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ICPC & Domestic Adoption

"How does the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) affect domestic private adoptions?"

The ICPC protects children as no other law does. Waiting for interstate clearance to travel home with a newly adopted child is one way the ICPC affects domestic private adoptions, but it is not the only way. If you know what the ICPC requires, and prepare in advance, you can minimize its impact on your adoption.

About the ICPC
Many parents are surprised to learn that there is no "American adoption law" that applies to all adoptions in the U.S. Rather, domestic adoption exists only because every state has a statute permitting it. As a result, each state handles adoptions differently, and, when you leave a state, you leave its adoption laws behind. Before the ICPC existed, if a California family adopted a child born in Texas, Texas could not apply its own adoption laws. If something went wrong with the placement, the state of Texas could not do anything about it.

In the 1960s, some states took steps to correct this problem by developing a contract called the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. Eventually, all 50 states signed the Compact. The ICPC aims to facilitate cooperation between states and to ensure the placement of children in safe and suitable homes. To accomplish these goals, the states endowed themselves with expanded jurisdictional powers and the authority to require advance approval before adopted children enter or leave their state.

But if you are waiting to bring your child home from another state, you will not care about ICPC rules. The only thing you will want to know is when the next plane leaves and whether you can get on it. Despite the Compactís focus on public and foster placements, most courts agree that the ICPC applies to private adoptions as well. Until the Compact is modified or replaced, virtually any non-relative, interstate placement is subject to its terms.

Complying with the ICPC
What's the key to a smooth sail through the ICPC offices? Having your homestudy done. The ICPC process cannot begin without a completed homestudy. In particular, you should get your FBI fingerprint clearance early on. Most other aspects of the homestudy can be forced through in a hurry, if necessary, but you canít light a fire under the federal government.

Soon after the baby is born, your agency or attorney will submit several copies of your homestudy and other paperwork to the ICPC office in the "sending" state, where the child resides. ICPC requirements vary from state to state, so make sure you know what both the sending and receiving states require. To learn about your stateís laws and procedures, visit

The sending state will review your submission, and, if everything is in order, will sign a form called the 100-A and send your documents directly to the receiving stateís ICPC office. (Include a pre-paid overnight mail envelope with your submission.) When the receiving state approves the submission, its ICPC administrator will sign the 100-A and fax or scan it to you. Print it, grab it, and book your flight home.

How long will the ICPC office take to approve your packet? I wish I could tell you. My advice is to triple-check to see that you've included everything both states require, and to plan on waiting a couple of weeks.

Sometimes, adoption does not offer the luxury of planning ahead. Maybe your child comes early; maybe it is a last-minute match. If you are facing a lengthy stay in the sending state, you might be tempted to grab the Graco and bolt home. No one will know the difference, right?

The truth is, any lawyer who advises you to sneak home is committing malpractice. Courts have dismissed adoption petitions, revoked birthparents' consents, or vacated orders terminating parental rights as a penalty for ICPC violations. Even if your judge rules in your favor, do you really want to sit in a courtroom while your lawyer makes your argument?

The ICPC is an aging law, and it is ripe for revision. For now, you must carefully manage the ICPC process, and keep your eyes on the prize. A few extra days shared by you and your child? Things could be worse.

Janna J. Annest is an adoptive mom and adoption attorney at Mills Meyers Swartling, in Seattle, Washington. You can reach her at

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