According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, there are more than 7 million adults who were once adopted in the United States and nearly 2 million children who have been adopted into new families. Babies are often preferred, but children of all ages are available for adoption. When deciding to adopt a child, you are not alone. While welcoming a child into your family can provide countless joy, adoption can be a long, complex process. Requirements vary by state, but strict guidelines often apply even before the child adoption process can begin. Here’s a basic overview of how the adoption process works.
The child adoption process can be very involved. The process requires a serious time commitment is required from start to finish. Before you can even select a child to adopt, you should know whether you meet the basic requirements. These include:
- Must be at least 21 years of age
- Must be financially stable
- Must be able to provide relative and non-relative references
- Must agree to a home visit to verify your home environment
- Must attend training sessions and mandated classes
- Must pass a criminal background check*
*The background check requirement includes any household staff and anybody in the home who will have regular contact with the child.
Selecting an Agency
The adoption process often starts with selecting a state-certified and licensed agency, which will handle the actual adoption procedures. Most agencies take care of some of the legal issues, but you are responsible for others. Find out in advance what the agency does and what you are responsible for. You likely don’t need an attorney at this point. Not all agencies are created equal. Take time to contact several agencies and determine which one is likely to meet your needs best.
Note: Agency adoptions tend to provide the most oversight. Private adoption using a facilitator or intermediary is legal, but it tends to be more restrictive and limited than going through an agency. In Illinois, only prospective adoptive parents are allowed to advertise that they are seeking to adopt.
The Home Study
The next part of the process, once you have selected an agency, involves a series of meetings between you and the social worker who will be handling the adoption. This process includes verifying certain information and requires documents such as:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates or confirmation of a divorce
- Proof of income
In general, everybody living in the home need to participate in interviews. At least one meeting takes place at the home, while the others will usually take place at the agency. This is also the time to ask questions and prepare yourself for the adoption process.
Finding a Child
Most agencies allow you to make decisions about the characteristics of the child you would like to adopt. Each agency has a certain number of children already in its care, although you can usually network with other agencies to find a child. You may have better results if your requirements aren’t set in stone. Before meeting any child, you’ll usually have access to a photo and the child’s general history. Your social worker will then inform you if a child meeting your criteria is available. Depending on the preferences of the families involved, you may need to exchange confidential information and get more details about the child. Parental rights are often terminated before a child is placed for adoption to avoid any legal issues later.
Meeting the Child
The next step is to meet the child. This step usually includes a few visits before you and the other people involved make a final decision. Once you decide that this is the child for you, it’s time to do the paperwork. At this time, you may need to bring in an attorney. You will likely need to sign and file an adoption assistance agreement. If you’re adopting a child from another state, you may also need to prepare an interstate compact.
Once all paperwork is filed, the next step is to receive a placement date, which is the date when the child will come to live with you. After the child has moved in, your social worker will visit your home several times as part of the post-placement process. You then file a legal intent to adopt. After a judge signs off on the final adoption, you will receive a new birth certificate listing you or you and your spouse as the child’s parents. The adoption process is complete and you have a new addition to your family.