There are several steps people must complete for any type of adoption through an agency. In addition to the basic procedures described below, other procedures may be necessary, depending upon the type of adoption, interstate issues, an adoptive parent's particular needs and those of the child and the birth parents.

Research and Carefully Consider the Type of Adoption That Fits

There are many information resources, including local public libraries and the Internet. Prospective adoptive parents will want to consider the emotional and social implications of each type of adoption. Individuals should evaluate their ability to tolerate risk. Because adoption laws in the state where prospective adoptive parents live govern their options, it is essential that individuals know what types of placement are allowed. Individuals pursuing an adoption across state lines must comply with the laws in both states before a child can join their family. See the definition for the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC).

Choose an Agency

In North Dakota, all adoptions are facilitated through private adoption agencies. A private adoption agency is supported by private funds and must be licensed or approved by the state in which it operates. It may also receive public funds if it has a contract with the state to provide adoption services. In North Dakota, private agencies facilitate the adoption of infants and foreign-born children. They also facilitate "public agency adoptions" (or the adoption of children from the foster care system). North Dakota contracts with three private agencies to provide adoption services for children being adopted from the foster care system, as well as the families that adopt them. This unique collaborative is called the Adults Adopting Special Kids (AASK) Program.

Private agencies are listed under "Adoption Agencies" or "Social Services" in the Yellow Pages. Internet resources include: the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse Web site, which includes the National Adoption Directory. The State Adoption Specialist is another resource. The Better Business Bureau near the agency, and the North Dakota Attorney General's office can be contracted regarding any complaints lodged by other adoptive families. Prospective parents may also wish to check with local adoptive parent support groups for their recommendations of reputable agencies.

Understand the Fees Involved

Fees charged by private adoption agencies in the state range from $5,000 to $11,000 or more for both domestic and inter-country adoptions. Prospective parents should ask agencies about their fees and payment schedules. Parents should also ask what services are covered by the fees. Most will allow prospective parents to pay fees in installments due at particular points during the adoption process. If the fee policy is clear from the beginning, misunderstandings can be avoided.

Adoption services provided through the AASK Program in North Dakota (for the adoption of children from the foster care system) are available for a modest fee, because the services are funded through a contract with the state. Federal or state subsidies may be available to assist families adopting a child with special needs. If a child has no special needs, adoptive parents may only be asked to pay legal fees, which are often quite reasonable. Children in the custody of a public agency were either abused, neglected, or abandoned by their birth parents. Abuse and neglect can leave physical and emotional scars. It is important to discuss all aspects of a child's history with agency social workers and to discuss the availability of counseling or other services that might be needed, before deciding to adopt a child with a traumatic history.

Complete the Application

When prospective adoptive parents contact an agency, they may be invited to an orientation where they will learn about the agency's procedures and available children and can obtain application forms. The agency reviews completed applications to determine whom it will accept as clients. If accepted by a private agency, prospective adoptive parents may have to pay a registration fee.

Participate in the Pre-Placement Inquiry

The next step is the pre-placement inquiry known as the "home study" or the "adoption assessment." This is an evaluation (required by state law) of prospective adoptive families and of the physical and emotional environment into which a child would be placed. It is also a preparation for adoptive parenthood. It consists of a series of interviews with a social worker, including at least one interview in the home. During this process, families will, with the social worker's assistance, consider all aspects of adoptive parenthood and identify the type of child they wish to adopt. Some agencies use a group approach to the educational part of this adoption preparation process because it creates a built-in support group among families. In North Dakota, families adopting children from foster care are trained through the Foster/ Adopt PRIDE model - a training program that familiarizes families with the needs of these special children.

Many of the questions asked in the home study are personal. These questions are necessary for the social worker's evaluation of prospective parents. Some questions are about income, assets, and health and the stability of the marriage (if married) and/or family relationships. Physical exams to ensure that prospective parents are healthy are usually required. North Dakota requires prospective adoptive parents to undergo a fingerprint and background check to ensure that individuals do not have a felony conviction for domestic violence or child abuse. A home study is usually completed in a few months, depending upon the agency's requirements and the number of other clients.

Be Prepared to Wait

Adopting a child requires a waiting period. To adopt a Caucasian infant, may take at least one year after the home study is completed, and could take two to five years. It is difficult to estimate the waiting period because birth parents usually select and interview the family they wish to parent their child. Applicants wishing to adopt African-American infants may have a shorter wait, probably less than six months. Applicants who want to adopt a child with special needs can begin reviewing photo listings to learn more about waiting children and to look for children who might be right for their family. Inter-country adoptions may take over a year, but the wait and the process will be somewhat more predictable. For any type of adoption, even after a child is found, prospective parents may have to wait weeks or months while final arrangements are made.

Complete the Legal Procedures

After placement, adoptive parents must fulfill the legal requirements for adoption. Hiring an attorney may be necessary at this time, if families have not already retained one. Usually a child lives with the adoptive family for at least six months before the adoption is finalized legally. Some inter-country adoptions are completed before the child leaves his or her country. Until the adoption is finalized, the agency will provide supportive services. The social worker may visit to ensure that the child is well cared for and to write up the required court reports. After this period, the agency submits a written recommendation to the court, and parents or their attorney can then file with the court to complete the adoption.

For inter-country adoptions, finalization of the adoption depends on the type of visa the child has, and laws in the family's state. The adoption procedure is just one of a series of legal processes required for inter-country adoption. Families must also fulfill the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's requirements. North Dakota now allows families who have finally adopted their children in another country to apply to a North Dakota court for a validation of their foreign decree (North Dakota Century Code 14-15-17 and NDCC 14-15-18). North Dakota child placing agencies developed information to assist families in petitioning the court for a validation of a foreign decree. This information was not developed by the Department, but is provided for your assistance. Click here for Petition for Validation of Internationally Decreed Adoption Instructions for Parents information. If you have questions about this process, you should contact your child placing agency representative.