Although adoption is considered an act of love by the people involved, it is solely a legal action from the perspective of the state. In the process of adoption, a child is permanently placed with a family other than the child's birth parents. The birth parents' parental rights are permanently terminated, and transferred to the adoptive parents. This is a serious action for courts to take, as it deeply influences the lives of several people. There are many steps in the legal process necessary to complete an adoption, and many people involved in making it happen. As a first step in understanding the adoption process, it is a good idea to learn about the different people and formal roles that are involved in making the adoption process.
All adoptions start with birth parents, the biological mother and father of the child. Regardless of whether any contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents is ever established, the birth parents still play an important role in the adoptive family. This role can take several shapes: the adopted child is very likely to wonder about his or her birth parents; the birth parents may become involved with the adoptive family through an open adoption; or, later on, the child or birth parents choose to try to find each other.
All adoptions also involve adoptive parents (those people who are permanently adopting a child and becoming that child's legal and responsible parents), and adopted children (the child or children who are being permanently adopted). We mention these important players for the sake of completeness.
Most adoptions proceed through an adoption agency. Adoption agencies play the part of a broker, bringing together couples desiring to adopt with birth parents and/or children in need of adoption. Most adoption agencies require that a home study be made as part of a couple's adoption application. Home studies are usually conducted by social workers, who often provide follow-up visits after placement to check on how the adoptive child is doing in his or her new home. While the social worker's primary role is always to protect the best interests of the child, he or she can also become an advocate for the adoptive family, helping them through the adoption process.
Lawyers are often necessary players in adoption proceedings, as they are the only professionals competent to represent adoptive parents before the court that is empowered to make the adoption legal and permanent. Lawyers handle the legal paperwork and court filings that are required in an adoption. Lawyers also sometimes act to coordinate adoptions in lieu of an adoption agency. In this role, they may help link adoptive parents with a child needing adoption, just as an adoption agency would.
No adoption is final until it goes before a judge, who is empowered by the state to place the final approval on the adoption process. The judge reviews all paperwork submitted by the lawyers and social workers involved in the adoption process, and makes the final determination as to whether or not the adoption will occur.