DIFFICULTY: Legal assistance is recommended
Initial Filing Fee: $300
As it concerns the welfare of children under the age of 18, adoption in Pennsylvania is a formalized process that one cannot go through on their own. Rather, parties looking to adopt a child will need to work with either a private agency, county agency, or SWAN (Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network) in order to complete each of the steps required to adopt a child. While this includes the transfer of legal and physical custody of a child to the adopting parties, it is not the same as those actions taken by family members to gain custody of a child, such as a by a grandparent, aunt, sibling, and so forth. These examples are considered issues of child custody rather than adoption.
Step 1: Choose an Agency to Work With
The agency you will work with will generally align with the type of child that you are seeking to adopt. If you would like to adopt an infant then you will probably want to go through one of the private adoption agencies in Pennsylvania. If you would like to adopt an older child or a child with special needs you will want to go through state run programs such as SWAN.
Step 2: Fill Out the Adoption Application
The adoption application will be provided by the agency you choose to work with. In general, when applying for adoption you will be required to provide information about your family composition, background, and the characteristics of the child or children that you would like to adopt. There is also the ability to note a specific child you would like to adopt at this point.
Step 3: Complete Orientation and a Family Profile
Once you fill out adoption forms, the agency will often invite you to attend an orientation session to complete the application, during which you will hear about the expectations of adopting a child through the foster care system. Then, over a series of meetings, an adoption professional will work with you to develop a family profile. During this process, you should demonstrate your knowledge of the challenges and expectations of adopting a child.
Step 4: Begin the Matching Process
If you are approved by the adoption agency you will then begin the matching process. Your information will be shared with many of the agencies responsible for the children waiting to be adopted. You should take this time to register your family profile on the Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange (PAE), which will then notify your agency when a potential match is found.
Step 5: Pre-Placement and Placement
Once a potential selection has been made, you will meet with the child and spend some time with them to figure out if the suggested match is a good one for the child and for your family. If the match is considered to be a good fit, then the child will move into the family’s home, though the adoption is not finalized at this point.
Step 6: Placement Supervision
After the child has been placed in your home, the two of you will begin a six-month process, planned by the agency, to build a strong relationship before the adoption is finalized. During this period, an adoption worker will visit often with the family to provide support, guidance, and assistance as needed, as well as to oversee the overall acclimation of both child and family.
Step 7: Adoption Finalization
Once the placement is considered to be positive, and the six-month period has elapsed with a successful outcome, a request will be sent to the court to schedule a hearing. At this point the agency will help the family through the number of legal steps, including verifying that a child is legally eligible for adoption, that the agency consents to the adoption, and so forth. If the judge feels everything is in order, they will approve the adoption and you will be able to file for a certificate of adoption.