Adoption 101: What To Know When Considering Adoption (Part 1)

July 15, 2021 | By Elizabeth Vaysman

Understanding the adoption process and your family building options can be challenging.   When deciding what is best for you, it is important to research the adoption process in your state and to find competent and trustworthy professionals.  This “Adoption 101” blog is informational only and not meant to be legal advice.

This article outlines key aspects of the adoption process, such as the home study report and deciding what type of adoption is best for your family, and legal components in Pennsylvania. It is important to work with experienced legal professionals in your area before making an adoption plan.

Background Information – Home Study Report or Family Profile

Whether you are seeking a public or private adoption, or domestic or intercountry adoption, you will have to complete background pre-placement paperwork to show you are able to care for a child in a safe environment.  This often includes criminal, child abuse, and FBI background clearances, a medical report, references, and a review of your home and finances for a safe and stable placement. Both the home study report or family profile and its attachments, such as clearances, medical report, and references, expire based on your state’s laws and often is on a yearly basis.  These are usually completed by a licensed agency and/or social worker. It is important to know both the requirements of the home study report or family profile, and the timeline to complete and to update, prior to moving forward with an adoption plan. In Pennsylvania, the home study report is valid for one date from signing and the clearances, medical report, and references must be updated. To learn more about clearances in Pennsylvania for adoptive and foster parents, click here.

Different Types of Adoption

Public and Private Adoption.

When choosing an adoption plan that is right for your family, you may be considering between public, meaning foster care through the state, and private, meaning placement directly by the biological parents or through an agency.

  • Private adoption refers to biological parents choosing to make an adoption plan for their unborn or young child, to voluntarily relinquish their parental rights, and place the child with a prospective adoptive family.  The adoptive family will have to complete pre-placement and post placement visitation and reports as well as the legal requirements for the adoption. The adoptive family covers the cost for legal for themselves and the biological family and may include paying for an adoption agency and counselor as well.  Depending on your state’s laws, you may be able to have an independent adoption through an attorney or an agency placement through an adoption agency. This process is not subsidized by the state, though families may look to grants options and the adoption tax credit for reimbursement.
  • Public adoption refers to the foster care system in which the state is removing children from their homes for neglect or abuse reasons and placing them in foster homes for care while aiming for reunification with their biological family.  If the child is not able to be reunified, the state looks for a permanent placement for the child to be adopted, usually with a relative if possible, or with the home, they are currently placed in if it is a pre-adoptive home.  The initial goal is often to reunify the child with their biological parent(s), if that is not possible, to place the child with a relative (known as kinship foster placement) or in a pre-adoptive home. The state will not move towards adoption until the parental rights are terminated, which will only happen if reunification is unsuccessful. 

Due to the state’s requirements, families interested in public adoption, also known as foster-to-adopt programs, should have realistic expectations of the timeline and process. There are often siblings involved as well. This process is subsidized by the state. If you are interested in public adoption, reach out to your state’s local chapter of children and youth services to learn more. In Pennsylvania, you can learn more about your options at the Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network (SWAN). You can also review your county’s child welfare data on the State of Child Welfare by PA Partnerships for Children to see how many foster youth are in your area and how many adoptions occur each year.

Domestic and Intercountry Adoption.

When choosing an adoption plan that is right for your family, you may be considering between domestic, meaning adopting a child within the US, or intercountry, meaning adopting a child from outside the US.

  • In a Domestic Adoption, the biological parents to the child often have parental rights until several days and even months after the baby is born.  The child may be placed with the adoptive family understanding the legal risk. Adoptive parents often maintain open communication with biological parents, such as through picture and letter updates, family visits, and sharing medical and social information. Depending on the state, maintaining contact between the adoptee and biological family may be court-enforceable and the child may have access to their adoption records through the court.
  • In an Intercountry Adoption, the child is often “free for adoption”, meaning the child is either an orphan or the biological parents’ rights have already been terminated.  The children are often older and the adoptive parents may have limited information on the child’s background or contact with the child’s biological family.  Visit the U.S. Department of State Intercountry Adoption page to learn more about the process and statistics on Intercountry adoption.

Whether choosing to grow your family through foster-to-adopt or through private domestic or intercountry adoption, it is paramount to understand the legal aspects that guide your adoption plan. Our next blog will feature an outline of the legal aspects of adoption in Pennsylvania and generally nationwide.

Continue to Part 2.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.

About the Authors

Elizabeth Vaysman


Liz is an adoption Fellow in the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAAA). She focuses her practice on all aspects of adoption and reproductive law matters in Southeast Pennsylvania and...

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