Once you have decided what kind of adoption you want, you need to choose the people who will bring your child home. Your team should include the professionals who will handle the logistics and legalities, a doctor who can help you understand medical issues, if necessary, and other adoptive families who can advise you when it is time to make decisions.
What to do first?
Private adoption: The first thing to do is find out if you MUST work through an adoption agency to find a birth mother or if you can use an attorney; it depends on your state. Then you can start looking at agencies or attorneys.
International adoption: Start by looking for an agency with deep experience in the country you want to adopt from. In most cases, the location of the agency is not as important as the expertise; if the best sending agency is not in the state you live in, you can use another, local agency to complete the adoption. You should consider an agency with programs in more than one country so that if, for any reason, you need to change country midstream, the transition can go smoothly.
Foster-care adoption: Your state’s department of social services has legal responsibility for foster children, but states almost always delegate care, and the adoption process, to private agencies. You can start by contacting your local social services agency or foster agencies, but they will be limited to placing children from your own state. A better first step is to contact AdoptUsKids, a federally funded national program to place foster children, which has teams in every state and will work to place children across state lines.
What are the pluses and minuses of agencies and attorneys?
If you have decided to adopt an infant in the U.S. by being matched with a birth mother, you need to choose whether your primary resource will be an attorney or an adoption agency. Our families make arguments for both. Those who worked with an attorney say they enjoyed the sense of control and privacy. Those who worked with an agency liked having the support of a team, with all services (search, counseling, post-placement resources) in one place.
There is no such thing as a truly “private” or “independent” adoption. Even if you find a birth mother through personal contacts, and choose to represent yourself in court, you must still be examined and approved by a social worker licensed by the state.
If you think you want to adopt through an attorney, instead of an adoption agency, research agencies anyway. You are looking for the perfect match. Likewise, if you have decided on an agency adoption, you should locate an adoption attorney you like. If something goes wrong later, you’ll have someone on tap to answer questions—you don’t want to be looking through the phone book in the middle of a crisis. To get started with both, go to our searchable database.
How can I tell if an agency or attorney is any good?
Before you sign up with an agency or an attorney, take a deep breath, remind yourself that this may be the most important decision of your life, and do some independent checking. Go to an online site where parents post comments about their adoption experience, or join a local adoption support group, and ask parents who have completed an adoption about their experience.
When should I look for a pediatrician?
Our most experienced adoptive families recommend that you consult a pediatrician early on—even before you choose your path to adoption. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a section devoted to adoption medicine, with a directory of members who understand issues common to domestic, international, and foster-care adoptees. Get a telephone consultation with one of these doctors at the beginning of your adoption journey; they have a wealth of wisdom and a real commitment to the well-being of adoptees.
Who else should I add to my team?
Even the smoothest adoption is an emotional journey. Make sure you have a support group: family and friends who are enthusiastic about your plans, other adoptive parents (many agencies maintain web-based groups), and at least one person who has recently completed an adoption like yours.