Way back in the dark ages of February, I wrote an article, 12 Ethical Pitfalls Adoption Professionals Should Avoid. This is the companion piece, written for hopeful adoptive parents (HAPs) who are in the various stages of adoption. The question, “What should I do if I think my adoption professional is unethical?” would, ideally, have one solid answer: “Dump him/her/it.” Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy.
What to do before money has changed hands?
This actually is fairly easy. If you’ve just been talking to an adoption professional, and you haven’t given them any money, you are free to do as you please. So, if you’re in the contact stages and you believe your adoption pro isn’t ethical, walk away. Make sure you tell them why you’re walking away. If enough HAPs stand up for ethics first and foremost, we might actually see some changes in the industry.
What to do after money has changed hands?
This is harder. At this point, you’ve probably signed a contract and given the adoption pro some amount of money. It may be as little as a $100 application fee. It may be as much as $20,000. (I really hope it’s not more.) Ideally, you read the contract and you know what your recourse is. It’s likely, however, that you will not be able to get any of your money back. To make things even more difficult, some adoption pros may have written into their contracts that you cannot use another adoption pro while you’re signed with them.
You need to ask yourself two questions:
1. Can I afford to lose this money?
2. Am I allowed to walk away?
If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then walk away. Again, tell them why.
If the answer to either of these questions is no, talk to an attorney about what legal recourse you do have. You may be able to get some money back so you can afford to walk. Or, you may be able to find a legal way to break the contract.
Unfortunately, you may be stuck. This is where you either have to give up or do everything in your power to ensure that the adoption you’re pursuing is ethical.
For domestic infant adoption, this may mean speaking directly to the expectant parents. Talk about what your adoption professional has told each party. Make sure that you and the expectant parents are on the same page. If you both approach adoption openly and honestly, you can forge an ethical process together. Of course, you have to do this while remembering that the baby isn’t yours until TPR is signed.
My husband and I realized that our adoption facilitator was unethical about one month after we had matched with our son’s birth mother. As soon as we figured it out, we told our “counselor” to give Sarah our number and ask her to call us. Sarah called. We talked for five hours. We both agreed that we would do as little as possible with the facilitator after that. It worked, more or less.
What to do if this is a third-party professional?
Although you may be able to complete your adoption with one organization, such as a full-service agency, you will likely find yourself interacting with many different professionals. You may have a consultant, an attorney, and an agency; a facilitator and an attorney; an agency in your state and an agency in another state; an agency in the US and and an agency overseas; and so on.
What do you do if you discover that this other party may be unethical? You alert the other professionals. You may be able to work with a different third-party adoption professional. You may find that the call to the other professionals makes your unethical professional straighten up and fly right. At the very least, you can do your part to ensure that this third-party doesn’t get any future business from the other professionals.
We thought everything had gone fairly well in our second adoption. It wasn’t until after we were home with our daughter that we realized how shady the attorney in Louisiana really was. We had used a facilitator in our state who recommended this attorney. After everything shook out, we wrote a letter to the facilitator explaining this attorney’s misdeeds.
What about really big ethical problems?
Up to this point in the article, I’ve been discussing adoption professionals who are legitimate—they just may be experiencing some ethical lapses. In our cases, 1) the facilitator was lying to our son’s birth mother, and 2) the attorney skimmed off the top of our daughter’s birth mother expenses (among other things, but it’s a really long story). To a certain extent, we were able to fix the situations by communicating directly with our children’s birth parents, as well as with a licensed independent social worker.
But what if you’re dealing with an adoption professional who isn’t legit? There are, unfortunately, people who pose as legitimate adoption agencies, facilitators, or consultants, and all they do is take your money. That is a far larger problem to solve. Find other people who have been wronged by this adoption professional. Then, sue. Seriously. Over the years, there have been a small number of cases where adoptive parents have sued so-called adoption professionals for fraud and won. It won’t help you grow your family, but it may save others from heartbreak and it brings the scammers to justice.
In any case where you feel there have been breaches of ethics, report the adoption professional to the appropriate organizations. This may mean a state licensing board, the state bar association, even the State Department. Don’t forget to report the adoption professional to the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Better Business Bureau.
No matter who you work with, you need to pay attention and ensure that your adoption process is as ethical as possible. This can be difficult, especially if you’re working with people in another country who speak a language you don’t. Do your homework up front. Try to get reviews of the adoption professionals before you sign with them. Always do your best to ensure that your adoption is ethical.
If you’re ready to begin working with an experienced, compassionate (and ethical!) adoption professional, click here.