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Lesson 2 of 7

The Basics of Domestic Adoption

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Written Lesson

The 10 Steps of Adoption

In a domestic infant adoption, the steps and sequence will vary from state to state and depend upon whether you work with an agency or pursue a “private” (also known as an “independent” or “direct placement”) adoption.

To get across the big ideas in this lesson, we’re going to oversimplify, and there’s an excellent chance how we describe a step or two won’t apply to your experience.

Most adoptions incorporate 8–10 steps that need to be taken and that we’ll try to summarize here. Again, what these steps mean and who is responsible for them will vary by your state and the type of adoption (agency or private) you pursue. We’ll address each step in more detail in a later lesson.

10 Steps of Adoption

  1. Become Eligible to Adopt: This means taking the steps to assure state authorities you are mentally, physically, and financially prepared to adopt.

  2. Make a Profile to Introduce Yourself: Put together a book or website that characterizes you and your family for expectant parents to review and consider.

  3. Be Introduced To, and Chosen By, An Expectant Family: Be put in contact with an expectant family that matches your preferences and vice versa.

  4. Due Diligence: Receive information that confirms expectant family is pregnant and runs down their medical history, any history of drugs or alcohol, and more.

  5. Get to Know Family: Have in-person sessions to get to know expectant family, and vice versa, to inform both parties if this would be a good match.

  6. Expectant Family Counseling: Arrange for emotional and legal counseling to improve the odds the adoption will be done ethically and proceed as smoothly as possible pre- and post-adoption.

  7. Ensure Compliance: Review all state laws and consents to ensure laws are not being broken with regard to compensation, rights of parents, and other factors.

  8. Develop a Hospital Plan: Establish a plan for who will be at the hospital during delivery, what role people will play, and more.

  9. Execute Relinquishment Documents: Expectant parent(s) sign documents that relinquish their rights (sometime with a period of time to change their minds) to the child.

  10. Obtain Court Order of Adoption: Post-birth process and paperwork to finalize the adoption.

Contrasting Agency and Private Adoptions

There are often two forms of domestic infant adoption: “agency” and “private” (also known as “direct placement” or “independent”) adoption.

In an agency adoption, adoptive parents work with a state-licensed agency to handle (or at least coordinate) most, or all, of the 10 steps of adoption.

In a private adoption, adoptive families often lean more on a private attorney to orchestrate the critical steps (though agencies often still play, for instance in step #1, agencies may conduct the “home study,” which we’ll address later).

In four states, “private” adoptions are illegal and an agency must facilitate the process regardless of whether the adoptive and expectant parents found each other on their own.

However, in most states “agency” and “private” adoptions are legal, and unfortunately, there’s very little data on which approach is more efficient, with efficiency being only one factor to consider. Of the utmost importance in this process is making sure everyone is treated ethically, have the resources they need, and are not rushed into a decision they may regret.


As for costs, the data we’ve seen pegs both approaches as costing between $35,000–$45,000. While there’s likely a difference (private being cheaper than agency), we think it’s “within the margin of error” (10%–20% difference), rather than an order of magnitude.


As for timelines, most adoptive parents will “match” in the first year, and as you can see below, whether one relies upon an agency or attorney to make the match, timelines generally track one another.

A larger determining factor on “speed to match” will be the degree to which you’re flexible around the level of ongoing communication the future child will have with the expectant parents, as well as other factors like gender, race, and any possible exposure the parents or child has had to substances like drugs or alcohol.

Broken Matches

Another factor adoptive parents try to assess is the odds that they encounter a “broken match”. This is when the expectant parents ultimately decide to not place the child for adoption or place the child with someone else.

The data on how often this happens in general is fuzzy at best (we hear ranges from 20%–50%), and there is virtually no rigorous data differentiating between agencies in general (let alone specific agencies) or attorneys in general (let alone specific attorneys).

It does seem that women who’ve received counseling on their options, who are empowered to select the family who will raise their child, and who are not subject to outside pressures to make a specific decision feel more confident in their choices and are less likely to have a dramatic shift in their plans.

However, any prospective adoptive parent embarking on this process should be aware that many mothers do who planned to pursue an adoption plan, have a legal right to change their mind and many do ultimately choose to parent.


Within the rubrik of “private” adoptions are entities known as “facilitators”. When hired, they handle steps #2 and #3 (marketing to, and matching of, adoptive parents and expectant parents).

In many US states, the role of facilitators is highly regulated if not banned outright. In states like California, Pennsylvania, and Florida they operate more freely.

Industry observers often accuse facilitators of providing expectant families with high financial incentives and little in the way of legal or emotional support. In their minds, this raises the risk an “unethical” adoption will be carried out.