Deciding to adopt independently or through an agency can determine your journey. 

Sometimes, I feel like that Demotivator poster with the sinking ship:

Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.

You see, the first time we adopted, we were much like any other naive hopeful adoptive parents. We thought we were asking all the right questions. We thought we chose a good agency. They had a huge presence online. They had birthmother counselors. They said everything was included in their $16,000 fee (well, except travel and birthmother expenses anyway). They said we’d definitely be matched within a year.

Of those six statements, only two were true. We didn’t choose a good agency—we chose a facilitator. We didn’t know the difference until we got the contract to sign. The only service included in that $16K fee was the match. The birth mother counselors to whom we were subjected were horrid. One of them actually called our son’s birth mother in the hospital and yelled at her. My husband was there.

The second time we adopted, we knew more. We knew we wanted an ethical adoption provider, and we knew what ethical meant. We really wanted to adopt through an agency, but we couldn’t find any that met our definition of ethical (that is, they didn’t charge race-based fees or discriminate based on religion or sexual orientation). We were actually about to sign with the one agency we found that met our requirements when I whimsically responded to a post on a local facilitator’s web site. I never thought we’d be chosen. We were.

And that’s when I realized I was put on earth to serve as a warning to others.

The facilitator wasn’t the problem this time. But she hooked us up with an unethical lawyer, and we didn’t know that until it was too late. Our daughter’s birth mother wasn’t entirely truthful about who DD’s birth father was. We had no one we could trust to work with during this situation, so we forged our own path. It worked out, but I resolved to tell people “don’t do what I did!”

(Terminology break: All adoptions that aren’t through foster care are private. An adoption the way we did our adoptions is called private independent adoption. Adoption through an agency is a private agency adoption.)   

The following are the reasons you should choose an ethical private agency adoption:

1. Agencies provide support. Support is so incredibly important. Support is possible if you adopt independently, but an agency can provide so much as well. An ethical agency will provide support for all parties. If a problem arises at any time, any party can go to the agency for help. Before setting up an expectant mother in a match, an ethical agency will try to find resources for her to be able to parent. During the match period, they will help negotiate the relationship. After an adoption, they will provide services for all parties.

2. Agencies provide counseling. Ethical agencies should provide unbiased counseling for expectant parents. They will have pre-and post-placement counseling for all parties, including adoptees, as well. Never underestimate the importance of a good, impartial counselor.

3. Agencies are often convenient. You can get all of your adoption-related services in one place. No need to have one agency for a home study, a facilitator or consultant to arrange a match, an attorney in one state to do the paperwork there, an attorney in another state to do that paperwork . . . You go to the agency. They have everything you need.

4. Agencies provide an intermediary. When you choose the networking and attorney route, HAPs are required to screen inquiries to ensure they’re not being scammed. Even if one chooses the facilitator route, where the facilitator screens expectant parents, after the match, the HAPs and EPs are pretty much on their own. The idea of an intermediary also goes back to the #1 reason: Support. You know you have someone who will listen and help.

5. Agencies are licensed and legal. Many states do not allow APs to use facilitators. There are a few states that do not allow independent adoption with an attorney either. Private adoption agencies are legal in all states. Each private adoption agency is licensed to practice adoption in one or more specific states. You know the agency had to go through a process and meet certain standards to become a licensed agency. Facilitators do not have the same requirements.

Note: People often say to find a quad-A (AAAA) attorney, as if they’re magic. The lawyer we used for our first adoption and the lawyer we used for our second adoption are both AAAA attorneys. The first was excellent and ethical. The second was not.

6. Agencies and independent adoptions cost the same. On average, an agency adoption costs the same amount as an independent adoption. The exception is when the expectant mother and HAPs know each other before the match. In those identified adoptions, using an attorney may cost less than using an agency. However, you won’t get all of the services that ethical adoption agencies provide.

7. Agency matches may turn into placements at a higher rate than independent adoptions. The US does not keep any statistics on private domestic adoption. Agencies contend that matches made through facilitators fall through at higher rates than matches made through agencies. Anecdotally, that may be true. Then again, we made two matches through an agency—one fell through and the other was a scam. It’s worth considering, though.

I hope you learn from my mistakes and find an ethical, full-service agency for your adoption needs if you don’t adopt independently.



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