photolistingFew words in adoption elicit such strong emotions as the word “photolist”.  Some view this as marketing children as commodities, while others view it as a legitimate technique for finding families for kids.  At Creating a Family, we’ve been struggling with these conflicting views as we try to develop programs to help find families for harder to place children.  As with so many things in life, I live in the gray.

A photolist is adoptionese for a collection of pictures, usually posted on the Internet, of children supposedly available for adoption.  Photolists are used domestically for kids in foster care, as well as for international adoption.  Generally, limited information on the child is provided, and an agency is listed for you to contact for more information.

In my opinion, absolutely nothing is wrong with finding a picture and information about a child, falling in love, and then adopting.  So long as it is allowed by the country of birth (and not all do), it makes sense in many ways.  After all, the child is the most important piece to this whole adoption business.  Right

The reason photolists are used is because they work.  They follow the basic principle of advertising– pictures sell; or to put it more poetically, “A picture is worth a thousand words”.  When it is used to find homes for waiting children (older, sibling groups, medical issues), the hope is that potential parents will see the child first and the special need second.

But photolistings have a well deserved bad reputation.  They are effective because potential parents fall in love, but they are potentially dangerous for the same reason.  After seeing the picture of a child, prospective parents start thinking of him as their child.  All thoughts of researching the agency or getting more information on the child are replaced by thoughts of getting/rescuing this child as soon as possible.  A sense of urgency is created.  “My child is _______(waiting, getting older without us, needs me).”  These thoughts can wipe out all common sense or at least all business sense, and people who are eager to become parents are particularly vulnerable.

Photolistings have been used by less than scrupulous adoption agencies to lure parents into the agency.  Once in the door and money has changed hands, that particular child may not be available either because she was never available for adoption or because she was offered to numerous parents at the same time and other parents were ready to adopt sooner than you.  Once you are onboard, another child may be offered as a substitute.  This may be fine with you, but either way, the agency used the picture of the first child to get you in the door and paying money.

Be extremely cautious of an agency that offers to “hold” a child for you unless you have completed your home study and have all your paperwork ready.  If you think about it, it’s not fair to the child to wait for you to get ready, when he could be adopted sooner by another family.  If you feel hurried or pushed to act quickly, run the other way.  Perhaps the biggest warning sign of all is if the agency is not requiring you to become educated about potential issues with adopting an older child or a child with special needs.

If you decide to throw caution to the wind, at the very least, don’t check your brain at the door (or more accurately “at the homepage”).

  • Make a commitment to hold off emotionally attaching to the child before you have thoroughly investigated the agency.  This is much easier said than done.
  • Be very cautious about when money is due and realize that getting a complete or even partial refund if things go south may be impossible.
  • Keep in mind the very real possibility that the child you fell in love with will not be the child that is ultimately available for you to adopt.
  • Get all the medical information that is available to thoroughly assess the child, and ask for more if needed.  Have this medical information reviewed by a doctor and therapist.
Image credit: thor_mark ?