When beginning your adoption journey, heavy research is required. First and foremost is what kind of adoption you’re looking for. Before asking, “Where can I find adoption agencies near me?” make sure that you aren’t ruling out international adoption or a nationwide search. Adopting locally has some tremendous benefits, though. We adopted locally and are in the process a second time. It all depends on your preferences. Keep in mind, though, that your preferences may change during your search. Change is okay and very common when looking at adoption. Let your plans be more of guidelines than rules.

I only knew of a couple of adoption agencies near me when we started our research. It turned out that one of those had everything we were looking for in an agency, so we didn’t look out of state. We ruled out international adoption due to the higher cost and potential older age of the child. Adoption agencies also tend to be nearest large cities, so if you’re out in a rural area, you may be driving quite a bit to reach one. The agency we chose was 15 minutes away from us. For our son’s birth mother, her drive was about 40 minutes. Local agencies are great because nobody’s getting on a plane for visits, and paperwork can be dropped off in person. The fact that our son’s birth family is only a half-hour away is such a benefit. Visits are easier to plan and can be planned at the last minute sometimes.

Some families don’t mind using an adoption agency out of state. We may if our second adoption doesn’t work out (if the expectant mom changes her mind). Factors to consider for this type of adoption are extra costs of hotel stays and travel time. You may be spending two weeks in a different state before you can bring the baby home. Another huge consideration is the open adoption relationship. Are you comfortable with having the birth mother so far away? Is it going to hurt your wallet too much to make those promised visits with her? Are you going to expect that her travel to you and pay those costs? For some families, this isn’t an issue, but for others, it’s a question of practicality and being able to keep your promises. With today’s technology, out-of-state adoption is totally doable. You can Skype or Facetime or text with the birth mother. Just keep in mind that those in-person visits may require extra money and planning. Make sure you can deliver on your contract agreement. Not only can it be legally enforceable, but your attitude going into the adoption should be that you’re going to have a positive relationship with the birth mother, and you want to honor the contract agreement.

When I did a Google search of adoption agencies near me, quite a lot popped up. Remember though, not all agencies are created equal, and some are only facilitators on the search results; they are not full agencies. You can Google to get a list, but you’ll need to call and investigate their websites as well to get the full picture. You can also call any crisis pregnancy centers and ask which adoption agencies they typically refer their clients to. In our first adoption, our son’s birth mom was referred to our agency by another counselor. She didn’t sit down and search for “adoption agencies near me.” We are currently pursuing a second adoption, and the same thing happened there: she was referred to our agency by a maternity center. Some expectant moms do look online, though. They can look for agencies or they can look directly for a family. Sites like Adoption.com’s Parent Profiles allow for expectant moms and hopeful adoptive families to connect and then make their own adoption plan by hiring an agency or a lawyer to take it from there. This is called a “self-match.” Other sites exist for this purpose, too, as well as countless Facebook pages set up by adoptive families to find their expectant mom match.

Adoptive parents sometimes get caught up in everything and forget to ask about the birth family’s experience as well. Don’t forget what a big role this expectant mom will have in your life and how important her care is. In today’s climate of open adoption, she will be in your life from now on. You want a good relationship. When you view agency websites and speak to them in person or on the phone, do they speak about birth mothers and birth families with respect? Do they make subtle comments that might suggest otherwise? You want to find an agency that cares just as much about birth mothers as they do about adoptive mothers. If your agency presents birth mothers with adoption information as well as parenting information so that they can make the best choice for themselves and their baby, that is a good agency. An agency should not coerce, but they should be there on her journey.

Another important step is to take to social media. Check the agency’s Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Those usually contain reviews. You can also see how engaged the adoption agency is with its community. You could also search on Facebook for adoptive parent groups in your area. Another suggestion would be to do a post on your personal page asking anyone with adoption experience to message you or comment. You’ll tend to get much more “insider” information from those that have done this process before you. They may answer questions you didn’t even know you had.

You can find a state directory of agencies on Adoption.com. This is a great resource, but it is not exhaustive. Additionally, Adoption.com also has adoption guides for each state to give you a more detailed process of how adoption works state by state.

I’d highly recommend making an Excel spreadsheet to keep things organized. I made one for our second adoption and listed all the adoption agencies near me as well as ones out of state. I put a column for wait time, cost, cost of a failed match, adoptions are done per year, whether they honor gender preference, and any red flags or other notes. Later, if someone else you know is looking into adoption, this is a great resource for them. Just send them your spreadsheet, and it will save them tons of time. Just keep things updated as laws tend to change. In international adoption, for instance, there have been countries that just completely shut their adoption program down.

If you’re interested in the foster care system, which has significantly lower costs, you may be matched with an older child. Foster care aims to keep the child in a safe place and attempt reunification with the birth family. While you are fostering a child, if reunification with the birth family is deemed not possible, then that child will become available for adoption, and you can become their forever family. This timeline will vary but can be put in the “year or two” range. There are also children already legally free for adoption. This means they will not be reunified with their birth family and can be adopted right now. Within your state, you would need to contact the social services of your specific county. You can also check out Adoption.com’s photolisting page for waiting children.

While you can research to your heart’s content, it’s important to note that there will always be unknowns and aspects you cannot control. No matter which agency you choose, you are working with other people. People are complex. They can make mistakes. Agencies may make errors you have to fix. Expectant mothers can change their minds about placing the baby for adoption. Entering the adoption world means riding a roller coaster of unknowns. There will be bumps and turns. You have to stay committed and stay on top of your required paperwork. Advocate for yourself. Have the courage to leave an adoption agency if they aren’t showing enough birth mother support or have the courage to stay with an agency you believe in, even if it means a longer wait time.

The variance in people’s adoption experience is big. There have been couples who were informed of a baby waiting for them at the hospital within days of being a waiting family. Others have waited for three, four, five, six years for a match; it just depends. You don’t know which family you’ll be. When you start, it’s best to have no expectations. There’s no formula for a perfect adoption. It takes patience, the ability to stay calm under pressure, and a softening of your heart. The search for the best agency for you is time-consuming but will be worth it. Between Google, social media sites, and just “word of mouth,” you will find yours. There really is something out there for every family and situation.  Keep your mind and heart open.

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.