Pennsylvania is one of the least restrictive states regarding who can adopt a child. Adoption in PA is generally open and does not prohibit any adult...

Adoption in PA

You may have found yourself researching adoption in PA as a pregnant woman, wondering what your options are and how the process works in your state. This is a good place to start. As a birth mother living in the Commonwealth of PA, you may be wondering how the process for adoption in PA works. It may be an overwhelming time right now deciding whether to place your baby for adoption, and there is a lot of information to go over. However, the process does not need to be stressful or overwhelming. By being well-informed, you can make the best decision for you and your baby. 

A great place to start when researching adoption in PA is Adoption.com’s resource guide on adoption in PA. It is a comprehensive resource guide on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s regulations, statistics, where to find adoption agencies and adoption attorneys located in PA, as well as information for prospective adoptive parents and information on intercountry and foster care adoption in the Commonwealth. 

Who Can Adopt in PA?

Pennsylvania is one of the least restrictive states regarding who can adopt a child. Adoption in PA is generally open and does not prohibit any adult from adopting a child if they pass a home study, but more on that to come. They may live in any state and adopt a baby from PA, and there are no residency requirements for how long the prospective adoptive parents live or stay in the state either before or after the adoption.

All prospective adoptive parents who want to adopt in PA must be approved by a Pennsylvania home study. The home study will include background checks in all of the counties in which each of the adults residing in the prospective adoptive family’s home has resided in since 18 years of age (as well as FBI live scan fingerprint checks for every adult in the home). The home study will also include interviews conducted by the adoption social worker with the prospective adoptive parents, their friends, their children’s teachers, neighbors, and employers. Children over a certain age in the home may also be interviewed by the social worker. The home will be inspected in person by a licensed social worker from the home study adoption agency, and all of this information will be compiled in a report with financials, driving records, employment history, letters of recommendation, medical exams, and medical history. This will be helpful as an expectant parent as you make your final decision on your baby’s adoptive family, if you choose to make an adoption plan for your child. 

Adoption Agencies in PA

After beginning your research on adoption in PA, the next step is to start researching Adoption Agencies in PA. Adoption.com has a great directory of all PA adoption agencies. You can also search by other states. A list of agencies located in PA is helpful, but it may be confusing or overwhelming to determine which is a great adoption agency for you and your baby.

Even if it’s a little confusing, Adoption agencies are still a wonderful place to begin your process. Whether you feel pretty certain of your decision to place your baby for adoption, or are only in the beginning stage of gathering information on all of your options, adoption agencies are a good starting point. There is no pressure or commitment to work with an agency at the onset of the process—in fact, you should never feel any pressure at any point in the process from anyone, especially when working with an agency. Deciding which adoption agencies are best to interview can be a daunting step in the adoption in PA process, but it does not need to be. Narrowing the list of agencies based on ones located in PA and the services they provide expectant parents (and potentially prospective adoptive parents) is important. Many people, including expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents, enter the adoption process for the first time with the misconception that all agencies are the same. As the former Executive Director of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, I was often asked if all agencies are the same. They are not—some are better than others and one will be a better fit for you than others—so do your research and make sure your questions are answered during the interview process when you are gathering information.

Adoption Attorneys in PA

As a birth parent, you may have also heard of the option to have an adoption attorney to help you with your adoption plan. Many expectant parents or birth mothers like to use an adoption attorney instead of an adoption agency as their adoption service provider (which is another term for an adoption agency, adoption social worker or adoption attorney) when they have identified a potential adoptive family or couple and both members of the triad (birth parent, child, adoptive family) do not have an adoption agency with whom they are already working. This often happens when the birth mother connects with the potential adoptive couple due to a mutual connection or online through adoption photo listings. Here is a great article regarding the differences between an adoption agency and an adoption attorney.

If you identified a prospective adoptive family for your child already, you will need an attorney to help with your adoption, especially if they are not already using an adoption agency. This is really true early on in the process after connecting with a prospective adoptive couple. This seems like the one place you can use someone you know and trust, but very few attorneys practice adoption law exclusively. You are not alone in thinking you can ask a general practitioner to help with your adoption. Many birth parents do just that. The problem arises when your non-specialized attorney neglects to appropriately address all of the applicable laws regarding adoption in PA. Adoption attorneys barred in Pennsylvania, meaning they can legally practice law in the Commonwealth, are specialized in understanding applicable PA state laws, which usually govern the adoption for the most part, as well as all federal laws pertaining to adoption. 

How to Choose an Adoption Agency or Adoption Attorney in PA

Most adoption agencies specializing in private domestic adoptions, which is the type of adoption you would be pursuing if you decide to create an adoption plan for your baby, and especially those who help support and facilitate the adoption for the expectant parents, will offer many different services. These services will be specific for each member of the adoption triad: the birth mother (or birth parents), the child, and the prospective adoptive couple. 

The services provided by each adoption agency or adoption attorney will differ but are required to meet the requirements and regulations within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Adoption.org has an article on choosing great adoption agencies near you in PA. An adoption agency or adoption attorney will help you navigate those Pennsylvania requirements and steps which you will take on your and your baby’s adoption journey. You will have help navigating PA adoption laws during the adoption journey. You won’t have to learn about these laws and regulations all on your own; that is why you work with a professional adoption service provider licensed in PA.

However you plan to complete your adoption, and whether you use an adoption agency or an adoption attorney, it is important to ensure that you work with an ethical agency or adoption attorney who meets not only the standards imposed by Pennsylvania laws and regulations, but also your standards. Trust your instincts and your heart—that may be the most important part of the process. You should ask around for recommendations of your colleagues, friends, or family who have gone through this process and completed an adoption by an adoption agency near you in PA. You can also ask questions and gain insight on the Adoption.com forums. Do your research, know which questions to ask your adoption agency, and understand that agencies can provide as much information as possible, but circumstances in any adoption can change. 

Next Steps of Adoption in PA as a Birth Mother

Most adoption agencies in PA also have a number of prospective adoptive parents with whom they are working who are looking to build their family through adoption. They may have profiles for you to view of prospective adoptive families. Your adoption agency or adoption attorney can organize in-person interviews and meetings so that you can personally choose the family with whom you place your baby. Those prospective adoptive parents will often provide a profile or even a photo album of photos of them and their family history. The home study discussed above is also included. 

Once you have chosen one or a few sets of parents with whom you would like to connect, the adoption agency or adoption attorney with whom you work will act as an intermediary and help facilitate that first conversation. They will work with you as you navigate that process of connecting with and interviewing prospective parents for your child in planning an adoption in PA. They make the adoption process as seamless and stress-free as possible for you.

The adoption agency or adoption attorney can also work with you and the adoptive parents to determine what birth mother expenses will be paid for by the prospective adoptive parents. Regarding adoption in PA, the law permits prospective adoptive parents to pay or reimburse the actual medical expenses related to the mother’s pregnancy and the birth of the child. Pennsylvania law does prohibit prospective adoptive parents from paying any living expenses. Child Welfare Gateway has a great document on birth parent expenses regulations per state. Your adoption service provider will have more information on these regulations regarding birth parent expenses and adoption in PA. The law is set up to ensure that, as a birth mother, the adoption will not cost you anything. You can have all of your medical bills paid for during the pregnancy and postpartum, and the prospective adoptive parents pay all agency or legal costs as well. 

Birth Plan for Adoption in PA

At the end of your pregnancy, when you are in labor, your adoption agency will inform the prospective adoptive parents, if you have not already, that you are at the hospital or birthing center. In your birth plan, which you may or may not have discussed with your baby’s prospective adoptive family, you made a decision of when the adoptive family would be notified about the labor and by whom. Your agency or adoption attorney will make sure your plan is communicated with the prospective adoptive parents. You may choose whether to have the adoptive parents in the labor room or not. This is up to you. You may also take as much time as you want and need privately with your baby after the birth and before the adoptive parents meet your baby. 

After birth, there are various steps in completing the relinquishment paperwork and finalizing the adoption. There will be time before you sign any paperwork relinquishing your maternal or parental rights. You can have as much time as you need with your baby alone after their birth. Some mothers want a few minutes alone, others many hours. There is no right or wrong decision; this is entirely your decision. 

According to adoption in Pennsylvania law, the waiting period before adoption consent can be executed id 72 hours after the birth of your baby. You will have those days to ensure this is the decision you want to make. Birth fathers are able to execute adoption consent at any time both before or after your baby’s birth.

The decision of when or even if you sign the relinquishment paperwork is up to you. You can change your mind. You can ask all of the questions you need, and speak to your support people or social worker. You have the right to make sure this is the decision you still want to make—to place your child for adoption. 

If you choose to go through with the adoption, the level of communication upon which all parties agreed to at the start of your adoption journey when interviewing and deciding on an adoptive family for your baby will begin post-placement. You may receive calls or photos or even get to visit. The level of communication is up to you and agreed upon before the child is born. You may want to receive photos at certain milestones, letters, or even visit your child in person. Some birth mothers want photo albums once a year. Others enjoy regular phone calls scheduled weekly or monthly. Other mothers want a semi-open adoption where they only receive letters one way from the adoptive parents and do not have open and regular communication from the adoptive parents. Most birth mothers and parents do not have a closed adoption plan.

Regarding closed adoption in PA, a law was passed in 2017 that allows those who have been adopted to access their birth certificate and adoption records. If you are contemplating a closed adoption, to address privacy concerns, this PA law allows birth parents to redact names from birth certificates before the documents are given to those who have been adopted who are over 18. Birth parents can also fill out a contact form stating your preference regarding whether you wish to be contacted at any point in your child’s life and how. You can also decide to have a third party be contacted by your child instead of you. All birth parents in PA are asked to complete a medical history form, regardless of whether you wish to be contacted or not in a closed adoption. 

After placing your baby for adoption in PA, you may feel a range of emotions during this time, including relief, sadness, joy, confusion, or peace with your decision. Reaching out to loved ones is important. Your therapist, friends, social worker, and family are there for you. Taking time for yourself as you go through the process is crucial. Above all else, as you begin this adoption journey, conducting research, speaking with a social worker, finding an adoption attorney, consulting adoption service providers on the options available to you regarding adoption in PA, and/or understanding the steps involved in how adoption works will help you take this first step.

If you would like to speak confidentially with an adoption professional about your pregnancy options, click here.

Jennifer Mellon

Jennifer Mellon