What Is an Adoption Agency?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 28, 2022
4 min read

An adoption agency is an organization that facilitates adoptions between birth parents and people who would like to adopt a child. An adoption agency usually provides the following services:

  • Matching prospective parents with children or pregnant birth parents
  • Providing or arranging therapy for birth parents
  • Verifying the home safety of potential adoptive parents
  • Educating adoptive parents on best practices
  • Preparing adoption paperwork
  • Ensuring the adoption is safe and successful with post-adoption visits

Adoption is when you take a child that you have not given birth to into your home and family. It is a legally binding agreement. Once you adopt a child, you are their parent. When you adopt a child, you're expected to provide everything they need for physical, mental, and emotional growth.

There are several ways to adopt a child.

Agency adoption. In the U.S., agency adoptions are only available through licensed adoption agencies. These organizations have special permission from the state to care for children until they become adopted. A child can only be adopted through an agency once the birth parent's parental rights have been terminated. In some cases, the parents officially terminate their own parental rights by choice. In other cases, parental rights are terminated by the court.

Adoption organizations oversee their placements for at least six months, if not longer, before they finalize adoption. They also rigorously examine potential parents before approving the initial placement. Once the adoption agency deems everything to be safe and successful, the adoption can take place. The process may vary slightly from state to state.

Agency adoptions can cost between $12,000 and $45,000 in the U.S.

Adopting from foster care. Foster children sometimes go back to their birth parents or other relatives, but many are also eligible for adoption after a certain period of time. Adopting a child after fostering them can be a more affordable way to adopt a child. In some cases, you may receive a small stipend to help pay for foster children's essential expenses. However, it is never certain that a foster child will be available for adoption. 

Independent adoption. In some states, this is called a private adoption. Through an independent adoption, the birth parent will choose the adoptive parent themselves. They will then use an adoption service provider, which is different than an adoption agency, to help with the agreement.

In some states, like California, the birth parents have a short period of time during which they can change their minds and revoke the adoption. Once that period of time passes, the adoption is permanent and irreversible.

In some states, truly independent adoption is not available. An agency must be involved in every adoption to oversee the process even if the birth and adoptive parents found each other through other means.

Independent adoptions may cost up to $40,000 or as little as $8,000.

Intercountry adoption. This is when you adopt a child from a foreign country. You must make sure to work with an accredited adoption service provider. These organizations follow the guidelines in the Hague Adoption Convention, an international document that ensures safe and ethical adoptions followed by more than 100 countries globally. International adoption may involve doing administrative work both abroad and at home.

There are three ways to have an internationally adopted child become a U.S. citizen:

  • Orphan process. The child has no living legal parents or has one parent who is not able to care for them and has relinquished their parental rights for adoption. 
  • The Hague process. The child lives in a country that follows the Hague Convention, and their parent or guardian has given up legal custody of them.
  • Family-based petition process. You've adopted a child who has lived with you for at least two years, and you adopted them before 16 years of age.

International adoptions can cost between $18,000 and $60,000.

The first step of adoption is to learn about the adoption process. Do your own research and learn about the different types of adoption before deciding which one is right for you. You should also research common issues that affect families that have adopted children.

Think about what type of child you're open to adopting. For example, what ages are you open to adopting? Are you open to adopting a child who has special needs? Would you be open to adopting a child of a different race or religious background? Are you open to adopting a child who has had a traumatic past?

Before you move forward, you need to consider how you might afford an adoption. Even if you go with the least expensive route, you will likely need to hire an attorney because there are many legal concerns involved in the adoption process. 

After you've chosen the type of adoption that's right for you, research adoption agencies or adoption service providers — whichever is eligible. Talk to other adoptive parents to learn more about their experiences, and talk to representatives from agencies to ask lots of questions. Make sure that whichever adoption organization you choose is right for you. For example, some organizations target adoptions only to families that follow a certain religion. Others don't adopt to LGBTQ families.

Once you've chosen an agency or organization to work with, fill out an adoption application. Most organizations will have you take pre-adoption classes while you're waiting for your application to be processed and for an adoption candidate to come up. During this time, a social worker will also begin a home study, during which you'll establish that you're able to provide a safe and stable home for an adopted child.

Once your application is accepted and the home study is completed, you may begin searching for eligible children and preparing your home for a new family member. It may take a while, even up to a few years, to find the right child for your family and for the whole process to be complete. 

Show Sources


AAAA: "Private Adoption vs. Agency Adoption."

Adoption.org: "How Do Adoption Agencies Work?"

CA.gov: "Frequently Asked Questions About Adoption."

Movement Advancement Project: "Foster and Adoption Laws."

NACAC: "Step 1: Learn About Adoption," "Step 2: Explore Adoption," "Step 3: Prepare for Adoption."

Travel.State.Gov: "Adoption Process," "Agency Accreditation," "Intercountry Adoption."

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: "How do I help my adopted child immigrate to the United States or become a U.S. citizen?"

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