When you’re ready to start your adoption journey, knowing where to start can be pretty overwhelming. It was for us. If you’ve decided on a domestic infant adoption, there are a couple different ways you can do it. If you’ve already connected with an expectant mother, you can do a private adoption through a lawyer. The most common way, though, is to go through an adoption agency. There are so many different agencies out there that it can be hard to know where to even begin. Or how to choose. Jamie and I spent a lot of time trying to choose the right agency for us and I wanted to share some of what we learned.
1. Meet with more than one. This is probably the best advice we were given when we first started our adoption journey. We attended an informational meeting at an adoption agency because their name is well known in the adoption world and we have friends who have used this agency in other states. While we could have worked with that agency and it may have been fine, it just wasn’t the best fit for us. We interviewed three local adoption agencies in person and received initial information from a handful more (non-local) before making our decision. Knowing we’d done more legwork on the front end made us confident that we made the right choice.
2. Ask lots of questions. It’s important to ask a lot of questions before you choose an agency, especially if you have to make any kind of payment once you sign a contract. Ask about what the home study process looks like, what’s required of your state, what happens after placement, etc. This is your chance to learn more about the agency, how they support first families and get a clear understanding of what your adoption journey might look like working with them – before you make a commitment.
3. Find out about average placement and waiting family numbers. If you’re planning to adopt, you should know that there’s no rhyme or reason to the wait time. I can’t tell you why we had Caleb in our arms six months after starting our home study while friends of ours waited more than two years to be matched with an expectant mother. But it definitely says something if an agency takes on more waiting families than they can handle. If an agency generally has double or triple the amount of waiting families than they do average placements each year, I think it opens the door for questionable ethics. I also think that it indicates that longer wait times are more likely. I’m not saying that this is always the case, which is why it’s always good to do your homework and ask lots of questions.
4. Look at their home study timelines. Every agency conducts their home studies differently. We found that some of the agencies we looked at did group training on specific days of the month or quarter. With Jamie’s schedule at the fire department, we knew that it would be harder to work around a set date. Even worse is that if we couldn’t make it, we would have to wait even longer for the next training date, ultimately postponing home study completion. One of the things we really liked about the agency we chose is that they did one-on-one training. They were able to meet with us around our schedule. We don’t live too far from the office, but they were still willing to come out to us as well.
5. Know your costs. You’ll hear agencies talk about average costs in regards to adoption. Why? It’s because no two adoptions look the same. Find out what the agency fees are (which are generally fixed costs) and what costs may vary. This can be anything from lawyer fees to medical costs to expectant mother expenses (these vary greatly from state to state). Some agencies will also have reduced fees if you already have a complete home study or self match with an expectant mother. Also make sure you find out when each payment is due. Some agencies require that you pay a significant amount up front, while others have you make payments when you match, at placement, or after finalization.
6. Think about distance. We were grateful that the adoption agency we chose is local to us. It’s just a 30 minute drive to their office. This is nice because not only is it easy for us to drive to them, they were more than happy to come out to our house without charging a mileage fee. If you choose an agency that is farther away, you might have extra costs associated with meeting with your agency face-to-face for your training and home visits. If your agency is too far away or even in a different state, you may have to contract with a local social worker to help do those things. It’s all doable, but it may affect your total adoption cost. The nice thing in this technological age is that we’re not held to only working with a local agency. But if you decide to pick an agency based in another state, make sure you learn about how that may affect your adoption since every state’s adoption laws are different.
7. Learn about their work with expectant mothers. Their real work. Every agency we met with talked about how much support they gave to expectant mothers. Counseling in particular. What I’ve learned is that this totally varies across the board as far as what services they actually offer to expectant mothers and it can sometimes put additional influence on an expectant mother to make an adoption plan. I fully agree that anyone considering making an adoption plan should be offered counseling and other resources, but make sure the adoption agency is conducting those things to benefit the mother herself, not just to ensure that she’ll go through the adoption. What I really liked about our agency is how much they go above and beyond to help expectant mothers and their families, regardless of their final decision. In fact, they are just as proud of their number of mothers – and fathers – they’ve worked with who have chosen to parent as the number of forever families they’ve been able to help create.
8. Look at reviews. As with reviews for just about anything, I think you always have to take things with a grain of salt. But with adoption, you have to be extra cautious for a lot of reasons. For example, there was one agency I looked at, but I read a review that had some pretty significant weight to it. I won’t go into a ton of detail, but basically, there were questions behind whether or not the agency had acted ethically while working with the expectant mother. Even though we heard some really glowing reviews about this agency from happy adoptive families, it wasn’t enough for us to feel comfortable working with this particular agency.
9. Go with your gut. If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Trust your instincts if something feels off. Whether it’s something someone says or how they treat expectant mothers, choosing an adoption agency that does legal and ethical adoptions is the most important thing.
10. Ethics above all else. I cannot stress this enough. Just because something an agency does is legal, it doesn’t mean it’s right. When you’re in the thick of your adoption journey, it’s really hard not to get wrapped up with all the emotional aspects of it all. I get that when all you want is a sweet little baby in your arms, the hardest thing to do is to be willing to walk away. But that is something that we as adoptive parents have to be able to do. A woman considering making an adoption plan for her baby is still the mother of her child and should be able to (and encouraged to) make any decisions she wants without being influenced. Birth father’s rights matter. Coercion is still coercion, no matter what color you paint it. If you’re meeting with an adoption agency that suggests you can cut some of these corners (and believe it or not, this is quite common), I recommend looking into your other options.
Curious about other parts of the adoption process? Feel free to leave your questions below. I’m trying to answer as many questions as I can either here on the blog or on my Instagram during National Adoption Month.