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Want to Expand Your Family Through Adoption? Should You Go the Private, Foster, or Agency Route?

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If you and your partner have recently decided to add to your family through adoption, you may be wondering where to begin. With the array of agencies and options available, choosing a path—let alone a child—can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are a number of resources available to assist you, from attorneys who facilitate private adoptions to foster organizations that can help place a child in your home before an adoption takes place. Read on to learn more about the differences between private adoption, foster-to-adoption, and agency adoption to help you make the best decision for your family.

Private adoption

Private adoption can be handled through an agency but is usually facilitated by an attorney instead. This attorney acts as a conduit between the birth mother and the adoptive parents and drafts all the documents that will be needed to legally turn over custody of a child through adoption. In some cases, you may meet with the birth mother prior to the child's birth to discuss the child's future or ask the birth mother questions about her family, health, and other factors that could influence your child's life growing up. In other cases, the adoption will be closed and you won't meet (or be given any identifying information about) the mother, and you will instead handle all communications through the attorney. 

Private adoption can be one of the costlier options; in addition to paying for the legal services of the attorney, you may be asked to shoulder some of the birth mother's medical expenses or even subsidize her income for a period of time if she must take unpaid time off work to recuperate. And because a child cannot legally be given up for adoption until after his or her birth, there's always a risk that the birth mother or father will refuse to sign over their parental rights once the child is born. Although there are contract provisions you can put in place to financially protect yourself if the adoption falls through after the child's birth, the emotional impact of losing a child you thought would be yours can be devastating. 


At any given time, there are nearly half a million children in the United States living in foster care. Some of these children are in temporary placements after the death of a parent or guardian, awaiting permanent placement with a loved one. In other cases, children whose parents' parental rights have been terminated may spend their entire childhoods bouncing between foster homes. Choosing the foster-to-adoption path can allow your state's foster agency to place a child (or children) who need the love and stability of a forever family.

One advantage to foster-to-adoption is the flexibility it provides. Although it can be frustrating to wait months (or years) for parental rights to be terminated (giving you the go-ahead to proceed toward adoption), you'll be able to spend this time bonding with your foster child. In some cases, a good child paired with a good family may still not be quite the right fit; fostering first can give you a good idea of how your child will adapt to family life and can give you the time to make any changes needed before an official adoption is pursued. You'll also be given a small stipend from the state to help defray some of your child's expenses while in foster care.

Agency adoption

A final alternative—and one of the first paths chosen by many prospective adoptive parents—is adoption through an agency such as A Child's Dream. These agencies pair adoptable infants and children (as well as pregnant women planning to give their children up for adoption) with adoptive parents. If you choose to adopt through an agency, you'll pay a flat fee that should cover all services provided rather than directly paying medical expenses as with private adoption.

Agency adoption can be a good option for those who aren't interested in fostering but aren't sure they can handle the emotional rollercoaster and potential heartbreak of being paired with a birth mother who might later change her mind.