Choosing your adoption agency is a research-heavy process. While “word of mouth” recommendations are generally a good way to evaluate an agency’s integrity, online research is necessary too. The reason? All adoptions are different. You may find two families who have very different experiences with the same agency. You must be able to pinpoint whether that agency’s policies are right for your family, specifically. When we adopted, we wanted birth mother support, no gimmicks, and honesty. In finding an agency that we felt confident could provide these things, this is what we learned:
Look for signs the agency puts the child first.
The more we researched open adoption, the more important it was to us that agencies focused on birth mother care and counseling. During the adoption process, we found that sometimes it felt like our agency would be in communication with expectant mothers first and adoptive families second. If there was an update, we would be the second call, not the first. As hard as that was for us, we realized this was a good thing. Things should be first and foremost about the child, not about us. Am I saying let a month go by without hearing a major update from your social worker? No. But I am saying if you and the expectant mother happen to call the agency at the exact same time, you need to be okay with them answering her call first. Not only does the expectant mother deserve that support, but it will also help you because women who feel taken care of and in control have fewer instances of changing their mind about placing.
Be wary of information presented as “facts.”
One social media post from a large, nationwide agency listed the pros and cons of choosing a nationwide agency. While the information seemed to be non-biased and fact-based, as I got to the last bullet I realized it wasn’t. The last bullet read something like, “Choosing a local agency means a smaller staff and lower quality counseling for birth mothers.” Wrong! In fact, I’d argue a smaller agency has a smaller staff because they work with fewer birth mothers and therefore have more time to provide quality counseling. Another great benefit of a local agency is the birth mothers will have met their social worker in person. This is so important for a relationship. In a nationwide agency, a birth mother in California may be talking on the phone to a social worker in Colorado and they may never get the chance to actually meet. The quality of the care has nothing to do with the size of the agency, but rather the people working there and their qualifications. Are they good people? Do they have a Master’s degree? Hearing this nationwide agency say their quality of care was better than any local agency was a huge turn-off for me, especially since the post appeared to list pros and cons in a fact-based way.
Look for signs they’re in it for the money.
Another marketing strategy that bothered us was the offering of discounts. We were looking into one agency that seemed like a good fit; however, they kept offering us various discounts that made us feel like they needed us more than we needed them. They’d say if we signed up by the end of the month we’d get the “xyz discount.” If we adopted twice with them we’d get a discount on the second adoption. It just cheapened the experience for me. No agency should rush you into your decision by giving you an incentive to sign up by a certain date.
Evaluate how open they are about policies and practices.
One huge red flag with an agency is not giving you important details up front. At one agency, I could not get my question answered until I actually asked for a copy of their contract. We went over the contract ourselves and had our lawyer family member review it. We found there was a time limit we were not told about up front. The contract said the agency would work with us on finding a birth mother match for a period of two years. That was it. No mention of what would happen if more time was needed. I knew some matches could take more than two years. In talking to the agency, they assured me “everyone adopts within two years.” That wasn’t good enough for us. Words mean nothing if they aren’t in the contract. We would have lost all our money if not matched. When you get a contract, make sure there is either no time limit or that there is a way to recoup money lost.
I know the urge is to find your perfect agency quickly and commit and get your family started, but I would advise taking a lot of time to research online and talk to those who have adopted already.
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