How to
Adopt

 

Glossary

  Summary of Adoption Types
  State Photolistings
  African American Adoption Agencies
  Resources for Prospective Parents
  FAQs
 

 

 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Geography

I want to adopt a child in another state but have run into barriers. How can I keep the process moving?

Check the Child Welfare Information Gateway's National Adoption Directory (www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad/index.cfm) to find your state's ICPC coordinator. Your ICPC coordinator should be able to help you work through some of the challenges. While no person has a right to particular child, the Adoption and Safe Families Act does prohibit agencies from delaying or denying a child’s adoptive placement due to geographic barriers.

My private agency charges a lot for post-placement/pre-finalization supervision. What can I do if the placing state won’t cover the cost?

If your state will not pay the higher amount and you still want to work with the placing state, you will have to cover the difference between what your agency charges and what your state contributes. Agreements about which state will cover which costs are negotiated between the state agencies.

Whom can I contact to learn more about international adoption?

JCICS, the Joint Council on International Children's Services (www.jcics.org; jcics@jcics.org; 703-535-8045), is the oldest and largest affiliation of licensed, non-profit international adoption organizations in the world. Their membership includes adoption agencies, child welfare organizations, parent support groups, and medical specialists who share an interest in intercountry adoption.

Rainbow Kids (www.rainbowkids.com) is another good resource. Founded by an adoptee and adoptive mother in 1996, the web site is intended to help children in other countries who need families, as well as the families who adopt children internationally. More than 70 adoption agencies support the site which features the largest online photolisting of international children in the U.S.

I'm moving to another state soon. Should I begin the adoption process now?

While it is possible to change states in the middle of the adoption process, it is not easy. Generally speaking, it is much better to be settled into one's stable residence before taking steps to enlarge the family through adoption.

I live in Canada. How can I adopt children from the U.S.?

Before looking to the U.S., please remember that thousands of children in Canada are also waiting for forever families. To learn more about children who are available for adoption in Canada, visit Canada's Waiting Children site (www.canadaswaitingkids.ca), contact the Adoption Council of Canada (www.adoption.ca; acc@adoption.ca; 613-235-0344 or 888-54-ADOPT), or get in touch with your provincial child welfare agency (a list of public agencies is online at www.canadaadopts.com/canada/resources_pubagencies.shtml).

If you are hoping to adopt an infant from the U.S., please be aware that the U.S. is about to ratify the Hague Convention and it is unclear at this time as to how this will affect children from the U.S. being adopted into Canada. You should start by talking to your adoption agency or the Ministry Department and find out if they contract or work with any private U.S. adoption agencies. Or visit Family Helper to view a list of agencies that are already known to be receptive to Canadian parents.

If you are interested in adopting a child from the U.S. foster care system, please talk to your adoption agency or your Ministry about the process. You should be eligible for adoption assistance, so visit the U.S. portion of the Adoption Subsidy section of this site for more information.

Voice for International Development and Adoption or VIDA (www.vidaadopt.org) is another source of information. Call 518-828-4527 or write to vidaadopt@aol.com.

We are Americans who live overseas (military or other). How do we adopt U.S. kids?

Members of the military and other U.S. citizens living abroad can adopt U.S. children. A good online resource for military families is the National Military Family Association (703-931-6632; 800-260-0218; families@nmfa.org). Your base’s family service center office should also have information about adoption.

Global Connections, a collaborative effort of VIDA and the Adoption Exchange of Denver, Colorado, promotes the adoption of U.S. waiting children by U.S. citizens who live abroad. Both military and non-military families are invited to consider this program. For more information contact The Adoption Exchange: 303-333-0845; globeadopt@aol.com.

Wherever My Family Is: That's Home! An Adoption Reference Guide for Practitioners Working with Military Families is designed to help caseworkers understand more about military family adoption. It also encourages them to consider the unique strengths of military families and the feasibility of placement outside the contiguous U.S. View and download the guidebook at http://www.adoptuskids.org/images/resourceCenter/militaryGuide.pdf.

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Pre-Placement Concerns

We identified a child we would like to adopt, but the agency is now looking at a different family for her. What can we do?

Many factors are involved in placing children for adoption—contact with siblings, access to medical services, need for parents with specific experience, etc. Agencies work to serve each child’s best interest, and though it is hard for prospective parents, no single person or family has a legal right to a particular child whose parents’ rights have been taken away.

If you sincerely believe that a child’s best interests cannot be served in another family, you can contact a lawyer and fight the placement decision. Check with the American Association for Adoption Attorneys (www.adoptionattorneys.org; info@adoptionattorneys.org; 202-832-2222) to locate an adoption attorney in your area.

Is it legal for an agency to keep me from adopting a particular child because of my race?

The Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) makes it illegal for agencies to delay or deny a placement based on race (visit www.hhs.gov/ocr/mepa/ to read a summary of the law). It does not, however, guarantee a parent’s right to a particular child. If a child has been removed from your family because of race or the agency will not place a child with you because of your race, it may be a violation of MEPA. If you believe that you are being discriminated against because of your race, contact the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in your area.

Visit www.hhs.gov/ocr/contact.html to learn how to file a complaint and find the OCR office closest to you.

I've been approved for months. Why am I not getting a referral for a child?

It can be extremely frustrating to wait, but one obstacle preventing matches between children and families is that many prospective adoptive parents are waiting for children who are not likely to be available. For example, many parents are waiting to adopt infants. Most children who are available for adoption are: 6 to 18 years old, part of a sibling group who needs to stay together, troubled by emotional and behavioral difficulties, and from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Another reason parents may wait longer is because their personal needs may be different than the needs of their community. For example, some parents may be waiting to adopt from their county, while currently their county might not have any children waiting to be adopted. At the same time, the county might have a pressing need for foster families. Be sure that you are waiting for the kind of children who are waiting for families in your area. If not, you may want to re-think what type of child you are able to parent, or look for children who are available for adoption outside your county.

While you wait, show your worker that you are still interested and committed to adopting by:

  • Joining a parent support group and establish a network of support. Listen carefully and think deeply about the personal stories other foster and adoptive parents share.
  • Reading about adoption and special needs. And then reading some more.
  • Taking all the additional training you can; don’t stop at what is required.
  • Learning all you can about children with special needs. Your child may have more problems than the ones listed in his files. Knowing more can help you to help him.

If you have been waiting too long, you might want to think about other parenting options. For example, even when you know the need for permanent families is greater for older children, but you still want the experience of parenting younger children, you might want to consider becoming a foster parent, treatment foster parent, resource parent, or respite care provider.

What kind of information do I need about my child? When is it provided?

When children join a new foster or adoptive family, they often bring complicated histories that include abuse and neglect. Some children have multiple diagnoses that affect their health, social and emotional well-being, and school performance. The more you know, the better prepared you can be to advocate for your child and handle situations as they may arise. Accurate information will also help you know more clearly why and when you may need to seek support from various professionals, get advice from experienced foster and adoptive parents, or tap into other community resources for help.

Start by learning as much as you can about your prospective child’s social and medical history from your state, province, county, or agency. Specific rules on what must be shared vary by state and province. You should seek the following information:

  • Why the child was initially (and, if applicable, subsequently) placed in foster care
  • A description of the home environment from which the child was removed
  • Details about the child’s other placements while in care
  • The child’s school records and other details about the child’s educational experiences and abilities
  • An assessment of how well the child interacts with peers, adults, and others
  • Immunization and other health records (including diagnoses such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and problems arising from other prenatal drug exposure or pre-term delivery, attachment difficulties, learning disabilities, emotional and behavioral problems, and other mental health concerns)
  • A checklist of the child’s behaviors, and how certain diagnoses and issues play out in family life as well as how other families have learned to cope with them
  • Non-identifying details about the birth parents (including their general background, education, employment, armed services history; social or medical risk factors, drug usage, medical and mental health history, other children, and extended birth family history). Also inquire about the birth mother’s care during pregnancy, and any risk factors for the child due to the mother’s experiences during pregnancy or complications during delivery.

Former caregivers may also be willing to share what they know about the family and offer insight about the child. Questions you might ask include:

  • What information about the child’s and the birth family’s social and medical history do you believe is significant?
  • What is missing from the paperwork?
  • How can I get more information?
  • Currently, how is the child’s health? Are there any diagnoses or allergies you know of that are not listed in his file?
  • Is the child still in touch with her birth family? If not, when was the last contact the child had with the birth family?
  • Does the child have siblings? Does the child have contact with the siblings? Will contact continue and to what degree?
  • Is the child showing behaviors related to abuse, separation, or other trauma? Have other children been victimized by this behavior? If so, how?
  • How many moves has the child experienced in foster care? What were the reasons for the moves? How is the child functioning as a result?
  • How does the child relate to peers in the neighborhood and school?
  • What methods of discipline does the child respond to best?
  • What comforts the child? What comforting objects do you think should follow the child into adoption?
  • What items, smells, foods, experiences, or events seem to trigger negative behavior in the child?
  • What, in your opinion, is at the root of these behaviors? What in the child’s past might be causing him or her to behave in certain ways?
  • Would you be willing to tell the child that he or she has your permission to join our family?
  • Would you be willing to maintain some contact with the child during the transition to adoption? Provide respite care?

After gathering all the information you can, the most important thing you can do is to firmly commit to doing whatever it takes to help the child let go of the pain from his past and learn to face the future with hope. To learn more about the importance of family background information and find links to specific state laws, visit www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_background.cfm.

I’m having problems with the child welfare system. What can I do to help change it?

If you want to help change the system, join others who are already working in that area. Contact the parent groups in your area (find a database of groups at this link) to find out what they are doing or if they know of other advocacy groups you can get involved with. To report a specific problem, contact your adoption manager or the NACAC representative in your state. You may also want to contact one of AdoptUsKids’ Training and Technical Assistance consultants (a directory of staff and consultants is available at http://216.38.216.37/adoptusa/index.html).

I saw a child on the Internet I'd like to adopt. What should I do next?

Before you can adopt any child, you must go through the orientation, training, and home study process. If you do not have a current, completed home study, it may not do you any good to contact the person or agency listed with the child’s profile. Many agencies will not answer inquiries about a particular child from individuals who are not already prepared to adopt. Please review the common steps of adoption if you need more information to get started.

If you have an approved home study, contact your social worker and ask him or her to send your information to the waiting child’s worker (or the contact listed with the child’s profile). Just remember that there is no guarantee that you will be able to adopt the child you saw online. Some listings children who are legally free for adoption but may have an adoptive resource identified or be living in a pre-adoptive home. Children will continue to be listed until workers are certain that their prospective families are definitely moving forward with the adoption.

My spouse/partner was convicted of a felony years ago. Is that a problem if we want to adopt?

In most cases, agencies will not approve couples for adoption if either individual was convicted of a felony. Federal law prohibits such placements. In some states, however, exceptions are made. For example, if the felony happened when the individual was very young and did not involve deliberate violence against children or adults (other than in self-defense), some states will consider the individual’s adult conduct to determine if he or she should be able to adopt.

Contact your state or provincial adoption manager to ask about the rules where you live. To access a list of state adoption managers, click here and then download the membership list.

Can I adopt if I’ve had financial problems in the past?

Past financial troubles do not automatically prevent you from adopting. The home study will look at your past difficulties, but should focus on whether you can currently provide for the child or children you hope to adopt.

I want to adopt a relative's unborn child. How do I go about doing this? (Is it the same procedure for older kids?)

If the child you hope to adopt is not involved in the child welfare or child protection system, and both birth parents are willing to voluntarily give up their parental rights, hire a lawyer to guide you through the private adoption process. Click here to find a list of adoption attorneys.

If the child is already in foster care, contact the child’s worker to express your interest in caring for the child as soon as possible. It may be that you can get licensed as a foster parent or assume guardianship of the child. While there is no guarantee that you will immediately have the child in your home, if you take in a relative’s child without being licensed or pursuing a subsidized guardianship, you may receive very little, if any, state support to help you meet the child’s needs.

It may seem more important now to gain custody of the child instead of securing the right to receive foster care or subsidized guardianship payments and taking a chance that the child will not be placed in your home. Every family must honestly evaluate their resources for long-term care and weigh the options carefully. To learn more about kinship care, contact Generations United (gu@gu.org; 202-289-3979), AARP (888-687-2277), or the Children’s Defense Fund (cdfinfo@childrensdefense.org; 202-628-8787 or 800-233-1200).

I don't think my sister/niece/brother, etc. is a good parent. How can I save the child from her/him?

If the child is in danger, contact child protection or the police in your area and report any abuse or neglect. You can also offer your relative your support and help, and try to get other family members involved to ensure the child’s safety. You could refer the parent to community organizations designed to help families in need. There is no way to simply take a child from a legal parent without that parent’s consent—only child protection workers or police can do that.

How do we terminate parental rights on our child or place our child for adoption?

Unless your child is an infant, it is difficult to end your parental rights. If your child is an infant or is young, you should contact a local licensed adoption agency. Check the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s National Adoption Directory or a qualified adoption attorney (visit www.adoptionattorneys.org or call 202-832-2222).

If you want to relinquish an older child due to his or her behaviors or special needs, we encourage you to get support before you make any decisions. Contact your local or state Department of Social Services, community family support organizations, children’s mental health programs, special needs organizations, or—if the child is adopted—an adoptive parent support group. If these options have failed, typically parental rights cannot be terminated without a legal order charging the parents with abandonment.

I am a foster parent. How can I adopt a child in my care who is not legally free?

Most children in foster care return to their birth families, so many children do not ever become available for adoption. If you have reason to believe that the child will not be returning to his or her birth parents or other birth relatives, let your worker and the child’s worker know that you are willing to adopt if the child ever does become available for adoption.

Foster parents often have a right to be heard in child welfare cases, but do not typically have legal standing to request that the state terminate parents’ right. Make certain that the child’s CASA, guardian ad litem, or attorney knows that you are interested providing a permanent family for this child. Because some courts are reluctant to terminate parental rights until an adoptive resource is identified for the child, this information can help move the case along.

I already have my home study. What should I do now?

You can register as a waiting parent with AdoptUsKids or your state’s or province’s adoption exchange. We also recommend that you join a support group, seek training, or find other places to learn more while you wait.

Make sure your worker knows that you are actively pursuing further education and information and are serious. You can also actively look for children that might be right for your family. Go to matching parties, visit adoption exchange web sites, etc. If you find a child you are interested in, contact your worker and ask him or her to gather more information to find out if the match would be right.

The state says my family is too large to adopt more children. What can I do?

Placement decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. No family has a right to particular child, and some agencies or workers will not place with larger families because they worry that the families resources are stretched too thin. If you are currently a foster parent, many jurisdictions have limits on the size of your family. One support for large adoptive families is the Foundation for Large Families (www.foundationforlargefamilies.com).

What does open adoption mean? Why is it important for my child?

Openness in adoption includes a range of options from no contact (confidential) to mediated (sharing non-identifying information through an agency intermediary) to ongoing fully disclosed adoptions (direct, identified contact) between birth and adoptive families. Examples of openness in this range include:

  • shared social, health, and cultural information
  • shared pictures, ongoing information, or gifts through an intermediary
  • contact through electronic means such as e-mails or web sites
  • birth and adoptive parents meet but plan no ongoing visits
  • adopted child visits with siblings or extended family relatives
  • adopted child maintains some contact with foster families and other significant people
  • adoptive family maintains phone or mail contact with birth family
  • adopted child visits with birth parents (in neutral locations or in one another's homes)

The degree of openness will depend on the child's and families' situation, but most child experts now agree that openness is the best option for adopted children. Openness acknowledges that the child belongs to two families, allows the child to know how the birth family is doing (instead of worrying and wondering), enables the child to reconcile different parts of his or her identity, and provides the child with more relatives who care.

Although children in foster care may have experienced neglect or abuse, most also have positive memories of their birth families and other early life relationships. Not everything about their life was bad. They may remember a loving touch, a kind gesture, or a special birthday, and they may wonder about siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Children, as they get older, may wish their parents were healthier or had made better choices. They may even understand they can't safely live with their birth parents, but that doesn't erase the bond they feel with their birth families.

Children you foster or adopt need you to listen when they talk about memories of their birth families. They may ask for your help contacting family members through letters, cards, phone calls, or—if it's safe—visits. Some open adoption resources are available at Open Adoption Insight (founded by Brenda Romanchik): brenr@openadoptioninsight.org; 248-543-0097.

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Siblings

I want to adopt my foster daughter, but the agency wants to place her in another family with her sibling. What can I do?

NACAC believes that children should maintain contact with their siblings and be placed together whenever possible, provided the placement serves the children's best interests. Especially when children and youth have been separated from other birth family members, the connection between siblings is critically important to their emotional health and well-being. Conversely, the separation of siblings can significantly intensify each child’s feelings of loss and trauma.

No family has a right to a particular child, and placement decisions are made on a case-by-case basis depending on the circumstances of the child and family. If two siblings have never lived together and have no existing relationship, many child advocates believe that each child’s bond with his or her respective caregiver should outweigh the children’s genetic connection. Contact between the siblings, however, is still highly recommended.

To protest a placement decision, you will need an attorney and a good case to prove that keeping the siblings apart is in their best interests. However, since many states have policies that favor keeping siblings together, legal action may not yield the outcome you hoped for.

I am adopting a child and want to adopt his siblings. Why won’t the worker allow it?

We strongly encouraging placing siblings together unless the siblings pose a danger to one another that cannot be resolved or accommodated. Agencies, however, must decide on placements based on all the information they have about the children and families, and no family has an inalienable right to particular children.

If you cannot adopt the siblings, work with the siblings' family to establish some ongoing contact between the children and their history. Ask your worker how contact can be arranged.

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Financial Issues

Am I eligible for the adoption tax credit?

If you have finalized the adoption of a child in the last tax years, and have a taxable annual income that doesn’t exceed $150,000, you can to file an adoption tax credit. Families who adopt children from foster care are eligible to take a flat credit of $10,000 (adjusted annually for inflation) per child without documenting their adoption costs. Families who adopt infants without special needs or adopt internationally must offer proof of expense to access the credit.

If your annual tax liability is less than $10,000, you may carry any unused credit ahead into the next four tax years until the credit is spent or time runs out. To learn more about the adoption tax credit, click here.

I want to adopt a healthy infant in the U.S. or a baby from overseas. What grants or other funding is available to cover my adoption expenses?

With the exception of the adoption tax credit and nonrecurring expense reimbursements, most federal adoption support is reserved for the adoption of children who are in foster care. Organizations listed below, however, may be able to help:

  • National Adoption Foundation: provides grants and low-interest loans to prospective adoptive parents, Loans can be used to cover any cost incurred during the adoption process, from legal fees to travel expenses, and no collateral is required for security.
  • Gift of Adoption Fund (grants@giftofadoption.org; 262-268-1386): provides financial assistance for would-be adoptive parents based on need. Grants are available in amounts up to $5,000.
  • God's Grace Adoption Ministry (209-572-4539): seeks to help Christian families overcome the financial burden of adopting the world's orphaned children. Families can apply for adoption grants or receive assistance with adoption fundraising.
  • A Child Waits Foundation (866-999-2445): offers financial support to those who have exhausted all other financing options and cannot adopt internationally without aid. Foundation low-interest loans typically cover only part of the cost.

Since many of these foundations offer support based on need, prospective parents should first seek financial aid through bank loans, second mortgages or home-equity loans, family loans, and savings accounts. Some employers also offer adoption benefits. To request a list of employers who provide adoption benefits or learn more about workplace adoption benefits, contact the Adoption Friendly Workplace Program (info@adoptionfriendlyworkplace.org; 877-777-4222).

Can NACAC help pay for my adoption, the cost of attending the NACAC conference, etc.?

NACAC does not have any funds to offset adoption expenses. Each year, we do have a few scholarships for the conference, but they are typically reserved for parent group leaders who have not attended a previous conference.

Are there scholarships or other educational funding available for youth in foster care or those adopted from care?

The Orphan Foundation of America (help@orphan.org; 571-203-0270) administers about $1,000,000 in Casey Family Scholars' scholarships annually to approximately 250 to 300 current and former foster youth (who were not adopted or were adopted/placed in a legal guardianship home after turning 16) enrolled in colleges, universities and vocational training programs across the country. Youth younger than 25 can apply for scholarships or learn more about state education voucher programs.

The National Foster Parent Association also offers scholarships to foster youth who plan to further their education through college, vocational and job training, and correspondence courses, including GED training. Some scholarships are also available for birth and adopted youth in foster homes. To learn more, write to info@NFPAinc.org, or call 253-853-4000 or 800-557-5238.

For more information about college tuition waiver and scholarship programs, click here or contact the National Resource Center for Youth Development (918-660-3700).

If your children were not adopted from foster care, we are not aware of specific resources. You should contact the financial aid office of your children's school to request a list of scholarships available to all students.

My agency says it will charge me to share my home study. Can the agency do that?

Some agencies do charge to share the home study with other agencies. If this is a problem, you can choose to have another home study done. Before you do, however, check with the agency about its policies on this topic. You may be able to negotiate an agreement that gives you the right to share the home study more widely.

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North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114
phone: 651-644-3036
fax: 651-644-9848
e-mail: info@nacac.org
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