Each adoption process is unique and comes with its own set of challenges, but there are some predetermined steps you can expect:
Step 1: First, decide which path is best for you
Whether you adopt through foster care, with a private agency or attorney, or internationally will be determined by your own unique set of circumstances: is it important to you to adopt an infant or an older child? Does race matter? What do your finances look like? Is it important to adopt a child from a specific cultural context? We will examine these questions in later chapters to help you decide the best path for you.
You may first want to decide if foster care is the right path forward for you. “It’s important to keep in mind that most children in foster care do return home,” said Trey Rabun, Foster Care Services Supervisor at Amara. “But there are a number of kids where the state has determined returning home is not a safe, viable option, so they will go through a process where they are “legally freed” for adoption.” If permanent adoption is your ultimate goal, then, you need to be prepared to house several children before that occurs.
You may also need to be open to adopting an older child. “The average age of a child in foster care is 8,” Trey said, “which is also about the age we typically see children freed for adoption.” While it is certainly possibly to adopt a younger child through the foster care system, it is rarer — and will likely take more time — than if you are open to adopting older children. If you have your heart set on parenting a child from birth, than the private domestic adoption process may be your best path forward.
Step 2: Find an LGBTQ-friendly adoption professional.
Once you’ve decided which path is best for you, you will need to find a professional with a long track record of supporting and helping LGBTQ people become parents. We’ll have tips for doing so in future chapters, but a visit to the “All Children, All Families” database, maintained by the Human Rights Campaign will be a great place to start.
“Speaking from a private adoption agency standpoint, you’re going to look for an agency that is LGBTQ affirming, that matches your values, and is a right fit for you,” said Olivia Pope at Friends in Adoption.
Step 3: Complete the home study
This is the process every adoptive parent must go through in order to become a certified adoptive parent, regardless of your path. “You’ll complete a home study, which is a legal document that pre-approves someone for foster care or adoption,” said Trey of Amara. “It’s a standard document that everyone uses in the adoption field, whether you’re dong foster care, private domestic adoption or international adoption.”
The name is misleading — this process is about much more than your home. It generally lasts anywhere from 3 to 6 months, and will involve everything from background checks, interviews with the members of your household, examinations of your physical and financial health, education and training where needed, and much more. It sounds overwhelming, but the process is meant to help build your capacity to be the best, and most prepared, adoptive parent you can possibly be. We will examine the home study process in much more detail in a later chapter.
Step 4: Create a profile
If you are pursuing private domestic adoption through an agency or lawyer, you will likely create a profile that your professionals will use to help match you to a prospective birth parent. Your profile will include your interests, profession, likes and dislikes, photographs, parenting philosophies, interests in forming your family through adoption, and more.
“You will build your profile, in which you’ll talk about yourself, your relationship if you are partnered or married, your community, your religion if you have one, your dog,” said Oliva of Friends in Adoption. “It’s a sort of first glance for the parent of who you are, your hopes and dreams, and basically what you are willing to give and how you plan to parent your child.”
Once you’ve completed the initial steps, your adoption professional will take you “live,” meaning your profile will start to be shown on websites and social media to birth parents.
Step 5: Match with a birth family
If you are hoping to adopt a newborn, birth parents will choose from among the profiles created by available adoptive families — for every infant available for adoption, there are 36 families waiting. “In domestic infant adoption, the choice really is entirely up to the birth parent,” said Molly of Choice Network. So it may take a while before you are officially matched. It’s important to be patient during this process, and remember — the choice is entirely up to the birth parents.
“You will have a conversation between your birth parents, your case worker, and you,” said Olivia of Friends in Adoption. “From that conversation, if a birth parent chooses you, that’s called being ‘matched.’”
If you are pursuing adoption through foster care he process will be different. You will work with a case worker who will help find a placement that works for you and your needs. “You will work with a social worker to determine what strengths and challenges you might have as a parent,” said Jill Rosenberg, Foster Care and Adoption Supervisor at Extraordinary Families.
Step 6: Decide how “open” your adoption will be
The majority of adoptions have some degree of openness these days, arrangements which most professionals say benefit all involved. “Getting your heart ready for openness will be an important step,” said Molly of Choice Network. But just how open contact is, and what that looks like, will be a negotiated process between all involved. In private domestic adoption, this process, too, is driven by the birth parents — and it’s important to follow their lead. However, your own needs and desires regarding openness are important, too. While the idea of maintaining ongoing contact with your child’s birth parents may be intimidating, open adoptions have come to be viewed by professionals and researchers as the best option, whenever available, for all involved in the process.
“The nice thing about fostering is that it does give families the opportunity to build organic and natural relationships with the birth family,” said Jill of Extraordinary Families. “But of course any connection later on is really at the discretion of the family.”
Step 7: Prepare for your child
During this step in the process, it’s important your home is prepared to welcome your child. This involves simple activities like making sure your child’s bedroom is set up and ready, and you have all supplies you need for the age of the child you will be parenting. If you will require child care, you will need to set this up during this stage of the process as well. Your adoption professionals will help guide you through this process.
This is also the stage where you will examine and prepare your support system with friends and family. As part of this step, we talk about your support system and extended family, and how the people in your life who love you — what kind of role they’re going to play in your child’s life, ” said Jill of Extraordinary Families.
Step 8: Finalize your adoption
Depending on where you live, this process can look a bit different. For private domestic adoption, there is a “post placement” period, lasting several months — usually 4 to 6 months — after you bring your baby home, during which the state maintains legal authority over the adoption. After this period, a hearing will be scheduled — that is typically more of a formality by this point — during which you will become the legal guardian of the child.