Adoption Agency - How to Select the Best One for You

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There are more than 1,000 licensed private and public adoption agencies in the United States. The sheer volume of them, and the choices that such a large number offers you, sounds intimidating, but it should not. Instead, it should give you encouragement. Our article, Agency Adoption - An Overview of the Process, will help you understand what each type of agency adoption (public, private and international) offers, and assist you in defining and narrowing down your choices. If you have not already done so, you may wish to read that prior to this article on selecting an agency.

What type of adoption agency: public, private or international?

The type of agency adoption you select will dictate how to investigate the possible agencies and determine which is the best agency for you. For example, selecting a public adoption agency is quite different from selecting a private adoption agency. Let's explore them individually and see how their type dictates how you will check out their credibility and services.

Public agency adoptions.

Although some of the children placed via public adoption agencies are newborns, in most counties around the nation the primary job of each public adoption agency (as a division of county social services) is to find homes for children for whom the county or state is responsible. These are usually "waiting" children, presently living in foster homes. Some have special physical or emotional needs. To learn more about these children, please read our article specifically addressing the adoption of waiting and special needs children, costs, tax benefits, et cetera.

The advantage of working with a public adoption agency is that - unlike private adoption agencies or attorneys - there is less work to by done by you in "checking out" the agency. As a governmental office you have certain assurances regarding their bona fide nature. You know they are licensed by the state, and have been doing adoptions for decades, if not a century (in one form or another) for adoptive parents in your county and state. You also know that their services are offered to you at either no cost, or a minimal fee (usually no more than $500). The real question is simply if you feel as your local agency, they offer the services you desire, and offer them in a way which makes you feel comfortable.

Here are some questions to ask your local public agency to make sure they are right for you:

  • What are their required qualifications for adoptive parents, and do you meet those qualifications (age, etc.)?
  • Do they offer seminars to more fully describe how an adoption would work with them? (Normally all county adoption agency introductory seminars are free.)
  • What will be required of you in completing the process (fingerprinting, health exams, educational classes, etc.)?
  • What are the kinds of children they make available for adoption (age, ethnicity, existence of special-needs)?
  • Does the agency work with the national and regional adoption exchanges, so you can consider children available at other county adoption agencies throughout the entire nation? (Fully discussed in our article on Waiting and Special-Needs Children.)
  • What percentage of the children are placed with you as adoptive parents fully "free" for adoption, meaning there is no risk of the birth parents reclaiming the child? What percentage are placed only when fully free for adoption?
  • How long is the typical wait for an adoptive placement?
  • If the child has some special-needs, what financial assistance does the county/state offer to assist with those needs after the adoption is completed, whether they be medical, emotional, etc?
  • How long does the child normally live with you before you affirm the adoption feels right for you, and you wish to proceed to a formal adoption hearing (this is an issue for both adoptive parents and the children being adopted when dealing with older children).
  • How long will the process take before it is finalized in court?
  • Will we need to retain an attorney for anything, or does the county take care of all those services for us?
  • What are the expenses we will incur?

Domestic private adoption agencies.

Domestic private adoption agencies are private agencies handling the adoption of children born in the United States. Although some placements involve waiting or special-needs children, most private agencies focus on newborn adoption. These agencies are licensed by the state in which they are located. Most agencies are highly ethical and skilled entities, with many years experience and dedicated staff members. However, like any business or service (just like with teachers, attorneys, doctors, etc) all of whom must have a license of some sort to do their job, we all know that some are great at their job, and some are not. This article is to help you determine the difference among agencies you are considering.

Unlike working with a county public adoption agency, which is virtually always in your home county, many adoptive parents consider private adoption agencies outside the county in which they live. Sometimes they even consider some in other states.

How do you learn about agencies to even know to consider them? Here are some tips to start your search:

  • Spread the word that you are considering adoption. You will be surprised how many people will voluteer that adoption played a role in their lives, that you were unaware of previously. They can often point you in a good direction and tell you about agencies they found helpful.
  • Start with your local yellow pages directory, or similar online directory, and compile agency names. Attend their introductory seminars (usually free).
  • Read the leading national adoption magazine put out by the Adoptive Families of America (they even offer a free first issue). Many adoption agencies offering services around the nation advertise in their magazine.
  • Join the national infertility association, Resolve. They have local chapters around the country with regular meetings. It is a great place to meet other infertile couples, many of whom have adopted, or are exploring adoption, and have valuable information regarding available agencies.
  • Find out of your community has an adoptive parent association or infertility group. (Resolve has a directory of such groups for members. There is also a book, THE COMPLETE ADOPTION BOOK, that offers a national list of groups.) These are places where adoption will be discussed, and you can learn others' experience with certain adoption agencies.
  • Do some internet research and see what agencies you might learn about.
  • Talk to your infertility doctor. He or she may have heard some good feedback about a particular agency from other individuals wth whom he or she has worked.
  • If you are working with an adoption attorney (oftentimes, adoptive parents use the services of both an agency and attorney, particularly if the child is a newborn), ask him or her about the best agencies to work with. If the attorney has done many adoptions, he or she will be a key source of information.

So now you have a large list of potential agencies, likely dozens. Visit their websites and/or ask for written literature about them and their services. But how do you narrow down the best one? Let's start with questions for you to ask them directly:

  • Are you licensed by the state of _______? (You want to be sure they are actually a licensed adoption agency, not a facilitator, which typically a business employing a name that sounds like an agency, but is not licensed to do home studies or place children for adoption. Rather, facilitators usually offer "baby-finding" services. Many adoption professionals elect to have no contact with them.) The U.S. government site, the Child Welfare Information Gateway, lists each state's licensed agencies. To make sure the list is up to date, check with the individual state adoption office, also available on the same site.
  • How long have you been licensed as an adoption agency? (New agencies can still be good ones, but there may be extra assurance for those which have been around longer.)
  • Are you licensed to do home studies and place children for adoption, or just one of those services?
  • Are you licensed in our home county of _______? If not, please describe to us how we'd work with a local agency in tandem with you.
  • Do you have get-togethers so we can meet your staff and speak to other adoptive parents who have worked with you?
  • What are your eligibility requirements of adoptive parents you work with (age, religion, marital status, etc.)?
  • Describe the children you place (age, ethnicity, health, etc.).
  • How many placements did you make last year?
  • Of those, in now many did your agency find the birth mother for the adoptive parents and create the "match" for them?
  • What is the typical wait for an adoptive placement?
  • How many other adoptive parents are you working with who are awaiting an adoptive match? (In other words, how many adoptive parents are competing for the same placements?)
  • What percentage of your adoptions failed (due to a birth parent changing their mind, etc.)?
  • What percentage of the birth mothers you find are in your home region, and what percentage are out of state? (Out of state adoptions are not uncommon, but they do involve extra legal procedures and costs.)
  • Provide a detailed break-down of your fees: What is the fee for our pre-placement home study? What is the fee to help us locate a birth mother? What is the fee to work with the birth mother (giving her counseling, taking her consent/relinquishment, etc.)? Do we pay for the birth mother's medical or living costs, and if so, how much typically is that? What is the fee for the post-placement portion of the home study? Does your fee include any legal work, or do we retain a separate attorney? If we need to retain one, what is the attorney's typical fee, and for what services? What portion of your fee is due up front, and when is the balance due?
  • If we want to be very aggressive in finding an adoptive match, and wish to retain a second agency, or an attorney, to also be trying to create an adoptive match, is that okay with your agency? Or do you require that we work exclusively with you?

International Adoption Agencies.

Some private adoption agencies do both domestic and international adoptions. Many, however, do exclusively international adoptions. These are agencies that are located within the United States, but arrange placements of children from other countries. To understand the basics of how international adoption works, please read the article on that subject.

You would use the same steps described above for private adoption agencies to determine the qualifications of an international adoption agency. The only important additional inquiry is to learn about the country from which you may adopt, and the type of child you will likely adopt from there. As discussed in our International Adoption article, this is critically important as the quality of the orphanage care a child receives is directly related to issues like attachment disorder, and the ability to bond with new parents.

The last step.

So now, after completing all the above steps, you know a ton of information about these agencies. That will often be enough for you eliminate a large number of them simply because they don't match up well with your personal desires. Your final step, when you've culled your list to a final few, is to see if you can independently verify the agency actually is what it represents itself to be. For example, if an agency describes itself as placing more children for adoption than any other agency in the region, yet you can't find anyone who has worked with them, it would be natural to be concerned. The adoption community is a small one, so word tends to get around regarding which agencies are good, and the small number that are not. The people and professionals (members of local adoptive parents assocations, infertiliey groups, Resolve groups, infertility doctors, adoption attorneys etc) whom you have already spoken to are the same people who tend to know if the agency occupies the respected place in the adoption community and they are "as advertised" so to speak.

When to be cautious.

Be cautious, very cautious, if you find an agency (often an out-of-state one that you've found via their constantly running banner topping commercial adoption sites, or similar expensive advertising), that tells you they have a child immediately waiting, or a birth mother due, but no adoptive parents for the child. Supposedly, you can have this placement, as long as you immediately retain them and send them lots of money. It is common sense that adoption agencies, if they are successful, have adoptive parents waiting for any placements that come the agency's way, unless it is a less than desirable placement. It is not very believable that they need to go outside their client roster because "they have so many birth mothers they can't keep up," as these type of entities seem to tell unspecting adoptive parents. Oftentimes these same agencies (or more likely, facilitators) even go far as to take the initiative and contact you out of the blue, perhaps seeing an adoption photo-resume you've placed online.

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There are more than 1,000 licensed adoption agencies in the United States. With an investment of time and research, you can find the right one for you.

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