Ask the Adoption Coach: Choosing an Agency

how to choose an adoption agency
Reader: What would you say are the most important things to look for when deciding on an agency to work with? Do you prefer any over others?
Adoption Coach:
Dear Reader:
Thank you for your question. A common concern for those new to adoption is how to choose an agency. There are so many agencies to choose from, not to mention adoption attorneys and adoption consultants (or facilitators).
Of course, cost is a main factor for many prospective adoptive parents (PAPs). In this area, you need to consider two things. One, how much can you afford, and two, what are reasonable fees for the type of adoption you are pursuing. Many PAPs use savings, the adoption tax credit, employer adoption scholarships, grants, loans, and creative fundraising (yard sales, t-shirt sales, etc.) to fund their adoptions. To find out how much your avenue to adoption may cost, you will need to research agencies and talk to other adoptive parents. What you will find is that there tends to be a large range of costs associated with adoption (with the exception of foster care adoption which should be free or very low in fees).
Cost may help you determine what type of adoption to pursue. An international adoption often involves not only agency fees, but travel costs, as well as the PAPs taking time off work (which may cost them as well). Domestic infant adoption can also involve taking time off work (if the adoption happens in another state) and traveling, as well as agency fees, attorney fees, and sometimes birth parent expenses.
Once you determine how much you can afford to pay for your adoption expenses, you will need to find an agency that has a fee structure within your budget and conducts the type of adoption you are pursuing. To get started, I would suggest coming up with a list of your priorities and your questions, and then start making phone calls. Take careful notes during any conversations and also be sure to scour the agency’s website for further information.
I know many who are new to adoption want to know how quickly they can receive a placement. Wanting quick results isn’t uncommon, but many times PAPs are lured into choosing agencies that promise an easy and expedited adoption journey rather than taking a step back and being level-headed in their choices. Adoption is a life-long journey, not just a one-time event, so PAPs need to think long-term.
First, you need to find out if you meet the agency’s requirements. Each agency (and country) has guidelines as far as things like marital status, age, financial stability, housing, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, infertility diagnosis/personal health, and much more. If you don’t meet the requirements, you obviously need to find a different agency to work with.
Some questions to consider asking should include how the birth (or expectant) parents are treated before placement, during placement, and after placement. How are they treated if they choose not to place or “change their minds”? How are adoptees and adoptive parents treated throughout the adoption journey? Ask about the agency’s staff: their education, their experience, their adoption philosophies, their response time. Ask for the agency’s financial information (their annual report). Ask how they advertise (if they do), a breakdown of their fee structure, their expectations of adoptive parents post-placement. You may also ask legal questions (though I highly recommend hiring your own attorney since they are trained in legal matters) regarding the rights of all parties. Can you work with more than one agency at once? What sort of training or pre-placement education does the agency provide waiting adoptive parents? Do they offer ongoing education?
Social media has changed many things, including adoption. You may seek reviews of adoption agencies online, particularly from popular message boards. However, you should keep in mind that those who are the most opinionated will be the “loudest.” Considering all opinions can be helpful, but it can also be very overwhelming and confusing to someone who is new to adoption. Take everything you read with a grain of salt.
Once you’ve gathered information from possible agencies, review your notes and the agency’s websites. Keep in mind that adoption agencies exist as businesses, not charities, so you need to be discerning and not allow rhetoric to persuade you to choose one agency over another. Use common sense. I’ve often heard that adoptive parents “just know” which agency is right for them.
I wish you the best of luck on your journey and in choosing an agency. It’s no easy task, but once you decide, you are one step closer to meeting your child.