Types of Adoption

Learn about the types of adoption, the difference between open and closed adoptions, and how to adopt members of your family.

In the United States:

  • Foster Care.  These are children whose birthparents cannot care for them and whose parental rights have been terminated.  The children are temporarily in foster or group homes while preparing for adoption.  You can learn more about the children by contacting the public or private agencies in your community or by heading to our Meet the Children page.
  • Foster-to-Adopt. This is a form of adoption where a child will be placed in your home for your family to foster, but with the expectation that they will become legally free and available to be adopted by you.
  • Infant adoption. There are more people pursuing infant adoption than there are infants available to be adopted. Many people who want infants will try to adopt through an intermediary such as a lawyer, physician, or other facilitator rather than through a licensed adoption agency.  This is known as independent adoption which is legal in most (but not all) states.
  • Independent adoption. There is usually no counseling for birth parents, and the infants are not usually eligible for financial assistance for any special needs that may not have been noticeable at birth. It is also possible to adopt an infant through a public or private agency, but there may be a long wait before a child is identified for you.

Closed vs open adoption:

A closed adoption is one where no identifying information about the birth family or the adoptive family is shared between the two, and there is no contact between the families.  As the adoptive family, you will receive non-identifying information about the child and birth family before he or she joins your family.  After your adoption is finalized, the records are sealed.  Depending on local law and what paperwork was signed and filed when the adoption was finalized, these records may or may not be available to the adopted child when they reach 18.

An open adoption allows for some form of association among the birth parents, adoptive parents and the child they adopted. This can include picture and letter sharing, phone and video calls, or even intermediary or open contact among the parties themselves. Many adoptions of older children and teenagers are at least partially open since the children may already know identifying or contact information about members of their birth families, and may want to stay in touch with siblings placed separately.

Adopting your Stepchild

Step-parent adoption is directed by state law, and each state has its own laws: For example, some states do not require a home study for step-parent adoption.  Most will mandate that a couple be married for a certain length of time, which varies from state to state.  Some states require or strongly encourage legal representation while others provide forms for individuals to pursue stepparent adoption through the local court system.  Consulting with a local adoption attorney is an invaluable resource. The American Academy of Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys lists a directory of appropriate attorneys on their website.

A fact sheet on step-parent adoption is available through Child Welfare Information Gateway: www.childwelfare.gov.

Adopting a relative

For information on kinship/relative adoption, including state laws on the topic, visit Child Welfare Information Gateway www.childwelfare.gov.

Adopting a Grandchild

  • Visit AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) site www.aarp.org
  • Visit the Children’s Defense Organization
  • Contact the state Adoption Program Manager in the state where you live and the one where the child(ren) lives
  • Call the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children administrator in each state

Adopting an Adult

In most states, it is legal to adopt an adult.  Among the most popular reasons:

  • Inheritance
  • Close bond with foster family; once a child has aged out of foster care, a foster family can adopt a legally available adult
  • Step-parent’s desire to legally adopt their spouse’s adult child(ren).
  • Mutual consent by adoptee and birth family upon successful search and reunion
  • Permanent care-giving

More information on who may adopt or be adopted, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway here.  

International Adoption

Adopting a child from another country can be complicated and expensive. Some countries have significantly reduced the number of children that are available to be adopted, and others have eliminated international adoption entirely.

Nonetheless, there are agencies that can help you with international adoption. For information on adopting a child from another country, call the

Office of Children’s Issues, United State Department of State at 888-407-4747 or visit the Intercountry Adoption Bureau Consular Affairs US Department of State.

For specific information on immigration and adoption, please visit theU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services