When comparing adoption agencies, attorneys, law centers, consultants, and facilitators, it is important to understand their differences as well as the pros and cons of each to ensure you choose the right adoption professional for you.
An adoption agency is a licensed business that places children in adoptive homes. They are staffed by trained professionals and are regulated by the state. Adoption agencies often provide an extensive range of services, pre and post placement, including preparing adoption home studies, matching adoptive families with expectant mothers, and providing counseling and support for birth mothers. Many agencies also provide counseling for adoptees and adoptive parents. Be sure to ask the adoption agency you choose for an outlined list of services they provide.
Adoption attorneys are experts in adoption law. They represent private and independent adoption cases. An adoption attorney may work with an Adoption law center, such as Adoption Network Law Center (ANLC) and file the adoption paperwork, oversee the adoption case, and finalize the child placement process. Adoption attorneys handle the legal process, but do not generally locate birth parents for clients. Some may assist by placing ads online, in newspapers, and within social groups for their clients that are hoping to adopt.
Before Choosing an Adoption Attorney
Adoption may be a new process for you. Since it is a legal process, you will need an attorney to guide you and ensure that the adoption meets all state laws and regulations. In some states, an attorney is needed from the start of the process (i.e., in New York State adoptive parents must be Pre-Certified through their local court prior to taking custody of a child). All adoptions need an attorney to finalize through the court.
Adoption law is a specialty and not all family law attorneys have the expertise to oversee and finalize an adoption. Before choosing an attorney, consider the following:
- WHO DOES WHAT? – Attorneys provide legal services, but may also connect you to other services (i.e., physicians, OB/GYNs, counselors, etc.) as the need arises in your adoption process. Discuss what services and decisions are needed and who makes them.
- PRIOR EXPERIENCE – Ask if they have done the type of adoption you are choosing (i.e.domestic interstate adoption, specific intercountry adoption, working with singles, etc.). How many have they done and how recently. You want an attorney who is knowledgeable and up-to-date with the type of adoption process you are starting.
- PROFESSIONAL LICENSING AND CONSUMER RATING – Check if they are licensed in your state. You can also find a local, adoptive parent group and talk to adoptive parents about whom they used and if they were satisfied with the legal services they received. Check the lawyer’s website and read reviews as well.
- WHO IS FOLLOWING YOUR CASE? – Ask if you will be working with the attorney directly, or if a partner/associate or office staff member will be assigned to your case. What hours are they available? Do they prefer phone calls, emails, texts, etc.? It is important to know who is overseeing your adoption and, if other staff will be involved, who does what and when.
- WHAT ARE THE COSTS OF THE ADOPTION? – You will want to know who helps guide you in appropriate adoption fees, what is legal and what is paid to whom and when. For the attorney specifically: How do they bill? Do they have a consultation fee, a retainer, a set rate or do they bill by the hour? You should have an estimated adoption budget before you begin the process, and know what part is for legal fees.
While you may work with social workers, Internet consultants, and other professionals throughout your adoption, your attorney will be your legal guide throughout your adoption process. Because you will be placing a great amount of trust in their legal expertise and guidance, you need to make sure you choose the right attorney for your type of adoption. If you have done your research, understand what an attorney can and cannot do in your state, checked their licensing, experience and consumer rating with adoptive parents, and consulted with local adoption professionals (such as social workers, home study providers and counselors) you can feel confident that they can help you to build your family through adoption.
Adoption is a leap of faith. Leap with your eyes open, consult with others as you go, and switch gears if you feel something is not right or working for you.
Adoption Law Centers
Finally, we have adoption law centers. In short, adoption law centers are corporations that are owned by a licensed attorney.
Unlike a local attorneys, who are limited to finding prospective birth mothers within the state where they are licensed, national adoption law centers are able to market across the country, offering a much larger and more diverse group. They work with attorneys and adoption agencies in other states to ensure the laws of both the Birth Mother’s state and the Adopting Parents’ state are followed. When clients choose a law center, they have access to a few advantages that aren’t found with a firm or an agency. These include:
- Advertising: Law centers often have rather hefty advertising budgets. This means they have the power and the means to reach out to Birth Mothers nationwide. This gives Adoptive Families more visibility and increases the likelihood of a child being placed with a loving family sooner rather than later.
- Shorter Wait Times: Law centers cut out much of the waiting Adoptive Families suffer through when using agencies and law firms. Due to their national reach, higher visibility, and internet advertising, their wait times can be much lower than what families are used to or expecting with local adoptions.
- Connections: Law centers have connections to attorneys, adoption advisors, home study providers, and more, giving families a significant amount of peace throughout the process. Clients can trust law centers because they know they will be connected with a trustworthy firm or agency later in the adoption process.
Adoption Law Centers are a major helping hand when it comes to adoption, giving families some serious advantages. Shorter wait times, better visibility, and legally sound proceedings are invaluable to both Birth Mothers and Adoptive Families, making this choice a great one.
Adoptive parents with high and flexible budgets often desire the swiftest form of adoption to expand their family and will hire an adoption facilitator. Adoption facilitators connect hopeful adoptive parents with expectant mothers considering adoption and serve as an intermediary between both parties. Depending on the state, you will discover that many adoption facilitators are not licensed—and some states have laws against the use of adoption facilitators. Facilitators offer minimal to no support other than matching an expectant mother and an adoptive family. Once an expectant mother selects a family, the adoption facilitator refers them to a licensed adoption professional to finish the adoption process. Adoption facilitators are companies that are typically unlicensed and unregulated. Oftentimes, adoption facilitators are very small organizations, totally operated by just a few staff members. These members may or may not have a counseling background, which makes them a somewhat risky choice for families looking to adopt, especially since they are not legal in all states. Like adoption law centers and adoption agencies, however, adoption facilitators take the lead in adoption advertisements used to locate a Birth Mother. Once a Birth Mother has found and selected a family, the adoption facilitator will then refer both the family and the Birth Parent(s) to a professional, either a licensed agency or law firm. After this, the facilitator no longer has any part in the adoption process. In short, an adoption facilitator only helps clients with the hard part of matching families with an expectant mother considering adoption. Through their intervention, the necessities of location, advertisement, and a match are taken care of for both parties involved.
Pros and Cons of Using Adoption Facilitators
With Adoption Facilitators come a number of pros and cons. It is important to consider each of these carefully before making a decision, as a lot of time and emotions are invested into who you choose to work with. Most families take extreme caution when deciding who will help them throughout their adoption process because they know that this can impact everything from the Birth Mother to the adoption plan and beyond. So, before you settle for an adoption facilitator, consider these pros and cons:
- Highly Skilled: Quite often, it is rather difficult to reach out to Birth Mothers who are considering adoption, as it is a difficult subject to fully accept for some. However, a good facilitator has experience with adoption and Birth Mothers and is better equipped to communicate with Birth Mothers in order to go over their options when it comes to unplanned pregnancy.
- Not Annually Regulated or Reviewed: Most adoption facilitators are not annually or even periodically reviewed by the government or an objective organization/party. This means they may not be totally up to date on state policies or properly regulated.
- Facilitators Only Match: Unfortunately, adoption facilitators only match Birth Parents and Adoptive Families. The actual adoption services are not handled, meaning the adoptive family has the responsibility of finding a local (and licensed) provider who can perform the necessary services.
- Financial Risk: Though the facilitator itself may not cost much, there is a high financial risk involved. As facilitators are only responsible for finding you a Birth Mother, even after you pay for their services and invest in the Birth Mother, you will need to hire additional adoption professionals to legally complete your adoption.
Adoption Consultants educate clients and assist them through the adoption process. They generally work with a number of agencies and attorneys and refer clients to them. They also give advice and feedback on creating adoption profiles. Adoption Consultants act as unbiased partners, and with their experience in the field can review adoption opportunities and discuss possible risks with clients. They also offer emotional support as well as answer questions and guide clients through the uncertainty of the process.
Adoption Consultants are individuals or companies that help you through the adoption process. They generally come from years of experience in the field and share their expertise with their clients. With an Adoption Consultant, you will receive advice on the Home Study process and many offer advice for you as you put together your Adoption Profile. They are there to answer questions for you throughout the process. They are not lawyers or Agencies and work strictly as advisors; they network with agencies and/or law firms to advocate for their clients. Often you can choose the level of support you prefer.
Consultants are not regulated or licensed, and they do not work with Birth Mothers. Their emphasis is on education and support for prospective Adopting Parents. They will also review adoption opportunities and offer advice on any possible red flags, although they are not lawyers and cannot offer legal advice.
Pros and Cons of Using Adoption Consultants
As with most adoption entities, there are pros and cons to using Adoption Consultants.
- Emotional Support: Adoption Consultants offer a shoulder for support. They will answer questions throughout the process in an unbiased manner.
- Adoption Profile Advice: Adoption Consultants also offer advice on building your adoption profiles. They will review your profiles to ensure they are attractive to prospective Birth Mothers.
- Home Study information: While Adoption Consultants don’t provide home studies, they will offer advice and suggestions to help you through that process as well.
- No Legal Advice: Adoption Consultants cannot offer legal advice or counsel.
- No Access to Prospective Birth Mothers: Adoption Consultants refer clients to other adoption entities (Law Firms, Adoption Agencies) in hopes that they will find a birth mother for their clients.
- Unknown Agencies: You have no control over how the agency you end up working with handles Birth Mothers, or whether you will have any financial protection through them.
- Cost: You are only paying for advice and emotional support. Home study, legal fees, Birth Mother expenses, and all other adoption-related expenses are still your responsibility.
TIPS TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT PROFESSIONAL:
Whether you’re working with an adoption agency, an adoption attorney, or an adoption facilitator, finding the right professional to work with is vital to avoiding the disruptions, scams, and other risks of adoption, along the way. There are thousands of adoption agencies in the United States alone; here are five steps you can use to guide you to choosing the right one:
- Research. A good place to start looking at your options is online. Be discriminating, and remember that depending on whether you decide to adopt domestically, through foster care, or internationally, different adoption professionals will have the expertise that you need. Be diligent, start making phone calls, and call around until you find the right one to work with. Use your gut instincts; often the first impression you get is the correct one. Ask yourself these questions: Did they answer the phone? Did they call you back right away? Were they friendly? Did they offer you more information right away?
- Know yourself. Prepare yourself for your adoption interviews. Some adoption professionals may ask questions about your education, your finances, career, health, lifestyle, and personal history, if you are single, particularly religious, 40 and older, or LGBT. You may not feel comfortable disclosing so much information, but remember it is part of the adoption process. The better you know yourself, and what your values are, the easier it will be to find the right adoption professional.
- Ask questions. Get the essentials: How much will it cost? When are the fees due? How long will it likely take to get matched? What are the adoptive parent eligibility requirements? What will the home study be like? Do they have references—examples of adoptive parents in your circumstances who have had successful adoptions—to show you? If you are adopting internationally, which countries does the adoption professional work with? What age range is typical? If you are adopting through foster care, what considerations need to be made in regards to sibling groups, older children, and special needs children?
- Find positive proof. Start digging for reputable reviews of successful (or unsuccessful) adoptions, and other third party validation regarding the adoption professional you’re considering working with. Do your due diligence, as they say. Join a local adoptive parent support group to find previous clients of the agencies you are looking into. Check the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been logged against the organization or company you are thinking of working with.
- Warning signs. Does what they’re offering sound too good to be true? Do they lack affiliations with other reputable organizations? Did they ask for all the fees to be paid up front? Did they refuse to provide you with an itemized list of fees and expenses, or otherwise lack transparency? Are they accredited/licensed?
Now that you know a bit more about adoption agencies, adoption attorneys, adoption consultants and adoption facilitators, you can make a more informed decision about which adoption entity is best to help you through the adoption process.