When you decide to pursue adoption, one important consideration is how to find the best adoption agency for you. It can be confusing to know what to look for. But, if you decide to move forward with an agency adoption, you’ll want to feel confident in the one you select to work with.
The decision to adopt a child is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. And you want to work with an agency that has everyone’s best interest in mind. You want an agency that handles everything exactly as they should.
You may have heard stories of adoptions gone wrong. Although there are cases where this has happened, this is not the case with most adoptions. Especially if you take the time to ensure you are working with a legitimate agency. Prospective adoptive parents need to be able to trust their adoption services providers. No one with a heart to adopt, regardless of the type of adoption, wants to have things fall apart because they didn’t do their initial research.
As discussed in some of my other posts and a recent podcast, people pursue adoption in different ways. Some might use an agency for their home study only while others may use it for the entire process.
Some people may even choose different agencies to complete certain requirements. For example, they might complete their home study requirements with one agency and pursue placement through another. Also adopting through an adoption agency does not prevent you from seeking out separate legal counsel. We hired an adoption lawyer for both of our adoptions even though we worked with an agency.
While there is no one best adoption agency for everyone, there are steps you can take and questions you can ask to make sure the one you choose is the right fit for you.
If you choose to adopt through an agency, you should always choose a reputable, licensed adoption agency. Although licensing requirements vary by state, every state clearly defines which entities can place children. There are also certain standards those agencies need to meet and maintain. The minimum standards that are set for these agencies include educational qualifications, training requirements, and regulations governing the storage of records. I would discourage anyone from pursuing adoption with anyone other than a licensed adoption agency or full-service adoption attorney.
Do your Research
Prospective adoptive parents should always research the background of an agency before deciding to work with them. Here are a some specific ways to research.
Contact the State Licensing Specialist in the state where the agency is located to determine if the agency is in good standing. You can find your state’s specialist here: State Licensing Specialist
Contact the State’s Attorney General’s Office to see if any legal action has been taken against the agency. You can find your office’s info here: NAAG
You can also check with the State, City, or County Government Consumer Protection Office where the agency is located: State Consumer Protection Offices
And, contact the Better Business Bureau office closest to the agency to see if they have any complaints filed against them: BBB.org
Once you have an agency that you are considering working with, ask for at least three references from the agency. Ask them to provide you with the names and phone numbers of three clients whose adoptions were completed through them. You can ask those adoptive parents how the agency handled the adoption process, including post-adoption services. Ask these parents if they had any problems or concerns with the agency.
Join an Adoption Group
Join an adoptive parent support group in your area. In adoptive parent support groups, you can talk with other parents about their experience with local agencies. For a list of adoptive parent support groups in your area, search the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory.
If the agency is working in other countries, it needs to be Hague-accredited. This means that the agency is accredited by the Council on Accreditation to offer services to families adopting from countries that have ratified and ascended to the Hague Treaty which governs Inter-country adoption.
Aside from ensuring you are working with a legitimately licensed agency, it’s up to you who you choose to work with. In our case, we went to a free informational meeting and got a feel for the agency. We also did our research before deciding to work with them. Also, the agency we chose shared a worldview that aligned with our own.
There are some great questions you can ask a potential agency before deciding if you would like to work with them. Here are some ideas to get you started.
What counseling or support, if any, do you offer birth parents?
How do you locate potential birth mothers?
Remember, it’s our job as adoptive parents, or prospective adoptive parents, to care about the ethics of agencies and to choose an agency that shows true respect for the birth parents and a desire to serve them. The truth is that adoptive parents also benefit when birth parents are well counseled, and respected. It’s better for everyone when birth parents receive the support and respect they deserve.
What is your fee structure and timeline for expected payments?
Is there a certain type of adoption you specialize in/ or encourage?
Do you have more experience with open or closed adoption? What is the norm with your agency?
How many children has your agency successfully placed within the last year? How many failed placements?
What is your current average wait time?
How many waiting families are there currently with your agency?
What requirements does the agency have for prospective adoptive parents?
What type of pre-adoption education does the agency provide?
How long has the agency existed?
What does the agency offer in terms of post-adoption support services?
What educational materials, such as books or organizations do you suggest?
Can the agency provide references from several families that have adopted through the agency? Can they produce references for the type of adoption you are considering?
What are this agency’s experience and background in the type of adoption you want to pursue?
If you are pursuing international adoption, can the agency account for and explain its activities and available support in-country? What are the state laws under which the agency must operate?
Look For Red Flags
As you start your research, you’ll start to get a sense of what to look for. Pay attention to your instincts. Just because an agency claims to be reputable does not mean they are. Again, one of the most important things you can do in the beginning is to make sure they are properly accredited and licensed.
Are they being forthcoming with an itemized list of fees and associated adoption expenses? Are their fees reasonable compared with other agencies and the research you’ve done?
A good agency will let you ask all your questions and not make you feel like you’re bothering them. It’s their job. They will respond to your phone calls and emails. They will be professional and work in everyone’s best interest. This includes treating birth parents well by providing counseling and post-adoption support, providing good service to you, and following proper protocols.
If you start to work with an agency and see some warning signs, leave! It can feel difficult to walk away once you get started but this is important enough to do so if you need to. This is your future child we’re talking about.
In her article, “5 Red Flags Your Adoption Agency is Unethical,” author Chelse Shultz recommends laying the groundwork for successful adoption by ensuring that it’s being handled ethically and responsibly. She points out the following five warning signs to look for:
- “…Uneducated or demeaning adoption language.”
- “…Shorter wait times in exchange for higher fees.”
- “…Charging different fees for the adoption of different race children.”
- “…Little or limited pregnancy counseling.”
- “…A lack of long-term support for any member of the adoption triad.”
Don’t Rush This
Don’t rush this important part of the beginning of your adoption journey. If you meet with an agency or adoption lawyer and it does not feel right, do not settle. Find an agency you feel good about working with. Make sure the agency is licensed. Read what you can about them online, including any reviews you can find. If basic questions you ask are a struggle for the agency to answer, move on, and look for another agency to interview. You’re looking for the best adoption agency for your family. This may take a little time.
Look for experienced professionals. Expect and demand professionalism, knowledge, and high-quality training. Agency staff should be able to readily provide their background, educational qualifications, years of experience, etc. Expect high-quality pre-adoption orientation, education, and training. Expectant/birth parents and adoptive parents need and deserve quality pre- and post-adoption services and support. The goal of adoption is not to just place a child in a family, but for a child to thrive in a family. A good agency will always operate under this philosophy.
Look for an agency whose information you trust. The agency should always tell you about all your options, explain any issues happening in specific countries (if applicable), provide an estimated timeline, and be upfront with all fees. Don’t fall for the first agency that makes promises they can’t substantiate.
Pay attention to the level of responsiveness. If they are not prompt in answering you now, don’t expect them to be different just because you decide to work with them. Even a professional, licensed adoption agency might not be the best fit for you. You must be prepared to do your homework, look at all the available options, and ask questions…lots of questions. This is the only way to ensure you are choosing the best adoption agency for you.
Another important decision to make as you decide which adoption agency is the best for you is what type of adoption you are interested in. To get some direction on that, this detailed post discusses 5 types of adoption and their costs. I hope this information helps as you work to find the best adoption agency for your family