Searching for a Reputable Adoption Agency

When looking for an adoption agency, your goal is to find one that is honest, ethical, and licensed; has several years of experience; and places many children each year. You want the staff to be competent, compassionate, patient, helpful, efficient, and available to you when you need them. If all this sounds too good to be true, don't despair. Many agencies that fit this description are out there.

The agency license

The very first thing you should determine is if the agency is licensed or not. Licensed agencies must meet both state and federal regulations, and a licensing board regularly evaluates them. Agencies also have strict guidelines regarding the kinds of fees they can charge.

In doing the license investigation, call the office in your state that licenses agencies. Although the names of these offices differ in the different states (for example: Alabama, Department of Human Resources; California, Department of Social Services; Indiana, Division of Family and Children; Kentucky, Cabinet for Families and Children), you can call your local welfare office and ask specifically for the licensing office's number. When you reach the licensing agency, ask the following questions:

  • Is the license of the agency you're interested in current? You want the answer to be yes. If the license isn't current, there's a reason why — and it probably isn't a good one.
    Small problems don't cause the agency to lose its license. The agency is told about any minor issues, and it develops a plan to correct those within a certain amount of time. But stay away from agencies whose licenses have been revoked.
    Reasons for having a license taken away include big transgressions like

• Not following state adoption regulations or laws

• Not letting state personnel on the premises for an inspection or investigation of the facility

• Employing someone who's been convicted of a crime that could put children at risk

• Not submitting required reports or documents

• Practicing in an unethical or fraudulent way

  • When did the licensing board last visit the agency? Depending on the laws in your state, the last review should be within the standard review period. Most states, for example, require an annual review.
  • Are there are any current or unresolved complaints against the agency? These complaints can come from clients — both birthparents and adoptive parents — who've used the agency and include things like fraud; misleading statements and false promises; accepting money but not placing a child; increasing fees and tagging on additional, undisclosed fees; and making threats (pay this now or lose this child, for example).

Unlicensed agencies and facilitators (individuals who locate birthmothers for you); aren't evaluated by licensing boards, and they aren't required to follow any specific regulations or guidelines. In fact, in many states, it's illegal for an agency or facilitator to operate without a license. If you're absolutely set on using an agency or facilitator who doesn't have a license (and it's highly recommended that you don't), make sure that you know your state laws regarding licensing and be extra vigilant as you move forward with your adoption plans.

Services to adoptive parents

Reputable adoption agencies provide numerous services to adoptive families. Following is a list of the ones you should expect:

  • The agency should provide you with a completed home study.
  • The agency should provide education, training, and preparation in the area of adoption and the issues you'll face as an adoptive family.
  • The agency or the assigned social worker should be accessible to you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have.
  • The agency should closely communicate with you about your status while you wait for a placement.
  • The agency should offer consistent support and encouragement.
  • The agency should honestly communicate any areas of concern or any barriers to you as you try to build your family through adoption.
  • The agency should maintain its commitment to you following placement of your child and offer all the necessary supervision visits and court reports for the court finalization.
  • If you need help finding an attorney to do the legal work associated with all adoptions, the agency will either have one on staff or be able to give you some leads.
  • The agency should be the mediator between you and the birthmother of your child if a mediator is desired. In this capacity, a social worker from the agency is present to help you and the birthmother decide the amount of openness you want in the adoption or how much contact you have during the pregnancy. The social worker also can help resolve conflicts, like when the birthmother drives the adoptive family nuts with continual phone calls or when the family hasn't sent the promised letter or picture to the birthmother.

Services to birthmothers

The services that agencies provide to birthmothers are a key component of a successful adoption. Following is a list of the services that reputable agencies commonly offer the women who come to them wanting to make adoption plans:

  • Ongoing counseling and support: Reputable agencies offer counseling and support to the birthmother that lasts from the time she initially contacts the agency, through delivery and placement of the child, and as long as she needs help after placement. Most agencies offer home visits or transportation for these appointments if the birthmothers can't arrange transportation themselves. Some agencies also offer support groups for birthmothers.
  • Information about her options: Not every woman who contacts an agency makes an adoption plan. Many decide to parent their children themselves. In counseling birthmothers, reputable agencies never try to coerce a birthmother into making a decision to place her child. They include a discussion about options other than adoption.
  • Help with doctor visits and referrals for other necessary services: Some agencies offer referrals for prenatal care, transportation to doctor visits, and even baby-sitting for other children while the birthmother is being examined. Some agencies facilitate the birthmother's application for Medicaid or other public services.
  • Other stuff: If the birthmother needs maternity clothes, housing, or food, most agencies assist in some way, often by offering referrals to shelters, transportation to food pantries, gift certificates to grocery or clothing stores, and so on. Some agencies ask the adoptive family for financial help to meet the birthmother's housing or other needs.

Birthmothers should always seek the services of the agency voluntarily, and they should always be treated with respect and understanding.

Miscellaneous signs of good agencies

Following are some other characteristics of reputable agencies:

  • They know and follow adoption laws in their states.
  • They keep the best interests of children in mind and work with state legislatures to enact adoption laws that are child-friendly.
  • They often place information ads in the phone book and in local papers, but they don't go "shopping" for birthmothers.
  • They allow the birthmother to secure the amount of openness she's comfortable with in the adoption and make sure that she understands she has the right to change her mind about the adoption before she signs the legal documents relinquishing her parental rights.
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