It's a big question, but don't be afraid to ask it. At one point or another, everyone on this journey has asked, "How does adoption work?"

How Does Adoption Work?

No matter what brought you to this conversation, I want you to know that you are welcome. Rest assured, if you have no idea why you typed “how does adoption work” into your internet search bar, you are in good company. I am a mama to four beautiful kids. Two of our kids came to us biologically and two came via adoption from foster care. I remember sitting in front of a laptop, just like you, and typing “how does adoption work” into my very own search bar. I was curious but didn’t really think we would ever adopt. We had talked about adopting, but while I longed to adopt, my husband was more inclined to help other families on their adoption journey. I honestly don’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t want to adopt. I remember praying and hoping that God would align our hearts. 

While I waited, I would search the internet for ways to adopt. I came across state photolistings and would pore through the images of children who needed a loving home. I read article after article on how to start the adoption process. My thoughts on adoption would come in waves. Sometimes I would go months without looking up anything about adoption, but other times, I just couldn’t help myself. The day finally came when my husband and I were finally on the same page and we began to pursue adoption. I hope this guide will help you understand how the process works and make sense of the many ways in which you can adopt.

Types of Adoption

Most people are aware that there are many different ways to adopt. I want to break it down a bit to help clarify adoption terminology and simplify the process.

Domestic or International Adoption

Domestic Adoption is an adoption where the child and adoptive parent(s) are from the same country. Domestic adoptions can be facilitated in several ways. Many people chose to go through a private agency or through the county in which they live. Sometimes people will hire an adoption lawyer.
International Adoption is an adoption where the parent(s) and child are from different countries. When opting for international adoption, it is important to use an adoption agency that knows the ins and outs of international adoption. 

Kinship Adoption

Kinship adoption occurs when a child can no longer remain with their immediate birth family. This can result from the death of birth parents, when a birth parent voluntarily gives up their parental rights, or when a child goes into foster care. Kinship is a term used to describe family or friends of the birth parent. There is a personal connection. If you have already adopted a child through foster care, you would be considered for kinship adoption of any biological sibling of your adopted child.

Foster Care Adoption

Adopting from the foster care system is a very viable option. Currently, there are approximately 400,000 children in the United States foster care system. It might surprise you to find out that of those 400,000 children, approximately 120,000 are waiting to be adopted. ONE HUNDRED and TWENTY THOUSAND kids. When you take a moment to try to wrap your mind around that figure, you can transition from seeing it as a number to picturing little hands and feet. You can imagine little giggles, or think about what it would be like to sit down and have coffee with one of the older kids. It doesn’t take more than a quick search to get some pretty startling data about the kids who are waiting to be welcomed into a family of their own. This is the kind of adoption that our family has experienced. Our daughters both fell into this120,000-child-strong demographic. They were in the foster care system, but they were an adoptive placement. This means that when they made their way to us, they were wards of the state and the parental rights had been terminated. From the day of placement, we had to wait a minimum of 6 months (per our state regulations) to finalize their adoptions. While it is common to walk through this process with your county, we were able to utilize a private adoption agency that specialized in adoptive placements of children in foster care. They also matched family across state lines.

Foster to Adopt

This type of adoption is when you foster a child while waiting for their parental rights to be awarded by the courts. This process can take time, and you have no guarantee of the outcome. It is important to remember the goal of foster care is reunification. However, sometimes that is not what is best for the child. In these instances, the child will be placed with a family that has its foster and adoptive license. The foster to adopt process is part of the foster care system; however, not all foster care children will be adopted. When children enter the foster care system, there are many criteria that must be met before a court will terminate parental rights and make the child adoptable. This process can take years. Many variables play into when you can adopt a child from foster care.

Infant Adoption

As you probably know, infant adoption is simply adopting a baby. This is typically done through the service of a private adoption agency. Often, the birth mother will select the adoptive parents. This process is guided by the staff at the agency and is facilitated by lawyers. 

Are you still with me? I hope you found this information helpful; it is important to know what options are available when beginning a new journey. Once you have decided what type of adoption to pursue, you will then select an agency or county to align with. This part of the process can take a lot of time. While you will need to trust the process and rely on the expertise of those working on your behalf, it is crucial that you have a good working relationship. The adoption process gets up-close and personal. By the end of the process, every nook and cranny of your life will be exposed. It is invaluable to have someone you trust working on your behalf. This is a very vulnerable process.

The Process


Training may or may not be required for your particular type of adoption. If you are adopting through the US Foster care system, you must complete the training classes. Your agency and/or caseworkers will help you with that process. There is typically a certain number of classes offered on a rotating schedule throughout the year. You will be tempted to zone out during those classes, but do yourself a favor and try HARD to pay attention. These classes will help you learn more about how adoption works.


Whether you adopt domestically or internationally, you will need to complete a homestudy. A homestudy is a series of forms about your life. You will need to have a medical exam, background checks, bank information, and more. It takes time. For international adoption, you will compile a dossier (a fancy word for a collection of carefully curated paperwork about you and your partner.) The paperwork can vary from country to country, and your agency will be there to answer any questions you may have. 

While working on your homestudy, you will have to take a look at your life and values. You will need to determine many details about the child(ren) you will welcome in your home. It may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many children do you want to adopt? A single child? More than one child? A sibling group?
  • What age range are you open to? In foster care and international adoption, there is a greater number of older children available for adoption. If you are looking to adopt a child 3 years old or younger, it will likely take more time. That is totally fine, but you need to be aware of this.
  • What race/ethnicity are you open to adopting? If you are hoping to adopt internationally, this won’t apply. However, if you are adopting in the US, this is a question you will need to answer. 
  • Are you able to adopt a child with special needs? Carefully consider and research the special needs identified on the questionnaire. For example, because we had a two-story house with no downstairs bathroom or bedrooms, we could not say yes to anyone whose mobility would not allow them to go up stairs. 

The domestic adoption homestudy will require interviews with caseworkers and/or agency staff and a home visit to inspect your house. You will also need to have a fire inspection.

Getting Matched

The process of being matched with a child can take time. Remind yourself that waiting is part of the process. It can be very difficult, especially because you can’t always know what is going on behind the scenes. This is another reason why it is so important to fully trust your agency. Once you are matched, you will be given information about the child. This is another moment in the process when you must be brutally honest with yourself and your partner. Take some time to really read over all the information and pray about it. 

Once you say yes to a child, if international, you will be given your next steps and a travel date will be set. You will fly to the country and stay for a designated amount of time. The adoption will be made official before you take your child home. 

When you say yes to a child in the States, you will schedule a designated series of in-person meetings through the foster care system. This timeline will be made according to the specific needs of the child. The length of this process will also be determined by the distance you live from your child. If you are adopting through a private infant adoption, your next steps will be directed on a case-by-case basis by your agency.

No matter what type of adoption you pursue, you will likely face obstacles. You will have to make many decisions. You are sure to face doubt and struggles along the way. Please know this is totally normal. No matter how you get there, being an adoptive parent begins with a yes. Yes to navigating this world of unknowns. Yes to a child who needs a family. Yes to a future where someone you aren’t biologically connected to becomes a beautiful part of your family. It takes a lot of work, time, and patience. But it is so worth it.

Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.

Rebecca Dell

Becky Dell is a Staff Storyteller for Now married for over 20 years, her journey to motherhood started with a miscarriage, followed by the birth of her two biological sons, and brought to completion with the domestic adoptions of two daughters. You used to be able to find Becky baking cookies and playing trains with her two tiny sons, but now, you will find her learning to parent through the rough and rewarding world of adoption, attachment, and trauma. She is a fierce advocate for adoption and processes the many facets of adoption through written word.