Research your choices for adoption
There are generally 3 options including domestic, international, and foster.
1. Adopting 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. 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.
The cost to adopt from foster care can range from $0 to $2,600 on average2 but can be more depending on how you decide to pursue adoption.
2. Adopting 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 agency or private adoptions. The average cost to adopt through an agency is $43,000—the average cost with an adoption attorney is $38,000.4
3. Adopting 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 $15,000 and $50,000 depending on the country.5
Other adoption considerations
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, neither party may know much about each other and there may be no easy way to get in contact.
Though there are some stories of open international adoptions, they may be the exception rather than the rule.
Race and culture
The rate of transracial adoptions has increased in recent years, according to a 2017 report from the Institute for Family Studies. In 1999, 29% of all adopted kindergartners were of a different race or ethnicity than their adoptive mothers and 71% were the same race and ethnicity. In 2011, 44% of adopted kindergartners were a different race than their adoptive mothers and 56% were the same race and ethnicity.6
Adopting a baby or a child of a different race or ethnicity comes with added responsibility for parents around culture, heritage, and identity. It’s something potential parents may want to consider as they think about the type of home and care they can offer a child.7
Challenges and special needs
When going through the adoption process, the range of abilities and needs you would be able to provide for may be something to consider. Infants and children in foster care may have experienced neglect or abuse that could impact development. For instance, some babies who were exposed to drugs while in the womb go through withdrawal. Babies exposed to too much alcohol during their development could be born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
Consider reviewing the resources on the "Children with special circumstances" page on the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
The term "special needs" doesn’t always mean developmental delays or disabilities. Older children and teenagers or sibling groups are sometimes classified as special needs in foster care and may qualify for adoption assistance.