The Difference Between Public and Private Adoption Agencies

Here is a brief explanation of the differences between public and private adoption agencies as you begin your adoption process. 


Public adoption agencies get their funding from local, state and federal sources. They typically have a foster care and an adoption component. Children enter the system either by a parent relinquishing the child to the local child welfare system or a local court terminating a parent’s rights due to abuse or neglect.

Children may be from newborn to 17 years of age.

As each child enters the public child welfare system, a goal is set to either reunify the child with a birth parent or family or free the child for adoption. In the case of reunification, each state has a period of time to achieve this plan during which they provide services to the child and birth parent. If this plan is not moving forward, foster care agencies typically look to extended birth family to permanently care for the child—called kinship care. If this is not a possibility, the foster care agency will move to terminate the parental rights and move the child’s goal to adoption. The child’s permanency plan is now foster-to-adopt. A current foster family is usually asked if they wish to adopt the child. If they do not wish to do so, the foster care agency will begin looking for another permanent family. Once a family is located, the child will be moved into the new home.

Depending on the child’s age, there may be several visits and preparation meetings for the change. After the child is moved into the new home, an “adjustment” period is supervised by the foster care agency prior to a recommendation for finalization of the adoption. Adoptive families may be eligible to receive a monthly stipend to help pay for a child’s needs or services.


Private adoption agencies are funded with monies paid by adopting families for available and received services. There may also be foundation grants given to an agency to provide specific services. Private adoption agencies may be for-profit or not-for-profit. Children are typically newborns, but could be of any age up to 17 years.

Children available for adoption through a private agency are relinquished directly through the agency or through an identified adoption, where the birth parent relinquishes the child to the care of a specified adoptive parent and the private adoption agency provides services to help this happen. Adoption agency personnel are involved in collecting information from birth and pre-adoptive parents, counseling, oversight of pre-natal medical care, dispensing of funds and supervision of the placement. Adoption attorneys may represent the adoptive and birth parents.

Private adoption may also be called independent or identified adoption. To find an adoption agency in your state, visit:


For a child to be placed into another state from the one they are living in, they must pass through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.

This state office must approve of the placement. Documents are presented first to the state in which the child is living and then to the state where the child will be living. The relocation of a child follows the state regulations of both states. Once both states approve of the placement, the child can move to the new adoptive home.


Children are being adopted from many countries around the world. Regulated by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS), a pre-adoptive family must also meet the requirements of their legal state of residence. Adopting parent(s) cover all costs for an international adoption. Children are between the ages of 1-14 years at the time of referral. It takes varying amounts of time to bring a child into the U.S.

An adopting family must work with an Adoption Service Provider (ASP) in the U.S. (accredited or approved by a U.S. authorized body), have an Adoptive Homestudy conducted by a Hague accredited adoption agency and apply for approval through the Dept of State/USCIS. Once approved, the ASP can begin the process to locate a child for the family. Additional state of residence and international country requirements must also be met. An international adoption includes application in the country from which the child will immigrate, a legal adoption process (usually in that country), additional immigration applications and a period of supervision once back in the U.S. Children adopted prior to coming into the U.S. receive automatic citizenship upon arrival in the U.S. Where the legal adoption is being completed in the U.S., the family will need to apply for citizenship for the child.