There are three main ways you can adopt in the United States — through the foster care system, through a private, domestic infant adoption with the help of an agency or lawyer, or internationally. Here are some more details on each path:
Adopting through foster care (foster-adopt):
There are over 440,000 children in the foster care system at any given time. The most important difference between choosing adoption through foster care than through private domestic adoption is this — the primary goal of the foster care system is to reunite children with their families. Even if you are hoping to build your forever family through the foster-adopt process, it’s important to be supportive of this ultimate goal. About a fourth of children in foster care, however, have been “legally freed” for adoption — meaning the rights of their biological parents have been severed, legally, and they are eligible for permanent placement in a forever home.
It’s also important to know that the average age of a child in foster care is 8 years old — you may have an infant or toddler placed with you through this system, but younger children are very often reunited, ultimately, with biological family members. So it’s important to be open to providing a home for older children
“I’d say the biggest difference between adopting through foster care compared to other routes is the cost and waiting period,” said Jill Rosenberg of Extraordinary Families. If adopting a newborn through private domestic adoption, or a child internationally, there is often a long wait involved, she explained. And the costs can be substantial compared to foster care. A benefit to adopting through foster care is that these placements come with resources the other paths lack — the process is typically free, and includes a monthly stipend up until the child turns 18 (or 21 in some states). The process is also typically much quicker than in other adoption paths — it usually takes 3 to 6 months to become a certified foster parent, depending on where you live, and you are likely to receive a placement very soon after that.
“Another thing about adopting through foster care that make it unique is that a lot of children come into the system with a sibling,” said Trey Rabun of Amara. “So if you hope to have two, three or four kids, adopting through foster care lets you achieve that goal at once.” Through private domestic adoption, in contrast, you’ll complete individual adoptions each time.
Private Infant Adoption:
There are two ways to adopt a newborn in the United States – with the help of an adoption attorney or an adoption agency. Doing so with the help of an attorney is often referred to as an “independent adoption.” The benefit of working with an adoption agency is your professionals will do most of the work for you — if you go the independent route, you’ll be partly responsible for helping match with a birth family, advertising, and finding an agency to conduct your home study.
The costs for going the independent route can vary more widely than with an agency. Independent adoption can range from $15,000 to $40,000, while adopting through an agency typically averages between $20,000 and $45,000. Both paths average roughly 24 months, start to finish, before an infant adoption is complete.
Independent adoption isn’t legal in all states. Where legal, moreover, restrictions often exist — such as whether or not you are allowed to advertise for a birth parent, or use a “facilitator,” to help conduct parts of the process. So if you go the independent route, it will be especially important to know the laws in your state.
Lastly, private domestic adoption, whichever route you take, is a birth parent driven process. “The birth parent will pick adoptive parents, and can decide whether or not she ultimately would like to parent,” said Molly Rampe Thomas of Choice Network. It’s important to recognize and respect this fact, and to be patient — you will be matched with a family eventually!
International adoption, also called “intercountry adoption,” has been steadily declining in recent years thanks to the tightening of international standards. Still, thousands of people in the United States successfully adoption children from abroad each year. LGBTQ people are often restricted from participating in international adoptions — but it will vary by country. You will need to work closely with an accredited agency to guide you through the process.