Deciding to adopt a child can be one of the most exciting times of your life. It can also be daunting, as there is much to learn about how the adoption process works, and much responsibility comes from bringing a new person into your family. When you adopt a child, you become that child’s legal guardian. This means that you have the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent.
Many people choose a domestic adoption, which just means an adoption from inside the United States. There are several steps you can take to ease your mind as you go through the domestic adoption process.
Learn About the Process
There is so much information out there on adoption that it can be difficult to find reliable sources. If you search for “adoption” or even “domestic adoption,” there is a strong chance that most or all of your top results will be private adoption agencies.
Instead, for domestic adoptions, start with Child Welfare Information Gateway, which is a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. At their website, you can learn about the different types of adoption, the laws that relate to adoption, and the process of adoption. The laws vary from state to state, so it is important to know about the applicable scheme where you live. You can read about the laws in your state at the Gateway.
It is usually a good idea to defer contacting adoption agencies or attorneys until you know enough about the process to ask the right questions.
Some people are concerned that they will not be able to adopt because they are single, gay, or a minority. This is generally not true, at least in most states. However, if you are concerned about discrimination in the adoption process, you should contact an attorney experienced in this area.
Prospective families do have to go through an extensive background check and home study. These processes are generally designed to ensure that children are placed with safe, loving families who are truly able to care for them. For the home study, you and others in your home will be interviewed and will be required to provide a multitude of information, including medical history and financial data. You will also need to pass a criminal background check. This process can feel somewhat invasive, but it is important to make sure that your family is able to provide a stable, loving home for a child.
Decide What Is Best for You
As you learn about adoption, you’ll need to make some basic decisions about what is best for you. Here are some examples:
- Are you emotionally ready to adopt?
- Are you flexible about the age of the child?
- Are you interested in or open to adopting a special needs child?
- Do you meet your state’s requirements for adopting a child (you should be able to obtain these from your state health and human services agency)?
- Are you interested in an open adoption, which is one in which you have some type of contact with the birth family or mother? Or are you only interested in a closed adoption, where there is no contact with the birth family? The types of adoption depend on the laws of your state, so be sure to visit the Gateway to learn about the legal scheme in your jurisdiction.
If you decide you are ready to adopt and you have answered these basic questions, it is time to decide which domestic adoption process you will use.
Choose an Agency or Attorney
You can choose either an agency adoption or an independent adoption. There are two types of agency adoption: public agency adoption and private agency adoption. The least expensive is public agency adoption, in which you work with your local social service department to adopt a child. This is usually the same public agency that handles foster care in your state. That agency places parentless children in good homes where they can grow and flourish. Strict standards must be met to adopt a child this way, as state funding depends on state governments meeting federally mandated standards.
As an alternative, you may choose to use a private agency that is licensed to provide adoption services in your state. All adoption agencies are not created equal. Consider not only the price but also issues such as the support provided to you, wait times, and hidden fees.
Regardless of the type of adoption you choose, the parental rights of the biological parents must be terminated before the adoption may take place. After termination of parental rights, a court must approve the adoption in an adoption order.
If you choose an independent adoption, you work directly with the birth family without using an agency. Many people hire a family law attorney who specializes in adoption to help them with this type of adoption. There are many differences from state to state in the laws that govern independent adoptions, and it is critical that the adoption be handled properly so that it will be legal. For help with an independent adoption, contact an experienced adoption attorney who is licensed in your state. If the birth family is willing, you can sometimes use a trial placement period before parental rights are terminated. This can help ensure that the placement is a good fit.