Selecting the adoption professional(s) who will be with you during your adoption journey is one of the most important decisions you will make on the road for forming your family. Experienced adoptive parents strongly recommend keeping two things in mind:
1. You are the potential client and your comfort level is top priority.
2. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem “quite right,” look elsewhere.
You’ve conducted an in-depth self psychoanalysis and decided which country to adopt from, and now it’s time to choose an adoption agency. Just what does an international adoption agency do? A good international adoption agency will:
Review the eligibility of prospective adoptive parents;
Provide home studies, or can recommend someone in your area to conduct your home study;
Assist you with preparing your adoption paperwork;
Coordinate the referral of children;
Provide adoptive parenting programs; and
Provide post-placement services and file post-placement reports.
In addition, you must be compatible with the people you will be working with at the adoption agency. If you can’t get along, it will only add to the stress of your international adoption journey.
Before you sign on with a particular agency, you need to decide what you’re looking for in an international adoption agency. Do you want a large organization that offers programs in many different countries and is well known around the world? Or would you be more comfortable working with a smaller agency where you get one-on-one contact and lots of hand holding? Don’t know where to start looking for an agency? Then it’s time for more research!
Research, Research, Research
Ask your friends and family who have adopted internationally which agency they used, or contact an international adoptive parents support group. If you don’t know anyone who has adopted internationally, do an internet search. (You’re already in the right place at Adoption.com!)
You’ll find an overwhelming wealth of information on the internet. Gather all the information you can about the agencies you’re interested in– call or email the agencies and ask for more information if needed. Also be sure to ask for references, and be sure to check them! And when you get the deluge of brochures and pamphlets from all those international adoption agencies, be sure to take the time to read them thoroughly– even the small print. This is not the time to skim through your reading assignment!
Next, you need to investigate the agencies you’re interested in to make sure they’re the type of people you want to do business with. Call the state licensing specialist in the state where the agency operates to see if the agency’s license is current and to find out if any major complaints have been filed against them. The Better Business Bureau is also a good source of information about complaints, as is the state’s Office of the Attorney General.
Also, check to see if the agency is accredited. Accreditation is different than being licensed. Agencies must be licensed by the state in which they operate. A license simply ensures that the agency meets the minimum standards of the state. On the other hand, adoption agencies are accredited by outside organizations. Accreditation certifies that an adoption agency’s operations are the best that they can be. Among other criteria, accreditation standards include effective operation as a non-profit organization; effective and accountable management operations; sound financial management; effective personnel practices and training; effective client services; documented and effective procedures; and, most importantly, effective and ethical international adoption practices. Requirements in each of these areas are set forth in extreme detail by the accrediting organization.
Accredited international adoption agencies have proven procedures for maintaining the highest level of service to both the children and the prospective adoptive parents. In other words, an official accreditation is a stamp of excellence– a statement confirming that an organization has complied with nationally recognized best practice standards. The Hague Convention mandates that adoption service providers be accredited, and the Convention will change many procedures now used in the U.S. However, the Hague Convention only formally applies when both countries are signatories and have implemented the Convention. At the time of this writing, the U.S. has not implemented these procedures. Non-accredited agencies can continue to process adoptions from non-Hague countries. Currently, there are relatively few direct parties to the Hague Convention, although the number of fully implemented nations is expected to increase over the next few years.
Furthermore, some countries will only allow international adoption agencies that are accredited by their country’s government to place children for adoption. Before you settle on working with a particular agency, check to see if they are approved by the government of the country from which you are adopting.
Evaluating Agencies and Their Programs
Only you know what type of agency will best suit your needs. Some people prefer the options offered by large agencies with numerous international programs, while smaller, more personal agencies that are closer to home better suit the needs of other people.
While most international adoption agencies are legitimate and truly have the best interests of the children at heart, some agencies are nothing short of fraudulent. The international adoption process is rife with stress and emotion without mixing in the specter of fraud. During your research process, review agency literature, attend international adoption seminars and open houses, and talk with agency staffers. While you do all this, look for answers to the questions below:
Does the agency give you a realistic picture of the international adoption process? Does the agency brush aside your concerns by promising a fast, low-cost, stress-free adoption? Or do the time frames and cost estimates presented by the agency correlate to what you’ve learned during your research? If one agency promises that your adoption will be completed months faster than the timeframe quoted by other adoption agencies, be sure to investigate this claim thoroughly! It’s easy to say that your adoption will take only six months from start to finish, but it’s very difficult to actually keep this promise.
What are the agency’s minimum requirements for adoptive parents? Do the agency’s requirements match the requirements of the country you’re interested in adopting from? If not, why not? (Once again, it’s important to do your research!) Do you meet the agency’s minimum requirements for adoptive parents?
How long has the agency been in business? Check out their track record– how many children have been placed by the agency from the country you’re interested in?
Are the agency staffers experienced with international adoptions? Does the agency have full-time staff or do they use subcontractors? Are the staffers relatively new to the international adoption business, or have they been around long enough to build a good track record?
Does the agency have direct links to its international counterparts (such as child welfare agencies and/or orphanages)? Or does the agency rely on intermediaries and facilitators? Agencies with direct links generally produce swifter child referrals than agencies that must rely on intermediaries.
Is the agency accredited and licensed? Have any complaints been filed against the agency? If so, how serious are those complaints? You should never even consider using an adoption agency that is not licensed by the state and legitimately accredited.
Can the agency provide you with an itemized list and schedule of their fees? Are they asking for a large deposit or all the fees up front before you will be considered for a child referral? Are any of the fees refundable if you halt your international adoption quest? Reputable agencies charge a small application processing fee (usually around $250 – $300) and expect the larger fees at various milestones on your international adoption quest, such as when you submit your dossier and when you accept your child referral. Avoid agencies that want all the fees up front– they are either so small that they have no operating budget (meaning they are probably too small to be an effective international adoption agency) or they are frauds who are only interested in the money and have no intention of helping you build a family.
Does the agency seem helpful when you ask questions? Do they avoid giving you a real answer to your tough question by saying, “Oh, there’s no need to worry about that,” or do they respect your need for information and understand your need for reassurance?
Can the agency provide you with recent references of families who have adopted from your country of interest? If the agency gives you a list of references, be sure to call them! You’ll get a better feel for how an international adoption agency does business from someone who’s been through the process. Ask the references what they liked about the agency and what they did not like. And if the agency cannot provide you with references, view this as a huge red flag and a signal that you should move your inquiries to a different international adoption agency.
What type of support does the agency provide to the parents who travel to their child’s birth country? Does the adoption agency provide a guide or a translator? Will you travel with a group of other adoptive parents, or does the agency expect you to go it alone?
Does the agency offer any pre-adoption education? While adoptive parenting has many things in common with parenting biological children, there are some important differences. To make sure you are ready for the challenges ahead, it’s a good idea to get some pre-adoption education. If your agency does not provide pre-adoption education, can they refer you to someone who does?
Does the agency offer any post-placement services? The majority of countries open to international adoption require post-placement reports and photographs to ensure that the children are adjusting to their new lives and that they are healthy, loved, and well-taken care of in their new homes. The adoption agency you select should know this and be able to provide this service for you. Or, if your adoption agency does not provide post-placement services, they should be able to refer you to an agency that does.