No matter how you decide to adopt, you will eventually end up wondering what the steps of adoption are. This article lays them all out.

Steps of Adoption

It is safe to assume that your search for the “steps of adoption” led you here. Whether you are planning to adopt, just curious about it, or interested because someone you know is planning on adopting, welcome! I am glad you are here! Most adoption journeys start with the deer in the headlights look of a person or couple who has just decided to move forward with a desire to adopt. Once the decision to adopt is made, you are greeted with a ton of advice and a lot of options. The steps of adoption are dependent upon the type of adoption you would like to pursue. Whether you have always wanted to adopt or adoption is something that has become a recent decision, all roads lead to needing to understand the process and the steps of adoption.

Types of Adoption

The first step of your adoption is to decide what kind of adoption you are interested in pursuing, domestic or international adoption. You must understand the parameters for each of these options. For some, the idea of adopting a child from their country or even community is right, while for others, adopting from another country is right. This decision can take some time; don’t feel the need to rush to a decision. Sit with it for a while. If you are uncomfortable with the waiting, remind yourself that waiting is part of the process and try to embrace the discomfort of it.

Since entering the adoptive community in 2014, it has shocked me to hear the common thread of when a person or family starts to pursue adoption, doors open and shut along the way and the direction they are meant to go is unfolded as they take each step in the process. It is not uncommon to start down one path and take a detour and land somewhere else.

As soon as you begin looking into the different types of domestic adoption, you will quickly find there are many different kinds of adoption. Does that surprise you? Kinship, private, or through foster care are the basic ways to adopt domestically. 

A kinship adoption is when a child is adopted by a family member or friend of the biological family of the child. This includes the adoptive parents of a child’s biological parent/s. For instance, if one of our adopted children’s biological mother or father would have another child who is going to be placed for adoption, we would be considered as a viable adoptive home and identified as a kinship home. It can be a wonderful way to maintain and grow a biological connection. 

Private adoption is when a biological parent/s voluntarily places their child up for adoption. Oftentimes, the biological parent/s will select the adoptive parent/s and typically the child is an infant, though not always. A private adoption may be open, where the biological family will have an ongoing relationship or knowledge of how the child is doing throughout his or her life. This will be determined individually for each situation. 

Foster care adoption is also a viable option. When it comes to adopting through foster care, there are two basic options. You can opt for foster to adopt or become a home that only accepts children who are adoption-ready. When a child is in foster care, every attempt will be made to reunify the child with their biological family. When all efforts have been made to reunify the child with their biological family have proven unsuccessful, a hearing will be held to determine if parental rights will be revoked. This means that the biological parents will no longer have parental rights for this child.

The process typically takes 15-22 months, from when the child enters foster care. At that point, the child will be legally free for adoption. As a foster parent, you can decide what children you will welcome into your home and what parameters you are comfortable with. The process of fostering to adopt can be bumpy, as there is still a potential for reunification or kinship to work out, but many families find a life together this way. 

If you need some help deciding which direction you want to go, look here.

Choosing an Agency, Lawyer, etc.

Once you have determined the type of adoption is right for your family, you can begin the process. To do this, you will need to link arms with a private adoption agency, an adoption lawyer, or the foster care system in your county. There are many options to choose from during this step of adoption as well. You will see this pattern throughout your adoptive journey, so try to settle into the idea of being at a continually changing fork in the road. This can be very uncomfortable! Making big decisions without all the answers should be uncomfortable! How you decide which direction you will go at each point will likely involve research as well as asking questions. 

Kinship is often handled by the county, however, it can be done via an adoption lawyer. Private adoption can be handled by a lawyer, but it is usually facilitated by a private adoption agency and/or lawyer. Adoption through foster care will be handled by your county or a private agency. If you are adopting through foster care, the county or agency you are working with will help you each step of the way. International adoption will need to be facilitated with a private agency that specializes in international adoption. 


If you are using an agency or the county, the next phase of your journey will be training. The county or agency will be able to guide you through this process. All training will be offered to you and will give you valuable information that will help you prepare for your child and give you insight and instruction about caring and loving a child who joins your family through adoption.

This time of learning is invaluable and it is often an opportunity to connect with other people who have adopted or are going through the process at the same time as you. It is crucial to remain humble and eager to learn. The classes and training can be daunting but this is your time to learn from others who know not only the ins and outs of adoption but also have firsthand experience. I have found people to be the best resources throughout our pre- and post-adoptive journey. Be brave, ask hard questions, and listen well. 


How are you doing? Feeling overwhelmed by what you have read so far? Pause. Take a breath. One thing I have learned about this process is that each step prepares you for the next phase of the journey. This is true of many things in life; we often learn more from the experience than what we expected to learn. Life is funny that way! Hang in there and remember, you are in good company. Sit in the overwhelmed feelings, acknowledge that you are uncomfortable, and remind yourself that you will be ok. 


For the next part of your journey, you will be up to your eyeballs in paperwork. There are home studies and deadlines to attend to. Keep breathing. It will be okay. I promise. The amount of paperwork for each type of adoption will vary.  The two most important parts of this process, in my opinion, are the home study and the checklist. The home study is simply a way for agencies to get to know you. You will fill out forms about your family. You will revisit your past, share your present, and spend some time talking about the future. 

You will share what led you to adoption, but also about how parts of your past made you who you are today. The information about the present is all about your family now: physically, emotionally, practically, and financially. 

For the future, you will share how you plan on caring and providing for your family. This is doable and the forms and your agency will guide you. The second most important part of this paperwork will be the checklist. This is a very thorough list of possible things that could make up your child’s life experiences or physical concerns or diagnosis. When I say thorough, I mean THOROUGH! You will need to be brutally honest with your partner and yourself. 

When we got to this part of the process with our first adoption (from foster care), I was surprised by the number of scenarios they include. Will you accept a child who has had lice? Will you accept a pregnant teenager who wants to keep the baby? Will you accept a child who has stolen? Will you accept a child who has hit another child? Will you accept a child who is over three? The list goes on. For my husband and me, it was a great opportunity to think through things we hadn’t thought of before.

It led to a lot of discussions and us facing hard truths. It also helps you to imagine how your child could shape your family. We also realized that we eliminated some children based on the layout of our home. We only had bedrooms on the second floor and had no way of building onto our home, so we could not check the box that would allow us to say yes to a child who required a wheelchair. It is a very practical list and may even have you googling a few things!

And Now We Wait

You have now reached the waiting part of the process. Your agency will begin looking for children that fit your criteria. Remember that checklist? It will be used as a point of reference to help those who are helping you. They will refer to the list when looking through files on your behalf, so all of the time you spent filling out that paperwork is really important. The social workers and staff will use the information compiled in your home study to find a child who would thrive in your home.

While they are looking, you can look too! There are many sites online that post photo listings of children who are available for adoption. International Adoption and Foster Care photo listings are a great way to see the faces of kids who are waiting for forever families. You can search for specific criteria too. It is helpful because not only can you filter how many children you are looking to welcome into your family, you can also specify gender and other things. For me, it was very eye-opening to see the sheer number of children who were waiting for a forever home. I was shocked. It also gave me names and faces to connect to real children across America, keeping my heart longing for the child who would join our family. It made the process seem alive and like I was actively doing something during the waiting. 


At some point, you will get the phone call that you have been selected for a child or children. You will be given information about the child. Once you say “yes” to a child, you will have a few more hurdles to jump before your newest family member will join you permanently. For domestic adoption, you may need to travel, schedule home visits, and transition the child into your home at a pace that serves the child well. In the case of private infant adoption, you will likely move more quickly than in foster care. International adoption will involve travel to the country of your child and a stay in the country until the adoption is finalized. This will be predetermined in most places. A domestic adoption finalizes or becomes official within an amount of time determined by the state where the adoption happens. 

I hope you have found this information helpful. It is important to remember, each adoption takes you on an individual journey. There is value in each part of this process. It is important to stop and take it all in along the way. There will be times when you feel like time is standing still. But trust me, there is value in the waiting. 

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.