What Are the Types of Adoption?

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 21, 2022
5 min read

Adoption is a process that allows you to legally take responsibility for a child. If you wish to grow your family, there are many ways you can adopt a child. Here’s everything you need to know about the different types of adoption and what they involve. 

Adoption lets you take lifelong social, emotional, and legal responsibility for a child. It establishes a lawfully recognized, permanent relationship between you and the adopted child. For the birth parents, giving their child up for adoption is a permanent choice. 

Once you adopt a child, you become their legal parent. According to law, there’s no difference between an adopted child and a biological child. Children who are adopted become permanent members of another family while having genetic and emotional connections with their birth family.

There are different types of adoption, including the following.

1. Step-parent adoption. This type of adoption allows a step-parent to adopt their step-child. It helps legalize a lifelong parent-child relationship between a step-parent and their spouse’s child. The step-parent is given financial and legal responsibility for the child. After step-parent adoption, the non-custodial or other parent becomes free from parenting responsibilities such as child support.

Each state has different laws for step-parent adoption. Some states require a home study. Most states require a couple to be married for a specific duration.  You can consult with an adoption attorney to find out more about step-parent adoption laws in your state.

2. Infant adoption. Infant adoption involves assuming the legal responsibility of a newborn baby. For infant adoption in America, you’ll have to match with a mother who’s willing to give her newborn baby for adoption. It can be for a yet unborn or newly born child.

Most people who wish to adopt children look for infant adoption. However, there aren’t enough infants available for adoption.

3. Kinship or relative adoption. Relative adoption legalizes the parent-child relationship between a relative and the child.  It involves the adoption of children by their biologically related family members or relatives like grandparents, aunts, and uncles. 

Relative adoption is considered first when a child can’t safely be with their parents. It usually happens when a child’s birth parents are absent or unable to be there for them for some reason.

Each state has different laws for relative adoption. To know more, consult the Adoption Program Manager in your state and the child’s state.

4. Foster-care adoption. This is when you adopt a child through the child welfare system. You can choose to adopt a child, older children, or siblings from your state foster care system.  These children are approved for adoption.

As of 2020, there are about 400,000 children in foster care In America. These are children whose birthparents can’t take care of them and have lost the right to parenthood. Such children are temporarily placed in foster care. Of these, approximately 117,000 are waiting to be adopted by a family. 

5. Independent adoption. Usually, people adopt infants through a licensed public or private adoption agency. But you may have to wait for a long time till you get a match. You can adopt a child through another source like a lawyer or physician instead of an adoption agency.  This is called independent adoption. It is legal in most states but not in some.

6. Closed adoption. A closed adoption involves no contact between the adoptive parents and the birth parents of the child. This means no personal information will be shared between you and the birth family of the child. 

If you choose a closed adoption, you’ll receive non-identifying information about the child and birth family before adoption. You won’t know their identifying details, last name, or contact details. Once the adoption is finalized, the records get sealed and may not be available to the adopted child until they’re 18. However, this depends on the local state laws.

Closed adoptions are less preferred. But they are a safe option for birth parents who wish to remain unidentified before and after the adoption process. They also help maintain the privacy of the adoptive parents. However, closed adoptions can be emotionally challenging for the child and make it difficult to contact the birth parents in the future.

7. Open adoption. Open adoption is the opposite of a closed one. It allows for some contact or association between the adoptive parents and the birth parents of the child. It includes identifying information and contact details. It includes sharing pictures or letters, phone or video calls, and open contact between the child and both sets of parents. 

Open adoptions help birth parents stay in touch with their children. At the same time, they can give their child the best life possible through the adoptive family. For older children or teens, Open adoptions are better because they may already have the contact information of their birth parents. It also helps them stay in touch with their siblings who are probably adopted by different families.

Also, open adoptions help the adopted child emotionally. They keep the child’s sense of identity and family history intact, which may not be the case with closed adoptions.

8. Adult adoption. In most states in America, it is legal to adopt an adult. People often adopt adults for inheritance purposes. Once a child becomes an adult, they can no longer stay in foster care. So, they can be adopted by a foster family, their relatives, or step-parents. 

9. International adoption. International adoption involves adopting a child from a different country. It is also called intercountry adoption. It can be a complicated and expensive process. Some countries don’t allow international adoption. Other countries have reduced the number of children that can be adopted.

According to UNICEF, intercountry adoption must follow the standards and principles of the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoptions. These rules ensure ethical processes to safeguard children, birth parents, and foreign adopters.  

Agencies such as the Office of Children’s Issues and the Intercountry Adoption Bureau Consular Affairs of the US Department of State can help you with queries about international adoption. 

If you’re ready to adopt, contact your state’s local adoption agency for more information. You may also consult with an adoption attorney or consultant to know which types of adoption are best for you.