before Adopting a Child

The process of adopting can be a long, complicated and emotional ride, with far more legal and financial roadblocks than many people assume. This is why so many need adoptive parent resources, which are widely available. But, as most adoptive parents will tell you, it’s also a deeply fulfilling journey.

There are three main paths to adopting in the United States: through the foster care system, with the help of a local adoption agency or private attorney, and internationally. The route you choose will ultimately be based on a number of personal, legal and financial factors.

Before embarking on an adoption process, you should be clear about your motivations for doing so. “This is a lifelong decision you’re making,” said Rita Soronen, president and C.E.O. of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, so it’s important to be honest about any specific needs you may have. Any limit you identify should not be construed as a “failure,” Soronen clarified. “It’s an honest personal assessment.” Below are some of the more common questions adoption experts suggest you explore to help identify whether and which kind of adoption is right for you:

  • Is it important to you to parent a newborn, or are you open to adopting an older child? How about a sibling group?
  • Would your home be an appropriate fit for a child with special needs? Or an infant who was exposed prenatally to drugs and alcohol?
  • If you are matched with a child of another race or background, are you prepared to educate yourself on the nuances of forming an interracial or intercultural family?
  • How much contact are you comfortable having between you and your adopted child, and his or her birth family?
  • Foster-adopt: According to the United States Children’s Bureau, there are over 440,000 children in the foster care system, over a quarter of who have been legally “freed” for adoption. This makes foster care “a very real option” for prospective adoptive parents, said Laurie Goldheim, Adoption Director for the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (A.A.A.A.). While children who have not been legally “freed” may eventually become eligible for adoption, Goldheim stresses that the government’s primary goal in these instances is to reunite the children with their biological families.
  • Domestic infant adoption: If you hope to parent a newborn, there are two main paths to doing so: through an adoption agency or a private adoption lawyer—the latter is often referred to as an “independent” or “private” adoption. “Which you choose will really just depend on how involved you want to be in the process,” said Deborah E. Guston, former Director of the A.A.A.A. An adoption agency, she explained, typically manages all aspects of the adoption process for you, from start to finish.

If you adopt independently, you will be responsible for aspects an agency would normally handle, like finding a prospective birth parent through advertising, and hiring an agency to conduct your home study. “Independent adoptions are usually good for people who want to be deeply involved in the process,” Guston said. “Those who don’t mind ceding control may prefer the comfort of an agency.” Independent adoption isn’t legal in all states, and even where available, restrictions often apply. Consult an experienced adoption lawyer for help navigating the laws in your state.

  • International adoption: Adopting abroad has been steadily declining in recent years, thanks to the closure of several countries’ international adoption programs. Still, thousands of parents successfully adopt children from abroad each year. The process for doing so can vary considerably by country. “Some restrict who can adopt based on marital status, sexual orientation, or age,” said Goldheim of the A.A.A.A. “Even your body mass index can play a role.” You can visit the U.S. Department of State’s page on intercountry adoption to familiarize yourself with individual countries’ adoption laws — be sure to keep checking back since laws can change rapidly. An accredited provider will be necessary to guide you through the process.

Finding an adoption agency or lawyer can be a daunting prospect. As a first step, Becky Fawcett of HelpUsAdopt.org suggests tapping your own network. “Just start talking about it with people you trust,” said Fawcett. “Sometimes you’ll be surprised by who has a good recommendation — you never know who may have been touched by adoption in some way.”

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