Choosing an Adoption Agency
Your adoption agency is your guide through the often confusing and scary process of adoption, so it is worth spending the time to pick the right one for you. That decision, however, is confusing and quite frankly not much fun.
It is oh so tempting to speed through this process – quickly settling for the one that promises the most or the fastest or the cheapest, but spending the time up front to find the best agency for you and your family is well worth the effort.
Your adoption agency is your guide along the long and often confusing path towards adoption, so it is important to pick an agency that you feel comfortable with. It is both a business and a personal relationship, so do not be afraid to disregard an agency based on your gut feeling.
It is also possible to adopt independently using an adoption attorney for domestic infant adoption, and Creating a Family has resources on independent adoptions.
Choosing an adoption agency is a multi-faceted decision and depends on your personality as much as your particular adoption desires. Like all major decisions, it can be difficult to figure out all the different factors, much less figure out how to rank them. How important is location vs. size? How do you weigh factors that have less of a direct impact like humanitarian aid or birthmother support? And how do you even begin to narrow the thousands of possible adoption agencies into a manageable list to seriously research? Creating a Family has created a three-step process to help you make that choice.
Here are six major factors to consider when narrowing down a list of possible adoption agencies.
- Type of Adoption: Are you interested in international or domestic adoption? If you are looking at international adoption, what countries are you considering? If you are not sure what type of adoption or country is right for you, check out our comparison chart of adoption types and the adoption comparison charts of 25 factors to consider when adopting from different countries.
- Location: While adoption is regulated by state law, most states will allow you adopt through an agency licensed in a different state, which means you have the choice of using a local adoption agency or a national one. (Before you continue, check your specific state’s statutes.) There are advantages to both national and local agencies. If you use a local adoption agency, you can meet with your caseworker in person as opposed to doing everything through email and the phone. Local adoption agencies can also provide local post-adoption resources like support groups and recommendations for local adoption therapists. On the other hand, the large national adoption agencies often have more experience, place more children and have better resources to find expectant mothers. You have to decide what is most important to you.
- The Child Welfare Information Gateway maintains a list of adoption agencies (as well as other resources, including support groups) by state and country.
- The National Council for Adoption*, a wonderful organization that advocates for birthparents, children, and adoptive families, also maintains a directory of their agencies.
- RainbowKids* has a searchable database of sponsors by location. It is only for international adoptions.
- US State Department sometimes lists accredited or licensed agencies on a country’s page.
- The Creating a Family country comparison charts often list embassy contacts that might have accredited or licensed agencies listed.
- Creating a Family has sponsors based across the United States. Please check out our Directory of service providers and consider one of the great agencies that helps Creating a Family continue to provide education and resources.
- Size: The size of an adoption agency – the number of adoptions per year of the type of adoption you are interested in– is also an important factor to consider. A larger adoption agency might have more experience while a smaller agency might have a more personal touch. You will get more information about an agency’s expertise when you actually interview them, but before you seriously consider an agency, you need to be sure they place enough children to be able to help you. Reputable adoption agencies should provide the number of adoptions processed in the past year on their website.
- Experience: Adoption is a complicated process, especially when you are dealing with two countries’ or states’ laws, and you want an adoption agency that knows the process inside and out. Checking how long an agency has been in business is a good way of determining whether or not they have the requisite experience to help you.
- Pre- and Post-Adoption Education and Services: A good adoption agency does more than conduct a home study and tell you where to sign the paperwork. Check to see what adoption educations services an agency offers. Do they stress the importance of pre-adoption education – always a good sign that they are invested in your long-term wellbeing – and how convenient is it for you? What support is offered after the adoption is finalized? Are there classes, annual gatherings or counseling?
- Humanitarian Aid/Support or Birthmother Support: Another hallmark of a good adoption agency is providing humanitarian aid in the countries where they work. There are more than 200 million orphans worldwide, most of who will never be lucky enough to be adopted. Furthermore, adoption is often the result of poverty or a breakdown in the social system, and a conscientious agency that is truly committed to orphan care will both try to help current orphans and fight the conditions that lead to orphans. Common humanity aid includes family preservation services in the communities where they work and sponsorship for children who are unlikely to be adopted. It is worth remembering that some agencies provide humanitarian aid directly, while others provide financial support for other non-profits that work in the community, and depending on the size of the agency, providing financial support for more established non-profits might be the better option for providing aid. It is also important to consider is what sort of birth parent support an agency provides. Choosing to place a child for adoption is one of the most difficult decisions in a woman’s life, and a good adoption agency will have the best interest of both the first parents and adoptive parents in mind. You want to look for an adoption agency that offers counseling services to the birth mother both before and after the adoption, ideally for as long as she needs or wants support.
*Only includes those agencies that are sponsors or members or advertisers. Keep this in mind when referring to these resources and weigh accordingly.
Do not just email a list of questions to the agencies. You need to actually talk with them to decide if you could see yourself trusting this agency to help you find and bring your child home. Remember, you are looking for more than just the number of processed adoptions and their average wait time. You are also trying to gauge if you like them and trust them to help you create your family. Take careful notes during the interview, not just about the information, but also about their attitude and philosophies. Afterward, take the time to analyze if you would enjoy working with them. Think about their stance on issues important to you, their overall demeanor and how helpful were they?
- State licensing agencies are a good place to start. The standards for licensing are usually not particularly rigid, but you want to make sure that the agencies you are considering are fully licensed in good standing.
- The Council on Accreditation (COA) develops standards of practice and accredits human services organizations, including adoption agencies. COA is the primary accrediting entity for the Hague Treaty in the US, but it also has a separate voluntary COA accreditation for domestic adoption agencies. Having COA accreditation is a mark in an agency’s favor.
- If you are adopting from a country that is a member of the Hague Treaty on Intercountry Adoption, your agency must be accredited. Hague accreditation is a good thing to look for in any agency since many Hague accredited agencies apply the Hague standards to all adoptions, and there are significant advantages to the adoptive parents from the Hague standards. The US State Department lists agencies that are Hague accredited. It is also useful to see which agencies were denied Hague accreditation.
- Some countries have their own licensing or accrediting requirements for adoption agencies that want to place their children. You can check the Creating a Family Country Comparison Charts to see what countries require licenses or accreditation. You can also check with the US State Department country-specific pages and individual agencies’ websites.
It is always a good idea to see if there have been complaints made against an adoption agency. Unfortunately, there is no centralized place where official complaints against adoption agencies will be found, so you have to check a few different places.
- The state licensing board may be able to tell you if a complaint has been filed against an agency, but they also don’t necessarily keep records unless the complaint has been substantiated.
- The Hague Complain Registry is only for agencies that place children from countries that are members of the Hague Treaty on Intercountry Adoption and has only been in effect since 2008, but it is definitely worth checking.
- The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also records complaints against adoption agencies. Check the BBB for all cities where the agency operates. Complaint information is available by phone and online.
- Check with the Attorney General’s office of the states where the agency operates or with the state’s Office of Consumer Affairs. Call the attorney general’s office and ask where the complaints would be filed. The National Association of Attorneys General lists the telephone number and email address for the attorney general of each state.
- Some adoptive parents may file a complaint with the US Embassy in the country they adopted from. You can send an email asking if any complaints about a particular agency have been filed. Contact information on all US Embassies can be found here.
An adoption agency’s reputation in the adoption community is an important factor to consider. You have to take online reviews with a grain of salt – the anonymity of the Internet can sometimes bring out the worst in people, especially with such an emotionally charged topic – but you can usually trust a generally positive or negative consensus when choosing an adoption agency. Make sure that the reviewer has recently adopted from the same country as you before giving too much weight to their opinion. Here are some places where you can try and gauge an adoption agency’s reputation.
- Adoption Agency Reviews is an online community where adoptive parents can post their reviews and comment on their adoption agencies, attorneys, and facilitators. It has nice searching abilities and a feature that allows you to graphically compare several agencies, although the graphic does not distinguish how many reviews have been posted.
- Adoption Agency Ratings has lots of reviews, many of them recent, although it can be a little difficult to navigate. I like that they post the number of reviews right with the name.
- Adoption Agency Research, International is my favorite place to gather information about specific international adoption agencies. This forum encourages you to ask about specific agencies. You can also research their archives. It is unfortunately not very active right now.
- Adoption Agency Research, Domestic is another great place to get information on specific agencies. Unfortunately, it is not very active anymore.
- Search the internet for the names of the key employees at the agency. It is possible for unscrupulous personnel to fold one agency after legal problems or numerous complaints, and reopen a new agency with a new name. If the employee was scummy before, they are likely scummy now.
- Always ask the agency for references. Make sure to request adoptive parents and birthparent (for domestic adoption) as references. See our questions for references guide for help.
Adoption is not cheap and unfortunately, the cost is a factor when choosing an adoption agency. When comparing agency fees, make sure that the same services and costs are included. Some agencies are very careful to include all costs when they quote a fee, while others just hit the high points and add the “incidentals” as they go along. You should have the detailed fees and what is included from when you interviewed each agency.
Fill out the cost comparison worksheet for each agency that you are seriously considering. You will have to ask which services are included in their fees and which ones you pay for separately. Remember, not all these costs will necessarily apply to your adoption and many of these costs/services will be included in agency fees.
Creating a Family has many resources on choosing an adoption agency. A few we think you will find particularly helpful are:
- Finding the Right Adoption Agency for You (1 hr. radio show with experts)
- Surviving the Home Study (1 hr. radio show with experts)
- Ten Tips For Choosing A Domestic Open Adoption Agency (factsheet)
- Worksheet for Comparing Adoption Agency Costs (printable worksheet)
- The Adoption Home Study (blog post)
- Red Flags for Unethical Adoption Agencies (factsheet)
Many more Creating a Family interviews with experts, blogs, and fact sheets on Choosing an Adoption Agency can be found at the icons below.
Image credit: Russ Allison Loar