The Adoptive Parent's Complete Guide to the ICPC Process

By Jess Nelson, Community Manager, PairTree

March 21, 2024

If you’re considering adopting a child from another state, you have probably heard the term ‘ICPC process’ or noticed an additional ‘ICPC Fee’ in your contract or fee agreement with your adoption agency or adoption attorney. You’ve probably been told you’ll need to plan on spending two weeks in a different state, but do you know why?

The ICPC process can be intimidating, but we’re here to help!

The Adoptive Parents Guide to the ICPC Process will help you understand what the ICPC process is, why it’s important, and how it impacts your adoption journey so you can enjoy the process and soak in the quiet, uninterrupted time with the newest addition to your family.

Download your printable copy here.

The History of ICPC

In the 1950’s, a group of social workers convened to look at the regulation of interstate child placements, specifically in the foster care system. This group identified three main problems with the current child welfare system between states.

  1. There was no protection for children who moved across state lines.
  2. The sending state had no power to ensure proper care and protection of the child by the receiving state.
  3. The sending state had no power to compel the receiving state to provide services and support to the child.

These findings resulted in the creation of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) – which is one of the few federal adoption laws our country has. The first draft of the ICPC was introduced in 1960, and by 1990 all 50 states, DC, and the US Virgin Islands had enacted the Compact into law. While the ICPC was originally drafted to monitor children moved from state to state for foster care placements, it is also a requirement for private adoption.

Fun Fact: New York was the first state to sign on and ratify the Compact in 1960.

Important ICPC Terms to Understand

Sending State - the state where the sending agency or attorney is located, or the state in which the court holds exclusive jurisdiction over a child, which causes, permits or enables the child to be sent to another state.

Receiving State - the state to which a child is sent, brought or caused to be sent or brought, whether by public authorities or private persons or agencies, and whether for placement with state or local public authorities or for placement with private agencies or persons.

Placement - the arrangement for the care of a child in a home of a relative or unrelated individual, in a boarding home or in a child-caring agency or institution, but does not include any institution caring for the mentally ill, mentally defective or epileptic, or any institution primarily educational in character, and any hospital or other medical facility.

Sending Agency - a party state, officer or employee thereof; a subdivision of a party state, or officer or employee thereof; a court of a party state; a person, corporation, association, charitable agency or other entity having legal authority over a child who sends, brings, or causes to be sent or brought any child to another party state.

ICPC Administrator - the individual person responsible for final approval of all ICPC packets in each state.

ICPC Checklist - the ICPC checklist is a list of requirements (documents, clearances, statements) to include in an ICPC packet. Each state has different adoption laws, therefore each state has a different ICPC Checklist.

ICPC Packet - the information an adoption professional needs to collect, organize and submit on behalf of the adopting family. This will include all items required by both state’s ICPC checklists.

So…what is the ICPC?

The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children is a federal law that was enacted to protect children moving across state lines and provide a clear process for sending and receiving states to ensure both state’s adoption laws are followed accordingly.

No matter what state you live in, if you are adopting from a different state, you must complete the ICPC process and meet the ICPC regulations and requirements.

The ICPC Process

At its core, the ICPC process is the collection and submission of a giant packet of documents and information by an adoption professional on behalf of an adopting family. The ICPC process on average takes 2 weeks, but can take longer or can move quicker. There is no exact timeframe. During the ICPC process, you will be expected to remain in the sending state until both states have approved the placement and allow you to travel home. The ICPC process is comprised of 5 main steps:

  1. Submission
  2. Sending State review
  3. Receiving State review
  4. Approval & Placement
  5. Post Placement Supervision


Once placement has occurred (the baby has been discharged and consents have been signed) and all required documents have been gathered and organized, the ICPC packet and application can be submitted. The placing agency or attorney in the sending state (state the child is born in) will assemble the ICPC packet on your behalf (as the adopting family) and submit it to the sending state’s ICPC Compact Administrator.

Attention to detail is key when assembling an ICPC packet…missing documents can result in delays or complications. Every state has different submission procedures; some states will allow the submission of electronic packets, while others require hard copies.

Sending State Review

Once the ICPC packet has been submitted, the sending state will review each document for completeness and accuracy. If there are any missing documents, incomplete documents or inaccuracies, the ICPC Compact Administrator will call your adoption professional to inform them, ask questions, or ask for the documents to be resubmitted. Anticipate the sending state’s review-al process to take 7-10 business days.

Receiving State Review

After the sending state reviews and approves the ICPC packet, it is then sent to the receiving state (your home state) to review. It’s important to remember that the two states do not review packets at the same time…the sending state must approve before the packet can be sent to the receiving state.

Because some states don’t allow electronic submissions, this packet of information must often be FedEx’d to the receiving state’s ICPC Compact Administrator. The receiving state will direct all communication to your adoption professional. You should never call the ICPC office (in either state) yourself…all communication should go through your agency or attorney.

Approval & Placement

Once both states have reviewed and approved the ICPC packet, you will be able to head home!

Prior to approval, you are not authorized to leave the sending state and go home. If you were to leave the state, and a document was missing from your packet that needed to be signed, you would need to go back to the sending state to sign any missing documentation. (ICPC packets often require original and notarized signatures)

Post-Placement Supervision

Even though both states have approved the placement of your child and you are free to go home, the ICPC process isn’t over quite yet. All Post-Placement reports prior to finalization will also be submitted to the ICPC Compact Administrator for their records. Once the adoption has been finalized, your adoption professional will submit one final form to the ICPC offices to close your file with them.

4 Tips for a Successful ICPC Process

The ICPC process can be daunting to say the least, but for a qualified, experienced adoption professional, it’s a simple project. Navigating through the ICPC process is just one of the many reasons we recommend working with a AAAA adoption attorney!

While most of the work in the ICPC process will lie with your adoption professional, there are still a few things you can do to ease some of the stress and anxiety while you wait.

Be Organized

Even before you travel for the birth of a baby, you should have a physical or digital folder of all of your documents pertaining to your adoption journey. This should include copies of:

  • Your identification
  • Approved home study report
  • Dirth certificates
  • Marriage and divorce documents
  • Health insurance
  • Pet vaccination records
  • Receipts for all adoption fees
  • Proof of completion of your adoption education.

Having all these documents within arms reach will start your ICPC process off on the right foot.

Establish Good Relationships

It’s important to establish and maintain good relationships with your adoption professionals, case workers, and legal staff. Let your home study provider know when you’re traveling out of state in case there are any additional documents they need to provide. Be kind and respectful of them, and keep in mind that your team is doing everything they can to get you home as fast as possible.

Communicate Effectively

Advocate for yourself, but be respectful of the process. The ICPC process is in place for a reason - to make sure that your kiddo (and all other children) is in the safest situation possible.

Respond in a timely manner when your professional asks for additional information or documentation and they will do the same. Remember - do not call the ICPC Compact Administrator directly - all communication must go through your adoption professional.

Be Patient

The most important step in the process! Being patient and flexible will serve you well during the ICPC process. Be understanding that situations outside of everyone’s control may happen, and unforeseen circumstances may arise.

Can I Avoid the ICPC Process?

The short answer is a resounding no, unless you’re adopting from the same state you live in. Not only is the ICPC process one of the few federal laws regarding adoption in the US, it is a vital step of every out-of-state adoption process to ensure the safety of all children placed for adoption.

Being expected to spend an undetermined amount of time in an unknown state can turn the coolest of cucumbers into a nervous nellie. But we encourage you to look at the ICPC process as a gift, not something you have to “get through."

It’s not just another step in the process…you get to spend two weeks in a new state with your new baby, away from work, friends, and family, soaking in your new normal. You’ll never get those first two weeks with your baby back, so enjoy them and let your professionals work for you. Instead of stressing over when you’ll get that phone call, focus on bonding with your little one and spending time in the state that will always be part of your story.

“Looking back, I so treasure the 8 days we had together…just the three of us, getting to know our new life together snuggled into a tiny, cozy AirBnB with the Michigan winter blowing wildly outside. My whole body warms when I think about that time together.”

If your relationship allows, use this extra time in your new baby's home state to strengthen your relationship with your baby’s birth family. Who knows when you’ll see each other again, so make it a point to spend time together during your extended stay. You can also use this time to learn about the surrounding area and collect some things to bring home so your kiddo will have them to cherish one day.

  • Find a special holiday ornament to put up each year.
  • Head to the bookstore and pick up some children’s books that are unique to their home city or state.
  • Buy a poster or piece of art you can frame for them.
  • Bring home a trinket or photo for their nursery.
  • Explore the city and take lots of photos to remember this time and share with your child as they grow up

We recommend finding a short-term rental for your stay, as opposed to a hotel, if possible. Oftentimes AirBnB or VRBO rentals have more flexible cancellation policies than hotels, so you can check out early if your ICPC approval comes sooner. Lean on your adoption professional for guidance. They have a wealth of knowledge and often have great recommendations for where to stay, what to do while you’re there, and great restaurants to check out!

Our Final ICPC Reminders

With the guidance of your adoption professionals, patience, and these additional reminders, the ICPC process should be an enjoyable bonding experience with your growing family.

You can go to a different city. You’re required to stay in that state, but that doesn’t mean you can’t move to a different city within that State. Maybe you have friends or family in a different part of the State you can stay with? This is a great time to let people take care of you!

Every state is different. Every state has a different process with different requirements and a different time frame. What one state requires, another may not. One state may take 24 hours to review your packet, while another may take a week. Some states accept digital ICPC packets, while others don’t…so expect an extra day or two for FedEx.

Placement must occur before submission. An ICPC packet can’t be submitted until a) the baby has been discharged from the hospital, and b) consents have been signed. So if the sweet little babe needs some extra time in the NICU, you’ll be in that state for a little while longer. This is also important to remember in states that have longer consent periods (which is a good thing!). For example, in Louisiana, an expectant mom can only sign a consent to adoption 3 days after birth…which means the ICPC process can’t start until after those 3 days are up.

There may be an additional fee. The ICPC process is time-consuming for even the most seasoned adoption professionals…and it should be! Attention to detail is key and rushing through the process can cause unnecessary delays. Assembling a complete ICPC packet can take hours, and most professionals and their team will work late making sure it’s submitted as quickly as possible. Completed packets require multiple copies and hefty FedEx bills.

Don’t rush the process. Let your professionals work for you…they want you to get home almost as badly as you do, so trust that they are doing their very best work.

Have additional questions? Send us a note at

Jess Nelson Jess Nelson is the Community Manager at PairTree, focused on growing the resources, programs and education offered for both expectant and birth families, and adoptive families. Jess has spent the last 5 years working in the field of private adoption, first as a paralegal for an Adoption Attorney in Louisiana and most recently with PairTree. As a birth mom of two through private adoption, her firsthand experience of both agency and attorney adoption led her to becoming an adoption professional and join the fight for reform and post placement care for birth moms.