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How to Adopt a Child - The Domestic Adoption Process

The Steps to Adopt a Newborn to a New Family in the United States

Family is everything, but the way people get there is different. For thousands of hopeful parents, the domestic adoption process is the path to a life of joy and love. For thousands of birth parents, adoption provides opportunities and a new start — for them and for their children.

Whether you’re a hopeful parent or a prospective birth parent, the path to adoption can be long and winding. It can also be confusing. So, it’s normal to have questions, like:

How do you adopt a child?

How do you place a child for adoption?

What is the adoption process really like?

What are the steps to adopting a child to a new family?

Can adoption be right for me?

This guide aims to answer these adoption questions and more. We want to help you explore whether or not domestic adoption is right for you and your family.

The following will walk you through how to adopt a child domestically and the overall adoption process with American Adoptions, whether you’re a pregnant woman or a hopeful adoptive parent in the United States. Remember: You can always call our adoption agency anytime at 1-800-ADOPTION to receive personalized information and support.

How to Adopt a Child

Step 1: Decide that Adoption Is Right for You

This may seem like an obvious step to adopt a baby in the U.S. — so obvious that you could skip right over it. But this decision is too important to blow past. Raising an adopted child is a great responsibility, and adoptive parents need to take great care before beginning the process to bring a new child into their home. This is a decision that should be considered carefully and deeply before beginning the adoption process.

Deciding if adoption is right for you and your family is a personal decision and one that is made for a variety of reasons. Everyone has a unique life experience. The journey that has brought you to this decision has likely been full of ups and downs.

Many hopeful parents choose adoption after struggles with infertility. Infertility treatments are available to families, but even in the best-case scenarios, they only have a 35 percent success rate. Some families find that with each failed attempt is another large sum of money that could have been used toward adoption, which can be emotionally draining. After this, they begin wondering how to adopt a baby.

For many families, transitioning from infertility to adoption can be a long process. Talking with an adoption counselor will help you better understand the process of adoption, answer your adoption questions, and ultimately decide if adoption is right for you. If you are considering adopting a baby in the United States, you can reach an adoption counselor and learn more about our agency services by requesting free information here.

Whatever your journey up to this point has been, if you are considering this path, you must fully commit before beginning the adoption process. Only then can you fully embrace adoption and move forward with next steps.

But, what about if you’re on the other side of the equation — considering adoption for an unplanned pregnancy?

Many prospective birth parents eventually plan to raise children, but their unplanned pregnancy comes at a time when doing so would be incredibly difficult. They love their unborn baby very much, but they know that placing their child with a new set of parents will give him or her opportunities they can’t provide at this moment. If you are in a similar situation, an adoption agency like American Adoptions can help. You and your unborn child deserve care and support during this difficult time, and our agency can be there every step of the way to provide the services you need. If you are interested in learning more, you can request information here, for free and with absolutely no obligation to choose adoption.

Many expectant parents feel torn between their pregnancy options before choosing adoption — and that’s perfectly okay. Learning more about the adoption process never obligates you to choose adoption before you’re ready.

Step 2: Select the Type of Adoption

If you are an adoptive parent, you have to decide what type of adoption you are interested in pursuing, which depends on several factors. The child adoption process is different for each type. Do you want to:

The answers to these questions will lead you to the type of adoption that is best for you. For example, if you are interested in providing a permanent home for an older child (or children) from the child welfare system, a foster care adoption may be the best type of adoption for you. You can find more information about the United States foster system from the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

On the other hand, if you are interested in adopting a newborn or infant, a domestic infant adoption (like the adoptions completed by our agency) will be the best path for you. There is no "right" or "wrong" way for families to adopt children; it all comes down to your personal adoption goals and the type of children you feel most prepared to parent. Like your initial decision to pursue adoption, this is a decision that will take some time and care to consider. For more information, the Child Welfare Information Gateway has a guide to the different adoption choices available to hopeful parents in the United States. You can also find additional information related to foster care, child welfare systems, states' adoption laws, and more.

However, if, you are considering placing a baby for adoption, then this decision is simple: you will be pursuing the domestic infant adoption process. American Adoptions serves prospective birth parents and adoptive families through every step of this type of adoption, providing all of the information and services you need from start to finish. Because we are a large, national agency, we work with clients across all 50 states.

Step 3: Choose an Adoption Professional

When researching adoption professionals, some adoptive families and pregnant women inaccurately believe that all adoption agencies provide the same services with the same levels of success. Unfortunately, this is not true. Your experience with the child adoption process can change drastically depending on the agency you work with.

It is essential to thoroughly research multiple adoption professionals and all of their services and benefits before choosing one. You deserve to have all of the information you need to make this important decision.

If you’re an adoptive parent, for example, it is a mistake to compare Adoption Professional A’s $20,000 fees to Adoption Professional B’s $30,000 fees and select Adoption Professional A because it seems like a less expensive option. Other than the cost of the adoption, you will also want to investigate other characteristics of an adoption professional, including:

  • Wait times

  • Disruption rates

  • Hidden fees

  • Financial protection

  • Amount of support, education and guidance for all parties

  • Number of children placed for adoption each year

  • And much more

Similarly, if you’re a prospective birth parent, it’s important to choose an agency not just based on the number of services offered. You should pay close attention to how the professionals treat you — do you feel respected, or do you feel like you are being pressured into a decision that you’re not quite ready for?

Another common mistake is to choose a professional based only on location. Many families and prospective birth parents begin their search for adoption professionals based on the states in which they live. While foster adoption professionals often operate on the state level, prospective birth parents and adoptive families pursuing infant adoption should not limit themselves to the agencies in their state or city. In fact, there are many adoption professionals that work across the United States, and these national agencies often provide additional services that smaller, local professionals aren't able to match.

There are hundreds of national and local adoption agencies, adoption attorneys, adoption law centers and adoption facilitators that can all help you adopt a baby or place a baby for adoption. Read the following to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of adoption professional.

The search for an adoption or foster agency can be overwhelming, but it is well worth the effort to find a professional that can meet all of your needs and makes you feel supported. All members of the adoption triad (the adoptive parents, prospective birth parents and the child being adopted) should receive the help and care they need through every step of the process.

American Adoptions is a national adoption agency that is involved in more than 300 newborn adoptions every year and offers all the services adoptive families and prospective birth parents need for a successful private adoption process. If you’re trying to figure out how to adopt a baby into a new family, we can help.

Step 4: Become an Active Waiting Family or Create an Adoption Plan

If you choose to work with American Adoptions, there are a few steps in the process of adoption you’ll need to complete before you can find an adoption opportunity with a prospective birth mother or adoptive family.

If you’re a hopeful adoptive parent, you must complete the following:

  • Home Study – A home study is required in every type of adoption process and is an in-depth look into your lives to ensure that you are fit to become parents. (Depending on the state in which you live, there may be exceptions to this process if you are related to the child you plan to adopt, as in a kinship or stepparent adoption). Your home study social worker will help you complete state and federal criminal background checks, collect financial and medical information, and conduct interviews with you, your spouse and any other family members living in your home, as well as a home inspection.

  • APQ – To fully understand the types of adoption opportunities you are interested in pursuing in the child adoption process, American Adoptions uses the Adoption Planning Questionnaire (APQ), a series of questions that helps us measure which types of situations would be a good fit for your adoption goals. You will be asked confidential questions related to the cultural and health backgrounds of babies you are interested in adopting, the amount of contact you are interested in sharing with the birth parents, the medical conditions you are willing to accept in the birth parents’ background, and many more.

  • Adoption Profiles – All adoptive families at American Adoptions have a print profile, consisting of text and pictures about your family, and a video profile, which allows prospective birth mothers to learn more about what makes your family truly unique. Together, the print profile and video profile complement one another, so prospective birth parents can easily imagine what their child’s life would be like as a member of your family.

If you’re considering placing your child for adoption, you will create an adoption plan at this stage of the process. This will document your preferences and desires for your adoption journey, including:

  • Adoptive family: You can express your preferences for race, age, marital status, location and more. Based on the information you provide, a specialist will help search for and find waiting families who share the same goals, and you will be able to choose which family you want to place your child with.

  • Post-adoption contact: You can stay in contact with your child long after the child adoption process is complete. Through open adoption, you can exchange phone calls, emails, and even in-person visits with the adoptive family and your child in the years to come. What kind of and how much contact you wish to share will always be up to you.

  • Hospital plan: You will get to decide what your labor and delivery process looks like. This includes where you deliver, what kind of medication you want, whether the adoptive parents will be there, and more. Your specialist will help you create this plan by asking you all the “what if” questions they can think of related to the hospital stay.

If you choose to work with another professional, or if you are an adoptive parent pursuing another type of adoption (such as foster care or international adoption), you should ask your professional for specific information related to their requirements.

Step 5: Find an Adoption Opportunity

Once you have completed these first steps, you will officially be ready to begin the search for an adoption opportunity. This is an exciting step in the baby adoption process, but it can also be challenging.

The steps to find an adoption opportunity will vary depending on the type of adoption you pursue, the agency you work with, and the types of children and situations you are open to. Here, we will focus on the process for private adoptions in the United States; if you are looking for information related to the foster adoption process, we recommend the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Here at American Adoptions, adoptive family profiles are shown to prospective birth mothers whose situations line up with the boundaries put in place by her adoption plan and the family’s APQ. Eventually, a birth mother will select the family she feels is the perfect fit to adopt her baby.

If you’re a prospective birth mother, this decision will always be up to you. It may take some time to find the “right” family, and that’s okay. Your specialist will never rush you into a decision you’re uncomfortable making, and we will work hard to find prospective families who meet your expectations and preferences. While your adoption specialist will show you profiles of families who may be a good fit for you, based on the information you've shared about what you're looking for, you can also begin your search for adoptive parents by browsing our families' profiles online. The search functions at the top of the page allow you to narrow your search for families based on factors such as religion, race, state, number of children in the family, and more. Whatever type of family you are hoping to find, American Adoptions can help.

While prospective birth mothers take an active role in the search process, this step is mostly a waiting game for adoptive parents. This waiting period can be difficult for some adoptive families, so, if you’re a waiting parent, it is important to approach it the right way. In a healthy approach, the adoptive family maintains their normal lifestyle, keeps their adoption private to only close family members and friends, and perhaps takes up new hobbies to help keep their minds occupied, all while being prepared for when they do receive “the call.” Adoptive families that are able to distance themselves from the wait tend to have a much smoother experience in the domestic adoption process. Patience is key during the waiting period.

Keep in mind that while you are waiting, your adoption specialist is doing everything possible to find the right adoption opportunity for you. American Adoptions works hard to minimize wait times for adoptive parents, which average from one to 12 months with our adoptive families. On the other hand, we will never force a prospective birth mother to choose a family before she’s ready.

If you are a hopeful adoptive parent struggling with the wait, don't be afraid to reach out to your adoption specialist for help. We can provide services and information to help you feel supported during this difficult step. Similarly, if you are a prospective birth parent struggling with the search to find that perfect adoptive family, let your adoption specialist know. We want to help you find the perfect home for your baby.

Step 6: Communicate Before the Adoption

Once a prospective birth mother selects a family based on their profile, they are involved in what is known as an “adoption opportunity.” This is an exciting step in the process of adopting a child.

At this point, it is common for prospective birth parents to want to get to know the adoptive family a little better. Fortunately, this is an available option thanks to the rise of open adoption. In fact, the vast majority of private adoptions in the United States are now open, which means adopted children grow up knowing their adoption stories, having a relationship with their birth parents, and having access to any and all information related to their personal adoption history.

Today, most adoption professionals, including American Adoptions, encourage this openness in these adoption relationships because of the many benefits open adoption has for birth parents, adoptive parents and, most importantly, adopted children.

With American Adoptions, most adoptive families will participate in one or all of the following forms of contact with the prospective birth parents during the process of adoption:

  • Conference Call – An adoption specialist-mediated conference call between adoptive parents and the birth parents.

  • Ongoing Contact – Depending on everyone’s comfort level, the potential birth parents and adoptive family can choose to have continued email exchanges, phone calls, text message conversations and more prior to placement.

  • Meeting During Placement – The adoptive family will travel to the hospital where the birth takes place and interact with the birth parents upon placement.

An adoption specialist will be ready to facilitate communication at each step. However, many families and birth parents find that they are able to maintain this relationship on their own after the first phone call.

If you are considering placing a baby for adoption, it will always be up to you to decide how much contact you want to have with the adoptive family before and after the birth of your baby. You can decide how much information you'd like to share about yourself, and through pre-placement contact, you can ask the adoptive parents for more information related to their lives, other children (if they have them), home, parenting styles and more. Whatever type of relationship you wish to have with the family and your child, your adoption specialist will search for adoptive parents whose wishes are similar.

Step 7: Complete the Hospital Stay

The hospital stay is an emotional journey for both adoptive parents and prospective birth parents. This is the moment many adoptive parents dream of. But for pregnant women, this can be the hardest time of all — and requires a great deal of strength and love.

The hospital stay is a different emotional experience for every party, so it will require some emotional preparation. But, there are some logistical elements related to this step, too, and it’s important to understand these before you go to the hospital.

When a prospective birth mother chooses adoption, she will create a hospital plan as a part of her overall adoption plan. The adoptive parents will be made aware of this information before they arrive, and it’s important that they follow the potential birth mother’s wishes. Among other things, this plan will dictate whether or not adoptive parents are present in the delivery room, if they have face-to-face contact and how long the prospective birth mother spends with the baby after birth.

If you are considering adoption as a prospective birth mother, American Adoptions will provide the services and information you need to create this hospital plan. Your adoption specialist will help you think through all of the decisions related to your labor and delivery experience, so you can feel as prepared as possible for this time.

Some time after the baby is born, the prospective birth parents can complete the legal adoption paperwork. Remember, if you are a prospective birth mother, your adoption decision never becomes final until you complete these legal steps. Your adoption specialist and an attorney will be available to help you understand and prepare for the legal process.

Once their official consent to adoption has been given and everything is cleared from the doctors, the baby will be placed in the adoptive parents’ arms, and the lifelong journey of adoption will begin for both parties.

Step 8: Finalize the Adoption

Finalization is an exciting time for an adoptive family, because it is when all of the legal proceedings are finished, the adoption is legally completed, and the adopted child is an official member of the family. This is the final step of the legal adoption process.

In general, there are three things adoptive families need to do to reach legal adoption finalization:

  • Complete ICPC – If the adoption occurs across state lines, the adoptive family must remain in the state until Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) paperwork clears, which usually takes between 7 to 10 business days. This legal process often requires adoptive parents to remain in the adopted child's birth state for a few weeks, so plan accordingly.

  • Complete Post-Placement Visits – The adoptive family will have a select number of post-placement visits to complete, usually performed by their home study provider, which will show the adoption professional and the court that the baby and the family are adjusting well to one another.

  • Attend Finalization Hearing – A judge’s final review of the adoption ensures the necessary post-placement visits were completed, ICPC was conducted in applicable states, and both birth parents’ parental rights were legally terminated. When the judge determines the adoption is legal, he or she will grant the final decree of adoption. If you are a birth parent, you will usually not be required to attend this court hearing. Instead, you should focus on healing emotionally after placement with the assistance of your adoption specialist.

Once the finalization hearing is finished, the adoptive family is granted legal custody of the child and awarded the adoption decree, and the legal domestic adoption process is complete.

Step 9: Participate in Post-Placement Contact

After the legal adoption process ends, nearly all birth parents are interested in receiving ongoing updates about their child, and nearly all adoption professionals in the United States encourage this correspondence. At American Adoptions, we feel the same way — and we’re here to support both parties as they continue their open adoption contact in the months and years to come.

Picture and letter updates are generally sent for the first 18 years of the child’s life. And, depending on the level of openness in your adoption, this relationship could also include email exchanges, phone calls, Skype sessions, or in-person visits. It is increasingly common in domestic infant adoptions for adoptive parents and birth parents to exchange contact information and have direct interaction — an exciting opportunity to form a meaningful relationship.

The adoption process is a lifelong journey for birth parents, adoptive families and, most importantly, adopted children. To learn more, the Child Welfare Information Gateway is one resource that offers great information about the lifelong impact adoption has on adopted children and their families. No matter which side of the adoption triad you are on, it will continue to shape your lives and experiences in the years to come.


The adoption process can seem overwhelming at times. From the search for an adoption opportunity, to the legal process, to all of the related home study services, requirements and professionals involved, this journey is not for the faint of heart. Just remember that every step in this process serves an important purpose that ultimately protects the welfare of adopted children, prospective birth mothers and adoptive families. And when things start to feel difficult, American Adoptions will be there to support you, every step of the way.

For additional information about the process of adopting children, check out the following adoption-related resources:

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway: The Child Welfare Information Gateway is a service of the Children's Bureau that "promotes the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, youth, and families by connecting child welfare, adoption, and related professionals as well as the public to information, resources, and tools covering topics on child welfare, child abuse and neglect, out-of-home care, adoption, and more." It is a great resource for information related to adoption, child welfare, adopted children and foster care.

  • Considering Adoption: Considering Adoption is a comprehensive adoption information center covering all types of adoption. It includes information for all members of the adoption triad: prospective birth parents, hopeful adoptive families, and adopted children and adults. In addition to providing adoption related information, it includes profiles of pre-screened, waiting families that prospective birth parents can search through.

  • AdoptUSKids: AdoptUSKids is a national project that supports child welfare systems and connects children in foster care with families. It is a great resource to learn more about children waiting to be adopted in the child welfare system. It also includes photolistings hopeful parents can search through for more information about the children waiting to be adopted.

  • U.S. Department of State: International adoptions have declined significantly in recent years due to complex legal and political factors. However, there are still children waiting to be adopted around the world, and this can be an option for some families. Any parents considering this path should carefully research intercountry adoption through the U.S. Department of State to find information related to their chosen country's adoption procedures.

If you have any more questions about how to adopt a baby to a new family (whether as an adoptive parent or prospective birth parent), contact our adoption agency at 1-800-ADOPTION or request more free information here.

Information available through these links is the sole property of the companies and organizations listed therein. America Adoptions, Inc. provides this information as a courtesy and is in no way responsible for its content or accuracy.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do we need to retain our own attorney?

No, American Adoptions has established relationships with some of the best adoption attorneys in the nation. Because adoption laws vary from state to state and between counties, it is important to utilize the services of an adoption attorney who specializes in the state where the adoption will finalize, which is unknown until you match with an expectant mother. You have the right to retain your own attorney, but doing so may be an additional, unnecessary expense.

Can we choose the gender of our baby?

American Adoptions does not allow gender specificity in adoption. Any family who wishes to be gender-specific in their adoption should contact us at 1-800-ADOPTION and ask about the possibility of an exception waiver before taking any other steps toward adoption with our agency. Any families who do receive an exception to be gender-specific may also incur an additional fee, which helps cover the additional advertising costs of such a request.

Please note that gender specificity will likely increase your wait time significantly.

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