The Most Common Types Of Adoption If You Want To Grow Your Family

by Team Scary Mommy
Originally Published: 
types of adoption
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Deciding to grow your family through adoption is a deeply personal and gratifying decision. But that doesn’t mean it won’t feel overwhelming and daunting trying to figure out just where to start. The good news is that all the different types of adoption allow the prospective parent or parents to find the route and process that’s right for them. That said, the most important first step is to do your research to get a better understanding of each option available to you. What’s the difference between open and closed adoption? What challenges do same-sex couples or single parents face? How much does baby adoption cost? It might feel like there are more questions than answers. With that in mind, we’ve gone ahead and collated brief summaries of the most common types of adoptions to get you started.

If you would like to read more about each type of adoption, you can take a deeper dive in Scary Mommy’s guides on embryo, open, closed, baby, foster care, private, adult, international, transracial, step parent, military, single parent, Jewish, Christian, and same-sex adoption.

But first, no matter which type of adoption route you’re taking, chances are you’ll have to undergo a lengthy home study. Unlike what they show in movies (we’re looking at you Life As We Know It), a home study is so much more than a quick interview with a social worker in your living room. It requires prospective adoptive parents to submit documentation on their health, finances, undergo extensive background checks, and answer very specific questions about finances and the home environment they will be bringing a child into.

Adoptive parents will also need to write autobiographical statements about their life story, essentially letting the social worker or agency rep get to know them better. They will also need to provide personal reference letters from three or four family members and friends explaining why they make perfect candidates for adoption.

Embryo Adoption

If an individual or couple undergoing the IVF process have leftover embryos they no longer want to use, they may choose to donate them to research, destroy them, or to donate them to people who want to become parents and otherwise could not. The latter option is called embryo adoption.

In this type of adoption, there are two options on the table: an anonymous embryo donation or a known donation, and they’re exactly what they sound like. In anonymous embryo donation, the donor’s clinic is the party matching the embryo with a recipient, but the donor and the recipient families don’t know each other’s identities. In known donations, the donor couple make the decision to find out more about the prospective recipients, and may request additional information like the transfer date or whether the embryo resulted in a pregnancy. The donors may even request regular updates on their “snowflake baby,” the term used for embryo adopted babies because of their previously frozen state. For some prospective parents and mothers, the most significant pro of embryo adoption is the ability to carry the child and experience pregnancy and childbirth.

Anyone doing preliminary research into the adoption process comes to realize the costs of adoption are staggering. In comparison, embryo adoption costs so much less, ranging from around $2,000 to $8,000.

Open Adoption

In an open adoption, the birth mother or parents and prospective adoptive parent or parents are aware of each other’s identities and have some type of contact with each other. This could include regular updates on the child, annual celebrations together, keeping in touch via phone or email, and even visits between the adopted child and birth parents. Additionally, in open adoptions the birth parents are the ones to select the adoptive parents.

Because each open adoption is different, both parties can lay out what they’re looking to get out of the adoption to each other or though their attorney and adoption agency. They can also express just how much or how little contact they would like to have with the adopted child and each other.

Most adoptions in the U.S. are open and while the American Pregnancy Association outlines there may be cons to the arrangement (the birth parents may change their mind or feel an obligation to the adoptive family) there are many more positives. Birth parents can decide to maintain a relationship with the child and adoptive parents have a source to reach out to when the inevitable questions about the child’s background come up.

Closed Adoption

Unlike in open adoptions, the identities of the birth mother or parents and adoptive parents are not shared with each other in a closed adoption. There is no interaction between the two parents or the adopted child and the birth parents, though non-identifying facts like physical traits and medical history are sometimes shared with the adoptive parents.

This type of adoption may be right for parents on both sides looking for a stronger sense of closure once the process is complete and as such any communication between the birth and adoptive parents is done through their agency or attorneys. A downside of closed adoptions might be the adoptive parent’s inability to answer their child’s questions about identity and history as they grow older.

Baby or Infant Adoption

If you would like to grow your family by adopting a baby, infant, or newborn, you should first decide what kind of adoption arrangement will work best for you and whether you want an open or closed adoption. The next step would be to start researching adoption agencies to determine whether you would like to work with a public or private adoption agency.

In most cases, public agencies charge very little for the adoption and are more flexible about who is allowed to adopt a child, but the process might take longer. Private adoptions typically cost more, but they tend to move faster while giving prospective parents options when it comes to making their decision on the child or infant to adopt.

After you’ve attended adoption and parenting classes, the agency social worker will conduct home studies to judge whether you’re a good candidate for adoption — this process might take anywhere from two months to a year. After that, adoptive parents will work with the agency to find children or babies who may be a good fit for their family.

Foster Care Adoption

In many cases, fostering to adopt can lead to adoption, but it is by no means an easy route. While more than half of children that are put into foster care end up back with their birth parents, there are others who still need a forever home. Most foster children are between eight and 21-years-old when they’re adopted, so it’s most likely not the right option for adoptive parents looking to add a baby to their family. It’s important to keep in mind that foster parents have to be ready and willing to return their foster children to the birth parents if the courts decide it is in the child’s best interest. This can be a difficult and painful decision, but must be considered before prospective adoptive parents go ahead with the process.

If foster care adoption is the right for your family, your first step will be getting specialized training in understanding the impact trauma may have had on foster children. Then, foster parents should expect to spend between nine and 18 months to complete the inquiry, orientation, prep classes, and home study. Your ability to foster the child before adopting them will depend on your state, but the good news is that most states recommend parents foster before they adopt. Another bit of good news? Adopting children in foster care costs very little to no money at all, thanks to grants and other financial assistance organizations and services.

Private Adoption

In broad terms, private adoption is a process in 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 different ways — searching personal ads, word of mouth, through an adoption agency, or through an attorney.

In a private agency adoption, the agency would use its extensive network to “match” the adoptive parents with a potential birth mother or birth parents. They would also conduct fraud screenings, take care of home study logistics, offer counseling and support, insurance and hospital coordination, and even prenatal care assistance, if necessary.

If prospective adoptive parents decide to forego the agency route, they may just have to make all the arrangements themselves. In addition to an adoption attorney, they’ll also have to hire a home study provider, and collaborate with a media professional to create their adoption profile.

Adult Adoption

If you’ve ever wondered whether you can legally adopt an adult, the good news is that yes, you can. Adult adoption is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a legal process by which a person or couple adopt a person over the age of majority in their state. The process for it is also similar to adopting a child, meaning it operates on the state level and is governed by state rules.

You might wonder: Why would anyone want or need to adopt an adult? It’s actually more common than you think. Adults are often adopted in order to help with inheritance issues. For instance, if you want to make sure that your deceased best friend’s “adult” children are able to lay claim to some of your estate, adopting them will make that much easier for them. Adult adoption also occurs when step-parents are involved. Adults often “gift” their adoption to active, supportive step-parents to show recognition of their love and dedication. The final reason one might choose to adopt an adult is in the case of adult children with disabilities. For instance, many siblings with aged or deceased parents find it beneficial to formally adopt a sibling with disabilities. This helps siblings better contribute to decisions made on behalf of their sibling, secure insurance for them and help manage lifelong budget needs.

The first thing to do once you’re ready to get the ball rolling is to hire an adoption attorney who can help you navigate the court and legal system. Once your court date comes around, the family judge will rule whether the adoption will be finalized. If all goes well, the court will issue a new birth certificate for the adoptee. And voila, you just adopted an adult.

Transracial Adoption

An adoption is dubbed a transracial adoption when the adoptive parent or parents adopt a child of a different race. Sometimes referred to as “interracial adoption,” adoptive parents may consider transracial adoption for several reasons, including that they want to expand their family regardless of whether or not their adopted child is of the same race and background as them. In other cases, parents might be intentionally looking to expand and create a multicultural household.

Whatever the reasons behind it might be, the adoption process itself is much like other procedures. First things first, prospective adoptive parents should consider whether they want an open or closed adoption and should do the research about the specific rules in their state. They must also consider whether they’re prepared to deal with some of the challenges that come with transracial adoption. In order to have a successful adoption, AdoptUSKids suggests talking with family and friends about it, finding mentors and role models of the same race and background as your child, acknowledging racism and microaggressions, making new connections in the community, and starting new family traditions that take the adopted child’s background into consideration.

Single Parent Adoption

The process of adoption is actually pretty much the same for a prospective single parent as it is for couples. The parent will have to do some homework to figure out whether open or closed adoption is best for them, whether they’d like to foster, and what kind of agency will work best for them. Prospective single adoptive parents should also consider childcare in case of emergencies and how they might handle any other issues that might come up, as social workers and agencies will inquire about this.

Military Adoption

When it comes to military families looking to adopt, they might have the same adoption options other prospective adoptive parents do, but they have variables like deployment that might slow down or impede the process completely. Luckily, military families have options and resources that take their unique situation into account.

Families stationed overseas looking to adopt internationally can use an adoption agency as long as it’s Hague-accredited. If they’re going the domestic adoption route while stationed overseas, the deployed partner may have to give power of attorney to the other partner to expedite the process.

Under the Department of Defense Adoption Reimbursement Program, military members quality for financial assistance if they adopt a child under 18 years of age, including step-kids . Members of the armed forces could also get leave when adopting, but that should be further discussed with the commanding officer. If you’re a service member considering adoption, visit your local Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) office for more information on your options and how much time may be available to you. Additionally, if a service member receives deployment orders in the middle of the adoption process, they may be eligible to request up to a four-month deployment deferment.

Step Parent Adoption

The good news is that adoption of stepchildren is the most common type of adoption so states try to make the process as easy peasy as possible. To kick things off, a prospective adoptive parent will need to obtain written consent from both parents, unless the noncustodial parent has abandoned the child. After submitting all the legal forms required by the state, the adoptive parent and stepchild will be required to appear at the hearing where a family judge will ask questions of both parties to make sure the adoption is in the best interest of all involved. If the hearing goes well, another court date will finalize the adoption and the adoptive parent will be issued an adoption certificate.

Jewish Adoption

The Jewish adoption route is the right option for people who want to adopt a child from a birth parent or parents who practice Judaism, or if the birth parents want to place their child with a Jewish family. If that’s the case, looking into Jewish adoption agencies might be the best first step. If you’re not sure where to start, contact your local branch of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services and ask for their recommendation.

The costs associated with Jewish adoption are much like other types and can range from a few thousand to $50,000, or more. These costs usually cover legal fees, home study, advertising, miscellaneous document fees, counseling, and any other expenses that might pop up. Fortunately, local Jewish charities and other secular nonprofit organizations may award grants to qualifying candidates.

Christian Adoption

People of the Christian faith may seek Christian adoption agencies to grow their family and can choose from agencies that specialize in international, domestic, and regional adoptions. And while the adoption process is basically the same as for people of other faiths, there are some pros and cons to consider.

According to Considering Adoption, some of the pros of working with a Christian adoption agency include:

  • You’ll work with an organization whose ethics and values are similar to yours.
  • Many Christian adoption agencies also offer families the opportunity to do ministry/mission work, especially in countries where they work with orphanages for international adoptions.
  • If your family or community is unsure about your decision to adopt, you might receive greater support from them if you work with a Christian agency.

Considering Adoption lists the following cons of working with a Christian adoption agency:

  • You may feel pressured to continue to work with the organization after the adoption is complete.
  • You might have a better chance of finding a child to adopt with a larger secular agency.
  • If you’re a single person, in a domestic partnership, or married to someone of the same sex, Christian adoption agencies may not be willing to work with you, as many Christians believe that only heterosexual married couples should be able to start a family.

Same-Sex Adoption

Even though the adoption process for same-sex couples is basically the same, LGBTQ+ adoptive parents might face additional challenges if they pursue open adoption. That’s because some birth parents may decide they would prefer to have their child placed with a heterosexual couple. That’s an unfortunate reality same-sex couples might have to navigate, especially since studies show adopted children of same-sex couples thrive in every aspect of their development.

To start their search, same-sex adoptive parents may want to seek out an LGBTQ+-friendly adoption agency. If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to a local LGBTQ+ community center and ask for their recommendation. Additionally, the Human Rights Campaign suggests researching agencies you’re considering by asking the following questions:

  • Does the agency’s mission statement mention the LGBTQ community?
  • Does the agency’s client non-discrimination statement include the terms “sexual orientation” or “gender identity”?
  • Does the agency use LGBTQ inclusive advertising images?
  • Does the agency have LGBTQ inclusive paperwork?

The costs of same-sex adoption are similar to other types of adoption and may range anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000, or more. Luckily, organizations like give out grants of up to $15,000 for deserving prospective parents, regardless of their ethnicity, religious affiliation, marital status, and sexual orientation.

International Adoption

Parents looking to adopt outside of the United States will be happy to find out that international adoption is extremely common. In fact, since 1999, American families have adopted some 250,000 children from abroad. However, that doesn’t mean the process is easy and without complications. If this is the route for your family, you’ll first have to be deemed eligible for intercountry adoption both on the federal and state level and by the country you want to adopt from.

Following a USCIS application and home study, you should find the right adoption agency for you. It’s also a good idea to hire an adoption attorney who has experience with international adoption and can advise you along the way. Prospective parents have three options when it comes to adopting a child from outside the country, the Orphan process, the Hague process, and the family-based immigration process. Each one is governed by its own protocol and all three can range in cost from $20,000 to $50,000, or more once you take travel and miscellaneous expenses into account.

You can find a full list of countries that allow adoptions from the U.S. here.

Memorable and Touching Quotes on Adoption

“I relate to [unconditional love and being deeply maternal]. I feel that for my own children who are adopted. It’s not about anything else other than ‘I wanted you.’ It’s that deep and personal, and whatever your journey is, I’m here to love and support you.” — Nicole Kidman

“I never thought of myself as a mother, [but after playing with Cambodian children], it was suddenly very clear to me that my son was in the country, somewhere. He is my son, but he is also a son of Cambodia. This is the time for our family to understand all that means to him and to us.” — Angelina Jolie

“And the second I saw his picture, I was done . . . that was my son!” — Connie Britton

“It is definitely the hardest thing we’ve ever been through. But I think it needs to be hard because you have to fight for that baby. I’ve done both now — I’ve had one biological and I’ve had one through adoption. It’s a battle to bring your child home. And it just strengthens you as parents and as a team. It is hard but it’s so worth it.” — Lauren Akins

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