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Adoption Resources

What Is Adoption?

Adoption is a process in which a person assumes parenting for another, and, while doing so, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities from the original parent or parents. Unlike guardianship, or other systems designed to care for the young, adoption is intended to be a permanent change in status that requires legal and/or religious sanction. Modern systems of adoption are often governed by many statutes and regulations.

Each year over 150,000 children are adopted in the United States. This number includes adoptions from foster care, relatives, private adoptions and international adoptions.

Children living in foster care are the largest population waiting to be adopted.

Of the 450,000 children in the system, over 125,000 are waiting for adoption. They’ll typically wait for over two years for a family to take them into their home. Many of these children will reach their 18th birthday without finding an adoptive family.

National Adoption Day and The Dave Thomas Foundation are committed to finding adoptive families for children, especially those who are in foster care. These organizations have wonderful communities for adoptive families, adoptees and caregivers.

More than 15,000 of those adoptions each year are international adoptions, with most of those being from China, Ukraine, Russia and Guatemala. Forty percent of the children adopted from other nations are under the age of one. China’s orphans are primarily girls while the other countries are equally dispersed.

How Do Adoptions Originate?

Adoptions may occur between family members or entirely unrelated individuals. Approximately half of the adoptions in the US are currently performed between related individuals, such as is the case with stepparent adoption, in which the new partner of a parent may legally adopt a child from a previous relationship. Intra-family adoption may also occur through child surrender, as the result of parental death, or when the child cannot otherwise be safely cared for.

Why Do People Adopt?

There are many reasons why people choose to adopt a child or children.

One of the primary reasons that people adopt a child is because they are infertile, or unable to carry a child of their own. It’s estimated that 11-24% of infertile Americans try to build a family through adoption.

There are a large number of reasons why people adopt, although not all are well documented. Some adopt children because they feel a conviction (religious or philosophical) to adopt, others want to begin a new family following divorce or death of one parent. Still others adopt to avoid contributing to the perception of an over-crowded world or because they do not want to pass down genetic disorders like Tay-Sachs.

A recent study of women who choose to adopt suggest that these women are most likely to be between the ages of 40-44, married, have infertility issues, and are childless.

What Are The Types Of Adoptions?

Adoptions can occur between family members or unrelated individuals. Current data suggests that about half of the adoptions in the US are between related individuals. Unrelated adoptions can include the following types of adoption:

1) Private domestic adoptions – in a private domestic adoption, charities and for-profit organizations act as the middle man, bringing together prospective birth families and adoptive families. All parties must be of the same country. An alternate to a private domestic adoption occurs when the middle man is removed and birth families and adoptive families communicate directly, drafting contracts with a lawyer.

Private domestic adoptions account for a large percentage of all adoptions: in the US, almost 45% of all adoptions are estimated to have occurred via private adoption agencies and/or arrangements.

2) Foster Care Adoption: In this type of adoption, a child is initially placed in the foster care system, then placed for adoption. Children may enter the foster care system for a number of reasons, maltreatment and parental neglect are just a few of the reasons children end up in foster care. There are over 100,000 children in the US foster care system waiting to be adopted. Approximately 40% of all adoptions in the US are from the foster care system.

3) International Adoption: in an international adoption, a child is placed up for adoption outside the child’s country of birth and can occur via public or private agencies. The laws in different countries vary in their willingness to allow international adoptions. Due to the amount of corruption and exploitation that occasionally accompanies international adoptions, there has been effort to protect both the birth families and adoptive families from this abuse. In the US, less than 15% of adoptive families chose international adoption.

4) Embryo Adoption: the concept of embryo adoption is that remaining embryos from a couple’s IVF treatments are donated to another person or couple. These donated embryos are then placed inside the uterus of the adopted woman in order to facilitate pregnancy and childbirth. In the US, embryo adoption is governed by property law rather than the court systems.

5) Surrogacy: is an arrangement in which a woman carries and delivers a child for another couple or another person. The surrogate mother may be the child’s genetic mother (in the case of traditional surrogacy) or genetically unrelated to the child (in the case of gestational surrogacy).

What Are The Forms of Adoption?

Each type of adoption has its own set of requirements but in the end the result is the same: a child being united with a family and a family being completed. Adoptions can take many forms: open adoptions, semi-open adoptions, and closed adoptions. These types of adoptions are discussed in further detail below:

Open Adoption:

An open adoption allows all information to be shared between the adoptive and biological parents. Open adoption can be a very informal arrangement that’s allowed to be terminated by the adoptive parents who have sole authority over the child. Other open adoptions are bound by a legally-enforceable, binding agreement which covers visitation rights, exchange of information, and other information about the adopted child.

Advantages for Open Adoption:

Those who experience an open adoption have their own unique experiences. These are some of the possible advantages to having an open adoption, including

Advantage of Open Adoption for Birth Parents:

  • Feeling of control – the process in which a birth family can review, interview, and choose parents for your child can provide birth parents with a feeling of empowerment, control and security.
  • Lessened fear – when regular communication occurs between the adoptive family and the birth family, any concerns about the child’s well-being can be placed to rest.
  • Relationship with the child – as an open adoption allows for more frequent interactions, there is a possibility of the development of a relationship with the child.
  • Relationship with the adoptive family – because of the open lines of communication, there is an opportunity to develop a positive relationship between the adoptive and birth families.
  • Lessened mourning – being able to speak with the child and his or her adoptive family helps the birth family to deal with the loss and grief of an adoption.
  • Lessened uncertainty – most birth families feel comforted and reassured about their child’s well-being through regular interactions with the child’s adoptive family.
  • Lessened guilt – since the lines of communication remain open and the relationship between families open, there’s less of a struggle with grief for birth parents.

Advantage of Open Adoption For Adoptive Parents:

  • Reduction of fear – because there is on-going communication between the birth-family and the adoptive family, any concerns about the intentions of the birthmother can be eliminated.
  • Relationship with birth family – there’s an opportunity for the birth family and adoptive family to develop a healthy, positive relationship.
  • Medical information – an open adoption allows for increased opportunities for more medical information if the need arises.
  • Affirmation – an adoptive family may feel encouraged knowing that they were chosen specifically by the birth family.
  • Understanding – an open adoption allows the child to understand more about his or her history, so that the child can answer questions like, “who am I?” and “where did I come from?

Advantages of Open Adoption For Adopted Child:

  • Understanding identity – open adoption does allow the adopted child to learn his or her family history, which can make it easier for adopted children to understand who, exactly, they are.
  • No sense of abandonment – because the child can openly communicate with the birth family, the feelings of abandonment experienced by the child may be lessened.
  • Medical information – as the child ages, he or she may need a more detailed medical history.
  • Relationships – open adoption offers the adoptive child the potential of developing a relationship with his or her birthmother and extended family.
  • Support network – as most birth families continue to be concerned about their adoptive child, the birth family can act as advocates and a support system for the child.

Disadvantages to Open Adoptions:

Open adoption occurs when potential birth parents and prospective adoptive families are able to have personal interaction. All identities are shared, and interaction may include emails, letters, telephone calls, and/or visits. Like all other forms of adoption, there are disadvantages to open adoption.

These disadvantages to open adoption can include:

  • Disadvantages of Open Adoption For Birth Parents:
  • Potential for disappointment – if the adoptive family fails to meet expectations when meeting with the birth family, this can lead to crushing disappointments.
  • Feeling obligated – once an adoptive family has been financially involved or emotionally invested with a birth family, a birthmother may feel as though she must adopt her child to this family.
  • Abused trust – the relationship with the adoptive family does allow the potential for abuse of trust, such as manipulation of situations.
  • Changing mind – an adoptive family can chose to stop or terminate the adoption process at any time, which can lead to the child being placed in limbo, possibly foster care, until alternate arrangements have been made.

Disadvantages of Open Adoption for Adoptive Family

  • Unstable relationships – an adoptive family may learn that their relationship with the birth family includes an unhealthy or emotionally unstable birth family member.
  • Added support – an adoptive family may feel the pressure to be an emotional support system for the birth family.
  • Added pressure – the birth family may want a greater amount of openness than the adoptive parents do, which may lead to the adoptive family to accept the demands of the birth family because they fear if they do not, they will not receive the baby.

Disadvantages of an Open Adoption for the Adopted Child:

  • Feelings of rejection – if contact between the birth family and the adoptive family ceases, the child may feel intense rejection.
  • Confusion – as the child grows, he or she may struggle with issues of identity from trying to make sense of the family history of two separate families.
  • Social Anxiety – an adoptive child who has ongoing communication with his or her birth family may have trouble explaining the family dynamics to his or her peers.
  • Power Plays – the adoptive child may attempt manipulation between the adoptive and birth families by playing them against one another.
  • Reduction in ability to assimilate into adoptive family – increased interaction with birth family may lead to challenges for the child in assimilating into the adoptive family.

Semi-Open Adoption:

A semi-open adoption is the process by which a potential birth mother (or birth families) exchange non-identifying information with the adopting family.

Generally speaking, semi-open adoptions are facilitated through a third party – an adoption agency or adoption attorney. The identity of all parties is typically kept confidential, interaction between families is generally with emails and letters. Sometimes, emails or visits are arranged in a semi-open adoption.

Advantages of a Semi-Open Adoption:

Experiences with semi-open adoptions vary wildly and from person to person. However, some of the common advantages of a semi-open adoption are broken down below:

Advantages of Semi-Open Adoption for Birth Parents:

  • Sense of privacy as all communication and interaction between birth parents and adoptive families are facilitated by a third party.
  • Feeling in Control – birth parents can feel more in control as they have the chance to review, interview and select the adoptive parents for their child.
  • Less Uncertainties – the interactions and updates given by the adoption agency can comfort birthmothers by reassuring them that the child is well cared for.
  • Less Guilt – getting updates and letters from the adoptive family can help birthmothers feel less guilt for placing their child up for adoption.
  • Lessened Mourning – placing a child up for adoption is a loss and must be grieved. Having regular updates about the child via letters and visits can help with the sense of loss experienced.
  • Less Fear – with on-going communications between the birth family and adoptive family, birth parents often feel more secure about the well-being of the child.

Advantages of Semi-Open Adoption for Adoptive Parents:

  • Medically informed – while a medical history of the birth parents is a normal part of the adoption process, a semi-open adoption allows for access to additional medical needs, if circumstances require it.
  • Feeling Encouraged – Because the birthmother hand-picked the adoptive family, the adoptive family can feel reaffirmed and empowered.
  • Less fear – when the intentions of the birthmother and her family are openly communicated to the adoptive parents, it helps to reduce the concerns and fears regarding the intentions of the birthmother.
  • Clear Roles – having a semi-open adoption allows the roles of each party to be better managed and more clearly defined.
  • Increased Confidence – While there is less communication between the birth family and the adoptive family, the adoptive family is still able to ask questions and address concerns about the child’s history.

Advantages of Semi-Open Adoption for The Adopted Child:

  • Understanding self – in a semi-open adoption, adopted children who have access to their birth families allows them to gather more information about family history and help answer questions such as “who am I?” and “where did I come from?”
  • No search required – there is no issue of the child needing to seek out his or her birth parents.
  • Not Feeling Abandoned – because the child has access to his or her birth family, the child may feel less a sense of abandonment.
  • Medical Information – while medical information is a standard part of an adoption, a semi-open adoption allows for the child to ask medical questions of the birth family throughout their life.

Closed Adoption:

A closed adoption is an adoption process in which there is no interaction between the birthmother and the prospective families. Once a standard procedure for adoption, all identifying information is sealed, preventing disclosure of the adoptive parents, biological kin, and adoptees identities. However, closed adoption does allow for the transmission of non-identifying information, like a medical history, religious and/or ethnic background.

Advantages of A Closed Adoption:

Like any other form of adoption, the experiences of a closed adoption may vary wildly. Some of the advantages of a closed adoption may include:

Advantages of Closed Adoption For Birth Parents:

  • Closure – some birth families report that a closed adoption allowed them the sense of closure to move on with their lives.
  • Privacy – people who feel threatened or vulnerable by their decision to place a child up for adoption may benefit greatly from having a closed adoption.
  • Reduction of fear – birthmothers who have concerns about explaining their decisions to others may find that a closed adoption offers them a way to avoid that conversation.

Advantages of Closed Adoption for Adoptive Parents:

Absence of boundaries – because the birth family has nothing to do with the adopted child, there’s no risk for complications that may arise from interference by the birth parent or co-parenting concerns.

Freedom – when the birth family is not involved with the child after the adoption, the adoptive parents are free to enjoy their family without the potential threat from outside intrusion.

Advantages of Closed Adoption For Adopted Children:

  • Protection – closed adoption affords a layer of protection for adopted children who may have unstable or emotionally disturbed birth family members.
  • Absence of boundaries – the adopted child is always sure who calls the shots, makes the rules, and abides by them, as there is no meddling or concerns from the birth family.

Disadvantages To A Closed Adoption:

Closed adoption occurs when there is no contact or interaction between birth families and prospective adoptive families. No identifying information shall be revealed, though non-identifying information, such as medical records, will be made available to all parties. There are a number of disadvantages to closed adoptions.

These disadvantages to closed adoptions are discussed in further detail below:

Disadvantages of Closed Adoption for Birth Parents:

  • Delayed grieving – the grieving process of adopting a child can be complicated, as there is no information to be given about the child’s progress.
  • Denial – placing a child in an adoptive family through closed adoption can lead to feelings of denial that the child was ever born and placed for adoption.
  • Guilt – a closed adoption does not allow the birth family to explain the reasons that the child was placed for adoption, which can lead to feelings of extreme guilt.
  • Lack of information – lack of information about the child can compound feelings of guilt and denial, leaving many birth families struggling with depression.
  • Abandonment – many birthmothers report feeling as though they are abandoning their child, and the inability to communicate with her child can only heighten these feelings.

Disadvantages for Closed Adoption For Adoptive Parents:

  • Denial – a closed adoption can increase feelings of denial about having an “adopted child,” or “fertility status.”
  • Fear – adoptive families fear that the birthmother will return and demand the child back. This fear is a consequence of limited information about the birth family.
  • Control – there is less personal control for the adoptive family who must rely upon the adoption agency to act as a go-between.
  • Medical history – while most children who are adopted have a medical history, if medical issues arise later in life, it may be impossible to get more information about medical issues from the birth family.

Disadvantages for a Closed Adoption For The Adopted Child:

  • Confusion – as the adopted child ages, he or she may struggle with personal identity as he or she has no contact with his or her birth family.
  • Information – children involved in a closed adoption have limited information about their birth families and history. This lack of information can lead a void in an adopted child who has many unanswered questions about his or her heritage.
  • Preoccupation – a child in a closed adoption may be preoccupied with his or her adoption than other children.

How Do I Begin An Adoption?

Deciding to pursue an adoption can feel overwhelming and scary; the process is long and involved. Here are some steps you’ll need to go through to begin an adoption:

1) Teach yourself and your family members about adoption, learn all that you can about the types of adoptions, the restrictions these adoptions require, and the approximate cost for each type of adoption. It may help to have a binder and notebook to write yourself notes and reminders.

2) Decide what type of adoption you want pursue: domestic, international, foster care adoptions, and make a list of the adoption agencies that you’re interested in. Read reviews of the agencies, ask for references from friends, family, and coworkers, to find out which adoption agencies are legitimate and which are not.

3) Investigate ways to handle adoption expenses, which are substantial. These costs can include adoption agency feeds, legal fees, birthmother expenses, as well as home study expenses. The following are potential avenues to explore to off-set the costs of adoption:

  • Employee Benefits – many employers offer adoption reimbursement, check with your Human Resources department to see if your company offers adoption reimbursement.
  • Federal Tax Credit for adoption. Call 1-800-829-3676 and request information on the Adoption Tax Credit and Tax Exclusion from publication 968.
  • State tax credit – contact an adoption specialist in your state to ascertain whether or not your state offers a tax credit for a child adopted from a public adoption agency.
  • Military Benefits – many times, the US military will reimburse up to $2,000 per child for adoption costs.
  • Dependency exemption – while not adoption-specific, adoptive parents do qualify for taking a dependency exemption on their income taxes, even if the adoption hasn’t been finalized.
  • Adoption Loans – some banks, life insurance policies, and credit unions offer adoption loans.
  • Private Grants – these grants are for families who are socioeconomically challenged or to encourage the adoption of special needs children. Call the National Adoption Foundation at (203) 791-3811 for more information

4) Once your research has been carefully completed, select an adoption agency or adoption facilitator and/or attorney. You’ll begin an orientation with the adoption agency to discuss the adoption process. It’s recommended that you attend several orientations for different adoption agencies so that you get the sense of which agency is right for you.

5) Be ready to fill out oodles of paperwork, including an agency application form, along with various other forms that will be necessary for the adoption process to begin.

6) Once the adoption agency has reviewed and accepted your completed adoption application, you will undergo a home study. A home study is performed to evaluate the home environment and help the adoptive parents prepare for the arrival of their adopted child. The home study will include a visit from a social worker, educational classes with other adoptive families, a physical examination, fingerprints taken, and a background check performed. Average time for a completed home study is 2 months.

7) Begin to wait to be matched with a child. The waiting period depends upon a number of factors: it can take longer to adopt a Caucasian newborn (up to 5 years). Adopting another race may reduce the waiting period significantly. International adoptions may take longer than a year depending upon the requirements of the country.

8) Once you’ve been matched with a child and have decided to adopt this child, it’s time to file a petition to adopt.

9) After the birth parents have terminated their parental rights, and the child has been in the home for over six months, a social worker will submit a recommendation for approval. Then, a judge will finalize the adoption by awarding the adoptive parents the legal rights and responsibilities for their children. This final step will vary if an international adoption has taken place, as there are additional legal steps involved.

What Is Adoption Disruption?

Adoption disruption is a term that’s used when an adoption is ended. Technically disruption occurs when the adoption has been abandoned by the adopting family before the adoption has been legally completed. In practice, however, adoption disruption can occur anytime an adoption is ended. Generally, disruption of an adoption requires a court petition.

Adoption disruption can occur for any number of reasons: psychological or emotional issues of the adopted child, unrealistic expectations of parenthood, or family issues among the adoptive families.

What Are Some Of The Challenges Of Adoption?

The process of adoption can be fraught with emotional upheaval and mountains of paperwork.

An adoption may be interrupted when there are changes in law, expiration of paperwork in the case of a lengthy adoption process, or other unforeseen circumstances.  It is very beneficial for those going through the adoption process to seek social and emotional support for this reason.

Many families experience post-adoption challenges, as well. It is normal for adoptive parents and children to take time to bond and develop a family routine – this process can take longer for older children as they will be be simultaneously dealing with loss from a previous living situation.

The decision of whether and how to discuss the adoption with family, friends, and the child can require much deliberation as well, especially as some families may experience insensitive comments from time to time.

Both birth parents and adoptive parents can experience depression after an adoption. In the case of a birthmother who has recently given birth, hormones coupled with the loss can trigger postpartum depression; the birth parents may have also developed an attachment to the child prior to the adoption and will grieve the loss of of a child placed with an adoptive family.

Adoptive parents can find it difficult to cope with the sudden change in parenting status after an emotional adoption process, and may suffer from Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS).

Additional Adoption Resources

How Long Does Adoption Take? – General information from The Adoption Guide.

Adopting.org offers an extensive site for all of those who have been touched by adoption.

American Adoptions – Resource site for those seeking information as adoptive parents or birth parents who are searching for an adoptive family.

Adoption Healing is a non-profit site for adoptive parents and adoptees seeking literature and support.

Open Adoption – Resource for those seeking an adoptive family.

United States Department of State Intercountry Adoption Site Government information site for those interested in adopting internationally.

Page last audited 7/2018