Adoption is a complex process, but it follows a fairly predictable sequence of events. The first step for those who are serious about adopting is to contact someone who can provide assistance. Some people try to handle the adoption process themselves. Because the laws are so complex, doing so is illegal in a number of jurisdictions, and the sheer volume of regulations is often more than the average untrained person can handle.
Most people turn to adoption agencies when they decide to adopt a child. Agencies can be public or state-licenced private groups. Some agencies specialize in specific types of adoption, as mentioned above. Agencies place children whose birth parents have voluntarily surrendered their rights to their offspring or whose birth parents have had their parental rights terminated. Because agencies have considerable experience with adoptions, they can often make the process run more smoothly. A number of people, however, turn to “private placement,” in which the biological parent or parents place the child directly with the adoptive parents. Often this action involves a third party (typically a lawyer, doctor, or a member of the clergy) who brings the biological and adoptive parents together and who then acts as an intermediary. Private placement is illegal in Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts, and it is strictly regulated in several other states.
The next step after choosing a third party in the adoption is to arrange for a “home study.” This is an evaluation of the prospective parent’s fitness to raise a child. Not surprisingly, the process is detailed. A prospective parent is interviewed, often by several people. The parent’s home is visited, and letters of reference and recommendation are asked for. The prospective parent needs to provide information about his or her physical and emotional health, financial status, employment history, marital history, and so on. The process is by necessity extremely thorough.
If the child has not yet been born, the prospective parent or the intermediary (whether an agency or an individual) selects a pregnant woman who has decided to give up her baby for adoption. If the child has been born, the prospective parent is offered a chance to meet him or her (for domestic adoptions). Obviously, a prospective parent may not be able to meet a child from overseas right away, but pictures and often videotapes of the child are made available. Some agencies do require that the prospective parent visits the country of the child’s birth to meet with the child before the process is finalized. Meeting the child is an important turning point in the adoption process because it is the first chance for the parent and child to bond, if only for a brief time.
At this point the goal is to make sure all the legal requirements have been met. Many forms need to be filled out and filed with different courts and government agencies. For domestic adoptions, the child may be placed with the adoptive family for supervision to ensure that the adjustment is smooth before the adoption is finalized. This step depends on the state laws and the courts. Overseas adoptions by necessity cannot require a supervised adjustment period, so usually when the parent makes a second trip it is to take custody of the child. Before this action can be accomplished, however, the child must be granted U. S. citizenship. This step involves more paperwork but usually does not take long. However, adoptive parents should be prepared to wait just in case, since two government bureaucracies are at work instead of one.
Each state has its own regulations regarding the adoption process, so it is important to learn the laws governing your particular state and also to know that the intermediary you choose has a thorough knowledge of your state’s laws and requirements.