My parents have this endearing habit of talking on the phone together. By that, I mean that if I call my mom, I know my dad is there listening and ready to chime in, and vice versa. A conversation with one of my parents is a conversation with both, at least where the children are concerned. And on this particular phone call, I was especially grateful for this tradition. My husband and I had been ready to be parents for some time now, and to our surprise and dismay, it just hadn’t happened yet. We were told to be patient and told it would work out. We’d even checked with doctors and had gotten medical opinions on that matter, and the answers were all very much the same. “Well,” my dad said, as I vented my frustrations at my parents, “what about adopting? You’ve mentioned that before, why not just start now?”
He was right, we had talked about adoption before, and had expressed a desire to grow our family by adoption at some point in time. But admittedly, my knowledge of the adoption process was limited to “it’s expensive” and “it can take a long time.” “Are we too young?” I asked my dad. “Don’t you need to be making more money?” When my husband and I had talked about adoption, I had always imagined it being a journey we would embark on once we already had a child or two, and were parenting masters ready for whatever new challenges adoption would bring. “No,” my mom chimed in and shared how a good friend of ours had adopted her first child when she was about my age. I thanked both my mom and dad and hung up, my mind spinning. My parents were right. Why not start the adoption process now? Why not look into adoption as a way to start my family? My husband agreed. Buoyed by this decision, we felt deflated the minute we began investigating adoption online. Agencies. Fundraising. Home studies. Foster care. There seemed to be page after page of resources and suggestions. It was daunting and intimidating, even sometimes discouraging. Where were we supposed to start?
If this situation sounds familiar to your own experience, past or present, I’m not surprised. Since joining the adoption world all those years ago, I’ve learned that while every adoption journey is different, most began with a person, a couple, or a family asking that exact same question–“How do I start the adoption process?” So today, amidst all those thousands and thousands of Google results to that same question, let me share with you a straightforward five-step guide and how to start the adoption process.
Do Your Research.
This might seem like a “yeah, duh” first step, but doing your research upfront is critical to the adoption process. In fact, this step will be an ongoing part of your adoption journey. There are a lot of different types of adoption, and before you jump headfirst into working with an agency or a lawyer, or attempting to find a birth mom on your own, you need to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Doing some research will help you know what you’re looking for, and how to pursue that route. For example, are you interested in domestic or international adoption? What about adopting through the foster care system? Are you wanting to adopt an infant? How do you feel about open adoption? If all of these terms seem foreign to you, fear not. That is part of the research process. Use the links above to help you make some decisions about which path you want to take in your adoption journey, and how to move forward. At the same time, however, don’t feel limited to a single adoption option. Perhaps you would like to adopt an infant domestically but are also interested in the foster care system. Wonderful! Do your research on both topics, and make sure that you have a clear understanding of what is required for both infant adoption and foster care–there may be overlap, but the processes are not the same.
Make Some Friends in the Adoption World.
As part of your research, don’t forget about the invaluable assistance that comes from talking to people who have gone through this process already. Seriously. Having people to talk to makes a world of difference. Not only are you going to have a lot of questions come up as you go through the adoption process, but you also might face discouragement, impatience, disappointments, and even frustration. The adoption journey can be an emotional roller coaster, and having people to talk to who know what that is like can not only be helpful and relieving but can also give you hope and optimism that things will work out. So, make new friends. When my husband and I first began the process, I reached out to several friends who I knew had adopted and asked questions. I also joined several online communities or social media groups where I could ask questions and share stories. One of my most valuable connections came from talking to a friend who mentioned that person knew someone who had adopted. I asked if there was a number so I could ask some questions, and both my friend and her friend were more than happy to connect us. We texted some, and it turns out this woman had adopted two children through independent adoption, which was what my husband and I were the most interested in. A long phone call later, and I not only had many questions answered, but I also had some of my nervous fears and worries replaced by excitement. It’s one thing to read adoption guides online. It’s quite another to hear personal stories and see family pictures. So make those connections–you will need as many as you can get. One last note on this–in making friends and joining groups, it is especially helpful to find connections with people who have adopted in your state and recently, as adoption laws vary from state to state and the process has changed a lot over time.
Get Your Money in Order.
No matter which adoption route you pursue, it is going to require some money. While adopting from foster care may only cost you a couple of thousand dollars at the most, adopting through an agency can cost as much as $50,000, if not more. So, start thinking about the financial side of things. Many adoptive families utilize some type of fundraising to help obtain the funds necessary for an adoption. There are also adoption grants and loans you may qualify for, depending on your circumstances. While money is definitely something to begin thinking about now, it’s important to note that, when it comes to seeking money from other people and organizations to help fund you, you may want to wait until you are further along in the adoption process to get that ball rolling. After all, some adoptive families wait months or years until the couple is matched with a birth family, and making a huge effort to raise a ton of money right off the bat before you do anything else can lead to some awkward questions. So, instead of launching a GoFundMe page first thing, begin setting aside extra money in savings, or even if necessary picking up some extra hours at work, or even a night job. Reach out to all those new adoption friends you have made and see what others did to finance adoptions. Whatever you do, don’t let the financial side of things scare you off. It may seem overwhelming, but it is 100% doable, and 100% worth it in the end.
Find an Agency, or, Begin Your Home Study.
If you have elected to go the agency route, the next thing you need to do is find an agency to work with. A simple search of agencies in your state should give you a good list to start investigating. Most agencies have websites you can explore, or will send you an adoption packet containing information about the agency. You can even meet with adoption professionals at different agencies if you want to get a better feel for a particular company and the people involved. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what agency to go with, this is another great opportunity to reach out to adoption friends and community members. A simple “What was your experience with this agency?” can sometimes help you make a decision more quickly and confidently than exploring websites on your own can. Once you have decided on an agency and signed on, these professionals will help you with the next steps in your process and will provide guidance along the way.
If you have opted to go the non-agency route, your next step is to start looking into completing a home study. No matter what adoption method you pursue, you have to have a home study completed in order to be considered eligible for placement. Those working with agencies will have agency professionals assist in the home study process. Without an agency, you will need to find a home study provider on your own and work with the provider to complete the process. A home study consists of lots of paperwork, interviews with a social worker, and a home visit. All of this is done to essentially provide official documentation of your eligibility as adoptive parents. This process can take anywhere from two to six months to complete, but once you’re “home study ready,” it means you are ready for placement. Again, home study laws vary from state to state, so be sure to do your research on home study providers in your own state. You may have to contact an adoption professional, or even sign on with an agency for just a home study service. Still, get excited–having your home study completed is a major step forward in the adoption process.
It’s important to note that even if you don’t go the agency route, there are several other forms of adoption professionals you might consider researching and even contacting during this point in the process, though some you may just take note of for future reference (like, for example, adoption attorneys, who you will not need until you have been matched and are working with a particular adoption situation). Adoption facilitators provide matching services, but no other legal legwork in the process. Parent profiles sites offer a public place for your adoption profile, also to assist with matching. Adoption specialists also sometimes offer adoption services, such as home studies or adoption education without signing on with a full-service agency. While all of these professionals will most likely have a fee for contracted services, these can also be great resources to look into if you are feeling overwhelmed and seeking some professional advice.
Once you’re home study ready, that means you are ready for a birth family to place the child in your home. Now, all you have to do is wait for a birth family to match with you, meaning the birth parents will choose you as adoptive parents. Despite this being “just” a waiting game step, it is arguably the most difficult stage of the adoption process because it is so largely out of your control. And while some families wait just a short amount of time, other families wait long enough that couples have to renew the home-study (which must be done annually) more than once before ever matching. So, how does matching work? Well, if you are working with an agency, professionals will help you create a parent profile, possibly even photo books, that will be shared with potential birth parents to help the birth couple make a decision. If you are not working with an agency and are pursuing an independent adoption, you will need to market yourself and try to find a birth family on your own through personal contacts, blogs, online presence, etc. In either situation, agency or independent, beware of adoption scams, which create fake adoption situations, sometimes in an effort to get money, and sometimes just to mess with you emotionally. Just remember patience, patience, patience.
So, there you have it. Five steps to help you get started on your adoption process. You may still feel overwhelmed, and that’s ok. Take it one step at a time, and know that you are at the start of a wonderful, complex, beautiful journey that will change your life forever. Good luck!
Bayley Enright is a writer, teacher, mother, wife, and ice cream connoisseur. She and her husband are parents through both birth and adoption. Bayley studied English for both her BA and MA, and has spent years teaching professionally and writing freelance. She enjoys singing “the Itsy Bitsy Spider” on repeat for two hours straight, traveling with her family, ignoring the growing laundry pile in the crib, and being outdoors.