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Everything You Need to Know About Adoption in the US

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

Adoption can be an overwhelming and stressful journey. Whether you’re a birth mother looking to place your child with a family, or an adoptive family looking to adopt a new baby, the questions and the unknowns can feel overwhelming.

In this article, we’ll simplify the process and break down all the things you may want to know about adoption, from start to finish.

What This Article Covers:

  • The reasons someone might consider adopting

  • Types of adoption in the US

  • The adoption process simplified into 5 steps

  • Costs associated with adoption

  • The difference between open adoption and closed adoption

  • Should you consider an agency or private adoption

  • What are the legal considerations around adoption?

  • What are the emotional challenges associated with adoption?

Reasons Why Someone Might Pursue Adoption

People choose U.S. adoption for a diverse array of reasons. Some of the most common are:

Infertility: Did you know that one out of every eight Americans will be given a diagnosis of infertility?

This widespread struggle hides behind a curtain of shame, and we as a society have a long way to go in improving the way we handle infertility.

For many hopeful parents who receive this diagnosis, adoption is a viable family-building option.

A sense of calling: Many families considering U.S. adoption will talk about feeling “called” to adopt.

Whether or not you are a person of faith, this sentiment certainly makes sense.

The love of a family can feel like a transcendent reality. It’s much bigger than any one individual. When a family comes together, something special happens.

A desire to help: Maybe “calling” seems like a stretch. For many, it’s simply a strong desire to help.

They see children here in the U.S. who need to know the love and security of a family, and something in their heart says, “I should be that family.”

Personal History: Adoption has a multi-generational effect. Many adoptees become adoptive parents, or siblings of adoptees decide to grow their own families through adoption later on.

Types of Adoption in The US

Many infant adoptions arise because a pregnancy is unplanned -- in fact, in the US there 3M unplanned pregnancies every year. There are several ways to complete an adoption in the U.S., which are based on your location, the age of the child you want to adopt and the type of adoption.

Let’s run through the three main types of adoption:

1. Domestic Infant Adoption

In its simplest terms, domestic infant adoption is the adoption of a child from the U.S. by parents who are also from the U.S. The private adoption process is separate from the foster care system. Typically the process follows three major steps for adopting families: A. Approval to Adopt The prospective adopting family needs to be approved to adopt in their respective state. This process is called a “home study,” and it is typically performed by a social worker. While the home study process is different in every state, there are sites that make it easy to understand the laws in each state, and can help provide connections to a social worker that can conduct the assessment. In most states, if you meet the below requirements, you’ll likely be qualified to adopt.

  • The prospective adoptive parent(s) must be of legal age

  • Stable medical health is necessary for prospective adoptive parent(s)

  • Any household members over the age of 18 must undergo a child abuse clearance process

  • A background check needs to be conducted

  • Personal and employer references are submitted

  • A visit to your home is required (although some states are allowing this via Zoom due to COVID)

B Match with an Expectant Mom Upon approval to adopt, the prospective adoptive family can begin connecting with expectant moms. This typically involves creating a suite of outreach materials -- of which the two most common are an online profile and a profile book. To “match” with an expectant mom, prospective adopting families can employ a number of different methods -- including hiring an adoption agency, building a profile on an adoption platform, working with an adoption consultant and/or working with an adoption attorney.

C. Legal Once you’ve connected with an expectant mom, the adopting family and expectant mom would turn to an adoption attorney or agency to complete the legal process. There are a variety of agencies to work with in every state. If you’re looking for an attorney to use, the Academy for Assisted Reproduction and Adoption Attorneys (called the QuadA) specialize in this subject.

If you use an adoption agency to adopt, the typical fees are between $40,000– $60,000. If you self-navigate adoption using an adoption platform + adoption attorney, the fees are typically around $15,000, according to Erin Keaty-Quick, the founder of PairTree.

2. Foster Care Adoption

Adopting from a foster care facility often refers to the adoption of older children. There are more than 400,000 children in foster care.

For most of those children, the goal is reunification with their biological parents. However, more than 100,000 of those children are unable to reunite with their parents and are therefore waiting for adoption.

Foster care is a state-funded system with the ultimate goal of rehabilitating parents so that birth parents can end up raising their biological children.

For a child to be introduced to the foster system, the state or Department of Social Services typically terminates the parental rights of a biological parent, perhaps for misconduct, illegal activities, or neglect.

When no extended family members are able to step in to take care of the child, the child would be placed in the foster system and live with foster parents.

The goal here is to reunite biological parents and children, because of this the child may only reside in foster care temporarily.

In foster care adoption, children placed with foster families can range from newborns to 17 years of age, but it is more unusual to adopt a newborn through public adoption.

The typical wait can range when looking to adopt a newborn can be anywhere from 1-5 years.

Due to the ultimate goal of the foster care system being to reunite biological parents with their children, it can take a much longer time to adopt a child through foster care adoption.

Adopting through foster to adopt can be much more affordable than private adoption due to the state funding most of the expenses.

While adopting through the foster system may cost significantly less than adopting privately, it may take significantly more time.

Hopeful adoptive parents typically must determine whether the time it takes to adopt or the cost to adopt is more important for them.

3. Relative, Stepparent and Independent Adoption

Under the circumstances in which a person already knows the child, or the prospective birth mother personally knows the parents she wants for her baby, it’s considered an independent adoption.

In this type of U.S. adoption, an agency may still be able to assist with some of the required steps, and an adoption attorney will be needed for the legal aspects of adoption.

Should you Consider an Agency or Private Adoption?

There are a variety of ways to adopt infant from within the U.S. Whether using an agency for the entire adoption process or self-navigating the adoption using a variety of services – the process is similar.

Regardless of method, an adopting family can provide a birth mother with emotional and financial support, housing and transportation assistance, and medical care and health insurance. This is regulated at the state level, so you want to know the laws in your state as well as the laws of the state in which the expectant mom is located.

Secondly, in all adoption methods, the expectant mom can determine the level of openness she wants to have with the adoptive family and vice versa.

Agency Adoption

Prospective adoptive parents create an adoption profile that describes their family. The adoption platform, agency and/or attorney then shows these profiles to birth mothers. The birth mother will then choose the family who she wants to adopt her baby. Throughout the entire process, your adoption team guides the birth mother and adoptive parents.

Agency Adoption Pros
  • For families that want to be hands-off, the agency can take care of all aspects of the adoption such as getting you approved to adopt, matching you with an expectant mom, and taking care of the legal work.

  • Adoption specialists have years of experience matching adoptive and birth parents. They can provide you with the educational resources you need to complete the adoption process successfully.

  • Some states are agency-only states, which means that you are legally required to work with a licensed child-placing agency.

Agency Adoption Cons
  • The birth mother has limited choice of parents. Typically only the families that agency is working with will be presented as options for the birth mother.

  • Agencies typically provide limited counseling for birth mothers, oftentimes with an expiration on how long / how often they can access the service.

  • Agencies are expensive – typically $40,000-$60,000 to adopt.

  • Timelines are often long – usually 18-24 months.

Private Adoption

Private adoption, otherwise known as an independent adoption, is a direct placement between a birth mother / expecting mother and adoptive family without the use of an agency. Instead, they work with a lawyer or adoption platform

When pursuing private adoption, the most daunting part is finding a birth mother looking for adoptive parents. Likewise, if you are pregnant and looking for a family looking to adopt, you will need to find a family on your own. Thanks to innovations in the private adoption space, there are now organizations that make it much easier to connect directly and navigate the adoption on your terms.

Private Adoption Pros

  • On average, the cost for adoptive parents to privately adopt can be lower, typically $15,000, because the adoptive parents don’t have to pay an agency any fees.

  • The adoptive family and birth parents can get to know each other without agency involvement.

  • Expecant Moms get the most adopting families to choose from – allowing them to get specific about what they are looking for.

  • Private adoption can be a good option for birth parents and adoptive families who already know each other and are in contact with one another.

Private Adoption Cons

  • Adoptive parents and birth mothers must match themselves without the help of an agency.

  • Adoptive parents are expected to be more hands-on; building their team, including hiring an adoption attorney and home study provider, counselor for the birth mother (Luckily, there are Adoption Platforms that exist to help adopting families coordinate all the services they’d need).

The Adoption Process in 5 Steps

The basic steps of the adoption process are as follows:

  • Choose the type of adoption

  • Select your method(s) of adoption

  • Complete a home study

  • Match

  • Finalize the adoption

How Much Does Adoption Cost?

The average cost of adoption is one of the most difficult aspects of the adoption process for most people.

Adoption can be expensive. It is a complicated legal process involving state and federal laws, as well as other important regulations.

Completing an adoption requires an extensive amount of time and work from various 3rd parties, which can add up.

The average cost of adoption is dependent on several variables, like the type of adoption, the adoption professional and other unique details of your situation.

Each of these factors can influence typical adoption costs. Generally, for families adopting a child through a private agency, the average cost of adoption in the U.S. is somewhere around $70,000.

While costs may vary on an individual basis, families typically spend in this range on the adoption process.

While adoption is considered costly and many may not be able to afford this, adoption through the foster care system is often funded by the state and in most cases, there are few or no fees.

How Do Those Costs Break Down?

Adoption Agency Fees

While there are different types of adoption agencies, each will have fees associated with the adoption services it provides.

These fees go toward the foundational functions of an agency, like staffing, office space, supplies and more.

These fees will also include things like screening and counseling for prospective birth mothers, general case management throughout the process, adoption education and support, and adoption advertising, which is how the agency works to find the right adoption opportunity for an adoptive family.

Each agency has different fees, and the way an agency structures its costs can impact the average cost of adopting a child with that professional.

Variable Adoption Costs

These are typical adoption costs that can change based on each individual adoption situation. Variable costs are largely made up of expenses to support the birth mother.

These expenses are court-approved based on the adoption laws of the birth mother’s state. There are several types of variable expenses that could come up in adoption.

Legal: The adoption process is guided by strict laws and regulations.

There is a significant amount of paperwork and potential court appearances that can be expected, which is why an attorney that specializes in adoption can be an expensive but important cost.

The legal costs of the adoption, which can vary from case to case, are included in the typical adoption costs.

Medical: There are many medical expenses for the birth mother and baby during the adoption process.

In some cases, the bulk of these expenses can be covered by Medicaid or other insurance.

However, the remainder of the bill falls into the variable adoption costs that can affect the average cost of adoption in the U.S.

Living: Living expenses help subsidize a birth mother’s financial needs during pregnancy, if necessary and allowed under state law.

This type of adoption expense can vary significantly from case to case, but it is something that all adoptive parents will need to account for.

Depending on the birth mothers state’s adoption laws, a birth mother may be eligible for living expenses to help pay for items such as rent, utilities, transportation, food, maternity clothes, cell phone and more.

Variable adoption costs are the primary reason that most adoption agencies will quote adoptive families a range of average adoption costs rather than a hard number.

However, it is uncommon for any of these expenses to skyrocket and cause the average cost of adoption to jump significantly from the initial estimate as the agency provides an estimated range based on state laws regulations.

How Can I Prepare for the Average Cost of a Private Adoption?

Most people don’t have $70,000 lying around. Being able to afford the average cost of adoption takes planning and preparation. Start budgeting early on if considering adoption.

Our friends at Mirza have built a free family financial planning tool that accounts for every type of adoption costs to help you with your planning.

There are also adoption grants available from many different organizations.

What Is The Difference Between a Closed and Open Adoption

In the case of a private adoption through an agency, adoptive parents can choose to either go for open adoption or a closed adoption process.

The main difference between the two is the presence of active ties with the birth mother during and even after the pregnancy.

Open Adoption

In an open adoption, the adoptive and birth parents share personally-identifying information beforehand and they have contact with each other via email, phone or in person during and after the adoption process.

While in-person visits and phone calls are examples of the type of contact a birth mother may have with the adoptive parent(s) and the child in an open adoption, they are not the only examples.

Open adoptions can vary widely in the types and amount of contact shared between parties. It all depends on what the birth parents have requested and what the adoptive family has agreed to.

Regardless of the type and frequency of contact, open adoption is not co-parenting. The adoptive parents will have permanent legal rights and responsibilities for parenting and raising the child.

Closed Adoption

A closed adoption is a type of adoption that involves zero contact between the birth parents and the adoptive family.

In addition to not communicating, personal information is also not shared. This means that neither party will know each others’ last names, contact information, or any identifying details.

Social stigmas surrounding adoption once made this the only option for families involved in the process.

When unplanned pregnancies and single motherhood were frowned upon, many women were forced to hide their pregnancies from family, friends, and community.

Because of this, birth parent information was often sealed tight, with many adoptees never allowed to know their birth families.

Adoption has drastically changed since then, with open adoptions now considered the norm.

However, some birth mothers still prefer closed adoptions for a number of reasons.

Since pregnant women have more control than ever over their adoption plans, local adoption agencies can help you create a plan that’s unique to your specific wishes.

Closed adoptions are no longer as preferred as they once were, but there are still are closed adoption advantages for birth parents who want to remain anonymous after the adoption process is complete.

In either case, it’s important to talk to an adoption specialist to lay out the pros and cons of each option.

A qualified and trusted adoption counselor can answer important questions, provide valuable resources, and help weigh up the options.

What Are The Legal Considerations Around Adoption?

Because adoption is a legal process, there are some important legal matters that

you should know about:

Parental rights will end. In any adoption—open or closed—parental rights will legally and permanently be given to the adoptive parents.

But relationships can continue in an open adoption.

Your child’s father needs to be involved. Most states require that the birth father be told about, and consent to the adoption.

In the spirit of openness, the birth father is encouraged to communicate with the adoptive family so that the child can have access to information about both sides of the family.

This information may be medical history and family background, as well as personal traits.

No decision is final until after the baby is born. Even if the expectant birth mother has prepared for adoption, she has until after the child’s birth to make a final and legal decision.

You should not feel pressured by earlier discussions, payment of expenses, or what the selected adoptive parents and others hope and want.

Also, you should not feel pressured by time.

You should not sign papers until you are absolutely certain of your decision.

When making a decision as important as adoption, it is normal to expect to be allowed plenty of time to change your mind.

However, the length of time you (the biological parent) are legally allowed to change your mind may be different from State to State.

It is better not to sign papers until you are sure of your decision, and any questions you may have about the process have been fully answered.

If adoption is a path to parenthood that you are considering or exploring and you would like support through your journey, learn more about ELANZA fertility coaching to support your decision-making process and your journey here.


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