The adoption process is diverse, sometimes complicated, but ultimately quite beautiful. Deciding which form of adoption you want to pursue, choosing an agency, completing your home study, finding your match, and preparing for your new addition are only a few steps of the long list of things you should do to prepare for adoption. Each step to the adoption process is important and plays a key role. As you embark on this journey, you might be lead to a big question – Do I have to use adoption attorneys to complete my adoption?

Choices for the Hopeful Adoptive Family

Foster Care

When you are deciding to adopt a child, there are a few different options that you can consider. If you are on a limited budget and are open to adopting a child above the age of five, foster-to-adopt might be the best path to take. Children who are in foster care are placed in temporary care for abuse, neglect, or parental drug use. Parents are given time, support, and resources to meet the requirements outlined by a judge to regain custody of children. While parents work through their issues and take advantage of the services available to them, children are cared for in a foster home. 

A foster home is a temporary home that provides safety, love, and the basic needs of the children. A foster home is a preferred option to group homes of the past because they can provide a stable home for the children that are waiting to be reunited with their parents. The primary purpose of foster care is to reunite parents and children. Often, a significant amount of time is given for parents to become foster parents. When foster parents are placed with a child, there is no guarantee that the child will stay with the foster family forever. Generally, younger children return to the care of their parents. If you are hoping to adopt through foster care, older children, sibling groups, and/or children with disabilities are more likely to be adopted. Either way, you will need to work with your state directly to become a licensed foster parent. This generally requires a home study, background check, training, and stable home life. When you adopt through foster care, you use an adoption attorney to finalize your adoption. Generally, your state will cover the legal fees for adoption from foster care. 

Private Adoption

If you are hoping to adopt an infant, private adoption might be a better fit. When you adopt through private adoption, you either work with an adoption agency to help find a match, or you can find a match independently. First, you will need to complete a home study. Your adoption agency can complete your home study for you or refer you to licensed professionals who can. If you are adopting independently, you will need to research licensed home study caseworkers in your area. 

A good agency will offer you and the expectant mother a lot of support and work with you every step of the way. In a private adoption, you will specify your preferences for a child. Things to consider are age, gender, race, multiples (twins or triplets), sibling groups, and disabilities. You will compile a profile book that tells the expectant mother all about your family, shares pictures, and gives a little insight into your life. These are sometimes done digitally as well as in print. 

Working with an adoption attorney on your private adoption is incredibly important. Each state has different rules for when a birth parent can change his/her mind and when adoption can be finalized. Working with an attorney will ensure that all of your needed paperwork is in order, you are aware of all of the laws, and each party is treated fairly. 

International Adoption

International adoption has a lot of similarities to private adoption but also a lot of major differences. To adopt internationally, you will need a special home study specific to international adoption. You have to use a caseworker that is licensed to write Hague-accredited home studies. The Gladney Center for Adoption explains what a Hague accreditation means saying, “The Hague Convention protects children and their families against the risk of unregulated adoptions abroad and ensures that intercountry (district) adoptions are made in the best interests of the children. The Convention also protects against unethical, unlawful, and inhumane adoption practices.” Working closely with an international adoption agency with a Hague accreditation is vital to ensure your adoption is done ethically. 

Adopting internationally requires extra-paperwork, applications, and wait time. Depending on the country, children are matched with a family but remain in their home country until all of the proper licenses and approvals have been obtained. While you might be matched with a child that is six-months-old, it is likely you don’t bring your child home for another 6-18 months. Generally, children who are adopted internationally are no younger than 3-6 months. It is also common to see children with disabilities adopted internationally. 

Working with an international adoption attorney is extremely important. There is so much red tape and so many laws that need to be followed. If you take this route, I would highly suggest hiring an adoption attorney to make sure that everything is done correctly as not to jeopardize the success and legality or the adoption.

Choices for Expectant Mom

If you are currently experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and deciding on your options, you have a few things to consider. You can choose to parent, place your child for adoption, or terminate your pregnancy. If you decide to parent, reach out to your local government assistance office to learn of the resources available to you. You might qualify for free prenatal healthcare, healthcare for your baby after birth, food stamps, housing stipends, and other programs to support low-income expectant mothers. 

If you want to place your child for adoption, you can reach out to a local adoption agency and they should walk you through the whole adoption placement process. Most likely, they will work closely with you to ensure that your mental, as well as your physical health, is a top priority. You should be able to choose the family that adopts your child by looking through different family profiles, talking to hopeful adoptive families, and even meeting them if you decide to. Other decisions you might make as the birth mother include selecting the type of family your child will go to: whether or not it is a married couple, their general ages, their religious beliefs, if they already have children in the home, and the amount of family and community support they have are all factors to consider. You also are privileged with being the deciding vote on how open the adoption will be. 

Open vs. Closed Adoption

For both the expectant parents and hopeful adoptive parents, deciding on whether you want an open or closed adoption is important. There are varying degrees of open adoption. Some open adoptions involve regular in-person visits, phone calls, video calls, holidays, and other important celebrations. There are some birth mothers and adoptive families that find a very open adoption extremely valuable, important, and non-negotiable. Many people choose a semi-open adoption. In a semi-open adoption, there is contact, but it is limited. This could be anything from yearly phone calls to letters every few years. It is really up to the birth family to make the decision of how open they want the adoption to be. 

Open adoption provides the child with an understanding of where he/she came from. Having the option to reach out to the biological family can be beneficial for the child’s self-esteem, self-identity, and desire to understand the choice of adoption. It can also be helpful for biological parents to see their child growing and enjoying a happy life. For some, it can be difficult to keep that connection. 

A closed adoption is when there is no contact between the birth family and the adoptive child/family. This can be beneficial in the situation that the birth mother and/or child is at risk of harm. For whatever reason, the birth mother can request a closed adoption and her request will be respected. This should be outlined in the final adoption paperwork. 

Home Study

A part of the adoption process commonly misconstrued as intimidating is the home study. Whether you adopt through foster care, private adoption, or through international adoption, you will need to have a completed home study. Essentially, the home study is a large report about everyone in your home. Before the home study, your caseworker will likely send you a list of questions and topics to consider and make notes about. 

Often, the caseworker will schedule a time to come to your house to discuss anything and everything you can think of. They want to know about your childhood, family life, career, education, discipline style, traditions, budget, income, relationships, extended family, trauma, fears, and learn about the children in your home. It can feel a little overwhelming. Their job isn’t to judge you. Their job is to compile a complete overview of your family.

Part of the home study will also be a look around your home to verify that it is safe and has sufficient room for an additional child or children. While your home doesn’t need to be perfectly spotless, it should be clean and tidy. One home study approved family said of their home study process, “We were so nervous before our caseworker came! I stayed up the night before cleaning out the inside of my kitchen cabinets and organizing the canned goods into nice, neat rows. The caseworker didn’t even open them during her home study!” It’s important to be prepared, but the home study isn’t a judgment on how well you can organize your pantry.

Adoption Lawyers

When an attorney attends law school, they are introduced to the many different areas of law that they can specialize in. Adoption attorneys are categorized under lawyers that practice family law. Most family lawyers “focus on representing clients in divorce and the issues related to divorce such as the division of marital property, child custody and support, and alimony. Adoption and guardianship, juvenile delinquency, and child abuse and neglect are also areas of family law.” Family lawyers love to work adoption cases because they get to see the joy that a new child brings to a hopeful adoptive family.

An adoption lawyer is able to ensure that everything is done correctly in your home state and the state in which the baby is born. They also work closely with the child’s home state to handle all necessary paperwork. There are different adoption laws in different states, so it is helpful to have someone that is knowledgeable in assisting you with your adoption.

While legally, any lawyer can technically help to finalize your adoption, there are so many unique and complicated steps to adoption law that you want to guarantee that everything is handled correctly. They should handle all of the necessary paperwork, attend court, and guide you throughout each step of your adoption. 

For expectant parents, working with an attorney will ensure that your adoption is ethical and that you are treated fairly. The terms of the adoption are outlined in the legal paperwork. 

An adoption agency and adoption lawyers are different groups of people that all help you to ensure that your adoption goes smoothly, is ethical, and is legal. An adoption agency will generally have adoption lawyers that they prefer to work with and that have a good reputation for honest work. The adoption agency doesn’t handle any legal pieces to your adoption. They work primarily to provide therapeutic support to hopeful adoptive families and expectant parents. They help to coordinate and complete your home study, guide you through the matching process, and act as a bridge between expectant parents and hopeful adoptive families. Lawyers, on the other hand, strictly handle the paperwork and legal side of the adoption.

Michelle Donner is the mother to two beautiful children and a hopeful adoptive mama of one more! When she isn’t chasing her kids around, she is working as an adjunct professor teaching college writing and working as a freelance writer. She loves to be creative and runs her own floral design business for weddings and events. Her titles of wife and mother bring her the most joy, fulfillment, and challenge in her life.