For adoptive families, it is one of the most exciting parts of the entire adoption process: the phone call that tells you it is time to pack your bags and travel to the hospital to meet your new baby.
If you are adopting through a national agency, chances are your baby’s birth mother lives in another state, and you will be booking the next flight or packing your car for a trip across state lines. In these scenarios, you will need to comply with the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) before you can bring your new baby home.
What is ICPC?
ICPC is a legal agreement that facilitates cooperation among all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands in interstate adoption placements. Because there are no federal laws regulating adoption, ICPC was drafted and enacted in the early 1960s to ensure all children placed across state lines go to safe and suitable homes.
ICPC allows the birth mother’s current state of residence (the “sending state”) and the adoptive family’s state of residence (the “receiving state”) each to review adoption paperwork to ensure the placement follows all state adoption laws and regulations. Each state must approve the ICPC paperwork and adoption placement before the baby can be taken out of the sending state to the adoptive family’s home. The compact applies to all non-relative interstate adoption placements.
The ICPC Process
The ICPC process may vary slightly depending on state adoption laws and the particular circumstances of each adoption. However, here is how ICPC generally works:
- The adoptive family is notified that their baby is being born and travels to the birth mother’s state
- The birth parents legally consent to the adoption following the required waiting period
- The baby is discharged from the hospital, usually into the adoptive parents’ physical custody
- The adoption agency or attorney organizes and submits the required ICPC paperwork and supporting documents to the sending state (the birth mother’s state) ICPC office. The packet of paperwork may include the adoptive family’s home study, the child’s health information, proof that the birth parents have consented to the adoption, and more
- The sending state reviews and approves the ICPC paperwork or requests additional information
- The ICPC paperwork is then forwarded to the receiving state (the adoptive family’s state) ICPC office
- The receiving state separately reviews the paperwork, requesting additional information if necessary
- The receiving state notifies the sending state that they have approved the paperwork
- The sending state contacts the agency or attorney who submitted the paperwork
- The agency or attorney then notifies the adoptive family they have received ICPC approval and are cleared to take their new baby home
The majority of the ICPC process is completed by the adoption professional and does not actively involve the adoptive parents. However, it is very important for the adoptive family to comply with ICPC and wait for approval before leaving the baby’s state. Otherwise, the adoption may be jeopardized and the baby may be returned to his or her birth state.
How long does ICPC take?
New parents are often anxious to return home with their new child and wonder how long they will have to remain in the baby’s birth state while waiting for ICPC approval. The amount of time required in the ICPC process depends on a number of factors, including:
- State consent laws. ICPC cannot be filed with the sending state’s ICPC office until the mother’s consent is valid according to her state’s consent and relinquishment laws. In some states, relinquishment is valid and irrevocable upon signing, and ICPC paperwork can be filed at that point. In other states, the mother must go to court before her consent is valid, which can sometimes take a week or longer.
- The amount of time required of the adoption professional. Once the consent is valid, it generally takes one or two business days for the adoption agency or attorney to complete and submit the necessary ICPC documents.
- The ICPC office’s hours. ICPC packets can only be filed during normal business hours. If an adoption occurs around a government holiday, this may increase your wait time.
- Governmental offices’ processing time. ICPC offices review the paperwork in the order it is received. Processing generally takes about 7–10 business days.
Altogether, this means the adoptive family should plan to stay in the birth parents’ state for 2–3 full weeks. While it can be difficult to stay away from home for this extended period of time, it is a necessary step in every interstate adoption process, and adoptive families should plan accordingly.
Tips for Adoptive Families
Adoptive families have little control over the ICPC process. However, there are a few things adoptive parents should keep in mind to help ensure the process goes smoothly and to minimize the stress and impact ICPC will have on their adoption:
- Keep your home study current. Often, the best thing an adoptive family can do with regards to ICPC is ensure they have an up-to-date home study on file with their adoption professional. ICPC cannot begin without a completed and current home study. Be mindful of expiration dates and keep your home study updated to ensure you are always ready, even in the case of a last-minute placement. Also remember that your home study will need to meet state requirements both for your home state and the birth mother’s state. Because these requirements can vary greatly, working with a national agency can help ensure you meet requirements no matter which state you end up adopting from.
- Don’t contact the ICPC office. It is tempting to contact the government offices and check on the status of your paperwork, but most ICPC offices prohibit the adoptive parents from contacting them directly. Leave it to your adoption professional to communicate with ICPC officials. They will notify you immediately when you have been granted approval.
- Plan ahead. Because you may end up waiting in the sending state for several weeks, you should make arrangements in advance. While it may be difficult to estimate exactly when you will need to travel to complete your adoption, you should speak with your employer and make them aware that you may need to take some time off when the baby arrives, and arrange for childcare as necessary. You may also consider the possibility of one spouse returning home while the other spouse waits in the baby’s state for ICPC approval.
- Focus on what matters. While this is likely a hectic time for your family and it can be difficult to be away from home, try to be flexible as you wait for ICPC approval. Consider it an opportunity to bond with your new baby and his or her birth family, if applicable. Try to enjoy the distraction-free time you have to spend with your new family member — soon enough, you will be home and back to your regular routine.
The ICPC process may seem overwhelming or inconvenient at times. However, as long as you are aware of the law and prepared in advance, you should have no problems completing the process. Your adoption specialist or adoption attorney can help you gather the necessary documents and coordinate communication with the appropriate government offices — and you can focus on the excitement of finally beginning your new chapter with your child.