A Realistic Adoption Timeline For Hopeful Parents, According to an Expert

There are more than 100,000 children who are eligible for adoption in the US foster care system on any given day, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Add those numbers to the thousands more born into families where parents not equipped to care for a child, and it seems as though the need for adoption is large enough that the process would be a relatively quick one. But that's not always the case.

"The general wait time for hopeful adoptive parents can range from two months to two years or more," says Brenda Retrum, the director of adoptive parent services for Adoption Choices & Surrogacy of Colorado. (Retrum is also herself an adoptive mother of two.) "That number can be hard to hear because it is so large, but a number of factors go into how long the adoption timeline can be."

The adoption process usually begins with hopeful adoptive parents attending pre-adoption information sessions, reviewing their state's adoption laws, and choosing an adoption service provider, agency, or attorney to help throughout the journey. This step generally takes between one and three months for most parents. Below, see a typical timeline hopeful adoptive parents can expect.

What to Expect in the First 3 Months of Trying to Adopt

Once adoptive parents have decided which type of adoption they are interested in (private, foster-to-adopt, or independent) and completed an application, they will begin the paperwork process. This includes a home study, clearance paperwork for your state, and, if you are opting for a private agency adoption, a parent profile.

In these initial months, parents will also create an adoption plan, firming up their preferences on what kind of child, or children, they are open to adopting. Retrum tells us this part of the process generally takes three to four months for potential adoptive parents to complete.

The Adoption Network provides an overview of what kind of questions you'll have to answer and information you need to provide during this step. In general, you can expect to be visited in your home, have your family interviewed, and answer questions about your family background, education, employment, relationships, finances, and prior parenting experiences before being eligible to become adoptive parents.

If you are going through a private adoption agency, once your file and home study are complete, you will create a parent profile. This profile will be shown to expecting parents. Retrum tells POPSUGAR, "Most parents use a professional service to complete this step because it's competitive, and you want to show yourself in the best light. For example, right now, for every one newborn up for adoption, there are roughly 12 hopeful adoptive parents."

What to Expect Beyond the First 3 Months

After the paperwork is completed, the waiting begins for the matching process. Depending on the type of adoption you have chosen, you will either be able to view a list of waiting children or birth parents will select you after reviewing your adoptive family profile.

"Try to be prepared for the roller coaster of emotions."

"This time can be very isolating with brutal ups and downs," Retrum says. "You might see a potential adoptee or get a match but then not be selected ultimately. You go from the high of being excited to the low of not being 'chosen.'" Retrum tells the families she works with to "build in a little protection for your heart." She adds, "We are human so we can't help but get excited, but try to be prepared for the roller coaster of emotions."

It's important to note that most documents you completed in the initial paperwork process, including your home study, will expire after one year. This means you need to stay on top of refiling them on a yearly basis if you haven't finalized an adoption at the one-year mark of starting your journey. Otherwise your timeline could be further extended.

With that said, you will ideally experience the placement of a child in your home, or the birth of a baby you've been matched with, during this time. Once you have brought your child home, the next step is to petition for your adoption. Keep in mind that the adoption is not yet finalized as most adoptions require a post-placement period. This period can last between one and 18 months, depending on your state of residence.

After all the post-placement visits have been completed, you will attend a finalization hearing to legally complete the adoption process. This is the easiest step in the process and generally lasts between 10 and 30 minutes. At the hearing, the adoptive parent(s) are given permanent legal custody of the adopted child.

How Hopeful Adoptive Families Can Minimize Wait Times

Wait times are often correlated to the criteria (such as race or gender) set up by hopeful adoptive parents. "The more strict your criteria are, the longer the process can take," Retrum says. By being more flexible with aspects such as race, gender, drug or alcohol use, medical history, budget, and contact with birth parents, you increase the likelihood of matching with children in foster care or having your adoptive family profile seen by prospective birth mothers.

That said, Retrum tells us agencies "will absolutely support you in what you feel is best for your family." It's important to be completely honest, as the last thing anyone wants is for an adoptive family to end up in a situation they aren't prepared for.

What to Do During the Adoption Wait Time

Many foster-to-adopt organizations offer hopeful adoptive parents an average timeframe of six to 18 months while private agencies usually quote an average of nine to 24 months. International adoptions tend to be even longer.

The first step is to be prepared for the realistic length of time an adoption might take, and keep in mind that timelines are constantly in flux. You may find your situation takes more or less time at each step of the process. If you have questions specific to your circumstances you should consult with your preferred expert.

Beyond that, don't be afraid to use the resources available to you through your agency or community to make the adoption journey a little less lonely. "We have a program to allow hopeful adoptive families to meet with other parents who have been through the process," Retrum says. "It helps to talk with others who have shared experiences and are on the other side." Retrum also stays in touch with the families she works with throughout the process to let them know she's there to support them.

At the end of the day, the adoption process can be an unexpectedly lengthy one, with plenty of emotional ups and downs. The best thing you can do during this time is to go about life as much as possible. Retrum says, "Hopeful adoptive parents should be prepared for the long run. And if the process happens faster, it's a pleasant surprise that you can celebrate."