Learn all you can. Read books and magazines. Visit Websites. Talk to other parents. Meet with adoptive parents and their children. Join adoptive parent support groups. Tell everyone you know that you want to adopt so they will think of you if they hear of an available child.
Find professionals -- agencies, attorneys and other adoption experts -- in your area. Attend informational meetings held by public and private agencies. Ask for brochures and handouts. Talk with social workers, attorneys, facilitators, agency representatives. Screen any agency or attorney you think you might use. Check references.
Do some soul searching. Decide whether you want an infant or older child, boy or girl, domestic or foreign-born child. Usually, more specific requests will take longer. Consider whether you would be open to twins or sibling groups or whether you can handle a special needs child. Think about whether you want an open relationship with the birth parents. Decide whether you want an independent non-agency adoption, a public agency adoption or a private agency adoption.
Come up with a financing plan. Determine the cost of the type of adoption you seek. Draw upon savings, grants, and loans from church groups, friends and family The National Adoption Foundation offers unsecured loans and small grants to adoptive families (call 203-791-3811or go to www.nafadopt.org). And Jewish families may apply to the Hebrew Free Loan Association for interest-free adoption loans (www.hflasf.org/adopt-loans.html or call 415-546-9902).
Research the law. If adopting domestically, research state laws. If adopting internationally, investigate the eligibility requirements of target countries and U.S. State Department regulations.
Complete a home study. Gather multiple notarized copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, medical exams, financial statements (including the last three years' tax returns, photographs of you and your home, a written autobiography, employment records, criminal clearance documents, fingerprints, three letters of reference, a report on your home with deed, and (possibly) a psychological evaluation, and, in international adoptions, INS documents, passports, and copies of State Department laws in English and in the language of the country you have chosen to adopt from. Prepare for an interview by a social worker or agency.
Carefully consider any child you might adopt. Explore the child's medical history and social and emotional background. Ask a pediatrician's advice about what to expect.
Use post-adoption services. Once the adoption is complete, join an adoptive families support group. If the adoption is international or interracial, seek support groups for help with birth culture. If the child has special needs, seek supplemental medical or counseling services.