Deciding to adopt a child is such an exciting development in your family’s story. You can be met with so much joy and uncertainty all at once. When wondering where you even begin, you may feel overwhelmed as you browse the internet helplessly wandering through agency websites, anecdotal encouragement, and photo listings of orphans found in various states and countries. You may have a thousand questions running through your mind. What are the requirements for adopting a child? Will they even let you? What do you need to get ready and prepared? Can I buy cute baby clothes already? Should I start reading all the books? There are so many questions. Let’s calm your worry and start you off with the nine requirements you will have when you pursue adopting a child.
1. Put your decision cap on. You will be required to choose a path: international or domestic? Will you choose domestic, infant adoption, or foster care? If you choose international, what country will fit your family best?
When you decide to grow your family via adoption, you will be faced with an immediate need to make a lot of decisions. With some adoption avenues, you have the luxury of time, but with others, you will not. So, this is the time to go slow, do your research, and ultimately choose what path is the best fit for your family.
If you choose to pursue a domestic adoption, you will need to further decide to pursue an infant adoption or an adoption out of foster care. An infant adoption can require a lot of money upfront and you may need to travel to the birth state of your future child upon birth. At the end of the day, you will (in the event that the birth family continues on with adoption) be leaving the hospital with a newborn. That is the ultimate desire for many families deciding to adopt. They want to smell that newborn smell and be able to cuddle a little babe to sleep. This path is also one where you have a great chance of having an open adoption and being able to grow your family not only with your new child but also with the family that gave birth to them. This can be a wonderful way to help heal some wounds as your child grows and a great way to continue to love on your child’s first family. If you choose domestic adoption but decide to pursue foster care, you will need to check your state requirements and their specific rules to obtaining your foster care license.
If you choose to pursue an international adoption, you will first have to pick a country. Each country has its own specific rules and regulations when it comes to expectant adoptive parent requirements. They will each have a minimum and possibly maximum age, marital status requirement, health requirements, restrictions on how many children are currently in your home already, etc. Each country each has its own process and not all of the processes will fit your family. Can you take off work for a whole month at a time? If not, some countries may not be a good fit for you. Can you take off work for a whole month, but trade weeks with your partner? It will be a lot of travel, but some countries allow the swapping of parents during the in-country stay. Some countries require multiple trips, often shorter and possibly more doable. Some countries require trips, but you won’t know how many until you go to court overseas. Some countries require you to be present for court while others accept a non-governmental agency representative to be present on your behalf. There are so many positives and negatives to each and every country. Some countries will simpy be out of the questions because of these requirements. That is okay. The ones that are an obvious “no” make it easier to pare down to find the perfect country for your family. You will also need to consider your openness to special needs. Each adoption will come with its own set of special needs, but many countries and specific orphanages only house a specific degree of need (mild-moderate or moderate-severe). You will have to know what your family is prepared for and what you are able to learn more about and adapt to. Can your house handle a wheelchair? If not, are you willing and able to move or make accommodations? Those questions will help narrow down a country to adopt from as well. The specific details of what special needs are more common in what country may be a question for an agency.
Some countries will have younger children available, while other countries may only have older children or those with more specific needs. You will need to weigh the pros and cons of each and determine the right fit for your family. For my family personally, we chose Bulgaria. They have the youngest minimum age, which we needed (many countries had a minimum age that would have taken us years more to reach). Bulgaria also requires two trips. Both were about a week long, six months apart. Our work schedules could handle that without difficulty. They had many children within the orphanages between two and five years old. That is what we were pursuing. Bulgaria ended up being the perfect fit for us, and we brought our son home three years after starting the process.
2. You will need to choose an agency or lawyer.
Whether you choose domestic or international adoption, you will need to pick an agency. Deciding whether you want to go with a secular or religious agency, or if you will want to pick a home study agency separate from your state/country-specific agency is also something to consider. This will most likely be up for consideration due to agency location. Needing and choosing a lawyer will be determined by your path if you choose a domestic adoption. For more information about adoption agencies versus adoption attorneys, you can read more about that here.
3. For some situations, you may need to be married for a specific amount of time.
For many states (though not all) and most countries, there will be a marital status requirement. Those can range from no requirement at all to having to be married, whom you are married to, and how long you have been married. Some places will allow single mothers but not single fathers to adopt; some are open to LGBT families while others are not. Finding out which states and/or countries fit your family will help you quickly narrow down your options.
4. You will need to provide proof of adequate financial support.
During your home study, you will have to provide every financial document under the sun to prove that you are capable of funding the adoption process and also care for the child(ren) you plan to bring into your home. You will be required to provide a list of assets, debt, mortgage, bills, savings, investments, etc. to your home study social worker. Once your home study is complete, he or she will then determine whether or not your home study becomes approved, a portion of that riding on the financial requirements determined by your state and/or chosen country.
5. You will need to have space in your home for your family to grow.
During your home study, your social worker will look at your home, determine it is safe for a child to live and be raised there, and will look at and talk about your plans to include them into the space of your home. Not only will you have requirements about how many fire extinguishers are in your home and how to properly store your firearms, but you will also need to show your social worker your future child’s room and how you’ve started to prepare for their arrival. Remember, the social workers are there to help you and guide you, so ask them any questions you need expansion on.
6. You will probably have to be within a specific age range, depending on which path you choose.
Depending on your state and/or country, there will most likely be a specific age range that you must qualify for. Many countries and states have a minimum age, with some countries having a maximum age, too. Seeing if your family fits the age requirements will be a quick and easy way to help narrow down your decision.
7. You’ll have to be healthy, but how healthy and what your health looks like is determined by the state or country you are pursuing your adoption in.
Depending on where you decide to adopt from, there may be health requirements in place. Some places have a target BMI rule or requirement or restrictions on your current or history of mental health medications. The rules and regulations vary so much from place to place, and even from year to year, so checking your specific location will be key to determining if you and your medical history qualify.
8. You’ll need to be ready to learn some required education so get ready to jump back into school mode.
For many agencies, the home study process requires some education in an effort to help prepare expectant adoptive parents for what realities they may eventually encounter. For us personally, we took online classes, an in-person weekend conference, read two books, and interviewed two separate experts on specific subjects. It was unbelievably eye-opening and really provided us with a foundation to stand on. It allowed us to reach back into our research and inspired us to pull out the books that had collected dust during our 3-year wait to find out some strategies that would help once our son was home. You need to prepare for education to never stop. As parents (and especially adoptive parents) we are always learning about new techniques, brushing up on old techniques, and making new relationships with people who can teach us how to regulate and deal with the trauma within our home. There are some agencies that provide in-person and online educational training to help support adoptive parents both during your wait and after your child is home. One agency that provides that type of service is the Gladney Center for Adoption.
9. You’ll be required to choose love every day, so prepare your heart by nurturing compassion and empathy.
When someone asks “What are the requirements for adopting a child?”, you expect to hear a running list of financial, physical, and home regulations developed by your agency. What you may miss in the daunting hours and hours of paperwork is that you will be required to choose love. Love is an action, and your adopted child will bring difficulties from the trauma that will require you to continually choose love. Broaden your mind, and expand your ability for compassion. And, if you need help with attachment on your end, as a parent, reach out to your agency for help. When you are just starting the adoption process and are delving into all the requirements needed to bring your child home, it can be overwhelming at first. Once you organize yourself by deciding a path (domestic or international? Which country? Infant or foster care?), you will be much more ready to tackle the paperwork mountain you are about to climb. The requirements for your home study (and dossier if you choose international) won’t be a surprise to you. You’ll be ready to get a fire extinguisher, provide your BMI with your physical, copy your marriage certification if applicable, and offer all the other information needed to prove you are ready to bring your child home. You’ll be ready to become a life-long learner of how trauma impacts childhood development and how Karyn Purvis has changed how people interact and teach children with trauma backgrounds.
So, what are the requirements for adopting a child? A little bit of everything, including your heart.