What Is the ICPC, And Why Do I Need to Know About It?

As adoptive parents, we tend to become experts in topics we never envisioned knowing anything about, necessarily: The ICPC is definitely one such topic. If you’re new to adoption, and if you’re a prospective adoptive parent, this is the point at which you might be raising eyebrows and wondering, “What is the ICPC? Why is it so important that I know about it?”

For those families who live in the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands and who are adopting children domestically, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) is extremely relevant for you. This process literally is the lifeblood that connects you to the child you’d like to adopt! Without it, domestic adoption can’t happen for you (with certain exceptions that fall beyond the scope of this article, such as the adoption of a relative). It’s vital to the formation of your family that you familiarize yourselves with “All Things ICPC.”

What Is the ICPC?

The ICPC—as defined by the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) and its affiliate, the Association of Administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (AAICPC)—is “a statutory agreement between all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The agreement governs the placement of children from one state into another state.”

But, how strict is this compact, really? How much do all parties involved in domestic adoption actually have to comply with it?

According to the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAAA), “In general, adoptive families must comply with the ICPC if the prospective adoptive parent(s) reside in a different state than the home state of the child. To legally place a child with residents of another state, both the laws of the sending and receiving states must be complied with. A prospective adoptive parent cannot leave the child’s home state with the child unless approval from both the ‘sending’ and the ‘receiving’ states has been granted.”

Adoptive parent and author Candise Gilbert explains the ICPC like this in her 2015 article that appeared on Adoption.com: “This compact oversees the transfer of a child from one state to another in an adoption or foster situation.” (In this article, Gilbert not only provides an excellent overview but also offers her own personal story and perspective, as an adoptive parent herself.)

Why Is ICPC So Important?

Before a child is placed in a home outside his or her birth state, certain requirements must be met. The goal of the ICPC, in establishing these requirements, is to look out for the wellbeing of children being placed with adoptive families by making certain that whoever is placing the child retains legal and financial responsibility for the child after placement.

The ICPC exists for the sole purpose of “ensuring that children placed out of state are placed with caregivers who are safe, suitable, and able to meet the child’s needs” (APHSA/AAICPC). To accomplish this aim, the compact stipulates that these factors (safe, suitable, able to meet needs) be carefully assessed before releasing a child to an out-of-state placement. As APHSA/AAICPC explains, “Individual state statutes are not enough to ensure that such an assessment takes place prior to placement, because the authority of an individual state and its statutes ends at the state’s border. As a legally binding agreement between all states, the ICPC ensures that children enjoy a uniform set of protections and benefits regardless of which state they are moving to or from.”

What Steps Are Involved in the ICPC?

The general timeline and steps in the placement request process—from initiation to completion—are as follows.

  1. Adoption caseworker initiates a placement request process in the state where the child was born (for infants) or where the child currently lives (for older children) by putting together a packet of important information and documentation. Gilbert calls this the “sending state.” The packet contains background on the child (medical information, social history, education) and details on any applicable court cases. Also included are details about the individuals in the receiving state who are intending to adopt the child (e.g., home study, criminal history/background check, medical information, etc.).
  2. The packet is sent to the central ICPC office in the sending state (usually the state capital). Note that this central ICPC office will likely not be in the same town as the child. Gilbert explains: “Depending on their methods of communication and document transmission, there may be a number of days getting paperwork from the agency to the ICPC office even within the sending state.” So, patience is absolutely required during this process.
  3. The central ICPC office in the sending state double-checks to ensure that everything is in order, makes sure that all necessary materials are present in the packet, and approves the mailing of the packet.
  4. The central ICPC office in the sending state transmits the packet to the ICPC central office in the state where the child would be placed (known as the “receiving state” or the “destination state”). The receiving state reviews the packet and carefully considers the merits of the couple hoping to adopt the child.
  5. The central ICPC office in the receiving state then forwards the packet to the prospective couple’s local adoption agency or social services agency in the couple’s immediate local community (in most cases, this local party is the same one that did the home study for the prospective parents).
  6. The adoption agency or social services agency travels to the couple’s home and meets with everyone who lives there. Background screenings are conducted. The agency determines whether this is a proper and appropriate placement for the child and documents its decision (approval or denial) within a home study report.
  7. The local agency then sends the completed home study report to the central ICPC office in the receiving state. The placement request is formally approved or denied (based on what the home study says).
  8. Then, the packet goes from the receiving state to the central ICPC office in the sending state for review.
  9. The local office in the sending state (the one that initiated the placement request in Step 1) receives a copy of the completed home study and official word of the receiving state’s decision to approve or deny the placement request.
  10. If the placement request has been approved by the receiving state, the child can move into his or her new home.

Interested in learning more details about what is the ICPC? There’s so much more to know! See the following additional resources for further guidance and information: