How do you locate a reputable and competent adoption agency? Many people merely pick up the Yellow Pages and start dialing every number listed under “Adoption.” Not a good idea. The agency with the splashiest advertisement isn't necessarily the best one. (Although it might be.) Forget about making your agency choice solely by choosing the agency with the nicest website or the cutest photos of babies on the Internet. They might be the right agency for you, but you should check out other agencies, too. (Read more about using the Internet to help you in Cyberadoption: The Internet and Online Sources.)
Some people believe that if they pay very high fees—sometimes as high as $50,000 or more—they'll have a fast, problem-free adoption.
Here's the thing: You don't get a better baby from the expensive agency. In fact, media reports over the past few years have documented that some very high-priced agencies skimped on many services and also withheld very important information on the birthparents.
This does not, of course, mean that the expensive agency is a bad guy. But you have to ask yourself what you're really getting for all the extra money.
How do you find a good adoption agency? That depends on what you're looking for. If you want to adopt a child from another country, the agency that mostly handles U.S. adoptions may not be good for you. And vice versa. It's also true that if you want to adopt a toddler or an older child, the agency that specializes in newborns is the wrong one for you.
You need to research what agencies are available in and out of your state and narrow them down to the organizations that you feel best suit your needs.
Here's how to track down reputable agencies:
- Ask adoptive parent groups (see Adoptive Parent Groups) for names of reputable agencies that specialize in U.S. or international adoptions.
- Ask your friends and relatives for names of good agencies.
- Call up the state social services department and ask whether they have had any complaints about any agencies. Ask for names.
- Ask your doctor for names of experienced agencies.
Scoping Out an Agency
After you've located a list of potential agencies, you should look into each one to find out whether it's a good match for you. First, check out the agencies' websites (most agencies have them), withholding judgment until you've considered at least five other agencies. (The first agency you find isn't always the best one.) If they have a website, you can read about their policies and procedures without making a single phone call. Then, if one or more agencies look like a good match, arrange to speak with social workers at the agencies. Ask them the following questions:
- Are they accepting applications?
- Do they place mostly infants or older children? From the United States or other countries?
- Can you have references of families with whom they have worked? Understand that only names of happy adopters will be provided, but at least you can obtain some inside information from such references.
- Do they offer a free orientation you can attend? If they do, go to it and ask questions.
- Do they have any brochures or literature they can send to you? Sometimes printed material the agency sends has information not available on their website, such as fees or policies.
- How long has the agency has been in business? It need not be 50+ years, but if it opened last week, please be very careful. New agencies may need applicants; they also don't have track records and often charge higher fees. However, old agencies may be more stodgy and may have longer waits; established agencies are also more likely to still be in business if you encounter a problem later.
- Did the current agency director start the agency and, if so, why? Many agencies were launched by adoptive parents and some by adopted adults. Understanding the motivation for creating the agency may help you choose your agency.
- How many children did the agency place last year and the year before? Will the number of placements this year be roughly the same? People are often more willing to provide older statistics about their organization than current ones. However, after you have older statistics, it's generally easier to get newer ones.
- How long do most potential adoptive parents have to wait before their screening, usually called a home study, is done? Generally, most agencies like to place children with parents within about a year of doing the home study, although this isn't always true. After the agency tells you how long you would need to wait for your home study, ask them whether many people adopt within about a year of the home study. (For more on the home study process, see Adoption: What You Need to Know About Home Studies.)
- Does the agency have any limiting criteria for adopters: upper age limits, marital status, and so on? Keep in mind that if you want to adopt a child the agency defines as having “special needs” (such as a biracial child, a child with medical problems, or other definitions), it might waive its usual criteria.
- Does the agency have a program to let birthmothers choose parents? (Most of them do.) This may work to your advantage.
- Does the agency provide funds for food or shelter for the pregnant woman considering adoption? If so, will these costs or other expenses be passed on to you in addition to the fees charged by the agency? Or are these expenses included in the basic fees you will pay? If not, what if the pregnant woman needs financial help? Does the agency require her to apply for public assistance? Find out.
- Does the agency try to involve the pregnant woman's parents in the planning—even if she is over age 18? Studies have revealed that if the birthmother's parents are supportive, the outcome is better for all concerned. For example, they will not be shocked to learn that the newborn baby is to be adopted and make dramatic last-minute attempts to dissuade the birthmother from adoption. In addition, the birthparents' parents can provide medical information about themselves regarding possible inherited conditions.
- How does the agency obtain medical information on the children they place? Do they obtain it from the pregnant woman? From her doctor? Or in some other way?
- How does the agency define “special needs” in a child (refer to Adopting Kids with Special Needs). You may find that you would be open to adopting a child that the agency regards as having special needs.
- If the agency specializes in U.S. adoptions, what is its policy on working with birthfathers? The agency must follow state law, but it might go above and beyond state laws.
- Does the agency arrange open adoptions, and how does it define open adoptions? Do birthmothers get to choose adoptive parents? Do birthmothers usually meet prospective adoptive parents? What does the agency staff think are the main benefits and disadvantages to open adoption? (See "Open" or "closed" Adoption? for more information on open adoptions.) What constitutes an open adoption can vary considerably from agency to agency. At one agency, it might mean that pregnant women look at descriptions of adoptive parents or letters they write. At another agency, it might mean a one-time first-name-basis-only meeting occurs between pregnant women and prospective parents. It may also mean the agency expects continued contact for years. Find out by asking!
- If the agency arranges intercountry adoptions, has anyone on the staff traveled to the other country and visited the orphanages there? The more direct face-to-face experience they have with orphanage staff in the country, the better.
- What fees does the agency charge and when are they payable? Is there one home study fee and one placement fee, or are there a variety of separate fees for different services? If there are separate fees, at what points are they due? Try to determine at least a range of the total fees you might expect to pay, including everything (such as the expense involved in traveling to another country). If the agency doesn't provide this information, try to figure out a possible range yourself and then ask the social worker whether this range seems about right.
- What do they think is the most important thing to know about the agency? The answer to this question can sometimes be very revealing.
- Is there anything you haven't asked that is important to know? This is a question that is best asked in person or on the phone, rather than by e-mail, because you'll receive the most honest response that way.) Wait for the person to think and respond. Listen.
One question to ask when choosing an adoption agency is whether or not the agency is affiliated with a larger “parent” organization, preferably one with a track record. Many newer, smaller adoption agencies have sprung up, and some are essentially “mom-and-pop” operations.
There's no guarantee that a large, established agency will be any better, but you should always find out what kind of organization you are dealing with before you sign up.
One way to estimate how long the wait will be at any given agency is to ask the agency when it could do your home study. Add about a year to the time frame you get. If the agency can do your home study in six months, then it could probably place a child with you in about a year and a half. Why? Because most agencies don't want to place a child with someone whose home study is more than a year old.