Making the decision to adopt is a big one. It is a loving and beautiful way to grow your family while creating an opportunity for a child who needs a family to receive one. It goes without saying that the path to adoption on the adopter’s side of the road is oftentimes an emotional and bumpy one made even more confusing due to the complexity of the situation and the process. In other words, adoption is not something to be taken lightly—not something prospective parents choose to pursue on a Monday to be completed by Friday.

As an adoptive mom and writer of all things adoption, I’ve been asked a fair share of questions about adoption from those who are new to the idea, and I’m typically left feeling a bit puzzled when prospective parents look at me funny when I explain to them that the adoption process is not easy. Adoption is not something you fill out a form for, write a check, and in just two weeks instant family! It’s not that simple, and it’s a good thing it’s not that simple. Because while adoption can be a beautiful way to grow your family, there is much more to consider when choosing to start the process than how easy it is. And quite possibly the very first item should be to make sure you are choosing to become a parent through adoption for the right reasons and that all the protections are in place to ensure the safety, rights, and well-being of the child you wish to adopt.

There are so many uncertainties and issues that may come up throughout the process that are out of your hands, in fact, that the Internet is crawling with ever-changing information to help guide families. Sites like Adoption.com, Adoption.org, Adopting.org, and Childwelfare.gov are most helpful. The Children’s Bureau website offers answers to questions on a variety of legal and ethical questions surrounding adoption scenarios in the United States while the U.S. Citizens and Immigration website is constantly updating the information it presents to hopeful parents concerning international adoption.

And while this less than inspiring opinion may make you want to run for the hills, it shouldn’t. There are amazing agencies, facilitators, and social service providers dedicated to helping match children to forever families who make it their life’s work to make sure that beyond the dotting of the i’s and the crossing of the t’s that your adoption is an ethical one.

Here are some ways to make sure that your adoption is ethical.

1. Learn About Ethical and Unethical Adoption

Before you get started with the adoption process, make the time to learn about what adoption is and what it involves. It’s important to understand the difference between an ethical and an unethical adoption.

Childwelfare.gov states, “Adoption is a social, emotional, and legal process through which children who will not be raised by their birth parents become full, permanent, and legal members of another family. As such, adoption involves the rights of three distinct ‘triad members’: the birth parents, the child, and the adoptive parents. Adoption is also a lifelong process. Ethical issues change over time as children who were adopted become adults and may choose to claim their right to know their genetic and historical identity. It is imperative that professionals working in adoption act ethically to ensure the rights of all the involved parties at all points in the process.”

When it comes to international adoption, Holtinternational.org similarly suggests that  “In ethical practice, it must be a priority to respect and preserve the dignity of the child’s birth country as well as the dignity of the child. Whenever a country supports intercountry adoption as a means for a child to have a family, they are giving a great deal.”

So what constitutes an unethical adoption?

At the root of unethical adoption are money and illegal practices that surround the way a child is placed into an adoptive family, oftentimes, without the full understanding or consent of the birth family. And while most adoption providers and facilitators are on the right side of the law and do everything they can to protect all members involved, resulting in what is considered an ethical adoption, it is important to accept the fact that there are those who do not. It’s only when we acknowledge that there is corruption within the adoption community that we can work to protect families from it, promote providers and agencies who are working hard on behalf of birth families, adoptive families, and adoptees, and expose those who are not.

How do you know if an adoption is ethical?

You can rest assured that an adoption is ethical when you’re working with people who are open and responsive to your questions, when there are no secrets or cutting corners when it comes to working with birth families (for domestic adoptions), and all members of the adoption feel comfortable and not coerced into making decisions they aren’t comfortable with. It’s important, therefore, that you take certain precautions as listed below.

2. Research Agencies

Do not assume that all adoption agencies and facilitators are equal and/or that they will have your best interest or the best interest of birth families and waiting children at heart. Possibly one of the most important decisions you will make during your adoption journey is in choosing a reputable and accountable agency to work throughout the process with.

In her Adoption.com article “How To Choose An Ethical Adoption Agency (Domestic Infant Adoption),” writer Stacey Stark recommends that you choose an agency who is actively working to protect everyone involved in an adoption. She suggests adoptive parents ensure their process is an ethical one by doing the following:

  • Looking up the organization’s Form 990 or annual tax form if the agency is listed as a nonprofit.

  • Asking the agency how it handles the rights of biological fathers.

  • Reading the agency’s literature, including its website to see how it “appeals” to both adoptive parents as well as expectant mothers.

  • Be on the lookout for possible coercive actions to ensure nobody is being pressured or manipulated throughout the process.

Adoptive parents should not be afraid to ask any and all questions when it comes to taking the steps to adopt a child be it from private domestic adoption, foster care, or internationally. Further, adoptive parents should not be afraid to say no and end a relationship with an agency who violates any one of the above suggestions or for any other reasons that make you second-guess your decision. Adoption is something that should be in the best interest of all involved, most especially the adoptee; it should not be a means for any one party to profit from.

3. Talk to Other Adoptive Families

If you are not already friends with an adoptive family, please know that you are doing yourself (and your adopted child to be) a disservice. While the professionals are wonderful resources for things such as expectations, requirements, laws, process, and financial questions, adoptive families are your real-life view to what you can really expect and how you will deal as a family, not just with the process leading up to adoption, but what to expect once you become an adoptive family.

Talking to others who have adopted—and adoptees themselves—is a wonderful way to take and make the concept of adoption a tangible thing. Talking to other adoptive families is a concentrated, undiluted look into what your future may be like, and it takes the “idea” of being an adoptive parent or the “idea” of what a waiting child is or looks like off of your computer monitor, allowing you interaction and the opportunity to ask the real questions.

When we get past the myths and the misconceptions of what adoption is and come to terms with what it really is and who it really impacts, our willingness to be more careful about pursuing adoption ourselves becomes more important than ever.

So get to know adoptive families, seek out support groups, ask your adoption agency for referrals, and/or see if they offer any sort of programs with other adoptive families and ask them the questions you are too shy to bring up with the professionals. Adoptive families typically love to share the good, bad, and ugly as a way to encourage those interested in adoption as well as to provide tried and true, real-life stories to help those just starting out to avoid mistakes.

4. Make Fact-Based Decisions (Not Emotional Ones)

Adoption brings out all the feels. It can feel like a blessing; it can feel overwhelming. It can feel uncertain, and it can feel scary when mixed with a bunch of other emotions you never knew you had until you pursued adoption. For some people, adoption may be the only way to build a family—to experience being a parent and to undertake a lifetime commitment to another human being.

Psychology Today provides reasons why it’s important not to make big decisions when you’re feeling emotional because excitement can cause you to overestimate your chances of success; anxiety in one area of your life spills over into other areas; feelings of sadness can cause you to settle, and anger and embarrassment can lead to taking a long shot.

In other words, making decisions about adoption that will impact not just your life, but also the life of an adopted child should not be done when you are not completely and one hundred percent thinking clearly.

Those who do not have your best interests at heart are much more likely to prey on your good heart and your emotions than if you approach adoption with a clear head—armed with facts.

5. Learn the Laws and Know the Process

Whether you’re adopting domestically or internationally, learn the laws and become familiar with the process.

While the domestic adoption process is overwhelmingly similar to adopting from foster care or through a private agency, there are slight differences. Each state, too, has different requirements and expectations of adoptive families.

Adopting internationally comes with additional laws and processes, and just like domestic adoption, it’s important to familiarize yourself not just with international governing law, but also with an understanding that each country comes with its own set of laws and processes, too.

6. Get Educated, Be Educated

There are so many ways to educate yourself about adoption. Whether it be online using sites like Adoption.com or the National Council For Adoption, one positive outcome of the acknowledgment of unethical adoption and unethical adoption agencies has been a push for ethical adoption organizations to step up their game. Most, if not all, parents interested in adopting are now required to undertake education and training leading up to being approved for adoption no matter domestic, private, foster to adopt, or international.

There are many wonderful websites, organizations, and support groups who are ready and willing to teach you the truths about adoption so that you are not only prepared for the process of adoption, but that you are also prepared on how to become a successful adoptive family for your child.

The more you know, as they say, the more likely you are to make better choices for yourself and on behalf of waiting children.

7. Share What You Know

Probably one of the most powerful things adoptive families can do is to share with others what they learn from their own experiences.

If you’ve stayed in touch with your adoption agency, volunteer to speak with new parents and stay involved. If you hear or see something about an agency or facilitator, do not be afraid to mention it, to question them, and to work to ensure that all adoption providers and those associated are working in the best interests of the adoption community.

It’s no wonder adoption so easily gets a bad name when stories of unethical practices make the headlines. And while the number of unethical adoptions is small in comparison to the millions of ethical adoption stories, bad news sells. The only way to promote ethical adoption is to talk about it, share your story, promote healthy adoption professionals, and encourage all those in the adoption community to continue to push for regulations, laws, and protection so that all members can be rest assured that adoption can continue to be a solution and not a cause for further hurt and harm to those most in need.

Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.