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Adoption Types

There are four basic types of adoption:

  • public agency adoption,
  • domestic private agency adoption,
  • international adoption, and
  • independent adoption.

As the chart below shows, requirements, costs, and timing vary between and within the different types of adoption. To decide which type of adoption is best for you, think seriously about the type of child you would like to adopt (for example, an infant, an older child or group of siblings, a child from another country, a child who has special needs, etc.).

Type of Adoption


Children Available

Approximate Cost

Who Can Adopt

How Long It Takes

Public agency adoption*

an adoption directed and supervised by a state or local Department of Human Services (or Social Services, or Human Resources, or Health and Welfare, or Child and Family Services, etc.)

children with special needs (kids who are harder to place due to emotional or physical disorders, age, race, membership in a sibling group, backgrounds); rarely infants

from $0 to $2,500 (depending on the state, up to $2,000 of "nonrecurring" adoption costs for eligible special needs children may be reimbursed)

flexible eligibility requirements for adoptive parents; on a case-by-case basis, will consider single parents, parents over the age of 40, parents who have other children, parents with low incomes, etc.

starts slowly, but for those who have an updated home study, placement can occur as soon as a few months after selecting a child

Private agency adoption

an adoption directed and supervised by a privately funded, licensed adoption agency

sometimes handle special needs children; more commonly associated with younger children and infants

$5,000 to $40,000; lower for special needs children; some agencies have sliding fee scales

agencies may recruit parents based on race, religious affiliation, etc.; for infant adoptions, birth mother often chooses

a few months to a few years (sometimes longer for infant adoption)

International adoption

process of adopting a child who is not a U.S citizen, which may be accomplished privately through an attorney, or through an international adoption agency

nearly 70 countries allow their children to be adopted by U.S. citizens; ages range from infant to teens; health conditions vary

$15,000 to $30,000 (varies by country; travel and travel- related expenses may be additional)

depends on agency and country requirements; some countries will accept single parents, most prospective parents are between ages 25 and 45

six months to several years depending on the child's age and health, and the country's political climate

Independent adoption (not legal in all states; also known as private adoption)

an adoption initiated by prospective adopters and completed with help from an attorney or adoption counselor

generally infants

$8,000 to $40,000+ (includes prospective parents' cost of finding a birth mother, certain birth mother expenses, and attorney's fees)

birth mothers typically choose the adoptive parent-- preferences tend to run toward younger, affluent, married couples

variable; as long as it takes to find a birth mother who will see the process through to finalization

* Note: It is also possible to adopt children by first becoming a foster parent, and many children who have special needs are adopted by their foster parents. Drawback: There is no guarantee that foster parents will be able to adopt either the child in their care or any other child. Most children in foster care return to their birth families, and some are placed in the custody of relatives or adopted by parents the agency feels are best able to meet the child's particular needs. Advantages: Children who enter foster care are, on average, younger than children who become legally free for adoption after spending years in care. In addition, parents who take in foster children have time to get fully acquainted with a child before committing to adoption. The more parents know about a child, the better their chances are for a successful adoption.

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