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How to Adopt

Updated on February 13, 2011

How to Adopt

Child adoption can be a very intensive process for prospective parents. There are quite a number of requirements to fulfill; not to mention all the expenses that come along with adoption. It’s best to be as educated as possible about adopting before committing to it.

Also, you should perform a self assessment to see if you really want to be an adoptive parent. Many adopted children have past histories and challenges that may be very different and unique. You need to be absolutely sure you can provide the care, nurturing and emotional support needed to raise an adopted child. There is nothing more damaging to children than being a part of a family that doesn't want them.

This article outlines the general procedure for adopting a child domestically in the U.S. As stated earlier, there are many factors and hurdles to account for during the adoption process. The only way to acquire a full understanding is to consult a variety of sources.

The adoption process may be long, but the rewards are immeasurable to both children and parents.
The adoption process may be long, but the rewards are immeasurable to both children and parents.
Take the time to choose what kind of adoption you want to have.
Take the time to choose what kind of adoption you want to have.

Decide What Type of Adoption to Pursue (Step 1)

To start off the adoption process, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions. These include: whether to adopt a boy or girl, what age range to adopt, what your desired background / ethnicity is, and if you want to adopt multiple children or not.

Additional points to consider are what disabilities / challenges you feel you can handle as an adoptive parent. Certain children are considered “special needs”. These children may have a harder time being placed with families due to physical, mental and / or emotional conditions. If this is your calling, be sure to take it into account.

Find an adoption agency that meets your needs and shares your values.
Find an adoption agency that meets your needs and shares your values.

Select an Adoption Agency (Step 2)

With an idea of what type of adoption you want, now you need to find an agency to initiate the process. There are two types of adoption agencies to consider: public and private.

Public agencies are less expensive and more flexible with eligibility requirements, but they might respond slower to inquiries. They also typically place children with special needs.

Private agencies are more expensive, but they generally have access to a more diverse range of children and they respond faster to adoption inquiries.

There are many ways to find an adoption agency. You can use the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s (CWIG) online database of public and private agencies; visit your state’s Social Services (or similar Department of Human Services) and ask for the Adoption Specialist. You can also ask for references from adoptive parents and support groups, or check the local telephone listings for adoption agencies.

Before settling on an agency, it’s recommended that you review their adoption procedures and philosophy. Attend orientation meetings or training sessions to determine if the agency is a good match for you and what you want to do.

Prepare for the Child's Arrival (Step 3)

Make preparations to receive the child, both at home and with the agency.
Make preparations to receive the child, both at home and with the agency.

Now you need to obtain and complete an adoption application from your chosen agency. If the application seems too intimidating, ask an agency rep or another adoptive parent for assistance.

Some agencies require potential parents to attend parenting and adoption classes. If your agency does not make this mandatory, it’s still a good idea to do so anyway. These events help prepare parents for the challenges that may occur after children are placed with them.

Another requirement for adoption is to schedule and complete a home study. What this entails is having a social worker teach potential parents about the effects of adoption, prepare them to raise an adopted child with a different background, and to assess how well the family can provide the child with a stable life. This is all done to make sure the family and the child are compatible with each other.

You need certain documents like birth certificates, a marriage license and child abuse clearances for a home study to occur. Also, you will need a physical, background check and a copy of your fingerprints to complete the home study.

Home studies can last anywhere from 2-12 months, and some may cost you between $1,000 and $4,000. You must complete a home study if you want to be able to adopt.

Use the adoption agency as a means to search for children.
Use the adoption agency as a means to search for children.

Search for Children to Adopt (Step 4)

Once your home study has been finished and approved, you can then begin the search for children to adopt. The adoption agency will be your greatest asset in finding children. Work with them to find potential children to adopt by doing things like reviewing photo listings or attending matching parties.

When you feel you’ve found a match, your information, (including the home study), is sent to that particular child’s social worker. You might receive that child’s profile if the social worker likes your family, but this may take some time before you find a “match”.

If you do receive a child’s profile, then you should become familiar with it and learn as much as you can about them. The agency will arrange visits where you can then meet the child. This is your opportunity to connect with the child and learn even more about them, so make good use of these visits.

You are then given the choice of having the child placed in your home. If you accept, you need to understand that the child may be returned to their birth parents unless their parenting rights have been relinquished. In the meantime, the child will remain a foster child under your care.

Finalize Adoption (Step 5)

The final step in adopting children is to legalize the procedure in court.
The final step in adopting children is to legalize the procedure in court.

To finalize the adoption process, a few more steps need to take place. First, you need to file a petition to adopt the child in court so that the legal proceedings can begin.

You and your family will undergo a monitoring period where the child’s social worker observes how the adjustment takes place. If everything goes according to plan, they will give a recommendation to the court system to approve the adoption.

Also, you will need to update your family’s insurance, obtain a copy of the child’s original birth certificate, and get both a new social security number and a new birth certificate with the child’s new family name and arrangement. The child’s birth parents must also surrender their parental rights before the child can legally join your family.

With all these conditions met, it’s time to schedule a finalization hearing. Make sure all the paperwork necessary is completed with your agency; otherwise the hearing will be postponed. These hearings typically occur after the child has been in your care for a year, and only last about as long as an hour.

The point of the hearing is so the court can decide whether or not the child will be placed in a caring environment. You will be asked several questions about the adoption process before the judge makes a decision.

If and when the judges signs and authorizes the adoption petition, you are then granted legal custody of the child! You are given an amended birth certificate, a certificate of adoption, and a new family member to welcome into your home!


There are several ways to help adoptive parents cover the expenses of adoption. These include tax credits / exclusions, financial assistance from adoption-related organizations, military reimbursements, assistance from employers and loans.

Most adopted children test their new parents to see whether or not they really want them as part of the family. Take heed of this and show the child that you do, indeed, care.

If you have other children, it’s best to talk to them about the adoption, and help them adjust to having another member of the family around. Take them along with you on visits and educate them so they don’t feel as though they are being replaced.

The adoption process is a very long and trying one. Dedication and patience are the most valuable tools in order to see it through to the end.


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