With dozens of adoption agencies in MA from which prospective adoptive parents can choose, it is crucial for you to take a deep breath, recognize that not all agencies are equal, and do your research. There are several personal questions that you should ask yourself about your desire to adopt before reaching out to an agency and many (okay, endless) questions that you will want to ask the adoption professionals at your chosen agency as you move forward together on your adoption journey.

Why all the questions and research? Because adoption is a large lifelong decision and undertaking on the parts of all parties involved—from birth parents/family to adoptee to adoptive parents/family to all of the many agencies and facilitators, government representatives, legal folk, and support networks and community resources that work together to ensure every child who needs a family can find one—and not just any family, but the right one.

According to The Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Locating an agency to assist you in building your family through adoption should take into account your family’s personal preferences regarding the adoption services provided by that agency. While there are overarching characteristics that should be true of any agency, there are different qualities that families might find important.”

Understanding Adoption

The concept of adoption is vast and even those who are deep in the trenches will tell you that the perception of and rules of engagement surrounding adoption are always shifting and changing as a result of political, social, and economic circumstances, beliefs, and opinions. Adoption.com’s “Adopt a Child” guide defines adoption as “’a legal process in which parental rights to a child (whose biological parents’ parental rights have been severed) are bestowed on adopting parents, creating a parent-child relationship where one did not previously exist. The adopted child has all the same legal rights and responsibilities as a biological child, including rights of inheritance.’

“…Adoption is not just a legal process, but a child-parent matching process as well. It is more than legal: It’s situational. Emotional. Logistical. And, as adoptive families would agree, in the end it usually ends up being perfectly logical and at times magical, regarding who becomes family with who. Adoption.com explains it like this: ‘Adoption is the process by which parents are matched with children who have none, either through death or inability to provide for [those children].’”

Way before it’s time to decide upon an adoption agency, you should take the time to determine why you are adopting, what sort of adoption you hope to pursue, and fully take the time to learn about the impact of adoption on adoptees so that you are armed and ready to support your adopted child. The adoption.org article “How Will I Know if I’m Ready to Adopt?” poses the following questions to those considering adoption: “Am I ready to put the child’s needs before my own? … Am I willing to adjust my expectations? … Is my family ready to adopt?” There are, of course, many other considerations when figuring out the how and the why and the when, but you should talk through all of the above early in your journey.

You will also want to determine the path to adoption that is right for you. For example, are you interested in domestic adoption or international adoption? Are you open to foster to adopt? What age feels like the right fit for you: infant, toddler, or older child? Are you hoping to adopt a child of the same race and ethnicity? Or are you open to transracial adoption? Would you consider special needs adoption? You will also want to make sure that you meet the requirements to adopt in your state and/or internationally, depending on what you decide.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families website, prospective adoptive parents will need to:

– Pass a background check

– Pass a DCF household physical standards check

– Attend the Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting program, or MAPP.

– Work with a MAPP social worker who will write a license study.

– Receive home study approval by DCF

Adoption in MA

Adoption.com’s “Massachusetts Adoption Guide” offers readers an overview about adopting in Massachusetts, including state adoption laws and reviews of adoption service providers.

Working with the DFC 

Families may work directly with their DCF office or an agency with which DCF contracts. Per the DFC website, “The Department of Children and Families (DCF) works in partnership with families and communities to keep children safe from abuse and neglect. In most cases, DCF is able to provide supports and services to keep children safe with parents or family members. When necessary, DCF provides foster care or finds new permanent families for children through kinship, guardianship or adoption.”

What is an Adoption Agency?

Per USLegal.com, an adoption agency is “a state licensed agency that provides counseling to birth parents, home studies to prospective adoptive parents, relinquishment services and post-placement programs for triad members. These Agencies may also provide intercountry and special needs adoption services.”

The site goes on to explain that adoption agencies typically prepare adoption home studies, match adoptive families with birth mothers, and sometimes provide counseling and support for birth mothers. Some adoption agencies provide counseling for adoptive parents and adoptees.

Alternatives to Adoption Agencies in MA

Hopeful adoptive parents may decide to work with adoption attorneys, adoption facilitators, and adoption consultants rather than working with an adoption agency. You should familiarize yourself with the differences between these options.

While adoption agencies are licensed businesses that can offer various services in adoption and help place children in adoptive homes, adoption attorneys are experts in adoption law, but they are usually less inclusive than agencies in services offered to families considering adoption. For example, an adoption attorney may assist by helping to place ads online, via print media, and within social groups. However, they will not locate or match hopeful adoptive parents with expectant mothers.

As stated in another Adoption.org article, “An adoption facilitator is a person who serves as an intermediary between prospective adoptive parents and birth mothers considering adoption.” Whereas adoption agencies are licensed, not all adoption facilitators are, in which case they would need to refer families to a licensed facilitator to finalize an adoption.

Adoption consultants are unbiased and they help to educate hopeful adoptive families throughout their adoption journey. Consultants often refer hopeful adoptive parents to those agencies and attorneys they work with. Also, according to the Adoption.org article, “Consultants provide advice to hopeful parents who are in the process of creating adoption profiles.”

Who are the Children Waiting for Adoption in Massachusetts?

According to travel.state.gov, 8,874 adoptions have been completed in Massachusetts between 1999 and 2018. Thirty-seven percent of the children adopted were male, while just over 62 percent were female. Just over 7,000 of these children were between the age of 0 to 2 years old, while only about 300 were between the ages of 13 to 21 years old. Approximately 1,400 children fell between the ages of 3 and 12 years old. The total adoptions for 2018 is listed as 60 with no children under one year of age or exceeding 18 years of age.

Currently, approximately 9,600 children are in Massachusetts foster care. Almost 3,000 of those children are waiting to be adopted. Of those children, more than 850 have no match and are waiting for their forever family.

What to Look for from Adoption Agencies in MA

You can find tons of information about adoption agencies in MA online, in articles, blogs, or in-person (you should probably cross-reference). Adoption.com also offers a vast amount of information here. You will want to do plenty of research about adoption in Massachusetts and make sure to be thorough about it. Remember that you are not only doing research for yourself but on behalf of a waiting child. Keep in mind that a credible adoption agency will also be more than willing and happy to provide you with resources and information to help you make important choices.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway lists the following steps to assess the reputation of licensed, private adoption agencies:

 – “Contact the State Licensing Specialist in the state where the agency is located. The State Licensing Specialist will be able to tell you if the agency is in good standing, if there have been any complaints lodged against the agency and how long the agency has held the license. The State Licensing Office maintains complaint files as a public service.

– “Contact the State’s Attorney General’s Office to see if any legal action has been taken against the agency. The Attorney General’s office is a government office in the state capitol. You may find their contact information in Government section of the telephone book. Ask whether there is pending litigation against the agency or whether the agency has an established complaint file.

– “Request 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 at least three years ago. You may 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 agency.

– “Join an adoptive parent support group in your area. In adoptive parent support groups, you can talk with other parents about their experience(s) with local agencies. You may encounter individuals who have worked with the agency you are considering. For a list of adoptive parent support groups in your area, and near the agency you are considering, search the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory. If there are several parent groups in your area, contact each of them to find out about their membership, activities, and any support services available, to find the one best for you.

– “Contact the Better Business Bureau closest to the agency. The Better Business Bureau also provides a helpful tip sheet on ‘Using an Adoption Agency.’

– “… Ask the Better Business Bureau office staff person if that office covers the location of the agency and if their office takes complaints on adoption agencies. If they do not, then check with the State, City, or County Government Consumer Protection Office where the agency is located for complaints.”

In addition to professional resources, it’s beneficial to reach out to other adoptive families so that you can speak with parents and children impacted by adoption. What better way to learn the behind-the-scenes details than to speak with those living it?

What Questions to Ask Adoption Agencies in MA

You will want to compose a list of questions for potential adoption agencies. Consider asking:

 – How long have you served the adoption community?

– Are you familiar with the type of adoption that I am interested in pursuing?

– Do you provide a fee menu?

– How long can I expect to wait for a referral/match?

– What sort of requirements do you look at when taking me on as a client?

– Can you provide me with solid references and proof of other successful adoptions?

Do not be afraid to ask for references of any adoption agencies that you consider and make sure they are affiliated with other reputable organizations at the local, national, and international level, if appropriate. Consider both the pros and cons of working with an agency. Keep your eyes open for any red flags—if things sound too good to be true, they probably are! And be prepared to walk away from a bad agency rather than sticking it out and hoping for a miracle. Many hopeful adoptive parents have felt trapped and confused and stayed with agencies only to find themselves being taken advantage of with no real hope of seeing an adoption come to fruition.

Adoption is not as simple as a quick click on the internet, it is not momentary or temporary, but rather a lifelong commitment to be taken seriously. Every adoption is unique and different for all parties involved. Although adoption can feel overwhelming and confusing for both adopting families and birth mothers, no matter the pathway—domestic or international—the right adoption agency can and will be able to help you through the process even after the paperwork has been signed and finalized. Before committing to an agency, make sure that they are just as committed to your family.

Ready to get started? Find an adoption professional in Massachusetts here today who can provide you with professional guidance, give you advice on adoption financing, and help you with adoption planning. You can also find professionals who specialize in international adoption here.

For information on foster care in Massachusetts, visit the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

For information on adoption in Massachusetts, visit the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange.

Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.

Click here to learn more about adoption in Massachusetts.