Getting Background Information Before Adopting a Child

Prospective parents should learn about the prospective adoptee before completing the adoption process, and getting a new birth certificate.

Adoption is forever, but it involves some risk. Prospective adoptive parents open their hearts and home to prospective adoptees. Medical history, social history, and genetic predispositions are vital to investigate.

Getting background history helps prospective parents in a few ways. First, it helps them decide if they have the emotional and financial resources to care for the child. It also helps them prepare for adoption.

Consider, for example, a child who uses a wheelchair. This information helps the prospective parents prepare their home to accommodate the child. Finally, background history helps determine eligibility for financial help.

This article covers a few reasons why you should get background information. It also covers potential sources of information and how to get background information.

Why Get Background Information Before Adopting?

Adoption is a legal process, but it involves more than obtaining a new birth certificate. Background information helps adoptive parents prepare for post-adoption issues.

The following are a few reasons why you should investigate a prospective adoptee's background:

  • It enables you to make an informed decision about accepting a child. Information provided about a child's needs, prior to placement, assists prospective parents with deciding if the placement will be a good fit. They can determine if they have the emotional and financial resources to meet the child's needs. If they need extra support, they can turn to specific support groups.
  • It helps the parents access federal or state adoption subsidies. Adoption subsidies (adoption assistance) are available for children with special needs or disabilities. Adoption subsidies are monthly payments made to the adoptive parents that help pay for medical costs and other childcare expenses for the child. State laws vary regarding adoption assistance.
  • It allows your child to develop an accurate sense of their history. Without accurate information, adopted children are susceptible to emotional or psychological harm. Feeling disconnected or struggling with their identity are a few consequences of a lack of knowledge. Moreover, medical and genetic information is critical if the adoptee decides to start a family.
  • It provides an opportunity for early diagnosis, treatment, and intervention for many conditions. Getting background information before adopting helps if the child develops a medical condition. The background history could help diagnose or treat new medical conditions. For example, if the child is genetically predisposed to a disease or illness, this knowledge will save precious time.

Types of Adoption

The information prospective parents need and the available sources depend on the type of adoption they seek. Robust, accurate information can help you decide if this adoptive placement is in the best interest of the child.

Open Adoption

For example, in an open adoption, the adoptive parents and birth parents know each other and share contact information. In fact, in some instances, the prospective parents are in the room for the child's birth.

The adoptive parents can ask the birth mother and birth father questions about their medical or genetic history. They can ask about the medical history of close family members, including grandparents. They can ask about prenatal care or the child's home environment. If ongoing contact is part of the adoption plan, the adoptive parents can ask more questions as the child grows up.

Closed Adoption

This is not true in other types of adoptions, including closed adoptions. In a closed adoption, the parties know nothing about each other. The adoption records close after the finalization of the adoption. In this scenario, the adoptive parents know little about the biological parents. Moreover, they will not have ongoing access to the biological parent's developing medical history.

Private Adoption

In a private adoption, the prospective parents use a private adoption agency to find a child to adopt. Private adoption agencies offer many adoption services. They can assist prospective parents in getting detailed information about the birth parents.

Public Adoption

Child welfare agencies such as the Department of Human Services or Social Services handle foster care adoptions. Many older children, children with special needs, and child abuse survivors are in the foster care system. A social worker can help get information about the child's medical and social history. Foster parents often have a leg up if they are adopting a child they foster.

Stepparent Adoption

In a stepparent adoption, a spouse adopts their spouse's child from a prior relationship. Although a home study usually isn't required, the stepparent will often go through a background check.

International Adoption

Most of the information presented so far has featured domestic adoptions. Domestic adoptions occur within the United States. Intercountry adoptions are different.

In international adoption, prospective parents seek an adoptive placement in a foreign country. Private agencies handle many international adoptions. Prospective adoptive parents should get the agency's help in getting this information.

How to Get Background Information

Depending on the type of adoption you are pursuing, the easiest way to get adoption information is to ask. Adoption professionals have access to relevant information.


The best time to ask specific questions about the prospective adoptee is after the adoption home study. In the adoption process, the home study comes before the adoptive placement. A social worker gathers information about the prospective parents during the home study process. Often this includes criminal background checks, medical history, and financial statements. This information helps the agency match prospective adoptees with an adoptive family.

Private Adoption Agency vs. Public Adoption Agency

Adoption professionals can answer your questions about the birth family in a private adoption.

A case worker or social worker should have this information in public adoption. Many child welfare agencies have websites with profiles of waiting children. Waiting children are available for adoption. Their profiles provide limited information, such as the status of parental rights and the child's adoption hopes. Yet, these profiles offer a starting point for further investigation.

Get Help

If you are adopting a child, there are many steps in the adoption process. These steps include selecting an agency and completing the home study. Learning about a prospective adoptee's background is just as important. A local adoption attorney can help you understand adoption laws and navigate the adoption process.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • It is a good idea to have an attorney for complex adoptions
  • An attorney can ensure you meet all legal requirements and that your adoption is finalized appropriately
  • An attorney can help protect the best interests of adoptive children, adoptive families, and birth parents
  • For simple adoptions, you may be able to do the paperwork on your own or by using an agency

Get tailored advice at any point in the adoption process. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Adopting a child is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

Start Planning