Adoption 101: Getting to Know the Options and Process

Editor’s note: This is a guest article from Collin Rainey. 

“He who can reach a child’s heart, can reach the world’s heart.” —Rudyard Kipling

My wife and I were at the furthest point out on our hiking loop when she asked me, “How do you feel about adoption?” At first, I thought back to the chaos of adopting our dog from the humane society, thinking that’s what she was referencing. I was hesitant to enter the conversation. But when she clarified she was talking about adopting a child, I was actually quite open and receptive to it.

You see, my wife’s a diabetic, and though we know pregnancy is possible, it’s also riskier than your average pregnancy, and would involve a great deal more than some midnight runs to the grocery for peanut butter. We decided that the best option to grow our family would be through a domestic adoption.

Fast forward to August 2017, and I’m in a hospital room with my wife and my son’s birth parents. He’s wiggling a bit in my arms, but as he looks at me through his sleepy, brown eyes, I know he’s content to be in the arms of his dad. It had been two formative years since my wife and I had that initial conversation. There were times of deep prayer, there were enlightening conversations with other adoptive parents, and there was enough background paperwork to clear me for service in the FBI.

Parents will choose to adopt for a variety of reasons. No matter those reasons, though, adoption is a lengthy, emotionally grueling, and unbelievably rewarding process. If you’ve thought about it, but don’t know where you’d start, or even what the process entails, below I’ll walk you through the basic framework.

Three Primary Categories of Adoption

There are around 110,000 adoptions that take place in the United States each year, falling into three main categories: international adoption, domestic adoption, and foster care.

International Adoption

International adoption is, rather obviously, choosing to parent a child from another nation. This is generally the most expensive route, often requiring lofty travel expenses and government fees (which sometimes are unfortunately inappropriately used and pocketed by corrupt government officials — there’s just not much to be done about that!). There can be additional barriers as well, ranging from the adoptive parent’s medical history and age to the length of time an adoptive couple has been married (which is indeed a requirement when adopting from certain countries). This is often a multi-year process, even after you’ve been paired with a child. Paperwork and processing in many adoption-needy countries is painstakingly disorganized and slow. That’s just how it goes.

International adoptions in the US are actually at a 35-year low right now, declining almost 75% from their 2004 peak. The reasons why are complicated: some of it is due to political tension (Russia banned the U.S. from adopting in 2012), some is due to recent crackdowns on child trafficking (Guatemala, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo), and some is due to a promotion of domestic adoption within those nations (South Korea). Though experts don’t believe we’ll ever see numbers like those of the early 00’s again (approx. 23,000 in 2004), America still leads the world in international adoption (approx. 5,300 adoptions in 2016).

International adoption gives the adoptive parent(s) the most control over whatever preferences (related to age/sex) they may have for the kind of child they adopt (more on that below), but also carries with it a fair risk of “surprises” throughout the process. This can be things such as poor communication with the overseas agency, lack of adequate healthcare/paperwork for the child, or even a miscommunicated assessment of the child — he or she may have a condition that you weren’t notified of. To mitigate these surprises, most people opt to adopt internationally with an agency that has firmly established and trusted connections around the world.

So if it takes longer and can be a more stressful process, why do people adopt internationally? For some adoptive parents, there’s a strong connection to or heritage from a particular country. For others, it’s about trying to meet a more desperate need: in China, children with disabilities are often cast aside by their birth parents; in many nations in Africa, life as an orphan is a far worse, life-threatening sentence than it is here in the States. Choosing to adopt is often something one feels deep within the soul, and when making that choice, it’s common to just know whether or not you’ll want to adopt internationally or domestically.

Domestic Adoption

Domestic adoption is adopting a child from your home country, whether that be an infant or a child under 18 (here, we’re specifically talking about adoption in the U.S.). Though it’s possible to complete an adoption with just a lawyer, most people choose to work with an adoption agency to take advantage of their resources, network, and bureaucratic/paperwork expertise.

Not only was our agency able to provide us easy passage through the legal tangle of adoption, they cared for our emotional health throughout the year of waiting and searching for the right child. After we were finally paired with a birth mom, the agency cared for her in a deep way, and met needs we would’ve never known existed. Do your research and find an agency that shares your views on adoption and meets your financial and procedural needs. Some are faith-based, some are regional, some deal with mothers of a particular background; find what’s right for you.

There is a medium-to-high degree of control that adoptive parents will over their child preferences; depending on what those are, though, this can affect the length of the waiting period. Most parents desire a healthy infant, meaning that placement tends to take a little longer — from 2-7 years. Generally, the more open the preferences are, the higher the likelihood of quick placement.

Unlike international adoption, many domestic adoptions have some degree of an open relationship with the birth parent(s). This can range from spending weeks at a time with the parent(s), to the child receiving only written communication from her/them, to even just the adoptive parents sending pictures or life updates. Most adoptive families describe the relationship as being similar to that of an extended family member.

It’s important to know that the birth mother has a great amount of control throughout the course of this type of adoption. When working with an agency, an adoption counselor will have previously screened her to ensure that adoption is the right parenting solution, but occasionally prospective adoptive parents will be thrust into a situation where the birth mother has changed her mind and chosen to parent. This could be due to a significant change in her circumstances, legal action taken by a relative, or simply a change of heart. Nothing is set in stone until the child is officially in your hands as the adoptive parent. Although this scenario occurs relatively infrequently (approx. 10-25% of adoptions), it stings. Having experienced this firsthand, my family was thrown into the grieving cycle, and it took several months before true healing could begin to take place.

Ultimately, parents will choose domestic adoption over international because of a fuller knowledge of the child’s history and birth mom, wanting to have an open relationship with the birth parent(s), and a desire to perhaps not deal with international red tape and bureaucratic processes (which are often more laborious with international adoption).

Foster Care & Foster-to-Adopt

In foster care, the child’s birth parent(s) is temporarily unable to parent, as ruled by a judge. This is often some combination of abuse, neglect, and/or incarceration. That leaves you, the state (the Department of Child Services), and sometimes an agency working together to care for this child, with the eventual hope of reuniting them with their parent(s). Depending on the circumstances that led to the child being removed from the home in the first place, the parent(s) will usually have a variety of milestones they will need to complete before reunification can happen.

Reunification of the child and birth parent(s) is the overall goal of foster care. In some instances, foster care families provide a window of time (up to years, in fact) for the parent(s) to straighten out issues in their lives. In other instances, though, it becomes a belabored process, with the child bouncing back and forth between foster care and a poor home environment.

Adoption through foster care becomes a possibility if/when the state decides that a child should no longer be in the custody of the birth parent(s) and/or any family members. This is the case for 15-25% of the 400,000 or so children currently in the foster system.

Those wanting to become foster parents, whether for the short-term, or for the possibility of adopting, will need to become licensed foster parents in their home state. Licensed foster parents are paid for their service, which makes the road to full adoption relatively inexpensive. Though there is generally less control over the preferences (in foster care, older children are more common), families do have a choice to not foster a child if they feel it will be a wrong fit for the household.

With a regimented system being in place, the waiting time for placement with a child to foster is usually very short. If you’re looking to adopt through foster care, though, the path to legal adoption can be drawn-out as the state evaluates the child’s case and determines the best parenting solution. Some folks are comfortable with this waiting and some are not. I have friends who have adopted all of their children in this manner, and when filling out their preferences, they’ve chosen only to foster children who have a high likelihood of being placed for adoption in the future.

Keep in mind with this route that it’s unlikely that the first child who’s placed with you will be up for permanent adoption. It often takes 2-3 placements before that happens. This means that foster parents are likely to become rather attached to the children, only to have them removed and be placed again with their birth parent(s). It’s something that must be known and prepared for ahead of time (as much as is possible — you of course don’t want to reserve your love and affection with the thought that the child may be placed back with their birth parent(s)).

The chart below gives you a quick comparative look at the three categories of adoption:

Waiting Period Cost Preference Control Relationship with Birthparent(s)
International Med-Long High High Usually closed
Domestic Med Med-High Med Usually open
Foster Care Short Low Low Complicated

The Adoption Process


My brain has always been wired to run the numbers, and the cost of adoption was a hard barrier for me to initially overcome. Before ever approaching an agency, you first have to calculate the cost.

For both domestic and international adoption, the costs vary wildly based on country and the organization you’re working with. It can be anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. The average for both, though, is around $30,000, with the higher numbers often coming from the international side. It should be noted that you are often able to secure grants and government credits to be able to cut that number almost in half. Low-interest loans for this purpose are also generally available, and there are many folks who fundraise almost the entirety of that large bill.

Foster care, as discussed above, is a much cheaper route. When adopting through foster care, you’ll still likely spend $2,000-$3,000 in legal and homestudy fees, but that’s nil compared to the other options.    


One of the first things you’ll do once you’ve decided to start the adoption process is to determine your preferences for the child who will be placed with you. Let me explain this, as it seems a bit cold and detached at first blush. The adoptive parent(s) are given something like a checklist of preferences and told to make some difficult choices as to what you desire and are comfortable with.

It feels as though a lineup has been put in front of you, and you’re being asked to pick a team for kickball. You want to be the kind of person who picks every kid for the team, or maybe even the kid who looks like he’d be the worst at the game. But resources and fit are real limitations that have to be considered during this tough conversation. I believe that the best adoption agencies will encourage you to explore your parenting abilities, and make a realistic decision that is in alignment with the gifts and resources you have.

Living in an urban, diverse neighborhood, my wife and I were open to all ethnicities of children. We knew that if we were to adopt a baby that didn’t look like us, there would be plenty of other kids and role models around the neighborhood that would look like them. We were deeply concerned over the identity issues that can arise in adopted children, and wanted to ensure we had resources and friends to help bridge cultural gaps if it came to that.

On the other hand, we had to decide that we couldn’t adopt a child with a known, non-reversible medical condition. Neither of us have the experience, or the background to support and care for a child with those kinds of unique needs. It was a difficult line for us to draw, and a difficult limitation we needed to accept. When faced with the options of preferences, we had to be truthful about our abilities.

This process will be slightly different based on the type of adoption you pursue, but will nonetheless always be part of it.


After deciding on preferences, the homestudy is the next step. This involves, at its most basic, the creation of a dossier on who you are. It involves things like a background check, a family history, a doctor’s clearance, and a few interviews to make sure you’re a good person. And yes, there’s also the in-home meeting to make sure you have the basics: a fire extinguisher, safety plugs in the outlets, a real room for the child, etc. My experience with this was fairly similar to the process of preparing to buy a house. It’s not that the information is difficult to fill out, it’s just a series of time-consuming government forms. Though you don’t need an adoption agency to walk you through the entire adoption process, you will need to hire one to complete a homestudy.

During this time, families will often create a photobook. If the homestudy is like the back of a baseball card, the photobook is the action shot on the front for the birth parent(s) to look through. Ours contained pictures of our home, our family, some of our traditions, and a few well-chosen words to convey our gratitude and respect for birth parent(s).

Once an adoptive family is chosen by the birth parent(s), the next steps involve meeting each other, birth and/or custody transfer of the child, and the waiting period to legally finalize the adoption. The waiting period laws vary from state to state. In Indiana, there’s a three-month waiting period for the paperwork to be processed. At the end of it, we’ll go before a judge to review our homestudy, legally promise to love our little guy, and get a new birth certificate where his last name will be changed to ours.

It’s often asked what’s “most common” in the process of adoption, but understand that commonality is the exception rather than the rule. There may be 30% of adoption stories that fit a particular characteristic, but the other 70% are more knotted than a kid’s shoelace. There’s rarely a straight line from start to finish.


My son Booker is 3 months old. He wiggles, he poops, he smiles at me while I read The Chronicles of Narnia to him. As I write this, it’s 5:00 am, and he’s cooing/sleeping in my office so my wife can get some extra rest. Though I love this newborn stage, I’m also dreaming of when I’ll get to take him camping, when we can shoot hoops in the backyard, when I can teach him how to play guitar, and when he can learn about his adoption story, fully understanding how much he is loved by God, his parents, and his birth parents. When asking why you’d adopt, I’d respond with my son Booker. He’s why.

If the three P’s of manhood are to Protect, Provide, and Procreate, there’s hardly a process I can fathom that combines all three better than adoption. Men who adopt are quite literally protecting orphans and foster care children from being caught up in “the system,” they are providing stability inside the warmth of a loving home, and they are continuing their family lineage, if not through blood, then through transcendental virtues that will author a child’s story firmly in the heritage and tradition of family. May we as men seek to answer this deep need in the world. May we, through our might, our will, and our heart, lend our manhood to serve these children in need, and in this service, discover the power and honor of true masculinity.

For more info on adoption, or to start finding an agency, visit: or


Collin lives in downtown Indianapolis with his wife, son, and scruffy dog. Outside of his day job and adjusting to parenthood, he practices the art of manliness by writing children’s books for his son, and is looking to launch his own side business in 2018. Feel free to drop him a line:

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