The adoption process is more of a marathon than a sprint. One of the first questions a person seeking to adopt asks is, “How long does the process take?” In our world of instant satisfaction and immediate pleasure, we want things quickly, as in yesterday. The quicker the better. In reality, good things come to those who wait. This is no less true in adoption. And seeing the finish line at the end of a long race is the most satisfying thing in the world. The same is true of the adoption process. 

In short, an adoption finalization can vary and look different depending on what type of adoption you are pursuing. It can take anywhere between 9-18 months, sometimes longer and in extreme cases, shorter. This all depends on many different factors since every case is different. The factors include the country you choose to adopt from, what U.S. state you reside in, your qualifications to adopt, how quickly you complete the adoption paperwork, and the legal status of your child, among other things. A hiccup in any one of these areas can push the adoption finalization back by a few weeks to a few months.

International Adoption Process

 – Choose an agency. If you are interested in adopting overseas, the first thing you need to do is choose a good adoption agency that has a positive track record of international adoptions. Research and get recommendations from others who have adopted from overseas. Make sure you choose the agency that will meet your needs and will support you and guide you through the process. Once you choose your adoption agency, choose the country you wish to adopt from. Be aware that not all countries accept applications from single parents. And if you choose an agency that you don’t feel comfortable with, consider changing agencies.

 – Fund your adoption. International adoptions have decreased over the years for many different reasons. One of these reasons is the exorbitant fees associated with international adoptions. Depending on the agency and the country you wish to adopt from, adopting a child from another country can cost anywhere between $20,000 to $40,000! This includes the adoption agency fees, the home study, the attorney’s fees, travel back and forth to the country of origin, and other fees.

Not everyone has this money laying around. But don’t let this discourage you. There are many ways to fund your adoption including online fundraising, grants, loans, etc. Adoption agencies may also work with you to make your payments in installments. It can be done!

 – Become qualified to adopt. Next, follow the adoption agency’s guidelines regarding adoption qualifications, as well as guidelines from the country you wish to adopt from. This may include background checks, physician’s statements, references, income verification, etc. 

Qualifications may also include training which could be up to 20-30 hours total. Take advantage of this training, especially regarding trauma. Many of these children have undergone tremendous trauma that we will never know, including war, poverty, abuse, being orphaned, being trafficked, and extreme neglect. And even if they have not, simply making the adjustment of living in a third world country to the U.S. is a huge culture shock, in and of itself. Don’t underestimate this.

The last bit of preparation you will need is research on the country you wish to adopt from. Learning that country’s culture, values, traditions, food, religion, and language is vital, even if the child is an infant. They will want to know where they came from when they grow up. 

 – Complete a home study. A home study is a written document that your adoption agency prepares on your behalf. It includes a summary of all the information above as well as interviews, biographical information, and information on your home and property. This gives the courts, attorneys, and the country you wish to adopt from a snapshot of your parenting ability as well as your strengths and needs. 

 – Complete a dossier. This is a collection of paperwork and documentation each agency and country needs to certify that you are an acceptable candidate to adopt a child, internationally. Thankfully, much of this is already included in the agency home study, so it does not need to be repeated. 

 – Be matched with a child. Many adoption photolisting websites have listings of children who are free for adoption. Take advantage of these photolistings. Not only do these photolistings pull on your heartstrings, but also, the profiles give you a small indication of the personality of the child.

Once you narrow down your choices between three to five kids, request more information about these children from your agency. Ask questions such as how the child came to be available for adoption? What disabilities does the child have? What behavioral issues does the child have? Does the child have any living relatives in the country?

 – Complete immigration paperwork. You will need to complete the paperwork necessary to bring your child home. This may vary from country to country, but it usually includes correspondence with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, gaining a visa, and other paperwork.

 – Walk through the legal process with an attorney. This will vary from state to state and from country to country. However, you will know your adoption is complete when you receive the Order of Adoption with a judge’s signature. This is proof that you have successfully completed the adoption! 

Domestic Private Adoption Process

Many young women who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy may make the brave choice to place their child in a loving adoptive home. In many cases, she will be able to have input into the type of home in which her child will be raised. She will need a stable, loving home who will treat her child as their own. It’s a win-win-win situation. The pregnant mom who has a crisis pregnancy has peace knowing her child is being well taken care of; the adoptive mom has peace knowing she has helped a mom in crisis; and of course, the child now has a forever family. A private adoption may be the perfect solution. 

 – Choose an agency/attorney. Though the state is not involved in a private adoption, it does need to go through the legal process and be approved by a judge in order to make it legal. Choose an experienced adoption agency or attorney to guide you through this process.

 – Become qualified to adopt. Qualifications for adoption vary in each state. However, the process to become qualified could take anywhere from six to 12 months. Training, paperwork, background checks, references, and home inspections may be part of this process. It may feel invasive and frustrating at times but look at it as a learning experience.

 – Create your own adoption profile. Many websites allow prospective adoptive parents to create an adoption profile. This includes a current photo and a short blurb on the website that outlines the family’s lifestyle, values, activities, and expectations. This is necessary for any mom to view when searching for a family with whom to place her child.

 – Be matched/placed with a child. Being matched with a child can be a lengthy process. But what you need to keep in mind is one question: Can my family meet the needs of this child for the rest of his or her life? This would include not only meeting the child’s physical needs but also meeting the child’s mental, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.

 – Complete the legal process with an attorney. An experienced adoption attorney will help you complete the necessary legal documents required by your state. The final document proving you are the legal adoptive parent is the Order of Adoption. This contains information on the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the identified child, including their birth name and their newly adoptive name. This is reviewed by the court and signed by a judge. Once this is signed, your adoption is final!

Foster Care Adoption Process

Foster care adoption is when a family adopts a child from the foster care system. These kids, through no fault of their own, are in the system due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Currently, there are 400,000 children in foster care and 100,000 of those are available for adoption. Many people don’t think of the foster care system as a primary method of adoption because they do not want to risk the child being returned to their parents after spending so much time attaching to the child. However, the one positive thing about foster care adoption is that the cost to adopt from the foster care system is little to none! 

The entire process it takes to become licensed/certified is about six to nine months. Then it will take another three to six months, or longer, to become placed with a child, depending on a number of factors. For example, if you are seeking a healthy white infant to foster-adopt, you will have to wait years to be placed. However, if you have a heart for an older child or youth, a sibling group, or a child with special needs, the process could be a lot shorter. Here is the process in a nutshell.

 – Choose an agency. In every state, there are foster care agencies that contract with that state to place children from the foster care system who are free for adoption. Choose one that meets your needs.

 – Become licensed/certified to foster and adopt. Every state has different qualifications to become qualified to foster-adopt. Some of these include background checks, training, home inspection, a physician’s statement, and references. 

 – Get placed with a foster child. The vast majority of children who are placed in the foster care system are returned to their biological parents. However, there are those children who are not able to go back to their parents, for whatever reason, due to incarceration, addiction, or death. If this is the case, the foster child will need a forever family.

 – Walk through legal process with an attorney. Each state has a slightly different legal process. Here is a general outline of what to expect. Timelines may vary and documents may vary from state to state.

           – Termination of Parental Rights. This is done either voluntarily or involuntarily and is signed by a judge. There may be many reasons a parent has their rights terminated. Among some of those reasons are incarceration, addiction, or abandonment. Parents who have their children in the foster care system have ample time to recover and to be rehabilitated before their rights are severed. Unknown fathers are given ample time to be located and tests are given to determine paternity should there be any dispute. Rights can also be voluntarily relinquished. Once both parents’ rights have been severed, the child is “free” for adoption. 

           – Certification of Adoption. This is the document which certifies that the potential adoptive couple is qualified to adopt. In some states, a foster care license is sufficient. This is approved by the courts.

           – Petition to Adopt. This is the document which is submitted to the courts which requests the court to proceed with the adoption of an identified child by the prospective adoptive parents.

           – Final Adoption Court Hearing. This is the final hearing in which the adoptive parents, the child, attorneys, the judge, and witnesses are present. This hearing is simple and straightforward and usually 10-20 minutes long total. It is at this hearing that the adoption becomes finalized! 

           – Order of Adoption. This is the document that is signed at the final hearing which the judge signs to make the adoption official. Within it contains the child’s birth name and new adoptive name. 

Whether international or domestic or foster-adopt, the adoption process is not for the faint of heart! It is more of a marathon than a sprint! However, once you cross the finish line, pat yourself on the back! You have done what very few other people have done: adopted a child and given them a forever home! Congratulations! 


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Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have eight children, six of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption are his passions and callings for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.