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Adoption Guide

Curated information and resources

What To Expect

This section outlines in detail the steps that need to be taken in adoption.  

However, 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 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.


Domestic, international, foster care or embryo adoption?

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

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 choose a family for her child based on her own preferences.

With domestic adoption, you will typically know the child’s background (family medical history, etc). 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. More information on foster care »

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 your preferences and you will have the opportunity to either accept the referrals or pass for another.

With international adoption, you will receive limited information on your child’s medical history and personal background. A risk associated with international adoption is that there can be corrupt operations 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 as a result of advancing medical technology. Couples that have undergone fertility treatments and have more viable living embryos than are needed for their family building plans. 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 adoptive mother is able to give birth to their adopted child through implantation.


Choosing a country to adopt from

Keep in mind that many countries have qualifications 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, 25 years).

Some countries specify a “child cap,” restricting the number of children an adoptive family can already have prior to the adoption. Some require prospective adoptive parents to have been married for a certain number of years. Some allow single parents to adopt, some don’t.

There are countries that have established adoption programs with years of experience, whereas others are pilot programs. Pilot programs need applicants with a pioneering spirit who are up for forging the way with the expectation of a bumpy process. All of this 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 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.

James 1:27 encourages 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


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 have a list of families who have used their agency you can contact. This is a tremendous resource for some honest feedback about a firsthand experience with the agency. All that said, 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 also navigating 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. 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 here.


The Home Study

You will complete a home study as soon as you sign on with an agency. A case worker will come to your home in a series of visits and interviews to gather a complete picture of who you are and what life is like in your family.

These visits will inform a written report detailing your current living situation, employment, marriage and family relationships, finances, your childhood, health, parenting strategies, community involvement, references, criminal clearances, etc. You will also be asked to give your finger prints 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, they typically assign a case worker on their staff. If you choose an adoption agency outside of your state, you will need to locate a case worker on your own.

For home studies in Iowa, here are a few options for case workers by location:

Case Worker
: Bill Pearce
Location: Ankeny
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 515.262.9047

Case Worker
: Carla Tripp
Location: Des Moines
Email: [email protected] 
Phone: 515.221.2231

Case Worker
: Leah Weber
Location: Mason City
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 641.422.0070

Your home study case worker will also conduct your post-placement visits after the adoption is complete.


Financial Considerations

It takes a quick glance at the five-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 it will take faith.

You will have to fight against the world’s mindset that it is foolish to enter into such a big financial commitment you may not know how you’ll 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.

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 

That 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, keep in mind you will not be paying that large five-digit number all at once. 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 the big total — it’s the sum of a year+ of fees due in smaller amounts as you go.

Proactive ways to finance an adoption:

Check out these resources for grants and interest-free loan applications:

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.

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

Not all your financing needs to be an official program! Here are some more ideas on how to prepare for adoption fees:

  • Downsize and sell stuff
  • Host fundraisers
  • Send support letters
    • DO send these to friends and family (inside & outside of Cornerstone)
    • Do NOT send letters broadly to people at Cornerstone that 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.


Health Considerations

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


Choosing Age & Gender

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

Keep in mind that with international adoption, the age your child is when 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 common that children have no idea how old they are or when they were born.

Adopting a younger child does not automatically mean they will come with fewer ‘issues’ than an older child. The baggage a child carries with them has more to do with 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.

Resources for Adoption

be moved. be informed.

Check out these recommendations for working through the adoption process and early stages of having new children.

Adoption Grants

Cornerstone will offer up to $15,000 per child to qualified families that our members of our church. These funds are intended to assist with adoption expenses for international adoption and $7,500 for domestic adoption. This includes:

  • A $5000 grant for international adoptions ($2500 for domestic) from our Missions account. This grant is offered regardless of the amount of support raised.

  • Families can raise $10,000 for international adoptions and $5,000 for domestic adoptions through Cornerstone in addition from family, close friends, and their connection group. These funds will often come from outside of the Cornerstone family and should not replace regular contributions to Cornerstone’s general fund.

To be a “qualified family,” fill out the Adoption Fundraising and Grant Form. As a member, you will then be approved to begin fundraising through Cornerstone and receive the adoption grant once your adoption is finalized.

Additional funds raised by families through Cornerstone will be available earlier.

Families can ask donors to make checks payable to “Cornerstone Church” and designate the funds to the adoption account. They can also suggest which family they would like the funds to be given to. You can also have folks give online here.

If a family raises more than $10,000/$7500 per child, the excess funds will remain in the adoption account for other families. If a family doesn’t raise support, Cornerstone will still offer $2500 for domestic or $5000 for international per child as a grant for the adoption expenses. If for some reason the adoption falls through, the funds raised will not be returned to the donor, but will remain in the account and used for other adoptions.