Welcome to the first installment of my new mini-series, Basic Questions and Answers about Adoption.  (See my previous post for the basic introduction.)

Starting today, I’ll answer an adoption-related question per week for the next few weeks in a way that I hope will enhance understanding about adoption and how it works here in the U.S.  If you have a question you’d like to send in, e-mail me at unchartedparent[at]unchartedparent[dot]com and if it fits with the series, I’ll do my best to answer it.

Today’s question: What Are the 3 Basic Types of Adoption Available to Prospective Parents in the U.S.? 

Many people don’t realize this, but prospective adoptive parents (let’s just use the term “adoptive parents” to keep it simple) have 3 basic options available to them: domestic, international and foster.  Adoptive parents must learn about each of these adoption systems and evaluate honestly which will work best for them.  The 3 systems differ in fundamental ways.

  • Domestic Adoption – In domestic adoption, a U.S. couple adopts a child from a birthmother located in the United States.  This can be arranged through an agency or done privately; in the latter case, both the birthmother and the adoptive parents often hire attorneys to represent their interests. In agency adoption, the agency will provide the birthmother with profiles of likely prospective parents for the birthmother to examine prior to birth; the birthmother usually chooses to meet with one or more prospective parents to find a match.  Laws governing domestic adoption vary from state to state, and there is a statutory period during which the birthmother has the right to change her mind about the adoption.  Wait times for adoptive parents vary, medical information is generally available, and “open adoptions” with ongoing contact between the birthmother and the adoptive family to the extent it is beneficial for the child is encouraged.  Fees vary, but are generally somewhat lower than those for international adoption. 

 Domestic adoption is a good choice for adoptive parents who feel strongly about adopting within the U.S., who want a close relationship with their child’s birthmother or are at least willing to maintain an open relationship, who feel strongly about wanting a newborn, who want accurate medical and other information about their child’s past, and/or who are comfortable with uncertainty regarding wait times and the possibility of the birthmother changing her mind during the statutory period.


  • International Adoption – In international adoption, a U.S. couple arranges through an agency in the U.S. to adopt a child from another country.*  Ages of available children, availability of medical information, wait times, requirements for adoptive parents and stability of programs vary widely from country to country.  Fees are generally somewhat higher than those for domestic adoption.  “Open adoptions,” where there is ongoing contact between birth and adoptive families, were once not really possible in international adoption but they are becoming more common in some countries.  Children available for adoption are often toddlers or older and many have lived in conditions where they received insufficient individual attention, so the possibility of attachment and other disorders must be considered. 

 International Adoption is a good choice for parents who are willing to incorporate another culture and/or race into their lives and their homes, who are willing to pay the high fees required in international adoption, who are comfortable with the possibility of not having accurate medical information or other knowledge about their child’s early history, who are comfortable not having contact with their child’s birthmother, who educate themselves about and are prepared for the possibility of attachment disorders and/or developmental delays and who are willing to adopt a child older than a newborn.


  • Foster Adoption – Foster adoption involves parenting one or more children who have been removed from the home of their biological parent or parents for reasons of abuse or neglect.  Parents are “foster parents” until the biological parents’ rights are terminated, at which point the parents can legally adopt the child or children.  Foster adoptions are arranged through state welfare or social service agencies, and wait times for placement of children in the home can vary widely depending on how many and what restrictions parents specify such as age, gender, health, etc.  Foster parenting requires special training and many foster/adoptive children have come from difficult situations and thus have special needs.  Children of all ages are available.  Fees are minimal, and subsidies for care may even be available. 

 Foster adoption is a good choice for parents who are willing to devote themselves to the extra care and attention required for children who may come to their homes with special needs due to abuse or neglect, and for parents who are willing to wait for uncertain and possibly long periods of time for placement to meet their specifications.

Those are the basics.  Want more information?  Try The Adoption Guide from AdoptiveFamilies.com, Adoption.com, or, if you’re thinking about adopting, adoption agencies like the one we used to complete our family, Wide Horizons for Children.


*Note: Some private international adoptions do occur.  While I can imagine a few exceptions to agency adoptions that might make sense—known, orphaned relatives, for example—in general, I personally would never recommend to anyone that he or she pursue a non-agency international adoption.  There are just too many unsavory people out there trafficking in children, and the best way to guard against this is to do your research and find an experienced, reputable adoption agency to assist you.

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