How to Adopt a Child

Families come in different forms. Just because you aren’t married, have a same-sex spouse or can’t conceive naturally doesn’t mean that you can’t have children. There isn’t just one way to adopt a child. The two primary routes are domestic adoptions from within the United States and international adoptions. Understanding the hows, whats and whys of the adoption process is the first step to starting your family.

Types of Domestic Adoptions

If you plan on adopting domestically, you have several different options. You can adopt a child who is living in foster care -- including your foster care -- or opt for an independent adoption, according to the National Adoption Center 12.

Independent and infant adoptions may involve closed or open processes. You don’t receive any identifying information about, or have contact with, the birth parents in a closed adoption. In an open adoption, you may meet the birth parents, talk to them on the phone or communicate through letters and pictures. Each state has its own guidelines governing domestic adoptions. These include who can adopt, what is needed to adopt and the how the process works.

Pick an Agency

The first step in the adoption process is to pick a reputable agency. The agency must be licensed by your state; if not, seek one that is so you're ensured you are going through the proper legal channels. Different agencies may specialize in different types of adoptions 1. Some may place all children of all ages, while others may only place children of a specific age, such as infants. Visiting a few different agencies and talking to other adoptive parents in your area can help you make an informed decision.

Complete a Home Study

Every prospective adoptive family needs to complete a home study. This is true for both domestic and international adoptions 1. The home study has two purposes: to educate future adoptive parents about the process and evaluate the parents’ fitness to raise children. Each state has specific rules and requirements for home studies.

The home study includes a visit from a licensed case worker. The case worker inspects your home for safety and interviews you and your family. The interview may include questions about why you want to adopt, infertility issues, how you envision your adoptive child fitting in with the family, or how you handle challenging situations.

During this step you also need to provide different types of documentation. This may include a health statement, income verification, insurance verification and background checks.

Pass Background Checks

Even though every state differs when it comes to the adoption process, all states have some form of regulations regarding criminal background checks, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Child Welfare Information Gateway 3. The background check verifies that you’ve never been convicted of felony child abuse, spousal abuse, child neglect, a crime against children, child pornography, a violent crime, sexual assault or homicide. In 18 states, these offenses will disqualify you from adoptions. You may also need to be free from felony convictions for drug-related offenses, physical assault or battery in the past five years.

Not only must you pass the criminal background checks, but so must your spouse and any other adult living in your home. Some states also require additional local criminal background checks. If you are a foster parent adopting through the foster care system, you have already gone through these checks.

Find a Child

After you’re approved to adopt, you can search for a child. Depending on if you want an open or closed adoption, this may involve meeting with birth parents or reviewing case files. In an open adoption, the birth mother, and possibly father, will meet you and decide if you will be the "one." The birth parents may not have as much involvement in a closed adoption. You won’t meet them, learn their names or receive information about them.

Make a Match

When a match is made, the state will place the child in your care. In some states, you may get regular visits from a caseworker. The caseworker makes sure that everything is going smoothly and answers questions that you may have. The adoption isn’t final until a judge gives you a decree. When this happens, the child is legally your own.

International Adoptions

International adoptions have some similarities with domestic adoptions, and some differences. While you’ll need to find an agency and have a home study, you also need to follow the laws and policies of the adoptive country. There are two primary ways that non-relatives can adopt internationally: Hague and orphan adoptions. Hague adoptions are from countries that are part of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption 1. You must use a Hague-authorized adoption service provider agency if the country is part of the convention. You don’t need to use a Hague-authorized agency for orphan adoptions.

The specific adoption process happens in your child’s country 3. You need to visit the country to complete the adoption. Before you bring your child home, you need to complete all of the U.S. immigration applications and petitions that the Citizenship and Immigration Services requires 5. When your application and petition are approved, you can get an immigrant visa for your child.