Adoption Process - A Step by Step Guide

At first glance, adopting a child can appear overwhelmingly complicated. The prospect of sorting through attorneys, social workers, adoption agencies, and legal forms can be enough to scare off even the most enthusiastic prospective adoptive families. However, adoption should be an experience of great joy and fulfillment for both your family and your adopted child. Most adoptions can be broken down into five simple steps.

1) First, consider whether adoption is right for your family. Do you have the financial means to adopt and raise a child? Are you comfortable with the possibility of raising a child of a different race, ethnicity, or cultural background? If you know other families who have adopted children in the past, you may wish to speak with them about what you can expect when bringing an adopted child into your family. Community and online networks of adoptive parents are also good places to get important information.

2) Once you have decided that you wish to pursue adoption, you must decide what type of adoption you wish to participate in. Some of the most common types of adoption are as follows:

  • Newborn or Infant Adoption: While many infant adoptions can be handled with the assistance of a licensed adoption or state agency, many are handled privately between the birth and adoptive parents with the help of an attorney. In such cases, the birth parents voluntarily relinquish custody to the adoptive parents.

  • Foster Adoption: An increasing number of social service agencies recognize that a happy and stable foster home is the permanent placement of choice for a child. Fostering a child in your home is one way to ensure that attachment and bonding takes place before the adoption process is finalized.
  • Open/Closed Adoption: While there is no set definition of an "open" adoption, it usually means that the birth parents and the adoptive parents have some type of interaction with each other. The relationship between the parties is different for every family and can range from the birth parents having the address of the child to periodic phone calls, letters, and visits by the birth parents.
  • Domestic/International Adoption: Like domestic adoptions, international adoptions can also take place with the assistance of a public social service organization or a private agency. Many international adoptions require the adoptive parents to travel to the country of origin to finalize the adoption.
  • Special Needs and Waiting Children Adoption: Thousands of children across the United States have been designated as "special needs" children because of their age, physical disabilities, or emotional issues. The guardianship of special needs children are usually held by a state agency that can facilitate the adoption process.

3) Once you've determined what type of adoption is best for your family, your next step should be to select an adoption agency or attorney well-versed in adoption law. Most adoption agencies will require prospective parents to attend orientation sessions or classes on parenting adopted children. Families who have already completed the adoption process can often recommend agencies or attorneys with whom they've had positive experiences. In addition to facilitating the adoption of state wards, public service agencies can also steer prospective parents to reputable private agencies and attorneys.

4) After you've selected an attorney or an adoption agency, it's time to schedule a home study. The home study is a process by which a licensed social worker will investigate the environment in which you will raise your adopted child. A social worker will investigate your home, speak with members of your family, and, in most states, prepare a report for the court recommending that you be allowed to adopt a child. Adoption agencies and attorneys can assist families in preparing for the home study as well as finding a licensed social worker to complete the task.

5) Following the successful completion of your home study, you will await placement of an adopted child into your family. If you did not begin the adoption process with a specific child you wish to bring into your family, your wait for placement could range from several weeks for a "special needs" child to several years for a newborn domestic child. Once a child has been placed with your family, your agency or attorney will take steps to "finalize" the adoption. A judge will ensure that the parental rights of both birth parents have been terminated and that all legal rights pertaining to the child are conferred upon the adoptive parents. In most states, the adoption becomes irreversible six months from the date the judge finalizes the adoption. Though many a few high profile cases have caused prospective parents fear that their adoption will be overturned by one or more of the birth parents, in reality, few adoptions are ever challenged in court.

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