Selecting an Adoption Agency Guide

Choosing the right agency for you.

Sarah M. Baker July 04, 2014

Learning about adoption was overwhelming for me. You are not alone in feeling that way!  Looking for an adoption agency is not any exception. In our journey we contacted at least half a dozen agencies and read countless articles online trying to figure out where to start and what to expect. We were not just in distress about how long we had been trying for a baby, but then we learned that we could have anywhere from days to several years on the “waiting list” for a baby, too. Factor in the cost associated with agency adoption, and we were bewildered. We had no idea how to select the best adoption agency that would meet our needs. Looking at the fact that there are tons of adoption agencies that can put on a great advertising front, but operate very unethically, we were scared we would be out time and money that we wouldn’t be able to ever get back and could potentially stop us from adopting if we suffered any loss.

To find great adoption services in your area you can check out our Reviews page. As you are looking, here are the top 15 things to ask about or look for in a potential adoption agency:

Are you considering growing your family through domestic infant adoption? For a free and confidential consultation with an adoption professional, click here.

What services do they provide expectant mothers?
1. What services do they provide expectant mothers?

In asking this question, you can find out how they treat the expectant mothers. Do they offer adequate counseling? Do they help her understand her options? Do they provide her with access to resources? Do they provide ongoing counseling after placement? As the mother of your future child, you want to ensure she is being treated well, fairly, and without coercion.

Do they offer ongoing support to all members of the adoption triad?
2. Do they offer ongoing support to all members of the adoption triad?

It is important to know if you can come to the agency down the road if any questions arise. Open adoption can sometimes come with unexpected hurdles that you may need professional guidance to get through. Also there are emotions that sometimes people do not expect to feel after placement that counseling may be beneficial for. Knowing if they have support groups or that the social workers can continue to help you or anyone else in the triad is important!

How long is their average wait?
3. How long is their average wait?

This can range greatly based on the adopting couple's preferences, how well their introduction letter is written, and the content of their profile book. But other factors can also come into play, so asking this question is usually a good idea.

How many families do they work with?
4. How many families do they work with?

Some agencies put a cap to how many families they work with. Other agencies will allow an endless amount, but they will be upfront that it can cause longer wait times depending on how many expectant mothers they also typically work with. Neither is necessarily bad. You just need to know what you are getting into so you aren't later surprised.

How many placements do they do per year?
5. How many placements do they do per year?

This is probably more important than how many families they work with. I'd be more interested in their placement rate statistics. You can ask more specific questions about failed matches, failed placements, and history of placement numbers.

What is their fee structure?
6. What is their fee structure?

Understanding what they charge for is important. Asking for a breakdown of costs helps you understand your adoption and feel good about the money you are about to spend. Red flags can often show up in unethical adoption agencies when this question is asked.

When are the fees due?
7. When are the fees due?

When we were searching for adoption agencies, we saw some agencies that varied greatly with how they required payment. We had a match fall through before the baby was born, and the agency that we were working with required all the money up front. When the match fell through, they refunded only a small portion of the payment. We were out a lot of money and struggled coming back up with the funds to proceed again. Our local agency however, only charged for things as they came up, and the actual adoption costs were not due until after placement.

How do they handle living expenses?
9. How do they handle living expenses?

Each state varies on what is allowable for living expenses. Some states have no living expenses allowed at all. Be sure you understand the laws of your state and the rules of the agency you select.

Do they offer support while you wait?
10. Do they offer support while you wait?

Some agencies offer support groups for adoptive parents during the waiting time. While others may not have a formal group or one they can recommend, it is nice to know they are at least receptive to you calling the director or your social worker when you are feeling stressed, anxious, or hopeless.

Do they offer different rates depending on race?
11. Do they offer different rates depending on race?

I know this sounds crazy, but some agencies actually discount biracial or African American children. While at first glance this seems like an incentive to adopt children that there is a lesser demand for, but what it actually says is they devalue these children and see them as being less adoptable. Even if you are not adopting a non-Caucasian child, this is not good. If you are planning to adopt a biracial or African American, is this the message you want to send them, that they were adopted at a "discount"?

How do they advertise?
12. How do they advertise?

Doing a little digging before you call them by browsing their website and checking with the Better Business Bureau could offer great insight. How do they speak to expectant moms on their website? Do they treat them as if they've made their decision, or do they provide them with options and counseling to help them come to the best decision for them and their child? Coercion can come in many forms,and if it starts with the agency want to just "land the baby," it's probably best to move on.

Do they support open adoption?
13. Do they support open adoption?

Some agencies fully believe in the powerful healing of open adoption. Other agencies promote promising open adoption as a step in obtaining a child and tell the adoptive parents it can be closed at any time upon their wish. Does the agency support open adoption and provide resources for educating the reasons open adoptions are healthy, or do they just mention it in passing and let you chose?

How well do they communicate?
14. How well do they communicate?

When you call or email an agency, how long do they take to get back to you? Do they answer all your questions thoroughly and in a way you can understand, or do they skim topics and talk over your head? If you need constant updates and communication, make sure that is something they have the staff for and are willing to provide you. Some agencies are great at getting you what you need but may not communicate through the waiting process as much as you desire. Waiting can be hard, especially when you go long periods of time with no updates.

How does the agency handle expectant fathers?
15. How does the agency handle expectant fathers?

Again, every state differs on what is required of the expectant mother and the agency when pursuing adoption. Some agencies will do the bare minimum if they think the biological father could pose a threat to "ruining" the adoption plan. My view on this is everything should be done to keep a first family intact if there is no risk to the child. A father that wants to parent his child should not be considered an obstacle, but celebrated.

Just Ask Questions
16. Just Ask Questions

When you put together a list of what you are looking for in an adoption agency, asking questions and doing research will hopefully be a little easier and less overwhelming to you. Finding an ethical adoption agency and one that provides ongoing, long term support will go a long way in making sure everyone in the adoption triad is treated fairly.

One of the top questions I get asked by people considering adoption is, “What agency did you use?” People like to know that they can trust the agency with the task of giving them the family they have dreamed of. So that’s the first place to start: If you know anyone who has adopted, ask them what agency they used. Ask them if they liked the experience. Ask them if there was anything they wish they would have known going in. You need to decide what you are looking for, but you may rediscover what you are looking for once you begin your search. Going with your gut, goes a long way!

Be sure to check out our adoption forums to ask questions from other adoptive parents.

Are there other things you would add to this list?

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Sarah M. Baker

Sarah is a Staff Storyteller for Adoption.com and passionate about teaching others the power of open adoption. She is very active in the adoption community, where she spends a lot of time advocating as the founder of Heart For Open Adoption. She is the mom of two boys in addition to parenting her niece. She is a mother biologically and through domestic infant open adoption. Sarah promotes adoption education and ethical adoptions. She and her husband were featured on Season 2 of Oxygen’s “I’m Having Their Baby,” which tells the story of their first adoption match failing. Sarah hopes to bring her personal experience to you and help anyone who wants more information about adoption to find it with ease. Though it was once a taboo subject, Sarah hopes to make adoption something people are no longer afraid to talk about. You can learn more about Sarah and her family on her blog.


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