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How to adopt a child

Adoption can be an uplifting way to grow your family and help a child who’s experienced loss, trauma, or a troubled start to childhood. But, if you’re interested in adopting a child, it can be hard to know where to start and how the process works. Where do you begin? How much is it going to cost? How long will it take? 
There are usually 3 options for ways to adopt a child, including domestic adoptions, international adoptions, and foster care. 

Adopting a child from foster care or a public adoption agency

The average age of children in foster care waiting for an adoptive home is about 7 years old.1
There are 2 routes to adoption through foster care—a direct foster care adoption or fostering to adopt. However, there’s no guarantee of adoption when fostering a child. In many cases, children in foster care return to their families or are placed with relatives. 
Adopting from foster care can be an inexpensive option, it’s basically free as the child may qualify for either State or Federal adoption assistance.2

Adopting a child domestically through an agency or an attorney

A domestic adoption can be done through a licensed adoption agency or through an attorney. Adoptions through an attorney are often called private or independent adoptions. Laws vary around the country. In some states, birth parents can look for adoptive parents on their own and place the baby in a new home without an agency but in other states an agency must be involved.3 
Because it can be difficult to navigate state laws and understand your rights, it can be a good idea to hire an adoption attorney even when going through an agency. 
Infants, as opposed to older children, are generally adopted through an agency or private adoptions. The average cost to adopt through an agency is $30,000 to $60,000.2

Adopting a child internationally

The world of international adoptions is divided into 2 parts. You may be able to adopt a child from a country that is a party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. Children may also be adopted from non-convention countries. In which case, the child must be classified as an orphan. 
To learn more, read "Who can be adopted." 
The cost to adopt an infant or child from another country varies. It could cost between $20,000 and $50,000 depending on the country.2

Open vs. closed adoptions

When adopting domestically, you may be able to choose an open adoption or a closed adoption. In an open adoption, adoptive parents may meet the birth parents and keep an open line of contact with the birth family. In a closed adoption, generally neither party knows much about each other and there may be no easy way to get in contact. 
Though there are some stories of open international adoptions, that is generally the exception. 

Gathering health records and family information

There isn’t always a lot of health information available for a child preadoption. If you’re adopting through an agency, the people you work with may have access to helpful information about the birth family. If your adoption was open, you might be able to contact the birth family for family health histories. 
Genetic history may be helpful in uncovering any genetic predispositions to certain diseases.4 

Keeping adopted siblings together or connected

Children who have been adopted have often lost a lot. When they have siblings from their birth family, or close connections with other children they were raised with, maintaining those connections can be important. It may not be a biological sibling relationship—children often view their peers in foster homes, step-siblings, and others as important familial bonds.  
Studies have found that placing siblings together is ideal but when that can’t be done, making every effort to help them keep those connections can support feelings of identity, belonging, and well-being.5 

Bonding and trauma with adopted children

Babies and children who experience neglect or abuse can be at risk for emotional and developmental delays or challenges. It can affect a child’s ability to bond with caretakers and manage emotions. Experiencing neglect or abuse in early childhood can even predispose people to mental and physical challenges throughout life. The good news is that, in many cases and with time, parents may be able to help rewire the emotional and mental responses that were developed very early in the child’s life. 
Awareness is key to getting help. Intervening early could help reduce the stress the child and parents experience. 
It could be helpful to begin researching by reading about “Adverse Childhood Experiences” and “Post-traumatic stress disorder in children” on the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 
For additional reading, consider the “Trauma-Informed Care” on the website for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Most of the publications were developed for doctors but could be informative places to start learning. 

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1. “Median age of children in foster care,” USAFacts, 2021, 2. ”Planning for Adoption: Knowing the Costs and Resources,” Child Welfare Information Gateway: Children’s Bureau, 2022, 3. “Private Adoption vs. Agency Adoption,” Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys, June 28, 2022, 4. “Providing Adoptive Parents With Information About Adoptees and Their Birth Families,” Child Welfare Information Gateway: Children’s Bureau, August 2020, 5. ‘Considering Siblings in Permanency Planning,” Child Welfare Information Gateway,

This information is general in nature and provided for educational purposes only.