What You Need to Know About the Adoption Process

If you are considering adoption, congratulations! You’ve made a wonderful decision and are about to embark on an exciting path. However, the adoption journey can prove a difficult one to navigate if you don’t have the understanding and resources necessary to guide you through the child adoption process. Below, we round up the ins and outs of what you should know if you’re wondering how to adopt a child.

Where to Start

As with most new undertakings, the best place to start when considering foster-adopting a child is with research. Fortunately, the adoption community is a welcoming one; researching online will provide you a wealth of information, but joining local support groups and networking with other adoptive parents will provide some of the best insight for your new journey. (You can search for in-person support groups near you at, or find an online community at

One of the biggest decisions you will need to research and consider at the beginning of the child adoption process is what type of child you’re ready to welcome into your life. Are you determined to adopt a newborn? What are your feelings on adopting internationally or domestically? Do you have a preference on gender? Are you open to adopting a child of a different race? These are all important questions to reflect on before you rush into the process. An outside source, like an adoption counselor, can help you better grasp all that goes into the adoption process and can teach you about the benefits of foster care and adoption. As a prospective adoptive parent, it’s highly advised to speak with an adoption professional to learn about all the different options available before bringing home a child. 

In addition, these early stages of the process will prove the most crucial from an emotional readiness standpoint for the future parent looking to gain an adoptive child. It’s important to ask yourself (and your adoption specialist) the tough questions at this stage: Are you fully committed to adoption? Have you made peace with the reality of not having a child biologically? If this is a decision that you and your partner are making together, are you both fully on the same page? Are you financially stable and is your life in a sufficiently secure place for you to even consider bringing a new person into it?

Before beginning the adoption process, you must realize that this is the last time you will make decisions that solely affect you (and your partner). Once you feel 100% ready to move forward with adoption, it’s time to reach out to the experts so you can begin your adoption journey.

Partnering with Adoption Agencies

Now that you’ve determined that you’re emotionally and mentally ready to move forward as a hopeful adoptive parent, the next step is to partner with an adoption agency (or agencies) that can help mediate the process and help create an adoption plan for you.

Finding an agency to assist you in building your family through adoption is a crucial step, and the agency you choose must take into account your family’s personal preferences on adoption services. Not all agencies provide the same level of service, and ultimately success. It truly will be a partnership, so it’s important to find an agency you feel completely comfortable with, and vice versa.

One important distinction to be aware of as you move forward with selection an adoption agency is the difference between public and private adoption agencies. As the Human Rights Campaign explains aptly, “Public child welfare agencies are government entities that provide a safety net for families. Each county and jurisdiction has its own department of social services responsible for caring for children and youth in foster care and those unable to be reunited with their first families are often available for adoption.” So, depending on where you live, your public agency system may be drastically different from other adoptive parents. The disadvantages to this system is that it’s much more of a bureaucracy, and is thus accompanied by much longer wait times to complete the process. However, public agencies are typically the less-expensive option, with often low cost to adopt.

Conversely, private agencies are licensed and regulated by the state they reside in and are often non-profits. Adoption through private agencies can be more expensive, but applicants may appreciate the improved quality of care, and also the increased influence over the type of child they adopt.

Another important consideration as you move forward with selecting an adoption agency is whether work with a local or national agency. According to, national adoption agencies are licensed adoption agencies that work across all 50 states, and are often licensed in multiple states. Because of state licensure, these agencies get help from state governments to comply with state laws and regulations, which helps ensure sound procedures and good service to adoption clients. National agencies will typically offer shorter waiting times (because of wider outreach capabilities). In summary a larger system with a larger network and more resources at its disposal will often output better results for adoptive families.

At the other end of the spectrum, local agencies are specific to certain regions, and provide a level of intimacy and hands-on guidance that larger organizations cannot. A smaller operation with a smaller client list may be a better choice for adoptive parents who want a very personal partnership, but can afford potentially longer wait times.

Cost of Adoption

In short, the cost of bringing a new bundle of joy in your life is an expensive one. Chances are, if you are exploring adoption, you have some understanding of the adoption cost, and have some sort of savings plan in place. But be assured: it’s never too late to start!

When moving forward with adoption, there are two buckets of financials you need to be prepared for: the logistics of adoption process itself, and the investments and financial requirements of raising a child.

For the adoption process, there are many factors that will play into the ultimate cost of adoption. For example, if you adopt through a domestic adoption agency, you can expect more expenses than if you were to adopt through the foster care system. There are also the various adoption expenses required to complete the adoption, such as medical and living expenses. And as mentioned above, probably the biggest contributor to the cost of your adoption will be the type of adoption professional or agency you partner with.

While adoption process costs can be extremely variable, one cost you can count on to be at least slightly more consistent is the cost of raising a child. According to the Huffington Post, the average cost of raising a child born in 2013 until 18 for middle-income families is approximately $245,340. You can also check out this calculator from Baby Center to adjust cost-affecting variables like your state of residence, average income, and education aspirations for your child.

The Role of Birth Parents and the Adoption Registry

There are few involved parties more important to the adoption process than your prospective biological parent. Early on in your partnership with an adoption agency, they will probably ask you to fill out an in-depth questionnaire and/or adoption profile to better understand the adoption opportunities you are looking for. Much of the focus of these questionnaires and profiles will be measuring which prospective birth mothers may be a good fit for your adoption aspirations. It is imperative to be one-hundred-percent honest during this stage with what you will consider and won’t consider accepting in your future child. Anything in the realm of gender, age, nationality, medical condition is likely to come up, so it will behoove you to do your research and discuss any difficult decisions with your partner ahead of time.

The adoption registry or profile that you create may prove to be your most direct resource for “communicating” with prospective birth mothers. Many agencies encourage prospective birth mothers to use these profiles to learn more about potential families and adoptive parents, which can make the process of filling it out more stressful for adoptive parents, since it may prove to be the difference maker between your family and another on the next page. Fill out your profile as honestly and warmly as you can, and include any and all details about your personality, family, home and aspirations for your future child.

Parents Magazine recently reported that “Up to 90 percent [of birth mothers] choose their child’s adoptive parents and communicate with them before and after the adoption.” The relationship with the birth parent will prove the most important one you build throughout the adoption process.


Another worthwhile way to grow your family is through Foster to Adopt. If you choose the path of a Foster-Adoptive parent, you will offer children who are unable to return to their birth parents a stable and loving family to grow up in. Adopting an older child who comes to you from the family foster care system changes many lives with a ripple effect – child abuse and neglect cycles are ceased. In this type of adoption, the opportunities for change and happiness are limitless for both the foster child . In addition, the cost of adoption is typically significantly lower in this type of system. You can learn more about foster care adoption, supportive services, financial information and much more.

Preparing Your Home

In your initial discussions with adoption agencies, it is likely they will request certain forms and actions from the prospective adoptive family. As a prospective parent, you will be expected to pass a home study inspection from either a social worker or an employee from the agency. Many agencies require a home visit of “home study” in order to get a better understanding of your home life and determine whether or not you qualify to be an adult adoptee. Background checks and financial record gathering are typically a part of this process, as well as interviews with you, your partner and potentially other family members.

This part of the process can be quite nerve-wracking, and although a home safety checklist is a great place to start, there’s so much more to your home visit than that. You must remember, the key to creating a safe and open home environment for your child is about more than just meeting their fundamental needs for survival, and your home study agent will understand this better than anyone else. Building an atmosphere of openness and an overall feeling of comfort and trust is imperative for raising a happy, healthy child ready to take on the world.

The Waiting Game

After you’ve gone through the necessary preparations, interviews and visits, the only thing left to do is wait for “the call.” One of the first questions that inevitably arises in the minds of aspiring adoptive parents is “how long will this take?” The stigma is that the adoption process is a long one, but as we saw above, there are multiple choices that factor into how long it will ultimately take to bring home your child.

Many adoption resources, like American Adoption, will tell you that the biggest contributing factor in an adoption professional’s average adoption wait time is advertising. Essentially, the more money your adoption representative is able to spend on advertisements per adoptive family, the more exposure you’re likely to receive to prospective birth parents.

However, there are other factors more closely tied to the capabilities of your agency, like how many other active adoptive families they have in their system. If you are more flexible with your adoption expectations (i.e. you’re open to adopting internationally, or have flexible preferences on age or gender), you can expect a shorter wait time throughout your adoption process.

It’s important to remind yourself throughout this process that good things take time; ultimately, there are a host of external factors that will impact when you take home your adopted child, and much of that falls on the birth parent. Try your best to maintain a normal lifestyle, and remain positive that your desired outcome is on its way.

Whether you work with a social worker to adopt a foster child or you enlist the help of an adoption worker to partner your family with a birth mother, there are many ways to find adoption assistance if you choose to go that route. Just remember, adopting doesn’t just benefit the child in need, it also can change your life for the better as well. While the adoption process is arduous, the results are decidedly worth it. And for the majority of adoptive parents, the process is not nearly as overwhelming, expensive or time consuming as they expect.


Reviewed by:

Amy Heilman, Director of Foster Care and Adoption

Amy Heilman, LCSW is the Director of Foster Care and Adoption programs at Children’s Bureau and has over 20 years of experience working in the foster care and adoption field. Amy joined Children’s Bureau in 2001 and became the program director in 2014. She received her BA from California State University Dominguez Hills and her MSW from California State University Long Beach.

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