Getting answers to your question, “what are the steps of adoption,” can make the option of creating an adoption plan for your baby far less overwhelming. I started my career over 15 years ago at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and then became Executive Director of Joint Council on International Children’s Services. During those years, a regular question I would receive from expectant parents and birth mothers, as well as prospective adoptive parents, was “what are the steps of adoption?” You may have found yourself unexpectedly expecting a baby. As we go over these steps, you can find more clarity and understanding of that choice.

Deciding whether to place your baby for adoption is a very big decision. Understanding the important role you play as the birth mother or expectant parent is critical as you begin to understand the steps of adoption. Understanding what options you have and what to expect at each step of the journey can help you as a birth mother understand the adoption process.

What Is the First Step of Adoption?

The first step is the most important one. It is the decision to place your baby for adoption. After that decision is made, or even considered as one of the options, the next steps can vary from expectant parent to expectant parent based on various factors. Most expectant parents take the first step by researching adoption agencies and/or adoption attorneys.

What Is the Difference Between an Adoption Agency and an Adoption Attorney?

Adoption agencies are what most expectant parents and hopeful adoptive parents use to help match with a birth mother or couple. If you are pursuing a private independent adoption, Independent adoption, also called private adoption, refers to the process wherein prospective adoptive parents work with an adoption attorney to facilitate the adoption.

You may be asking yourself, or hope to find the answer to “What Are the Best Adoption Agencies Near Me?” The importance of choosing to place your child is one of the biggest decisions you may ever make. Ensuring you are working with an ethical adoption agency and understanding what are the best adoption agencies is critical to your adoption journey as a birth mother or expectant parent. A good, ethical adoption agency that is supportive of expectant mothers and birth fathers is key to the process. has a wonderful guide in choosing a great adoption agency as an expectant parent at this step in your process. A great adoption agency will make you, as a birth parent, feel informed and supported with full transparency and no coercion in your decision process as you move through your journey of adoption. 

Adoption Photolistings and Your Journey

If your first step is to look at adoption photolistings on, you may have already found a family for your baby or at least a couple (or a few couples) with whom you would like to contact to interview about potentially pursuing placing your baby. If that is the case, you may decide to work with the agency the families are working with to be matched with a birth mother. You may decide to use an adoption attorney to help you negotiate the paperwork, legal steps, and birth mother expenses, as well as help to decide what contact you will have with the adoptive family and your child and birth mother expenses. An adoption attorney may also be helpful if you are considering placing your baby with a family you know from church, were matched with online, or are extended family members. More information on photolistings, however, and how you can utilize photolistings to help you find an adoptive family for your child can be found here

Interviewing Agencies, Attorneys or Prospective Adoptive Parents

The next step will be different for every expectant parent depending on what your first steps were. If you have already found a prospective adoptive parent, you will begin either interviewing the adoption agency, another adoption agency, or adoption attorneys. Finding the best adoption agencies near you can seem like a daunting task but it need not be. Understanding how adoption agencies work and what agencies do for expectant parents is important and will help you ask the right questions when interviewing your list of potential agencies.  

Once you have narrowed down your list of adoption agencies to interview, think of the questions that are most important to you right now. Reach out to the adoption agency and ask to set up a time to either meet with or have a phone call with one of the social workers at the organization. These social workers will answer the questions you have and also give you information, very inclusive information, you may not have even considered. Recognize that this relationship will be an important one in your journey. The person or people you speak to may help determine the next steps of your journey. If you do decide to move forward with an adoption plan, the agency you choose will play an integral role in your life and your baby’s life.  Once you feel an agency is the best fit for you through prayer, research, or referrals, follow your heart. Feeling comfortable with the team you will be working with is key to having a great experience with an agency. 

If you have already chosen an agency, but have not been matched with a hopeful adoptive family, your next step would be to choose an adoptive family for your baby. Most adoption agencies are working with lots of prospective adoptive parents who are looking to build a family through private domestic adoption. Agencies may have profiles for you to view hopeful adoptive parents. These agencies can also organize in-person interviews and meetings so that you can personally choose the family with whom you place. Those hopeful adoptive parents will usually provide a scrapbook of photos and information on family and marriage, pets, jobs, their home, and other children, if applicable. The couple may be childless or already have children through adoption or birth. Hopeful adoptive parents will also go through a home study to ensure the home is safe and the couple has the proper education and preparation going into adoption. Couples have to go through an FBI background check, called a livescan, a local police background check process, have personal financials reviewed, have a history of jobs and recommendations from employers, family, the children’s schools, if applicable, and neighbors and friends. You will have a full profile of who the members of the family are and will help you learn if the couple is the best fit for your child.  

Next Step: Open, Closed and Semi-Open Adoption

After choosing the adoption agency or adoption attorney with which or whom you will work,  the next step in your process will be deciding how much contact you would like to have with your child and their adoptive parents. Every adoption is unique, and so are the relationships within that triad of the birth parent, child, and adoptive parent. If you do choose to place your child for adoption, the relationship you decide to have with the adoptive parents and your child is entirely up to you. The expectant parents steer the decision at this point in the process of how much or little relationship to have with the adoptive parents and your child. While all adoptions are different and entirely unique to the triad of birth parents, adoptive parents, and children, there are some characteristics that make each unique. 

The first question you may have is what exactly is included and entailed in an open adoption. First of all, open adoption is the most common type of private domestic adoption. The amount of communication can vary greatly among the birth mother who chooses an open adoption and the adoptive parents who also make that choice to have an open adoption. Open adoption can range from a few phone calls a year, photos sent once a year, to often and open in-person communication and visits between the child, birth parents, and adoptive parents. It is entirely up to you and the amount of communication you would like to have with your child. 

While 95% of adoptions in the United States are open, close to 40% are semi-open adoptions. A semi-open adoption can mean different things to different people. Usually, it means that communication between the birth parents and adoptive parents and child are facilitated through the adoption service provider, which can be an adoption attorney, social worker, or adoption agency. The agency acts as a mediator and shares information about the child and adoptive family with the birth mother or father directly. The birth parents can also share information about the child and the couple with the agency to be shared with the adoptive family.

The final option that is the least frequented is a closed adoption. It is when the birth parent or birth parents do not have any contact with your child or adoptive family.  Most of the time, it also means that records are sealed. If records are sealed, it is important to realize that the adoptive parents and/or your birth child may search for you at some point. Some states have laws giving people who have adopted birth and adoption records at some point in life. It is important that laws continue to change and as your child grows, more states may give people who were adopted rights to the records.  

What Are the Next Steps? 

After choosing an adoption agency or adoption attorney, being matched with a hopeful adoptive family for your baby, and deciding on the type of contact you wish to have with your child and the hopeful adoptive parents, you will work through the actual steps of the adoption.

The adoption agency or adoption attorney will now work with you and the adoptive parents to determine what expenses will be paid for by the hopeful adoptive parents. Your respective state will have laws regarding these expenses you are eligible to receive from the hopeful adoptive parents. These expenses can include, for example, legal fees, medical bills, counseling and therapy, your mortgage or rent, utilities, maternity clothing, transportation, and groceries. Your adoption service provider can help you understand what expenses can be covered and facilitate the payments.

You will also, at this time, work with your adoption agency’s social worker to create a birthing plan. Your birthing plan can include what you wish will happen at the birth of your child. This can include everything from what medical interventions you are open to during the labor and birth, and how much time you would like, if any, with your baby after the birth. It can include whether you will breastfeed your child immediately, or at all, whether you will pump, or instructions for what you would like the nurses to offer you (and not offer). The birthing plan can include your wishes for having or not having the adoptive parents present during your labor or if you would like to have support people with you like friends, family, or a doula. 

What Are the Steps of Adoption After Your Child Is Born? 

Once you have given birth to your baby, there are more steps in the adoption processing and in finalizing the adoption. After your baby is born, there will be an amount of time determined by your state before you are able to sign any paperwork relinquishing your parental rights. Your baby is legally your child until you sign this adoption paperwork. Your agency or adoption attorney will explain this process to you. The decision of when or even if you sign the relinquishment paperwork is up to you. If at any point you feel any coercion, stop working with your agency or attorney. You can change adoption services providers at any point in the process, and this is especially important to know if you feel any pressure. You can change your mind at any point in the process. You should be able to ask all of the questions you need answers to, speak to your support people or social workers. You have the right to make sure this is the decision you still want to make–to place your child for adoption.  

After you sign the relinquishment papers and place your child with the adoptive family, there is a period of time between that placement and the finalization of the adoption, depending on your state of residence. This amount of time can vary by state, but usually, most states require at least six months. Your adoption agency or adoption attorney will explain how long this is before the birth so you know exactly what to expect. During this time, the adoptive parents will have visits from the home study social worker to ensure the child is safe and thriving in the family’s care and home. The child may be in the adoptive family’s legal custody or the custody of the adoption agency, this also varies by the state in which you and the adoptive family reside.

The next steps are that during this time, and after the adoption is finalized, you will begin to embark on the communication plan with which you agreed upon earlier in the adoption process. You may begin to receive calls from the adoptive parents or receive photos. If you agreed to in-person visits, this may happen at this time. It is completely natural to feel an array of emotions and feelings during this time including grief, relief, confusion, sadness, peace, happiness, or a sense of strength and resilience. Reaching out to your therapist, your personal support system, friends, social worker, and loved ones is important. Taking time for yourself as you go through the process is of the most importance.  

Above all else, as you begin this journey understanding what are the steps of adoption, will help you make the best choices for you and your baby. If you would like to speak confidentially with an adoption professional about your pregnancy options, click here.

Jennifer Mellon is the co-founder and president of Trustify, providing private investigators on demand to consumers and businesses. She has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving as the executive director and chief development officer at Joint Council on International Children’s Services. She also worked for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) and served on the board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro region. She currently serves on the development board for the National Council for Adoption and currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and five children.