Located in the heart of western America, South Dakota is a loosely populated state with deep ties to Native American culture, the American westward expansion, and rural living. Here are some important things you need to know when considering adoption in this state

For expectant parents

Are you an expectant parent who is considering adoption for your child? First and foremost, adoption is a very courageous and selfless decision you could ever make for your child, and you have options. You are not alone. If you’d like a relationship with your child after the adoption has taken place, you can. You can choose the family you want to adopt your child, how much contact you want post-placement, you can choose what adoption agency you’d like to work with, etc. The choice is yours, and you have options. 

If you’d like, you can watch other birth mothers share their stories and answer common questions at this link

Who can adopt? 

In South Dakota, any adult (over the age of 18) can adopt. However, the person adopting must be at least 10 years older than the adoptee. This is a rule unique to South Dakota and a small number of other states. The person/family choosing to adopt must live in South Dakota with the child they plan to adopt for at least six months before the adoption process can be completed and finalized. So, there is a wait period between when you can initiate and finish the process. 

To adopt, consent must be obtained from several parties prior to the finalization of the process: 

  • If a person is married, his or her spouse must also agree to adopt the person(s) 
  • Children over the age of 12
  • Birth parents of the child

If any of the aforementioned types of consent cannot be obtained, the party will not be able to proceed with the adoption process. In extreme cases, however, consent can be waived in either the best interest of the child or if a birth parent cannot provide consent for one reason or another. Waiving consent is usually only done by the court in severe or extreme situations as the best interest of the child is always at the center of any adoption legal proceedings. 

Who can be adopted? 

Any person of any age can be adopted in South Dakota, even into adulthood. In the case that the person being adopted is an adult, she or he must give consent to the adoption. 

How long does the adoption process take? 

In general, the adoption process does not have a quick turnaround due to the qualifications and legal action required. Different types of adoption can have different time frames, however. In South Dakota, just like many other states, the adoption process can be lengthy and can take several months. In some rare cases, it can even take years. However, being adequately prepared and obtaining knowledge of required steps can help reduce the amount of time it takes.

Are there any laws I need to know about before adopting in this state? 

There is a statute of limitations to either reverse or change the finalized adoption, which is two years. The only exception to this rule is if there is fraud present in the adoption; in this case, there is no statute of limitations. 

Most likely, potential adoptive families will need to seek out an adoption lawyer to assist them with legal proceedings. Locating a lawyer can sometimes be difficult, but a directory of South Dakota lawyers can be found here

What is different about South Dakota adoption than other states? 

Because of the large Native American population in South Dakota, it is important to know about the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 when looking to adopt. Per the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the act was developed to protect American Indian children from being removed from their homes at alarming rates. In 2015, the Association reported that in 1978, 25-35% of all native children were taken from their homes by outside agencies—both private and state. Shockingly, 85% of these children were placed with families that were not located in their community and were outside their culture. This even happened when extended family members were available to take care of the child. Unfortunately, things haven’t changed much since then. Native children are still taken out of the home at much larger rates than any other ethnicity or culture as well as 56% of them being placed with families that are not of their culture. The act also helps to refine the nature of adoption by working with families to make sure “voluntary” adoptions are legitimate and not forced. 

The ICWA is regulated by the federal government rather than individual states, treating tribes as individual units and not as an entire race or cultural group. Therefore, states do not have the discretion to alter any policies regarding American Indian children. 

Similar to concerns raised about transracial adoption, both child welfare professionals and American Indian communities worry that if children are taken out of their culture, they will have difficulty in learning about it. One of the driving forces behind support for the ICWA is that it reduces the amount of internal conflict and trauma children might experience if they are separated from their family and their culture. 

How is foster care adoption handled? 

The South Dakota Department of Social Services (DSS) handles all adoption for children in the foster care system. According to the Children’s Home Society of South Dakota, there are 400 children currently waiting for adoption in the South Dakota foster care system and 1,200 in the system as a whole. As always, the ultimate goal of the system is to reunite families rather than place the child for adoption. 

How are private and independent adoptions handled? 

Like any other private adoption in the U.S., the majority of the logistics will be handled by the adoption agency. Legal matters or court hearings will be handled by the adoptive family and an adoption lawyer. Adoption lawyers are also necessary in independent adoptions where an adoption agency is not involved. In this case, the entire adoption process will be handled by the court system. 

International adoptions are handled outside of the state government of South Dakota. Because there are so many aspects that require federal guidance, the Department of Social Services of South Dakota is not involved at all. 

What are home studies like? 

A home study is where a social worker will evaluate whether the family meets the qualifications to foster or adopt a child. After meeting with the family, the social worker will write a report detailing the results of the study. This will then be submitted with the other materials needed for the adoption process. All home studies for families adopting through the Department of Social Services must be conducted by a social worker at DSS. For families adopting through a private agency or independently, they can have the option of going through DSS or selecting their own licensed social worker or organization to complete the home study. Information about the selection process and how home studies work through the state can be found here.

Additionally, families may incur a cost for the home study but will need to stay in contact with the DSS office or the organization they are working with to figure out exactly what they are responsible for. 

What types of information is provided from the birth family during the adoption process? 

In South Dakota, birth parents are not required to give any information to adoptive families. However, there is a strongly recommended option to fill out a comprehensive family history that includes medical, social, and psychological history. Adoptive families will be provided with the information if the birth parents choose to complete it; however, adoptees are not independently allowed to have access to the information until they turn 18. Of course, adoptive parents have the ability to provide their children with the information prior to their 18th birthday, as well. 

What types of financial assistance are available to adoptive parents? 

Children adopted through a private agency can be eligible for aid, but only if they are also eligible for Title IV-E. Federal aid is also available for families through the Title IV-E form. 

In addition to the specific adoption-type qualifications, children also need to have unique circumstances or be classified as having “special needs.” To qualify as such, a child must be or have the following: 

  • Adoption through the foster care system was the only plausible option for the child
  • Child is at least 8 years old
  • Specific race or religion
  • Need for a prosthesis, extensive, ongoing, or anticipated medical care, or therapy for speech, physical, or psychological disability
  • Physical, emotional, neurological, or intellectual disability

Aid payments range in amount based on the age of the child. 

Concurrent with other state adoption assistance programs, financial aid begins once the adoption is finalized and continues until the child turns 18. If necessary, aid can continue until the child turns 21, but only in certain circumstances. Interestingly, however, payments can be paused at any point if the adoptive parents wish to do so. 

Families can also receive the following post-adoption services from the Department of Social Services and Child Protective Services: “educational programs, respite care, pharmaceutical/medication services and referrals, support groups, therapeutic interventions, resources and referrals, residential treatment, and advocacy.” 

How do families interact post-placement? 

There are several different ways birth and adoptive parents can communicate after the adoption is finalized. Prior to 15-20 years ago, most adoptions were closed. This means that the adoption records were sealed, and families had no contact once the adoption was finalized. In most closed adoption cases, adoptees will seek out their birth family after they turn 18. However, some may not have any information about their adoption or birth family, making it nearly impossible to reunite with them. Per South Dakota law, “natural” or birth parents do not have any legal rights once their custody has been terminated. However, if there is an agreement—such as one for an open adoption arrangement—set in place by both parties, the law is not applicable. The only necessity is that the agreement must be in writing. 

As the narrative around adoption has begun to change in recent years, open adoptions have become more popular. Here, birth families are involved with their child’s life through visits, phone calls, letters, or other methods of communication. As the child grows, she is able to develop a relationship with her birth parents that is independent from her adoptive parents. As one can imagine, this is incredibly beneficial for all members of the adoption triad and can lessen the amount of trauma and grief that can come with the adoption process. 

South Dakota Adoption Stories

The adoption community in South Dakota is a positive one, perfect for families who want the perk of rural living and an adequate level of support from their community. In November of 2019, the Argus Leader featured a story about National Adoption Month and spectacular families in the adoption community. This article featured the O’Connor family and mentions a few others who were nominated by South Dakota senators for the Angels in Adoption award. This award is given by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, a national institution that recognizes outstanding families in adoption.

The O’Connors began their adoption journey when their oldest daughter entered high school and said “there was another child out there who was meant to be in their family.” Taking a risk, they looked into adoption and were matched with two beautiful children. They strongly believe that “God matches you with the child who is meant to join your family.” 

Before you go…

We hope this guide has provided you with enough information to help you get started with your adoption in South Dakota. Check out Adoption.com or Adoption.org for more adoption resources! 

*Any legal-driven material mentioned in this article was sourced from statelaws.findlaw.com.

My name is Morgan Bailee Boggess, and I am originally from Owensboro, KY, (where I was raised) and was adopted from Henderson, KY. I currently live in Lexington, KY, with my fiance, our Yorkie (Heidi), turtle (Sheldon), and a variety of saltwater fish. Beginning in 2016, I sought out and met most of my biological family. At the end of my searching, I discovered that I have, in total, 8 brothers and sisters, 20 nieces and nephews, and one godson. I graduated from Georgetown College in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and am currently working towards getting my master’s in Social Work (MSW) with plans to get my Ph.D. in Clinical Neuropsychology a few years after that. I am a psychometrist and clinical research assistant at Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky. My research focus is looking at how forms of complex trauma (particularly intergenerational) affects the cognition in older adults. In my spare time, I write and read spoken word poetry at events to help benefit local nonprofits. I am also involved with several national diversity organizations and serve on the Board of Directors for Adoptees Connect, Inc.