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Lesson 2 of 7

The Basics of Domestic Infant 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 show state authorities that you are mentally, physically, and financially prepared to adopt.

  2. Make a Profile to Introduce Yourself: Put together a book or website (with photos, videos and text) about you and your family so expectant parents can learn about you.

  3. Be Introduced to, and Chosen by, an Expectant Family: Be put in contact with an expectant family that is a good “fit” for you and vice versa.

  4. Due Diligence: Receive information confirming the pregnancy and providing information on the expectant family’s medical history, past and present.

  5. Get to Know Each Other: Have in-person, telephone and online sessions so all parties can get to know each other and determine if this would be a good match.

  6. Expectant Family Counseling: Arrange for emotional and legal counseling so the process is as ethical and smooth as possible before, during and after the adoption.

  7. Ensure Compliance: Review all state laws and consents to ensure everything is done legally with regard to compensation, parental rights, and other factors.

  8. Develop a Hospital Plan: Establish a plan for who will be at the hospital before, during and after delivery, what role each party will (or won’t) play, and more.

  9. Execute Relinquishment Documents: Parent(s) sign documents relinquishing their rights to the child (sometimes with a period of time when they can change their minds).

  10. Obtain Court Order of Adoption: This legal process occurs after the revocation period for first parent(s), which can be hours or months after placement, depending on state law.

Contrasting Agency and Private Adoptions

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

In an agency adoption, adoptive parents work with a state-licensed agency to handle (or at least coordinate) most, if not all, of the 10 steps of adoption. Agencies also typically provide ongoing education, resources, counseling and other support. In addition, they engage attorneys, or have them on staff, to handle the legal steps involved.

In a private adoption, families often hire a private attorney to orchestrate the critical steps; some attorneys also coordinate with professionals such as social workers to handle other steps. If pre-adoptive parents are doing most of the work themselves via social media or other elements of the internet, the attorney focuses mainly on the legalities. Agencies often still play a role in private adoptions; in Step #1, for instance, they may conduct a “home study,” which we’ll address later).

In four states, “private” adoptions are illegal and an agency must facilitate the process even if the pre-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.

Costs are Similar

The data we’ve seen pegs the costs of both approaches as being comparable, usually between $35,000 and $45,000. There’s often a difference (private being less expensive than agency), but we think it’s “within the margin of error” (10%–20%), rather than an order of magnitude.

Factors that Impact the Timeline

Most pre-adoptive parents will “match” in the first year, and as you can see below, timelines generally track one another whether they bring on an agency or an attorney to assist them.

A larger determining factor on “speed to match” is how amenable prospective adoptive parents are to ongoing communication between the child and the expectant/first parents, as well as their flexibility on other factors such as gender, race, and any possible exposure by the expectant parents or child to substances like drugs or alcohol.

Some Matches Don't Work

Adoption isn’t baby-buying and its consequences are lifelong for everyone, so it’s important that all parties feel good about the “match.” And, as heartbreaking as that may be, it means things don’t always work out, including if the expectant parents decide to raise their child themselves or to place the baby with someone else.

The data on how often this happens is fuzzy at best; we hear ranges from 20% to 50%. And there is virtually no reliable data differentiating between outcomes for agencies in general (let alone specific agencies) or attorneys in general (let alone specific attorneys).

It does seem clear that expectant parents who are most-empowered – that is, have received counseling on their options, are enabled to select the adoptive family for their child, and 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.

That said, any prospective adoptive parent embarking on this process should be aware that expectant parents have a legal and ethical right to change their minds about placing their babies for adoption – and many ultimately do just that.

The Role of Facilitators

Another way pre-adoptive parents sometimes receive assistance with private adoptions is by hiring “facilitators,” generally to handle Steps #2 and #3 (marketing to, and matching of, pre-adoptive and expectant parents). Facilitators are highly regulated, if not banned outright, in many states. They operate more freely in others, including California, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

Industry observers often criticize facilitators (and sometimes attorneys) for charging high fees and providing little in the way of emotional support or other services. In their minds, both pre-adoptive and expectant parents should receive professional assistance that helps them through (and after) a complex process that invariably involves vulnerable people.