How to Start the Adoption Process

So you’ve decided you want to adopt. Now you need to know how to start the adoption process. I’ve outlined it in a few steps. It can seem overwhelming but if you take your time and breathe you can get through it. 

Step 1: Coordination with Your Spouse

You need to get your partner on board. Well, that is if you’re married or in a committed relationship or dating someone you think you wanna take it to the next level with. It’s important to have a conversation to be sure. 

The adoption talk isn’t one you have over text message or in passing. Pick a time to sit down and discuss why you are considering adoption and what it could mean for your family.

It is important to have a talk with your significant other, preferably several talks. Again, please feel free to skip this step if you are a happily single person. You may want to discuss it with people that you care about, close friends, your parents, etc., and get their views. You may be surprised at how emotional just discussing adoption can get people. Your entire life may be turned upside down whether you realize it now or not, and knowing how the people you surround yourself with feel about the adoption can help you decide how to proceed. It can be a lot and it can be really important that you make sure that the other person is in 100%. The best advice I received was to find your tribe. You will likely need support. You may need friends around you for this.

Step 2: Pick an Agency 

You may want to find an agency that aligns with your beliefs. If you are not part of a specific faith community, you could find an agency that agrees with your morals. Perhaps if you want, you could see if it is part of an organization that you feel good about. You don’t need an agency to adopt but it may be easier to proceed with one. Instead of trying to fumble through the process on your own or with a lawyer who doesn’t quite know what they are doing, you can have your hand held and be guided through the process. That way you are less likely to be caught by surprise by rules that you didn’t know about or fees that you were unaware of.

There can be lots of different agencies to choose from and depending on where you live that can determine a lot. If you can’t decide on search terms you can visit Adoption.org or Adoption.com and search for your state. There you will find a list of agencies that others have used, researched, and trusted. No sense in reinventing the wheel, right? There you’ll find information on how to contact agencies so that when you’re ready to take the plunge to actually make that phone call you know who to call. You might also visit the forums on Adoption.com and search posts from others on the same journey as you. You can ask questions and get answers from people who may know what you are feeling and going through. Maybe you want to see what is expected of you before you get too far into the process. Search through the parent profiles and see what others are including in theirs. Surround yourself with information and prepare yourself for the journey ahead. 

Step 3: Interview Your Chosen Agency

You’ve decided you still want to proceed. You want to know how to start the adoption process in depth? One way to start is by interviewing your agency. Maybe you skipped step 2. Let’s say you wrote out a bunch of numbers, put them in a hat, closed your eyes, and decided the one you pulled out would be the chosen one. I won’t say the thought didn’t occur to me once or twice in the beginning; it felt so overwhelming, and everyone’s website was professionally designed to tug heartstrings. Let me not understate this. These people are most likely going to be in your life for far longer than you imagine. If you get a weird feeling, if you feel uncomfortable, don’t like the tone they used with you, back away. The adoption process is rarely as quick as the hallmark movie industry might lead you to believe it can be; even the least complicated adoptions can take quite a while. I will be happy to be proved wrong on this should it be different for you, but just in case, you want to make sure the people that you will be spending an inordinate amount of time with are people that you at least sort of can tolerate being around. 

So think about a list of questions you’d like to ask. There are no silly questions here. Truly the gatekeepers at these agencies, their whole job can be to answer questions all day long. It’s likely part of their job. Let them do it. Ask how long a wait time there generally is between you signing paperwork and adopting happening. You can ask what happens if you don’t like the caseworker, if it is then possible for the caseworker to be changed. You can ask how much of the money that you’re sending to them will go to help care for the birth mother, how much goes for medical bills or housing, and how much goes to the agency themselves. These are rarely inappropriate questions. I know they may seem like it, but realize that these can be important things to know. If they don’t have answers to those questions fairly readily you might want to back away and start again. These are questions that agencies generally get asked quite a lot, and if they don’t have an answer it may mean that they haven’t been in the practice of answering questions from people. That may not be something you want when you enter something that can be as complicated and emotional as adoption. You may want to make sure that birth mothers are going to be cared for and everything is on the up and up. That’s not to be cynical or conspiracy theory-driven, but you probably really want to make sure that you’re not actually taking a baby that’s been sold on the black market. It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened once or twice so be skeptical, inquisitive, and careful. 

If you want more questions ideas or suggestions, you can go to Adoption.com forums and ask parents who have been there already, caseworkers who may be able to help you along the way, or someone else who may just have some awesome insight. You can also search other sites or ask the people around you what they may consider important to ask.

Step 4: Paperwork

I’m sorry. Your future is likely about to involve lots and lots and lots of paperwork. This far and away was the step that almost lost me. I suffer from ADHD, and can I tell you that my house was never cleaner, my hobbies no more indulged, and my fitness in no better condition than when I was avoiding filling out that paperwork. Years later I realize that the paperwork was the least of my worries, but at the time it seemed like an insurmountable mountain. I wasn’t sure how to start the adoption process and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to after I was handed that packet. They wanted to know all of my family members. All of them. Grandparents, great grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts. There was a page just for all of my sibling’s birthdays. If you can dream it up, it is part of the paperwork

There will be many documents you need to gather such as birth certificates for you and your significant other, social security cards, insurance cards, baptism certificate if you have them, and a letter from your pastor (if you have one) saying why you would be a good parents. You will also need a list of reliable references. In addition, you will likely need to know the addresses of the last 5 to 10 places you’ve lived in the past however many years (for some of us that’s not such a difficult list and for others, well, it might take extra pages). Speaking of extra pages, if you have more than three siblings you’ll probably need to ask for extra pages for your packet because the agency may want an account of each sibling and your relationship with them. If you have been divorced, be prepared to tell them why. If you married your high school sweetheart and have been married 20 years be prepared to tell them why. Are you infertile? Why do you want to adopt? How is your sex life? That may seem overly personal but the agency might ask. Or at least my agency did, perhaps I was being punked.

Step 5: Get your life in order 

This one may sound like I’m joking. I’m really not. If you don’t have those little plastic things that go in sockets so you don’t electrocute yourself, maybe go to your nearest store and buy a few hundred. You’ll realize you have more outlets than you were ever aware of. Make sure your bills are all paid, your mortgage or rent is current, your home is safe and well maintained, and you have smoke detectors in every room and hallway. You’ll also potentially be required to have a fire extinguisher. Even if it isn’t required it can be a good idea to have one anyway. Make sure windows open in every room, there is a fire escape plan, and you have emergency numbers posted on the fridge. Do you have a will? Now is the time to write one or have one written. Have you gotten life insurance? Get some. Babysitters? Even if you don’t have kids and couldn’t imagine putting the baby down for three seconds while you go to the bathroom, they’ll ask you for a list of babysitters. Find some. Are there sharp corners a baby could break their face on? Cover those up with something soft or get rid of whatever is causing the potential trauma. Do you have a fire escape plan? Did you even know you needed one? You will. Locked box for medications? You’ll need one most likely. Do you like to keep your cleaning supplies under the kitchen sink? Unless that thing is secure, you will probably need to find another place to store your stuff. You’ll need a room ready, with safe bedding, that is clean and in order. This part can be fun. I designed my dream nursery and big kid’s rooms, then realized later I hated it all and started from scratch when the kids came. You’ll likely need pictures of everything, up-to-date dog or cat vaccines, vet records, and a clean bill of health from your doctor. Don’t worry, somewhere in that mountain of paperwork they gave you will probably be a list of things they will check. This isn’t a graded assignment and in most cases, they will just tell you to fix something if it is wrong, not kick you out of their organization. Again, check out Adoption.com forums and ask questions. It can vary state to state for what is required and what is just suggested. 

Step 6: Wait 

Now wait and wait. 

Congratulations you have completed the steps of how to start the adoption process. Also be aware that at any point before a child is placed in your arms, if your circumstances change, you can opt-out. This is often a big deal, but adoption can be so very worth it, so maybe take a minute or two to think about it. 

Good luck and prayers for the journey. It is a long one but almost certainly one worth taking.

Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.
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Christina Gochnauer

Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor's degree of Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from "hard places" in her church and community.