There are three basic types of adoption processes: direct placement by the biological parent or parents, placement through a state agency, or placement through a private agency licensed by the state. Direct placement is often found where the adopter is a stepparent or close relative, as in Germany (Deliyannis 1997). Where direct placement by a biological parent is permitted, there is increasing concern to ensure that the adoptive parents are subjected to a screening process if they are not related to the adoptee (Boskey and Hollinger 2000). Any such screening is usually conducted by a state agency or an entity or individual approved by the state. However, screening does not occur in all countries (Manooja 1993).
Countries such as Argentina (Grosman 1998), China (Palmer 2000), and Latvia (Vebers 1999), or sometimes adoption agencies themselves, often impose extensive conditions on the eligibility of people to adopt and the children who may be placed with particular adoptive parents. As far as adoptive parents are concerned, conditions may include requirements relating to their ages and the age difference between them and the adoptee, their physical and mental health, their financial resources, and their community reputation. Adoption by unmarried couples, couples of the same sex, single individuals, and couples whose infertility is not established, may also be precluded (Forder 2000; Cretney and Masson 1997; Kounougeri-Manoledaki 1995). Traditionally, attention was paid to matching the physical characteristics of adoptive parents and the adoptee, as well as their socioeconomic backgrounds, religion, and race. Eligibility for adoption also might be affected by clan, tribal, or caste membership (Okumu Wengi 1997). Sometimes, as in Colombia (Monroy 1998), the concern is that neglecting race or tribal membership, for example, will adversely affect the adoptee and lead to the erosion of the relevant group and its culture. For these reasons, in the United States, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 places control of the adoption of children eligible for tribal membership in the hands of the tribe and the tribal courts (Hollinger 2000a). In contrast, although a child's race may be taken into account for placement purposes, federal law does not permit the adoption placement to be delayed unduly while a same-race placement is sought.
In some countries, adoption can occur in a relatively informal way by mere agreement between the adoptive parents and the biological parents. This agreement may be reflected in some symbolic way in the form of a more or less public ceremony or ritual, as in India (Manooja 1993; Pant 1994), or by written contract, or by registration, as in China (Zhang 1997) and Rwanda (Ntampaka 1997). In other countries, adoption requires a decree by a court, as in Argentina (Grosman 1998), the United States (Hollinger 2000b), and Russia (Khazova 2000), or a decision by an administrative agency, as in Hungary (Dóczi 1997).
In many countries, the adoption process involves three phases: termination of parental rights; placement of the adoptee with an adoptive family; and finalization of the adoption. Sometimes, as in England (Cretney and Masson 1997), the state obtains the termination of the rights of a biological parent over the opposition of that parent. This may be due to the parent's abuse, neglect, or abandonment of the child, or due to a failure to support the child, or because the parent is mentally or physically ill, or imprisoned, or otherwise unfit. Where the biological parent favors the adoption, parental rights usually are relinquished either by surrender of the adoptee to an agency, or by the formal consent of the parent to the adoption. To help ensure that the biological parent is willing to surrender the child for adoption, many countries, as in Poland (Stojanowska 1997), specify that consent to the adoption cannot be given before the birth of the child. Also, formal procedures are employed to reduce the risk that the biological parent will be pressured into giving consent (Melli 1996). In this regard, generally, a biological parent cannot be paid for consenting to adoption. However, adoptive parents routinely pay for expenses associated with birth, as well as paying agencies and other intermediaries for their services (Melli 1996; Somit 2000). Despite these rules, there is concern that economic circumstances in some countries drive parents to give up their children, sometimes for compensation. Many countries require that children above a certain age must consent to their adoption, or, at least, be consulted regarding it.
Some countries, for example Argentina (Grosman 1998), Japan (Oda 1999), and the United States (Melli 1996), often impose a delay between the time when the adoptee is placed with the adoptive parents and the point where the adoption becomes final. This delay, as in Switzerland (Graham-Siegenthaler 1995), is to enable an investigator to conduct a home study and report to the relevant court or administrative agency on the success of the placement before the court or agency grants the final order of adoption.
Procedurally, difficulties can arise with respect to the biological father of the adoptee. His identity or location may be unknown, or may be known to the adoptee's mother, who conceals the information from the adoption authorities. Moreover, the father may be unaware of the mother's pregnancy, or he may know of the birth but have played no active role in either supporting the child or developing a social relationship with it. In such contexts, countries are reluctant to put the father in a position to block the adoption or delay it. To address these concerns, modern law tends to require that a biological father who has acknowledged his paternity or had it determined (Frank 1997) or who has been socially or financially active in the adoptee's life must give his consent to the adoption, or, if grounds exist, have his rights terminated on an involuntary basis (Cretney and Masson 1997). Where the father's identity is unknown or where he played a passive role in the adoptee's life, his consent to adoption is not required. At best, as in the Republic of Ireland (Ward 2000), an effort will be made to find the father and notify him of the proposed adoption and receive his input without giving him the ability to control the process.
In some cultures, adoption is a public event. Both the fact of adoption and the identity of the birth parents are known. In other traditions, the fact of adoption and related issues are kept secret. This might be because adoption is a means of dealing with children born out of wedlock or because secrecy and anonymity are seen as devices producing greater integration of the adoptee into the adoptive family, while shielding the biological parents. This approach requires adoption records to be sealed and placements to occur through intermediaries. Increasingly, health concerns and other considerations have led to requirements, as for example in the United States (Melli 1996), that nonidentifying background information be made available to adoptive parents. Beyond this, some countries, such as Argentina (Grosman 1998), are willing to allow access to background information, even if the effect is to reveal the fact of the adoption and the identities of the biological and adoptive families. In England, an adoptee, upon adulthood, may obtain a copy of the original birth certificate (Cretney and Masson 1997). In some countries, this access is possible only if good cause can be shown for disclosing the information. In other instances, a register is maintained of biological and adoptive parents who are willing to have their identities revealed if an inquiry is made. Even in countries where secret adoptions were the norm, there is increasing interest, as in New Zealand (Atkin 1997), in open adoptions, that is adoptions where contact is maintained between the biological parents and the adoptive family. These contacts may range from limited written communication to formal arrangements for physical contact. Such arrangements may even extend to more remote family members such as biological grandparents. The maintenance of contacts is seen as a way of helping biological parents deal with a sense of grief while facilitating the adoption process. However, concerns exist that open adoptions risk disrupting the adoptive family (Cretney and Masson 1997). Open adoptions are particularly favored in the context of adoptions by stepparents or adoptions of older children, that is, in circumstances where the adoptee already has an established relationship with the biological parents.