Open Arms Series: The Nuts and Bolts of Adopting

Guest Post by Jenny of JustJenny

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork. That is what is it feels like when just starting the adoption process. Applications, home studies, criminal clearances, reference letters, profiles and more oh my! When my husband and I started the adoption process we were a little overwhelmed! The agency sent us a HUGE packet of forms that needed to be filled out, some before we started and others before we were shown to birth moms. It seemed as soon as we finished one packet and sent it off…another was on its way and needed to be completed before we could move ahead. This is a short and sweet rundown of what paperwork is needed to adopt privately in the United States and how my family made it thru and I will discuss some of the financial side of it.


So it all started with us in June of 2004. After a missed period and being scared to death of pregnancy with my health history we decided to adopt. We quickly picked an agency nearby that I could volunteer at and check out. As we started the process and decided to tell our family we soon learned that this was the same agency that my brother had used for his second adoption! This just confirmed our choice of agency was just right!


The average paperwork process can take from 2 to 6 months. We decided to take it a little slower and took a little over a year to finish the paperwork. My husband figured most (pregnant) couples get at least 9 months to prepare for a baby so he wanted at least that long! I just love his thinking ♥


Every agency is different with the exact paperwork that is needed, but most have the same general idea. There is no particular order that the paperwork needs to be completed in, but there are some that should or need to be completed before moving on to the next one. The first step after deciding what agency is right, you will need to fill out an application to join or be accepted. Usually this is a one page document with basic information on it although some agencies have longer forms detailing budget and what child/ren you are looking to adopt. Some agencies even have an application or pre-app fee. Yes the finances start already. This is a way to weed out the thousands of calls from families who are “thinking” about adopting but never really follow thru. Also this helps agencies with the expense of producing the paperwork and information that they send out.


This is where the fun begins! The bulk of the paperwork consists of the home study and the profile. The home study is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing you will complete for the legal side of the adoption. The home study is what approves you or denies you to adopt a child. It includes a written report and supporting documents I will discuss below. Home study fees range from $850 up to $5000. Some include the price of running clearances, fees of travel to your home and also include post placement visits. Most are just the actual home study report and you will pay the other expenses. Don’t decide on a home study agency just because of price alone; remember you will be dealing with this agency for a while. Not just before the adoption, but also after the adoption for them to complete your post placement visits before you go to court. Make sure they return your calls and you get along with them!


One thing that most agencies forget to tell you is that home studies expire. So most families jump into this process to hurry and complete it before they have even decided what placing agency they are working with and before they know it it’s expired and they have to do it all over again! Sad, but true. Most states have a policy that a completed home study with a licensed agency or licensed social worker will expire in 12 months. A few states have 18 months but there are only 3 states that I know of and depending on what agency you work with they will still only accept the 12 month rule. This may sound like a long time and it is if you are ready with the rest of your paperwork. But in reality it flies by. If you have not completed your adoption in court by the 12 month expiration date you will more than likely need to have it updated/redone, which will incur more fees. And don’t forget the paperwork included in your home study expires in 12 months too and will need to be updated even if your home study is not expired yet. For example if you run out and get your physician reports in September and your home study is not completed until December – come next September you will need to go back to the doctor and get new forms signed. Your placing agency should remind you of these items.


The most important advice I can give you on your home study is to work with an agency that is licensed in your state and has more than 2 employees. I have worked with families who went with a social worker who was licensed to do home studies when they started the process and state laws changed before they completed the process and lost money and time and had to start all over again. Also I have worked with a family that their social worker got ill and was in the hospital for over 30 days and was unable to complete their home study and they had to start over. This is unfortunate when you are on a tight budget and when you are in a hurry to get thru the process.


Some of the items included in your home study are criminal background checks in all the states you have lived in going back 5 to 10 years from today (this can be a daunting task if you are military and move a lot), FBI background checks, copies of birth certificates, drivers licenses and marriage licenses, physician reports, reference letters from family/friends, copies of latest tax returns, insurance verification, employment verification, financial forms, etc. I have seen some agencies even require copies of your pet’s vaccination record, floor plans of your home and if you already have children in the home copies of their school records/grades. These are the items that will expire 12 months from the date completed/signed. Jot these on the calendar to update before they expire.


The clearances you will be required to get take some time, keep this in mind. FBI clearances are taking between 6 to 12 weeks to complete. This will add some time to your paperwork stack! And your fingerprints could be rejected if they can’t read them! This can be frustrating when you just want to get them done and you have to go back to the police station to get fingerprinted and wait another 6 weeks for the results. Quick tip – Rubbing cayenne pepper on your fingertips and rub off with a tissue before the officer prints you will help your ridges protrude out and print better! Weird but it works!


Finally the HOME VISIT. The home visit is what scares a lot of people. There is nothing to be worried about. Social workers come to your home to interview you and check out the surroundings. They are not there to go thru the house with white gloves on checking for dust and marking down every little thing. They want to make sure that the home is clean and in working order. No safety issues like attack dogs or pools properly contained/locked as required by each state. Private adoption home studies are different from state or public adoptions. The main difference is the home visit. With the state adoptions you have to have a room ready, bed and all, certain restrictions on size of room, windows, etc. With a private adoption you don’t have to have the nursery or baby room ready yet. This should ease your stress level a little! I enjoyed the home visit and loved showing our home to our social worker and telling her our plans for the nursery even if I was a little nervous!


Phew, now that the home study is done, and the rest of the paperwork as required by your agency, the last most important thing for your adoption is the PROFILE, the photos and information about you. This is important as it is the only thing the birth mother will see about you and your family. Some agencies require you make the profile on your own. This is OK if you are computer savvy or a scrapbook guru but if you are neither than you are in trouble. Other agencies do the profile for you; all you do is provide the photos and text and they will put it together. This makes all the families on the same playing field and not one stand out more than another based on their profile skills. I like the latter better. I am in no way proficient on the computer and my scraping skills barely get me by! There are even some agencies that have started doing Video profiles! How fun to show the potential birth mother video of your home and what you as a family do and are excited to share with her!


The profile was the hardest for my husband and I. We had a lot of photos of our travels, but they were of my husband or myself solo. This isn’t good for the profile. You need photos of the whole family/couple, not just parts. So we had to get busy getting photos. We did schedule one professional photo session, but that wasn’t enough. We spent one whole day with our aunt driving around town getting photos near local attractions and hang outs. We even had wardrobe changes! Needless to say the day was exhausting and my husband refused to get a photo for almost 6 months after this! So get good photos of you and your family now ♥


Another hard part about the profile is writing the text. Mainly the “Dear Birth mom” letter. What do you write? What do you say or don’t say? Nobody helps you with this part. Sure they give you ideas but it still has to come from you and you don’t want to feel like you’re bragging about yourselves but how do you do that? The best advice I can give you is to write the letter as if you know her. HOW? Think of a friend you used to know, maybe from college or high school that you have lost contact with. Someone you cared about at one time but it has been 5+ years since you have spoken to her. Now write your profile as if you were telling her all about you and your family and why you want to adopt. For some reason when you have someone in mind it is much easier to write this all down!


This is what I did and the advice I give to others. It seems a little easier to open your heart and spill your soul when you can think of who might read this♥ My husband was all about me writing and taking care of this and he loved the end result. If your husband helps you with all of these details enjoy it, cuz it is hard work!


Well you are almost done with the paperwork; hopefully I haven’t scared you off yet! Even though you feel like there is no way to complete it all and you feel “why is it even fair for us to do so much?” It will all be worth it in the end when you hold your little one and know that he or she is yours forever!


Like I mentioned before we took a little over a year to finish the paperwork. We were officially “ACTIVE” on August 5, 2005. On September 23, 2005 we got the call that we were chosen by a wonderful birth mom. Our son was born on December 17, 2005 and we were there to see his birth. It was soooo worth it!


Our son is now 5½ and getting ready to start kindergarten next month! Oh, how time has flown! When he was 1½, I quit my job in the medical field and started working for the adoption agency that we placed with and worked full time for almost 2 years. I stayed at home with him for another 1+ years and loved every minute!! Now I work 2 days a week with the agency to help out where I am needed. Loving the part time job/money and staying home with my son when I want! You can find out what’s happening in my life at my blog JustJenny. If you have any questions feel free to email me at [email protected]



As for the financial aspect; I have mentioned a few of the expenses that might arise, but didn’t mention how to take action on those expenses. We adopted before we did Dave Ramsey and looking back we did it all wrong. Of course we were in debt already and we got a home equity loan to finance our adoption. We did this for the tax right off and because it was easiest at the time. For the almost two years leading up to the birth of our son I worked a second job saving money at a local craft store. This helped some but it wasn’t enough. We did end up selling my husband’s new truck and this paid off most of the loan, but the biggest chunk came from the federal tax credit.


If you are not aware the federal tax credit for 2010 is now $13,170 and is current until December 31, 2011. This helps with current adoptions and disrupted adoptions too! Also find out if your state has qualifying adoption credits. The state of Kansas has a %5,000 tax credit and this can be used in conjunction with the federal tax credit. Each state and families modified gross income will affect if you can use this credit or not. Please check with your accountant to verify.


Another option is to check your employer benefits to see if they reimburse adoption expenses. Many employers assist from $50 up to $24,000! Check this list to see if you employer is included.


Other options are adoption grants.  There are many out there and I tried to get one, but never did and I don’t know anyone who has. Good luck and congrats if you were able to go this way! Also if you are not adopting but want to help out many of these sites have items to purchase and the funds go to help those that want to adopt. Some of the items could be used for gifts for those you know that are adopting or for items for yourself like jewelry. I saw a great ad for one of these companies in Good Housekeeping last month.


Finally good old fashioned fundraising. There are many ideas out there. Here are some of the great ideas I have heard about –

  • Garage/Yard sales – friends and family donate items to you and all funds you make from the sale goes to your adoption.
  • Baby bottles – Purchase new or used baby bottles (at garage sales!) and pass out or mail to friends and family as an announcement you are adopting and would they please collect spare change to fill up bottle and send back to you when full? If you buy new bottles you can sterilize them when you get them back and use when baby comes! I love this idea and wish I had heard of it before we adopted. What a cute idea to spread the news and collect funds!
  • Direct sales/marketing – maybe you know someone who sells make-up or candles and would be willing to have 20% of the party’s profit go towards your adoption. Many of your friends are going to buy the products anyway, why not include an incentive for them?
  • Get rid of your stuff like Dave Ramsey says – If you haven’t already taken his course – please take it! And start selling everything you don’t really need! EBay, amazon, and garage sales. Sell your more expensive items and get cheaper ones if you really need it. Do you really need all those books? J
  • Sell crafts or handy work – if you’re crafty set up an account on the web and sell items where the proceeds will go towards your adoption.
  • Host a Raffle or auction – get a local store or friend to donate something like a T.V., Ipad or even services and host a raffle with each ticket $20 – $25. Funds will add up fast for this one!
  • Blog for your cause – Set up a blog, website, or Facebook Group to journal about your adoption journey and include a DONATE link through PayPal or CHipIn for people wanting to give to your adoption fund.
  • Read all you can about adopting without debt – there are books and websites with many ideas about adopting without going into debt. It just takes time!


I know it can seem like a hard battle to conquer, but we are more than conquerors in His eyes! Steady and slow usually wins the race. Be patient and know that the situation will happen when it is supposed to happen.


Good luck on your adoption journey! Please let me know if you have any questions or other ideas about financing your adoption. I love to hear your adoption stories.

Jenny is a  child of God, wife to a motorcycle freak, a part time stay at home mommy to one beautiful adopted son AJ (5 1/2), She works part time at American Adoptions.  You can read her family’s adoption story here.  She loves to meet new people so please reach out to her if you have any questions.



  • Share This Post:
  • Share This Post on Facebook
  • Share this Post on Twitter
  • Email this Post
Filed Under: Adoption, Guest Post


  1. says

    Wonderful post. Very informative. Thank you for all the details. I have read many posts about adoptions and they often leave out the important details I want to know. You cover everything. THANK YOU! My family and I are just beginning to talk about the process. Not ready for paperwork yet but I will bookmark this for the future.

  2. says

    Thanks for the great info! We have just started our adoption process by being accepted into our agency. I am waiting for our “big” packet to arrive in the mailbox so we can get started on this! We are so excited for this journey!

    • says

      Amber – Congrats on the agency! That is the first step on your journey. What an exciting time you are starting. Let me know how BIG your packet is and if you have any questions I would be happy to help with any questions you might have!

  3. says

    Thank you so much for this info! We go to our first adoption class next Tuesday. After losing 3 babies we are very nervous, but God is in control of this ride and we are along for it! A little nervous about writing our profile spread. We did take out a home equity line of credit to finance it.

    • says

      You are so right – God is in control…and what a wild and crazy ride it can be sometimes! Don’t be nervous about your profile. Just write what your heart says. Good Luck and keep me update ♥

  4. Lee Scott says

    Your post is wonderful! I have always wanted to adopt, and I would still love to. Unfortunatly the financial aspect keeps us from being able to with the economy as it is. I keep hoping that maybe in a few years!

  5. says

    Jenny- Thanks for sharing your story. My husband and I are using American and just became “active” on September 7th and can’t wait for our phone call. We are definitely worried about affording everything. I am currently selling some baby and toddler items I make at with all my proceeds going towards our adoption. I appreciate your other ideas about affording adoption. Thanks for taking the time to write it all down for us. We also have a blog at

  6. Christina Thompson says

    Jenny-Your post is very helpful and informative. My husband and I have been going through fertility treatments for the past 9 months without success. I am becoming more and more exhausted with every month that goes by. We have been talking about adoption and it has always been something that I wanted to do but always thought I would have biological children first. Adoption is moving to the fore front of how we will start our family. We have started researching agencies, but I feel like it is hard to find good information on adoptions and financial costs. Thank you for suggestions on how to make some extra money to pay for adoption. I think that is something all couples considering adoption worry about. Your story and others that I have read give me hope that one day my husband and I will be parents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *