Overview of Adoption Arrangements

Father reading to baby

Millions of children around the globe are in need of a safe, permanent home, but there’s no straight-forward path to adoption. From finding an expecting parent on social media to adopting a child through the foster care system, each arrangement has benefits and complications. 

If you’re considering adoption, you’ll want to compare the different arrangements and understand the risks involved. Be honest with yourself about what you want, don’t want, and what exceptions you’d be willing to make as you undergo the adoption process. Just know that adoption is a lifelong arrangement and no situation is exactly the same. 

Types of Adoptions

While there are many different ways to adopt, each has its own short-term and long-term challenges. There are no exceptions to this, even if you’re adopting a family member or a friend’s child, so keep this in mind as you begin your adoption journey. 

Independent Adoption

Licensed private adoptions are independent adoptions. When biological parents have already chosen their adoptive parents, they can work directly with the court to finalize the arrangement. Typically, this scenario involves individuals who already know each other, but it can also involve strangers.

“Originally, adoptions went through agencies, but expecting mothers don’t have to go to agencies anymore. They can find their own adoptive parents online,” says Lisa P. Goldberg, Esq., adoption attorney at Lisa Peck Goldberg, LLC in New York. “A lot of adoptive parents now advertise on their Facebook or Instagram. People have huge, vast networks online so it’s easier for an expecting mother to find her own plan instead of going through an agency.” 

One of the challenges of choosing an independent adoption is that you don’t have an adoption team guiding you through the legal process.

Without an agency or adoption attorney, for instance, Goldberg says, “There is no recourse if an expectant mother changes her mind and decides not to place the baby after birth.” In addition, “The expectant mother may not take care of herself how the adoptive parents wish she would. She might miss doctor’s appointments, or smoke cigarettes, or take illegal drugs. It can be emotionally very hard and stressful.”

Not all adoptions require agencies, but it’s important for biological parents and adoptive parents to treat independent adoptions just as seriously as any other type. No matter if you’re adopting a sister’s child or a stranger’s child, you need to discuss the specifics, such as visiting expectations, what you’ll tell the child about the situation, and what you’d like the long-term situation to look like.

Agency Adoption

A facilitated agency adoption is the most commonly thought of adoption type. When biological parents voluntarily give up their child for adoption, they often go through an agency to find adoptive parents.

In order to qualify for adoption, individuals must complete criminal clearances, provide medical statements, conduct a home study, fulfill relevant training courses, and pay agency fees, which often cover the biological mother’s medical and legal expenses.

Agencies provide adoptive parents with valuable resources, from counseling to legal guidance, preparing them for the adoption journey and connecting them with other adoptive parents. Agencies also offer counseling to biological parents, which isn’t the case in independent adoptions. 

Adoption Agencies and Bias

It is also important to know that adoption agencies can have implicit biases ingrained in their processes. For example, research shows many agencies show a bias in favor of girls, and against Black babies. It is important to consider this as you evaluate your adoption options.

While agency adoptions can be open or closed, the agency acts as the mediator, facilitating the arrangement throughout the process and ensuring that both parties are doing what they agree to do. The level of openness following the birth really depends on the preferences of those involved.

Some biological parents may invite the adoptive parents into the birth room to witness the birth. Some may ask for annual visits or for frequent updates on the child. Both parents need to agree on the level of openness they are willing to handle. 

Public Adoption

Every day, children enter the system in need of a temporary or permanent home and when a child is permanently placed, this is called a public adoption or a foster adoption. 

“Children enter foster care because their biological parents are unable to care for them," says Susan McConnell, Executive Director and founder of Let it Be Us in Illinois. "When children initially enter the system, the assumption is that they will be in foster care temporarily and their biological parents will ultimately be able to care for them. If the children have been in the same foster home for a long period of time, that is often the best place for them to stay permanently.”

Foster adoptions occur for a myriad of reasons. A child, upon entering the foster care system, may be immediately eligible for permanent placement. The court may file proceedings against the biological parents and terminate their rights to the child, freeing them for adoption.

The biological parents may voluntarily surrender their rights or surrender their rights with conditions, at which point they may ask for post-placement visits or updates of the child’s well-being.

“There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there,” says Goldberg. “Babies are also placed in the foster system and sometimes become freed for adoption to be adopted into a forever family by their foster parents."

While adopting through the foster care system is possible, it can be a difficult process. A lot of children in foster care have experienced abuse or neglect and this trauma can cause long-term implications.

There are so many reasons why a child ends up in the foster care system and all come with long-term risks. A biological parent could be battling a mental health disorder or a substance abuse disorder. They could have recently gone to jail.

The child could have been exposed to violence, neglect, drugs, or moved from foster home to foster home. The child could have been removed from their home without choice. Each child in the foster care system has a unique history, which will inevitably impact their behavior, mood, and habits. The best thing you can do, as a foster or adoptive parent, is be patient, understanding, and caring. Be prepared to handle all of your child's emotions, and approach tough conversations with love and compassion. Your child may also be grieving their past life, so giving them space and support as they work through their emotions is key.

Identified Adoption

Also called designated adoptions, identified adoptions are a combination of independent and agency adoptions. Biological parents may find adoptive parents through online advertisements or personal networks and choose to go through an adoption agency or adoption attorney to complete the arrangement.

Because agencies and adoption attorneys are experienced in the adoption process, they can offer resources, insight, and advice. They will help solidify the adoption and post-adoption plan, which may make it easier for the biological parents and adoptive parents to be open and honest about their feelings, contributing to a healthier long-term relationship. 

However, this does mean that adoptive and biological parents must have also found each other, which can prevent difficulties.

International Adoption

International adoptions are agency adoptions. Adoptive parents must fulfill their own in-state laws, but also the laws of the country where they adopt from. The U.S. also requires that adoptive parents obtain an immigrant visa for the child through the United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS) department. This allows the child to receive U.S. citizenship upon entering the country following the adoption.

“The benefit most adoptive parents express is complete anonymity from birth parents,” says Goldberg. Though this anonymity can have downsides, too. It may leave children wondering about where they came from or who their parents are. And it can also leave the biological parents with no idea of how their child is doing.

Because many of the children have been orphaned or abandoned, international adoptions are typically closed adoptions. The process, however, is expensive and complicated. It often takes 2 years, so it’s nearly impossible to bring a newborn to the U.S. When the child does arrive, they have to adjust to a new culture and language.

While studies reveal that international adoptees experience fewer behavioral problems than domestic adoptees, international adoptees tend to be more confused about their racial and/or ethnic identity compared to non-adoptees. Having adoptive parents who are sensitive and appropriately responsive to issues relating to race, ethnicity, and culture can help these children adjust better.

If they don’t have records of their family or medical history, or if they aren’t familiar with their birth country, international adoptees may also experience the feeling of loss or grief, so it’s important for adoptive parents to be emotionally prepared to handle tough conversations. Remember, too, that grief can look a multitude of ways—your child might not be sad, but angry or aggressive as a cause of grief. Be prepared to handled whatever your child's emotions may look like.

Creating an Adoption Plan

When you decide to adopt, it’s important to come up with an adoption plan. Both expecting parents and adoptive parents should have plans in place. In your plan, you should consider your budget, your arrangement preference, who will be included in your support system, and what type of post-adoption plan you want.

Important Considerations

Prospective adoptive parents should ask themselves critical questions, as they build their plan:  

  • How much can you afford to spend on adoption costs?
  • Are you willing or able to financially support a birth mother during her pregnancy? 
  • Are you willing and capable of adopting a child who has an existing mental or physical disability? Are you willing and capable to address their disability throughout their life?
  • Are you willing to adopt a child who has no known medical record?
  • Are you willing to adopt twins or two children if the newborn has a sibling? 
  • Are you willing and interested in adopting a child of any race or ethnicity? Are you willing and able to have conversations around race and culture if your child is of a different race than you?
  • If a biological parent wants to maintain monthly visits, are you willing to make that happen? 
  • What’s your ideal post-adoption situation? 
  • Do you prefer an open or closed adoption? If you prefer an open adoption, what level of openness are you willing to commit to?

If you’d like to take the agency route, you’ll want to create a parent profile online, which helps biological parents find you and learn more about your life. Just know that the agency route will be more expensive, often costing tens of thousands of dollars.

Adoption through the foster care system is free, but might mean waiting longer for an adoption to come through, whether because kids move back to their biological home or onto another foster home.  

No matter which arrangement you choose, educate yourself on the different arrangements and think critically about which one works best for you. Becoming the parent of an adopted child is no easy task, but it’s one worth pursuing if you’re willing to put in the work. 

The Responsibility of Adoptive Parents

While studies are mixed on the long-term benefits of open versus closed adoptions, open adoptions are becoming much more popular. There was a time when most adoptions were closed, meaning the biological parents’ and the adoptive parents’ identities were protected, but that’s no longer the case. 

“Every journey is different,” says Goldberg. “Birth mothers are human beings; they’re all unique. You have to remember that and get outside of your own learnings and put yourself into your expectant mother’s shoes. Know her life is very different from yours and that’s what brings her to you.”

Biological parents will have their own preferences pre- and post-adoption. Some may want financial support during their pregnancy.

Some may want to meet you multiple times before making their decision. Some may invite you to healthcare visits. Some may want to stay in contact with the child through email or phone or in-person visits. Every situation is unique.

Biological parents and adoptive parents should be aligned. If they don’t agree on what they want, it may not be the right match. Either way, Goldberg recommends post-adoption contact of some kind. She even suggests opening a private Shutterfly or Dropbox account where adoptive parents can upload photos or certifications for the biological parents to view if or when they wish. 

“Sometimes there’s a really decent relationship between the foster parent and the biological parent,” says Goldberg. “If the child knows their biological Mom or Dad then it’s the healthiest thing for everyone, it’s the kindest thing to the biological parent, and more love is better than no love.”

Agreeing to maintain a relationship with the biological parents of your adoptee is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If a biological parent wants to see their biological child during the holiday season or at their birthday, then you’ll be responsible for making this happen, no matter what life events or scheduling conflicts get in the way. If the biological parent lives in another state and wants to maintain annual visitations, then you’ll have to prioritize this arrangement. 

“Keeping some level of openness in your adoption will help your child as they grow, as most adoptees want information on their roots,” says Susan M. Stoga, Vice Chair at Let it Be Us. “It’s up to the adoptive parents to nurture that relationship, whenever possible. Many people will ask about your child’s background and the circumstances that led to their adoption. This is your child’s private information and I urge you to keep it private.” 

Adoptive parents are responsible for keeping the child’s best interest in mind, while respecting the wishes of the child’s biological parents, so don’t agree to an arrangement that you know, right away, isn’t right for you and your family. You want to be comfortable with the arrangement because it’s permanent. 

Resources for Adoptive Parents

Everyone’s reason for adopting is different. For some, conceiving naturally is not an option. Some have gone through numerous rounds of IVF treatments without success. Some can’t afford or don’t want to pursue surrogacy. Some simply want to provide a safe home for a child in need.

Regardless of why you’re choosing to adopt, know that once the adoption becomes legal, you are responsible for that child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Do your research. Review the adoption laws in your state. For more detailed information on adoption, you can visit The National Council For Adoption, AdoptUSKids, which focuses on public adoption, and Adoptimist to see a comprehensive list of prospective adoptive parents.

If you’re considering fostering, don’t begin the process with the sole intention of adopting. You should let the foster agency know that you are there to foster and when you meet with your individual case worker, Goldberg suggests letting them know then that you’re interested in finding a permanent placement.

What many foster parents don’t know about fostering is that you can say “no” to placements. Goldberg says a lot of foster parents are afraid to say “no,” for fear of being penalized, but the need for children is tremendous and this won’t prevent foster parents from receiving a permanent placement if that’s what they ultimately want.

“Make sure you read as much as you can about adoption and trauma,” McConnell says. “Keep an open mind and learn from others.”

A Word From Verywell

Many adoption attorneys and agencies offer free consultations, allowing you to ask questions and get more detailed information before making a decision. You should also join support groups for adoptive parents, no matter if you’re just beginning the process or if you’re a long-time adoptive parent. 

Adoption is a rewarding decision that will forever change your life and the life of your adoptee, so make sure you talk to adoption experts, as well as others who have experience with adoption. The more you know, the better you can prepare for this exciting journey. 

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Baccara, et. al. Gender and Racial Biases: Evidence from Child Adoptions.

  3. YouthToday.org. Abuse in foster care: Research vs. the child welfare system's alternative facts.

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By Sarah Sheppard
Sarah Sheppard is a writer, editor, ghostwriter, writing instructor, and advocate for mental health, women's issues, and more.