Private Adoption: What It Is, How Much It Costs, And More

Breaking Down The Complexities Of Private Adoption: What You Need To Know

April 6, 2020 Updated September 17, 2021

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Bringing a child into your home through adoption is a beautiful and deeply personal decision, so congratulations on getting to the research phase. Every step in the process comes with its own complexities and nuances and, right now, you might be spinning your wheels over all of the different options at your disposal, particularly when it comes to the possibility of private adoption. What is it? How exactly does it work? How is it different from other types like open adoption and closed adoption? And, most pointedly, is it right for your family?

You’re not alone in your query here. In fact, according to the latest search data available to us, private adoption is searched for nearly 1,900 times per month. That means there’s a lot of hopeful parents out there who have just as many questions (if not more) about the process as you do. And since there are a lot of different ways private adoption can work, depending upon the route you choose, it’s important to be armed with as much information as possible so that you can make an educated decision about where to go from here and if it’s right for you.

There’s a lot to unpack, but obviously, the end result (a new family member!) is well worth all the hard work and hustle. Let’s get the ball rolling by looking at the basics of private adoption.

If you’re looking for more info on other types of adoption, you can find our guides to embryo, foster care, adult, international, transracialstep parent, military, single parent, Jewish, Christian, and same-sex adoption

What does private adoption mean?

Deciding to adopt a baby or child in and of itself can feel overwhelming. In good ways, of course, but also just in the sense that it’s daunting trying to figure out where to start. So, one of the first pieces of information we can share that may alleviate some of your anxiety is to tell you that there are different options available. One of the most common types is private adoption (especially for parents adopting an infant).

Broadly speaking, private adoption describes the process by which a birth parent or parents voluntarily place their child for adoption and that child is then placed with adoptive parents. Birth parents may find the hopeful adoptive parents in various ways — searching personal ads, via word of mouth, through an adoption agency, or through an attorney. The latter two categories come with their own distinctions, so we’ll cover that more in-depth in a minute.

But, disclaimer: This can be confusing. We know. It doesn’t help that private adoption is often referred to by several names, including “domestic adoption” and “infant adoption.”

So, how does private adoption work?

This is a little tricky since the process can vary from state to state, but here’s an overall guideline of what to expect.

Before Birth

  • Complete a home study: This includes a review of your health records, a background check, being visited at home, and getting interviewed by a social worker.
  • Create a profile: Once you get approved for your home study, it’s time to create a profile of yourself that birth mothers will later read when deciding on a family for their baby. It’s basically a helpful way to stand out and showcase why you and your family deserve to get selected.
  • Finding a match: Whether you opt to go through a licensed agency, an adoption attorney, or another matching service, the next step is getting chosen by the birth parents.

At Birth

  • Signing the placement forms: Once the baby is born, the birth mother can sign the adoption paperwork that relinquishes her ownership of the baby. There is a window of time that allows the birth mother to change her mind about the adoption, though again, that timeline can vary on a state-by-state basis, so make sure you know the specifics for your area before getting too far along in the process.

After Birth

  • Complete any post-placement requirements: This allows for a social worker to check in and make sure both the baby and the adoptive parents are adjusting well with each other.
  • Finalize the adoption: It’s mostly just logistics and paperwork, but it’s the final step in completing your growing family.

Is private adoption the same as agency adoption?

It can be. Let us explain. Agency adoption is one method of private adoption. A defining characteristic of private adoption through an agency is the services available to you by working with adoption professionals.

Just think of it as more of a one-stop-shop. In a private agency adoption, the agency would help the adoptive parents “match” with a potential birth mother or birth parents. Because agencies often have extensive networks at their disposal, it can expedite the process of pairing birth parents with adoptive parents who share adoption preferences. Adoption agencies typically also offer screening and fraud protection services to ensure the birth parents are fully committed to the process, home study logistics (whether they are licensed to perform it themselves or arrange for a contracted party to do so), counseling and support, facilitation and mediation, insurance and hospital coordination, and even prenatal care assistance.

What is the difference between public and private adoption?

Also known as foster to adopt, public adoption entails foster parents petitioning to permanently adopt their foster child. This type of adoption is very rewarding but can also be rife with uncertainty. In order for a child to become part of the foster system, the rights of the biological parents must first be terminated. If the child doesn’t have any relatives who can care for them, they are placed into foster care and live with foster parents.

However, the foster care system is ultimately designed to help biological parents rehabilitate so that they can be reunited with their children. If they comply with the state’s mandates, they may reclaim their parental rights. Your state’s adoption consent laws determine how far into the foster to adopt process this could take place.

What is the difference between private adoption and independent adoption?

A private adoption and independent adoption are effectively the same. “Independent,” like “agency,” refers to the method of adoption. With an independent adoption, contact between the birth mother or parents and the adoptive parents is direct and/or through an adoption attorney. Since it isn’t through the state foster care system, it isn’t considered a public adoption. In this form of private adoption — unlike with agency adoption — adoptive parents do the legwork themselves.

Since there is no agency arranging everything, the hopeful adoptive parents will need to employ several other professionals. In addition to an adoption attorney, you’ll need to hire a home study provider — a home study is necessary to declare an adoptive family ready to adopt. It’s also recommended that prospective parents open a line of dialogue with a counselor, as well as collaborate with a media pro to create their adoptive family profile. Although, hey, some parents have even become adoptive parents through social media!

It’s important, though, to note that some states require a licensed adoption agency to be involved in every adoption.

What are the advantages of private adoption?

Though every adoption option comes with its own unique set of pros and cons, there are some distinct benefits to choosing private adoption.

For starters, it is known for having shorter wait times (more on that in a minute), which means you could become a parent much sooner than if you were to go through the foster care system or use an agency. This is mainly because the process is much less structured, with far fewer hoops to jump through before getting your profile out there to any interested birth parents. Granted, a quicker adoption isn’t always guaranteed, but generally, it does tend to expedite the process, making it a big draw to some families.

Private adoption can also be beneficial depending on the age you’d prefer your adoptive child to be. For example, it’s a lot more common and more accessible to adopt a newborn through private adoption than public adoption. Why? In public adoption, the state allows the biological parents time to regain custody of their child before making them eligible to be adopted.

How long do private adoptions take?

As you may have guessed, it’s pretty much impossible to predict how long a private adoption may take for you. There are far too many extenuating factors that could affect the timeline. Per the National Adoption Center, this can vary based on whether you choose an independent or agency adoption, how your home study goes, and more.

“With a completed home study in hand, the process to adopt a child with special needs can often proceed quickly,” says the organization. The wait for children without special needs, on the other hand, is “typically between two and seven years.” Also, because there aren’t as many infants to adopt domestically as there are internationally, the criterium is more restrictive — thus, private adoption of an infant in the U.S. can take longer.

Is private adoption cheaper?

Again, and sorry to beat the same old drum, this is a metric that you just can’t accurately measure without having all of the details. But the National Adoption Center ballparks that adopting a healthy infant of any race through a private agency or attorney in the U.S. can range from several hundred dollars (independent) to $30,000 or more (agency). A 2017 survey published in Adoptive Families magazine found that domestic infant adoption cost families on average of $43,000.

Is private adoption ethical and safe?

The prospect of welcoming a new child into your home can be so exciting, but it’s important not to let your enthusiasm cloud your judgment when it comes to the adoption process. You don’t want to be crossing any ethical boundaries that could undermine all the good you’re trying to do. So how do you make sure everything is on the up and up?

Research, Research, Research!

Whichever type of adoption professional you choose to work with, you’ll want to vet them properly and make sure there isn’t any shady business going on. This includes asking the adoption professional directly about their views on ethics and talking to other people who have worked with them before. It’ll help give a clearer picture about who you’ll be working with and if they have everyone’s best interests at heart.

Some people want a baby more than anything, which is understandable. Unfortunately, the private sector makes it fairly easy for organizations and consultants to take advantage of that fact by charging adoptive parents with hefty, unnecessary fees. In fact, a recent TIME feature unearthed that prospective parents were being charged upwards of $25,000 by the Adoption Network Law Center (ANLC), which didn’t even include legal costs or expenses for the birth mother. Former employees went on to tell the outlet that the full tab could go on to reach more than double that amount when all was said and done.

Bottom line: Make absolutely sure you know who you’re getting into business with beforehand.

Look Out for the Birth Parents

Your primary focus may be on the child, but it’s also essential to make sure that the birth parents are legally represented and understand their rights throughout every step of the process. That way, you know for certain that the adoption process was completed correctly, both legally and ethically.

Keep Your Emotions in Check

It’s understandable to be excited about adopting a child. It could even prompt you to want to shower the birth parents with gifts or make promises to them you don’t end up wanting to keep. While you may be approaching the matter with the best intentions, it could be seen as a type of coercion, which is illegal and could ultimately overturn the adoption.