If you’re pursuing an adoption from foster care, you can choose to go through your county’s social services department. In some states, you can choose a private agency that contracts with your county or state.
Why go through a private agency? Many foster adoptive parents report that these agencies have better response times. The social workers aren’t as overloaded with cases. They may also be more supportive of the prospective adoptive parents. Attend an orientation meeting in your county; you can usually find these meetings on your state’s social services web site, advertised in your local newspaper, or posted on a bulletin board at your local library. If private agencies are an option, call and ask if they have orientations. If not, ask some basic, “getting to know you” questions. In online forums, ask if anyone has firsthand experience with your county’s agency and the private agencies.
If you’re pursuing an international adoption, you will want to find an ethical adoption agency that provides services and referrals for the country you choose. That agency will complete your home study, or refer you to an agency that can. Depending on the country you’re choosing, you may have dozens of options, or only a handful. Make sure that the agency you are using is accredited. Check out the U.S. Department of State web site for important information.
Private Domestic Adoption
If you’re pursuing a private domestic adoption, you have many more choices. You can choose a private agency, an attorney, or, in some states, a facilitator. All adoptions that are not through foster care are private. If you use an agency, that’s a private agency adoption. If you use an attorney or facilitator, that’s a private independent adoption.
In all states, it is legal for adoptive parents to use an agency licensed in that state. An adoption agency is an organization that is licensed in the state or states where it assists in placing children needing parents with adoptive parents who are looking for children. Agencies can be non-profit, not-for-profit, or for-profit.
Just because an agency is non-profit doesn’t mean it is ethical.
Agencies are usually full-service—that is, they can complete your home study, match you with an expectant mother (and father), and provide post-placement services, as well. A good agency will provide non-biased counseling for all members of the adoption triad and will help an expectant mother explore all of her options, not just adoption.
In some states, prospective adoptive parents can use adoption facilitators. Adoption facilitators are individuals or organizations that are not licensed as adoption agencies or attorneys and are engaged in the matching of expectant parents with adoptive parents. In a few states, such as California and Pennsylvania, adoption facilitators are allowed by law to charge for their participation in adoption matching as long as those services fall within certain specific parameters. Except for these few states, the laws of most states either do not allow facilitators to conduct their business within the state at all or prohibit them from charging for any services they perform in that state. Facilitators generally provide matching services, and that’s all. You will need an attorney or agency to help you with the legalities. You will need to find independent counseling for the expectant parents and yourselves. There are no post-placement services.
Always search for the name of the agency or facilitator and the word “reviews.” Check with the Better Business Bureau. Ask about the agency or facilitator in online forums. You really cannot over-research this part. If an agency offers an orientation near you, go to it. Get the best sense you can for how ethical and competent an agency is.
In most states prospective adoptive parents can use an adoption attorney. An adoption attorney is a lawyer who is licensed to practice law in one or more states, who has the expertise and experience necessary to properly understand and apply state and federal adoption laws, who is proficient in the filing, processing, and finalization of adoptions, and in dealing effectively with birth parents, adoptive parents, and other in matters relating to adoption. You want to find an attorney who specializes in adoption, not just family law. You don’t want to use your uncle the real estate lawyer, or your brother-in-law the divorce attorney. Many people say that you should use a member of the AAAA, or “quad A”—American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. However, just because an attorney is a member of the AAAA, doesn’t mean he or she is ethical or competent. It’s much harder to find information about individual attorneys online, but definitely investigate any attorney you’re considering. Check the Better Business Bureau. Ask for recommendations for specific attorneys.
Basic Questions to Ask Any Adoption Professional
The following questions are some of the more basic ones to ask adoption professionals. Not all questions may apply to your situation. However, even if you’re not gay or lesbian, you may not want to work with an agency that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, so it would be good to know that up front. Similarly, there may be other questions that are important to you that aren’t listed here. It’s a good idea to make a list and follow it for every professional to whom you speak.
Do you provide international adoptions, domestic adoptions, or both?
If you do international adoptions, in which countries? Of those countries, for which are you currently accepting applications?
If you do domestic adoptions, do you have programs for those adopting children who aren’t Caucasian? Children with special needs? Waiting children? Foster children?
Which services do you provide? Home studies? Matching with birth parents? Expectant mother counseling? Adoptive parent counseling? Legal services? Post-adoption support? Other?
What kind of children do you typically place?
How many children do you place each year? (You may want to ask for statistics over the past several years.)
What does the agency do to help me make a match?
What are your criteria for adoptive parents? Do you work with adoptive parents who are single? Are single men able to adopt? Do you work with adoptive parents who are gay or lesbian? Do you require adoptive parents to be a certain religion or to hold certain spiritual beliefs? Do you have any other requirements for adoptive parents? (For example, age limits, length of marriage, proven infertility, number of children in the home, previous divorce, disability, etc.)
Do you work with adoptive parents in states other than your own? If so, which states?
If I find an adoption opportunity in another state, will you be able and willing to pursue the adoption?
Can you provide me with references from parents who have recently adopted from your agency?
What is the process of matching families with children or expectant parents? Will you search for me? Are there matching criteria for international or waiting child programs?
Do you require adoptive parents to take training or classes? What training programs are available?
Do you allow adoptive parents to specify gender?
Do you allow all adoptive parents to adopt a child of any race?
Please provide a range of the fees you charge. Do you charge different fees based on the race of the children?