The following is a more detailed list of the steps that need to be taken in adoption.  Even this detailed list is not complete. After reading this, we encourage you to meet individually with a current adoptive family. Whether you have just begun thinking about adoption or know that God is leading you to adopt, we know it is overwhelming and that is why we have developed this resource. We want you to be encouraged and inspired and help to make the overwhelming part a little more manageable.

1. Domestic, international, foster care or embryo adoption?

As you weigh these options, consider the following thoughts…

Are you interested in adopting a newborn? If so, domestic adoption is the route to consider. Most typically with a newborn adoption the adoptive family will create a profile/portfolio of their lives (which includes pictures and narratives). This profile will be presented to birthmothers through an adoption agency. From these profiles a birthmother will then choose a family for her child based on her own preferences. With domestic adoption you will typically know the child’s background such as family medical history and other information. Many agencies disclose a full social and medical history of the birthmother and test for drug and alcohol exposure. Families wishing to adopt newborns are able to specify their racial/ethnic preferences. Domestic adoptions can come in the form of an open adoption (maintaining contact with the birth family) or a closed adoption (no additional contact with the birth family). A risk associated with the domestic adoption of a newborn is that there is a possibility that a birth mother could change her mind and decide to parent or place the child with a family member. After the child is born the birthmother has a set amount of time to change her mind before surrendering her parental rights. This amount of time varies from state to state. Adoption agency personnel are trained to counsel birthmothers in this decision.

Domestic adoption can also happen through the foster care system for your state. For more information on foster care adoption, go here:

If you are open to adopting infants and older, then any of the above options are viable.

With an international adoption, you will specify your preferences for a child (age, gender, openness to sibling groups, openness to special needs situations, etc.) to your agency within the application process. Eventually you will receive referrals of children (pictures and info) that fit into your preferences and you will have the opportunity to either accept the referrals or pass for another. With international adoption it is of note that you will receive limited information on your child’s medical history and personal background. A risk associated with international adoption is that there are corrupt operations that can be involved in international organizations. Choosing a reputable, experienced adoption agency will decrease the incidence of you being taken advantage of. Note that in most cases, adopting internationally will involve travel to another country at some point in the process.

Embryo adoption is a more recent form of adoption that has come as a product of advanced medical technology. Couples that have undergone fertility treatments and have more viable living embryos than are needed for their family building plans, have a dilemma as to how to resolve this. These embryos are frozen, or cryopreserved, in suspended animation sometimes for many years. Embryo donation, for adoption by another family, offers an alternative to continued freezing, discarding, or donating them for medical research [1]. The embryo adopting family is able to give birth to their adopted child through implantation.

Note that there are adoption programs and agencies that specialize in infertility, open adoptions (maintaining contact with the birth family) and special (health) needs adoptions.

No matter which type of adoption you choose, it is important to note that all adoption is built on grief and loss. We encourage you to talk to others who have adopted to understand more about this important aspect of any adoption.


3. Choosing an agency

This is one of the most important decisions you will make in this process. Once you pick your adoption agency, they will guide you the rest of the way with paperwork, progression of steps, education, and providing helpful resources. When you actually start filing through agencies, we suggest that first and foremost you do the good old ‘word of mouth’ approach. Which agencies have any of your friends, family, or people at your church used? What was their experience with their agency? Most agencies also have a list of families who have used their agency that you can call or email. This is a tremendous resource in being able to ask really anything you want about the agency from someone who has actually used them for an adoption. That being said, keep in mind that there is no perfect agency. They will make mistakes; be prepared to offer a standard of grace. If you are adopting internationally note that your agency is at the same time navigating through the cultural differences of operating with their in-country staff members. Often times communications and our American sense of timing (how quickly we think things should be done) go out the window when working with another country. Also take into consideration that every agency has different requirements in the areas of education, fees, and travel. You can find a list of reputable adoption agencies recommended by adoptive families within Cornerstone Church by clicking here.


5. Finances

It takes just a quick glance at the 5-digit figure listed by the cost of an adoption to feel a sinking feeling in your gut. The average family does not have that kind of money just sitting around. But take heart! “The resources of heaven are ready and waiting for the people of God who desire to make much of Him in the world (David Platt, The Radical).” God will provide for your adoption in unexpected ways that you never saw coming, often supernaturally. You’ll get a bonus at work, a bigger tax refund than you anticipated, anonymous gifts in the mail. God is creative. The options are limitless as to how He may choose to provide. But you won’t know the ‘how’ ahead of time….so this will take faith. You will also have to fight against the world’s mindset that it is foolish to enter into such a big financial commitment that you do not know how you will pay for. But “if it’s God’s will, it’s God’s bill.” God has showcased this countless times in the lives of many adoptive families…just ask around to those who have gone before you and get ready for some wild stories of how He came through.

That being said, there is a very proactive side to financing an adoption as well. It’s not just sitting around and waiting for God to bless your bank account. As you read through these active ways to generate proceeds, also keep in mind that you will not be paying that large 5-digit number all at once in one giant check. Rather, you will pay fees in smaller chunks that come along the way. So one month you might have $300 due to your agency, and then the next month $2000. Don’t get scared off by that big total – that is the sum of over a year of fees that will be due in smaller amounts as you go.

Proactive ways to finance an adoption:

  • Apply for grants and/or interest free loans

    • For Cornerstone members, go here to learn about the generous financial assistance offered to you:

    • [matching grants and interest free loans]

    • [interest free loans]

    • [local grants]

    • [local grants]

    • [grants for special needs adoptions]

  • Federal adoption tax credit

    • Tax benefits for adoption include both a tax credit for qualified adoption expenses paid to adopt an eligible child and an exclusion for employer-provided adoption assistance. The credit is nonrefundable, which means it is limited to your tax liability for the year.

    • Read through the full details here:

  • A number of companies have adoption assistance programs built into their benefits with some providing between $2000 to $8000. Check with your employer! For more information visit

  • Downsize and sell stuff

  • Fundraisers (Click here for a host of fundraising ideas)

  • Send support letters

    • To friends, family (inside and outside of Cornerstone) and your connection group

    • Do not send letters broadly to people in Cornerstone you don’t know well

  • Take out a line of credit/home equity loan

Whatever you do, do not let the sea of finances keep you from saying yes to adoption.

On the shores of the Red Sea, the despairing Israelites couldn’t see what was in the distance. They had no binoculars that could view Canaan or even the opposite shore. But the Lord gave Moses a simple plan: tell the children of Israel to go forward (Exodus 14:15). The nineteenth-century expositor C.H. Mackintosh believed the Red Sea did not divide all at once, but opened progressively as Israel moved forward, so that they needed to trust God for each fresh step. Mackintosh wrote, “God never gives guidance for two steps at a time. I must take one step, and then I get light for the next. This keeps the heart in abiding dependence upon God.” -The Red Sea Rules by Robert J. Morgan 


7. Choosing age(s) and gender(s)

It is okay to have preferences, but be open. Do not confuse preference with tight grip. It is wise not to put too many requirements on this whole process yet, because God will just change them to what He wants anyways.

Keep in mind that with international adoption, the age that your child is referred/matched to you will not be the age they are when they come home. Also, realize that most often, social workers and orphanage workers are guessing the age of children in their care. Lack of birth records is extremely common and it is a normality that many children have no idea how old they are, or when they were born.

Adopting a younger child does not automatically mean that they will come with less ‘issues’ than an older child. The baggage any child carries with them into your family has more to do with their past availability of attachment figures, trauma, and genetics, than their age. The Lord Jesus Christ can break down any stronghold, no matter how long it’s been there. Age is not the stand-alone factor that determines the smoothness or roughness of the adjustment and bonding/attachment post-adoption.



2. Choosing a country to adopt from

When deciding, keep in mind that many countries have qualifications/specifications for adoptive families. These qualifications will be listed on agency websites for each country. Some countries have a specific age that they require the adoptive parents to be before they can adopt….on average this age is 25 years. Some countries specify a sort of ‘cap’ on children already in the home that a family can have heading into an adoption. Some countries require the prospective adoptive parents to have been married for a certain number of years. Some countries allow single parents to adopt, some not. It is also of note that there are countries that have established adoption programs with years of experience, whereas others are at the status of a pilot program. Pilot programs need applicants with a pioneering spirit who are up for forging the way with the expectation of a bumpy process. All of these things can play into which country you choose.

A wise first step is to look at how God is working in your life. Is the Holy Spirit giving you a leading or interest in a certain country? Pray and ask for discernment. James 1:5 encourages us in this approach ~ “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

An invaluable resource for this step is to talk with others who have adopted and hear their personal story of how they chose their country. God often times gives us leadings or confirmations or direction through the testimonies of others. Read through a few of our Cornerstone family’s experiences of how God led them to a specific country to adopt:

“God used the trial of infertility to lead us to start building our family through adoption. However, after we adopted our son, Abram (5), as a baby, God really opened our eyes and hearts to His heart for orphans and the fatherless and how He adopts us into His family as Abba (daddy). We were very open to adopting internationally and He used the earthquake in Haiti (2010) to further awaken us to the multitude of orphaned and fatherless (motherless) children across the world. Although adopting from Haiti at that time was not an option for us, it was this tragic event that led us to research which countries had the most orphans and adoption programs in those countries. Of course, it was clear that the continent of Africa had some of the highest numbers of orphaned children and we found out that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had over 4.5 million orphans out of 70 million people. This was mind-blowing (and numbing) and we quickly learned that Congo was mired in a decades long Civil War and ranked last in the world on almost every index (economic, social, political, educational, etc.). We also found out that MLJ Adoptions had just started an adoption program in Congo and that it was moving along pretty smoothly at that time in (far worse currently). It was at this point in which we sensed the Lord leading us to adopt from Congo. It wasn’t until months later after we were encouraging others in an adoption meeting at Cornerstone to adopt from Congo, that we believed God was personally calling us to adopt three children from Congo (that same night when we got home from the meeting!). God used that night and the coming weeks to lead us and several other families to adopt children from Congo. We adopted Claire (13), Zoe (11) and Isaiah (6) from Congo in 2011. Since then, we have also adopted our son, Asher (3), through a family relationship and foster care by God’s grace. Although adoption comes with many trials, trauma and loss for the children and us, God has given us great joy, faith, and maturity that comes as a result of obeying Him and serving our family. Although most are familiar with James 1:27, I think it’s worth noting this is not only a great verse to encourage the church to care for orphans and widows, but to acknowledge the phrase ‘in their distress.’ Children who have gone through various trials and experienced the loss of their family/caregivers, have experienced more ‘stress’ and trauma than most of us can imagine. That is why God puts special emphasis on His care for these children (and widows) and why He wants His people to do the same.”
-Jason and Jen Lee


4. Home study

One of the first things that will happen once you sign on with an agency is that you will complete a home study. This involves a case worker coming to your home in a series of visits and interviews in order to gather a complete picture of who you are and what life is like in your family. These visits will then turn into a written report detailing things such as your current living situation, employment, marriage and family relationships, finances, how you grew up, health, parenting strategies, community involvement, references, criminal clearances, etc. (As part of the home study process you will be asked to get your finger prints taken at the local police station to run your criminal clearance check). Home studies need to be completed by a licensed case worker in your state. If you choose an adoption agency in your state, then they typically will have a case worker already on hand. If you choose an adoption agency outside of your state, then you will need to locate a case worker on your own. For home studies in Iowa, here are a few options for case workers:

Bill Pearce       Ankeny               515.262.9047

Carla Tripp     Des Moines                          515.221.2231

Leah Weber    Mason City                           641.422.0070

The case worker who completes your home study will also do your post-placement visits after your adoption has completed.


6. Considering special needs/medical issues

More than half of the orphans around our globe have a wide range of disabilities, from easily correctable cleft palate or crossed eyes to cerebral palsy or autism. Orphaned children with special needs and medical issues are at a severe disadvantage. Not only are they orphaned, but on top of that many experience being stigmatized, outcasted and can even be considered cursed by the standards of their own countries. They are overlooked – the modern day “untouchables” – often not receiving adequate or any medical care. The birthmothers of these children are burdened – having no financial or medical resources for treating or caring for their child’s special needs. In developing countries, these children are often abandoned at birth, yet most orphanages can’t provide adequate treatment either. In effect, a vast majority of children with disabilities die in childhood or spend their entire lives in closed institutions.

Every time a child like this is chosen for adoption it is seen as a miracle by orphanage workers. They wonder most of all, why would someone choose to adopt a child with a disability? We as Christ-followers know the answer. Jesus urges us that we cannot remain indifferent to the plea of a sick child (Matthew 25:34-40). As He showed us in His ministry on earth, it is often through the very lives of the sick, outcasted, overlooked, cursed, stigmatized, “untouchables” in which He chooses for His glory to go out and be showcased to the rest of the watching world. In choosing these children, Christ is glorified as His upside-down Kingdom is done on earth as it is in heaven.

True, raising a child with a disability means financial resources and time commitment that not everyone is able to provide. But some disabilities are correctable or “manageable” in our country through surgery, prosthetics or even special diet. With a little help, many of these children can lead normal, productive and happy lives. This help is often not available in developing countries, at least not to children living in state orphanages. [2]

It is of note that many agencies offer reduced fees for adoptive families who pursue the adoption of a special needs child.

Read through how God opened up the hearts of one of our Cornerstone families to adopt children with special needs:

“We knew we wanted to adopt children from the very beginning of our marriage. At first we were not open to significant special needs in a child. Over time God did a work in our hearts. My wife was in India picking up our 5th child when she was holding a baby in the orphanage with spina bifida. This baby was unable to walk but locked eyes on Michele in a profound way. It was at that point that my wife felt God was speaking to her saying “you can’t keep pretending these kids don’t exist”. From that point forward we opened ourselves up to considering significant special needs kids. Since that time we have been able to bring two more kids into our home. I believe we in America have a unique calling to help kids with special needs as we currently still have a healthcare system that can handle anything. Another reason we love adopting special needs kids especially from India is because a physical defect in that country is often seen as a curse resulting in no hope for that child in their society. It is greatly rewarding to see a kid who would have no chance in their birth country, grow and thrive when given the chance in an adoptive family. Adopting a special needs child is not always easy but it is something near to the heart of God and a calling of our time.” ~Blake & Michele Haan