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The purpose of adoption is to place children who have been permanently and legally separated from their birth parents with a new family. It is a social and legal process which gives new parent(s) the same rights and obligations as biological parents.

When you adopt, you expand your family by taking a child (or children) into your home as your own family member(s) and then care for and nurture them to adulthood and beyond. While foster care adoptions are the most frequent, there are several types of adoption such as international, stepparent, close relative, parental placement and adult adoption. This website is focused on foster care adoption.

Agency Versus Non-Agency Placements

Adoption procedures are governed by Chapter 12 of the Code of Virginia. There are only two types of adoptive placements that are allowed by Virginia law. These are agency placements and non-agency placements.

Agency Placements (placements through local departments of social services or licenced child placing agencies)

Agency placements occur when the child is in the custody of local department of social services (LDSS) or licensed child-placing agency. In this situation, all parental rights are terminated, custody with authority to place for adoption is granted to the agency, and the agency consents to the child's adoption.

The priority of the LDSS is to work with the family of origin or prior custodian to return the youth home. The goal is to place children home with their family of origin within 12 months and if the goal is changed to Adoption, it should be finalized within 24 months of a youth entering into foster care.

Non-agency Adoptions (parental, stepparent, adult, close relative and intercountry placements)

Non-agency adoptions involve children who are not placed in the custody of a local department of social services and are administered by Licensed Child Placing Agencies (LCPA). In a non-agency placement, the birth parents or legal guardian(s) consent to the adoption and parental rights are terminated by entry of the final order of adoption. These types of adoptions are parental placement adoptions, step-parent adoptions, close relative adoptions and adult adoptions.

  • A parental placement adoption is one where the birth parent places the child own with the prospective adoptive parent(s).
  • A step-parent adoption is one where termination of parental rights of one parent has occurred and a new parent, such as a new spouse is adopting the child.
  • A close relative adoption is one where a close relative is adopting a youth.
  • Adult adoptions occur when a person over the age of 18 is adopted by one or more persons. LDSS are not involved in these adoptions unless the Circuit Court orders the LDSS or LCPA to provide a report of investigation or a suitability report.

Who can adopt?

In order to adopt a child, you must be at least 18 years of age or older to be approved as an adoptive parent. Adoptive parents can be single, married, divorced or widowed but what is most important is that they have the time and energy to give a child a lifetime commitment.

The Commonwealth of Virginia does not prevent a person from becoming an adoptive parent based solely on their culture, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, or marital/civil union or domestic partnership status.

If you are interested in becoming a foster parent with the goal of adoption, we encourage you to contact the department of social services in your locality to begin the process.

Who are the children?

Entry into foster care requires a Court commitment based on an abuse or neglect petition, a CHINS (child in need of services) petition, an entrustment, delinquency petition or request for relief of care and custody petition.

Children in foster care come from many different types of families and diverse backgrounds. They range in age from birth to 17 years of age. Their histories are often marked by trauma and loss, and many have special behavioral and physical needs. Therefore, it is essential that foster parents understand and are willing to meet the physical and emotional needs of children within the context of their culture.

If you are ready to take the next step, click here for more information about Virginia's waiting children.

How can I adopt? Do I have to be a foster parent?

The primary goal of all 120 local departments of social services is to achieve permanency through the higher priority goals of reunification and placement with kin. If those two goals are unattainable, the foster/resource parent often adopts. More than 75% of foster parents become the adoptive parent for children and youth in Virginia's foster care system. Any home where a foster child is placed must be approved as a foster home. This language can also be found in Licensed Child Placing Agency (LCPA) regulation: 22VAC40-131-200 B. Families can obtain dual certification based on the LCPA's license.

How do I adopt a child in Virginia if I reside in another state? What are the next steps?

The first step would be to contact your local department of social services to secure an approved adoption home study from your state of residence. Then contact 1-800-DO-ADOPT to discuss the process of interstate adoptions.

How can my new spouse adopt my child (their stepchild)?

It is recommended that you contact an attorney familiar with adoptions and work with your local circuit court to begin the adoption process. This type of adoption is considered a non-agency adoption, and therefore is not managed by social services.

How are the costs of the child's health care paid?

Health insurance, such as Medicaid, may be available for an adopted child, but is based on the child's unique set of needs. The adoptive family can cover the child under their private insurance policy.

Will I be able to access services for the child after the adoption is finalized?

Services and assistance for children may be available based on the needs of the child. Joining an adoptive parent support group is a good way to get advice and assistance from experienced adoptive parents. Virginia also offers post-adoption services to support families, such as NewFound Families Virginia, Center for Adoption and Support (C.A.S.E), DePaul Community Resources and UMFS.

Will a past conviction affect my eligibility to adopt?

It depends on the nature, severity of the offense and the length of time that has passed since the conviction. Applicants with barrier crimes cannot be approved as an adoptive parent. A full list of barrier crimes can be found here.

Myth: You have to have a lot of money and own a house to adopt from foster care.

Fact: You don't need to own your own home, be wealthy, have children already, or be a stay-at-home parent to adopt. Most adoptions from U.S. foster care are free and any minimal costs associated with them are often reimbursable. In addition, there are many different types of post-adoption resources, such as medical assistance and financial adoption assistance, based on the special needs of a child to help support and sustain adoptions from the U.S. foster care system.

Myth: You can only adopt a child who is the same race and ethnicity as you.

Fact: Federal law prohibits the delay or denial of an adoptive placement based on the race or ethnicity of a child in U.S. foster care and the prospective parent or parents who are seeking to adopt them. The only exception to this law is the adoption of Native American children where special considerations apply. The Child Welfare Information Gateway has a list of resources and information on transracial adoption and transcultural families.

Myth: You have to be of child-bearing age to adopt.

Fact: Experienced parents and empty-nesters are encouraged to adopt. In Virginia, you can adopt if you are single or married and in most instances, regardless of age, income, disability, or sexual orientation.

Myth: You can't adopt if you're in the military.

Fact: Military families stationed overseas and within the U.S. are eligible to adopt children from the U.S. foster care system. Find out more about adoption resources for military families.

Myth: If you're the relative of a child in foster care, the system won't place the child with you.

Fact: By law, both maternal and paternal relatives of children in foster care are considered the preferred placement resource for children when they are able to provide for the child's safety and well-being. Find out more about being matched with a child.

Myth: You can't adopt a neighbor's child or one you know personally or professionally.

Fact: When children are in foster care, relatives and other important people in their lives (such as neighbors, godparents, family friends, etc.) sometimes become their primary caregivers (also called "kinship care providers"). If a child is unable to return home, and termination of parental rights has been ordered by a judge, a kinship provider may be approved to adopt the child.

Myth: You're not allowed to adopt children you foster.

Fact: In Virginia, approximately 30% of children in foster care are reunified with their birth families, approximately 19% are placed with relatives, and approximately 48% are adopted. When a child cannot return home and termination of parental rights has been ordered by a judge, the local department of social services will explore adoptive placement options, including the child's foster placement.

Myth: All children in foster care have special needs and require special education.

Fact: Many children in foster care are regular children who unfortunately had to be removed from their families due to abuse or neglect. The term "special needs" simply refers to children who qualify for adoption assistance due to specific factors or conditions such as:

  • Being an older child
  • Having a particular racial or ethnic background
  • Being part of a sibling group needing to be placed together as one unit
  • Having physical, mental, or emotional conditions

Myth: It's easier and faster to adopt internationally than from U.S. foster care.

Fact: Most adoptions from U.S. foster care are free and any minimal costs associated with them are often reimbursable. In recent years, international adoptions from Hague Convention countries, cost anywhere between $6000 and $27,820 (Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption).

In 2020 there were 57,881 children adopted through U.S. foster care while only 1,785 children were adopted by U.S. citizens from all international sources combined.

Regulations governing international adoptions have made adoption from other countries more challenging for U.S. citizens. These regulations, which can be found on the U.S. Department of State's Intercountry Adoption website, are aimed at protecting the rights of children and birth parents, coupled with more aggressive efforts to locate adoptive resources inside of countries that have traditionally permitted their children to be sent abroad.

In FY 2016, 83.4% of adoptions from U.S. foster care finalized in less than 18 months (Children's Bureau Adoption Data). The average time it took to complete an international adoption in 2021 from Hague Convention countries ranged from 266 days to over four years (Annual Report on Intercounty Adoption).

In Virginia, there are approximately 700 foster care youth in need of a "forever family"!

Resources for Adoption


Guidance & Procedures

Guidance Manuals - Adoption

Order Printed Copies of VDSS Manuals

Effective 07-01-2022

Effective 02-01-2022

Effective 07-01-2019

Effective 11-01-2017


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