Adopting When You're Single, Gay, Older, or Living Abroad

Single, gay, older, living abroad? In you are in one of these categories, here's what you need to know to begin the adoption process.

Non-traditional adoptions

Single Adoptive Parents

The growing number of one-parent households, availability of adoption subsidies in most states for children with special needs, and agencies’ desire to find homes for children who are older or who have disabilities are driving the acceptance of single-parent adoption. A number of foreign countries consider single applicants, and some public child welfare agencies in the U.S. now view singles as the ideal match for children with traumatic histories, because of the personal attention the parent may be able to provide.

Still, the persistent view that a child needs both a mother and a father poses challenges for singles. Some agencies don’t work with singles, so be sure to ask about that when interviewing agencies. Single men face even tougher scrutiny, as they are asked intimate questions about their motives, friends, and living arrangements. Prospective single parents can expect to be asked about their support system, finances, lifestyle, and how they plan to provide role models of the opposite sex during their adoption homestudy.


  • Adoptive Families: for articles, books, and other resources.
  • Adopting On Your Own: The Complete Guide to Adoption for Single Parents, by Lee Varon
  • Single Parents support group on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle Online Adoption Community

Older Adoptive Parents

Many couples and singles in their middle years are taking the parenthood plunge through adoption, joining a trend toward late-life parenting. Some are first-time parents, while others are rearing a second family. Agencies have raised or eliminated age limits for prospective adoptive parents, although most seek to place children with parents they consider to be the normal age parents of that child. Birth parents may be more comfortable with younger adoptive parents. Many countries that place children internationally have age restrictions, although many have higher maximum ages for adoptions of older children or children with special needs. “We love mid-life adoptive parents,” says Ellen Bloom, L.C.S.W., an adoptive mom who is director of social services for the World Association for Children and Parents agency in Renton, Washington. “By the time 40- and 50-year-old people get to parenting, they are ready to take on the challenge.”


Gay/Lesbian Adoptive Parents

While gay men and women have always adopted, they still face hurdles to adoption on the state and local levels. Mississippi and Utah specifically prohibit adoptions by any gay, lesbian, or bisexual person, although similar bans are periodically proposed, and many states have laws that pose obstacles to equal treatment. Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws or have had appeals court rulings allowing same-sex couples to adopt jointly. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow for second-parent adoptions, where one member of the couple adopts the child, then the second member applies as a second legal parent.

Success in adopting depends on the state adoption law and the attitude of the agency and homestudy social worker. Social workers who are uncomfortable with homosexuality may find the prospective parents unsuitable for other reasons. Since the final decision is made by judges at the county level, adoption for openly gay and lesbian couples is influenced by the community in which they live. The court’s decision hinges on the “best interest” of the child, a concept interpreted differently by different judges. Gay adoption advocates recommend that gay adopters have an attorney represent them at their finalization hearing as a precaution.

To adopt privately, gay applicants should look for a domestic agency that accepts applications from gays (60% of them say they do, with agencies that facilitate adoption from foster care the most likely to place children with gay parents, a recent survey showed). Typically, the agency would search for a birth mother who is open to gay adoptive parents, although some agencies may present the applicant to the birth mother as a single. Gays may choose to adopt independently by finding a birth mother and working with a lawyer.

International adoption adds another wrinkle, as several foreign countries allow singles to adopt, but don’t officially accept gay adults as prospective parents. Several other countries explicitly prohibit adoptions by gay and lesbian individuals or couples. Gay prospective adopters wrestle with the question of whether to disclose their sexual orientation to an agency. If they’re open, they can find a gay-friendly agency. If they choose not to disclose, they will find some agencies that don’t ask about their orientation. Advocates for gay adoption encourage gays to be open about their sexuality and to find a homestudy provider and agency that will work with them.


 Adoptive Parents with Disabilities

Public and private adoption agencies are covered by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Disability-related screening criteria may be justified in the name of safety, but the decision must be based on actual risks and not on mere speculation, stereotypes, generalizations, or unfounded fears about individuals with disabilities.

Having a disability does not automatically disqualify you from adopting a child, although you may have to knock on many doors before finding an agency willing to work with you. You’ll need to convince the agency, probably with a detailed statement from your doctor, that you can care for a child and meet his or her needs. Similarly, if you have a serious illness, an agency will want to know that you can manage it along with the challenges of raising a child.

Since disabilities are evaluated on an individual basis by the countries that permit international adoption, it is difficult to generalize about which countries are more open to adopters with disabilities, says Sigal Shapira, former director of international adoption at the Spence-Chapin agency in New York City. “Sending countries want to be assured that the recommending agency has properly evaluated the family and that the quality of life is such that the parents will be able to care for the child in a meaningful way.”


Adopting While Living Abroad

Families living abroad are usually unable to meet agency residency requirements, nor are they able to attend mandatory meetings and workshops. There are, however, a growing number of agencies who will accept homestudies done by a social worker overseas. Contact International Social Services, USA branch (410-230-2734 or for referral to a local contact for a homestudy in your country of residence.

Agencies who understand that military bases are considered U.S. soil realize they can place U.S.-born children with overseas military families through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, just as if the family lived in another state. However, placements of international children are more complex, involving the governments of three countries—the U.S., the parents’ country of residence, and the child’s country of origin. Once again, agencies are becoming more amenable to working with families living overseas. Contact a number of U.S. adoption agencies with details about your situation and the country from which you wish to adopt.



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