Wondering how to adopt? Here is some guidance on what to expect depending upon the type of adoption that you choose to pursue.

How to Adopt

Adopting a child is so much more than a step-by-step process. How do you adopt a child?  You bring a heart to the table, ready to be turned inside out. Sasha Martin, an author and blogger, wrote, “If you have more than you need build a bigger table—not a higher fence.”

If you are pursuing or interested in adoption, I’m so proud to welcome you to the community. We’re all a little sleep deprived and probably covered in paper cuts from the mountain of paperwork at hand. Additionally, none of us have this thing down to a science. Whatever path you chose or whatever tangent brought you into this crazy world of beautiful family⁠—welcome. If you’re curious or just starting out the process, it can all be extremely daunting. How to adopt varies family by family and each one has its challenges. It’s truly a wonderful experience and numerous resources are available for any questions you have.

Picking a specific direction, agency, and the subsequent steps are mainly up to your family’s preference and decision. Adopting a child requires a large number of people, an ocean of patience, and grit to withstand frustration, for the single most beautiful cause. Journey well, dear friend.

Decide On An Adoption Path

There are several ways to adopt a child, and each one comes with a unique journey. Each timeline varies greatly. Although these steps may not necessarily be in order for everyone, they are core staples to the adoption process. Awaiting government approval and delays (for the strangest reasons) can impact how soon you adopt a child. Ultimately, it’s a wonderful experience that is worth every moment. Depending on factors such as age, ethnicity, or birth-parent involvement, you may decide certain processes aren’t suitable for your family. Additionally, certain countries have health checks or lifestyle determinants which can refine the number of people eligible to pursue adoption.

Domestic Adoption

Domestic adoption is essentially the act of adopting a baby from an expectant mother within your home country. You can find out more here. Adopting domestically does not mean your adopted child will act exactly the same as your biological child, merely because they have been in your home since the beginning of their life. Early life and in-utero experience have a tremendous impact on your growing child, which is an important factor. Be prepared to address their needs as an adoptive child post-placement and do your research on attachment pre-placement.

Foster to Adopt

Although becoming licensed as a foster parent does not necessarily mean you will adopt, foster adoption is an official adoption path. According to Child Welfare Information Gateway, foster care’s primary purpose is reunification. However, fostering to adopt is a subsection of the foster care system. Ultimately, an individual or couple gets certified through the foster care system. They will only be matched to a child with their termination of parental rights, or TPR, in process or completed.

International Adoption

Adoption.com has photolistings and information here pertaining to various international adoption resources. Overseas adoption is heavily regulated thanks to agencies and countries certified by the Hague Convention. It also has many resources, as it is a popular and well-known direction for hopeful parents. The process also involves some weighty decisions, such as what special needs, ages, traumatic backgrounds, and genders you are willing to accept.

Other Ways to Adopt

Relative adoptions, embryo adoption, open or private adoptions, stepparent adoption, legal guardianship, the list goes on. “How to adopt” cannot possibly be defined by a specific list, and if you’re interested in a less common option, I’d highly recommend researching through Adoption.com databases for more specific and formal articles on whichever method you’re considering.

Picking an Agency → What to Look For?

In order to become a foster parent, you need to take the necessary licensing classes through a local agency. Adoption internationally also requires an agency. Domestic adoption can either be conducted through an adoption agency or via an adoption lawyer.

Whichever you’re pursuing, it’s crucial to ask questions and make sure they’re above the line and ethically handling all matters. Ask questions such as:

  • “What types of adoptions do you do?
  •  “Does the agency only do domestic infant adoptions? Or adopting from foster care?
  • “…What states do you do adoptions in? Do you operate only in our state, or multiple states, or not in our state at all?
  • “Do you do your own home studies, or do we need to complete one first?
  • “Do you do open adoptions? Closed?
  • “Do you have a lawyer that you have your hopeful adoption parents (HAPs) work with? If so, are they AAAA certified?”

Asking specific questions can prevent a lot of issues and heartache down the line. Although it may seem tedious when you’re anxious to get the process started, picking a great agency is one of the best things you can do for you or your child. You can look into local agencies’ reputations, requirements, and regulations to assess the possibilities and go from there.

Picking an Agency → How to Get Started?

Ask around for referrals and be comfortable with waiting out some closed doors to find a good fit. After deciding on an agency, you can contact them to begin the process and they’ll interview you, deciding on a proper match between agency and family lifestyle. If you’re a single parent, gay, a large household, and/or an older couple, different agencies and countries may not necessarily work with you. Prepare to address these possibilities and adjust course. When it’s official, the agency should give you a tentative schedule of the events to follow. Additionally, they should provide you with a schedule for payments and deadlines.

Home Study

            Every state requires a home study in order for a hopeful couple to successfully adopt. Essentially, somewhere in the process of your adoption, a licensed specialist from your agency will make sure your house is safe and equipped for the potential children joining your home. This includes a series of meetings within the home and a few trips for the adoptive parents through fingerprinting and psychological evaluations.

According to Adoption.org, “A home study is a document prepared by a licensed social worker in your state that examines every aspect of your family’s life. It includes finances, health, marital history, background checks, your feelings about adoption, why you are pursuing adoption, relationships with extended family, anticipation of parenting styles, and a description of your home and neighborhood. This document will end in a recommendation that you will or will not be allowed to adopt.”

In full honesty, some of the details can seem obtrusive or downright bizarre. Social workers operate to provide safe homes for children from all circumstances, which involves asking the uncomfortable questions. My first foster care home study, the caseworker checked the temperature of my fridge by sticking a thermometer into a jar of pickles. Needless to say, by the end of the visit I felt as though every speck of dust had been evaluated. However, please remember, the agencies truly have your child’s best interest at heart, hence the precautions.


Money is an uncomfortable subject at times. Whether or not you decide to fundraise for your adoption is truly a personal choice. However, legal and international fees are incredibly expensive and fundraising is a choice I’d heavily advise. When you’re building a profile or an event from which people can donate or help fund your adoption costs, there are several aspects to consider such as how, why, and how much you practically can fundraise.

My family did a puzzle piece fundraiser for one adoption, where people could pick a piece of a puzzle and write a message on it. For another, we hosted a huge garage sale with donations of clothes, furniture, and electronics, from church members and friends. You can find more ideas and pointers here on what to think about when starting a fundraiser.


International adoption ensures lots of immigration paperwork. Domestic adoption requires agreements between the expectant mother, an attorney, and the hopeful adoptive parents. Foster care has a lengthy process with HIPAA and case plans. Across the board, whichever direction you choose, plan for a lot of paperwork.

More Paperwork

A majority of the adoption process is a waiting game for documents’ arrival and approval. Copies of your birth certificate, marriage license, background checks from the states you’ve lived in, all take time. I’d jokingly say buy stock in a paper printing company. You will become a very organized, concise person, and you’ll likely have every single detail of your financial and personal information memorized by the end of your process.


As a foster parent, you may meet your child as soon as your home study is approved. International and domestic adoption takes more time and your agency should be able to tell you how long to expect between beginning the process and being matched with a waiting child or an expectant mother. Either way, it’s an exhilarating season.

SO. Much. More. Paperwork.

I wish I was kidding. The trees who dedicate their lives to the cause of adoption deserve a standing ovation. In-country visits require embassy trips and doctor’s appointments; domestic adoption has a set of regulations concerning HIPAA and court dates which take additional consideration. Paperwork is time-consuming and needs its own points.

Meet Your Child(ren)

No parenting book can ever prepare you for how bizarre it is to introduce yourself to the newest member of your family. It’s a weird and awe-striking experience to truly understand how many chances and random variations of life brought you straight here. Sometimes you need to meet your child before you can actually take custody of him or her. This varies country by country and by adoption category. However it happens, you’ll eventually meet your children and subsequently, begin the process of becoming their parent(s). Your agency can fill in most of the gaps with when and how this will take place.


Alas, we meet the spotlight moment, grand beginning to your adventure and end to paperwork’s saga. You have arrived at the beginning. Now, every terrifying and exhilarating moment drew you here. Adoption Day or Gotcha Day is generally relatively short as far as the process, but I’d encourage you to absorb every moment and not panic as potential nerves threaten to overtake your kid’s special day.

Post-Adoptive Services

After successfully bringing your child home and completing the adoption steps, your home study agency will conduct post-placement assessments. Additionally, counseling and adoption support groups can help close any gaps you or your child may experience after this huge life change. I wrote an article a few months ago called, “Where Can I Get Help with My Adopted Child” addressing this specific topic.

The Take-Aways:

It Is Possible

Adoption has radically transformed the world time and time again. Yet even more often than that, it’s radically transformed every family that encounters it. Although not every family is called to pursue adoption, I hope you never let fear stand between you and the wondrous world of growing a family. You are welcome, you are invited, you are going to make it, regardless of how intense the process may seem. ‘Paper-Pregnancy’ is an experience of all its own and the family born out of it is unique in every way.

You Can

            No disability, diversity, or difference is too shocking to dismiss you from parenting a child in need. Finding an agency willing to work with your life is only a matter of time. If you have a heart for learning how to adopt a child, there are several options instead of seeing “impossible.” If you can love a child healthily and well, you are “special” enough for this job.

Welcome to the Family

Friend, you are welcome at this table. Adoption tests your patience and breaks your heart. Surrounding yourself with fellowship from people who have walked a similar path will put your heart at ease. In the process, when doubt swarms from angles that you were not designed for this, I implore you to remember: no child was designed to be alone.

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 Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.

Katala Peterson

Katala Peterson is pursuing a career as a psychologist and has a passion for family of all kinds. She comes from a large adoptive family and has years of foster care experience. In her spare time, Katala enjoys hiking with her dog and experimenting with new recipes.