Adoptive Families, the award-winning national adoption magazine, is the leading adoption information source for families before, during, and after adoption.


Choosing an Adoption Agency

To avoid headaches and heartaches, become an educated consumer of adoption services By Jennifer O’Riordan

Most people wouldn’t dream of buying a new car without thorough research and comparison shopping. Choosing an adoption agency is comparable. You need to exercise your research and networking skills to ensure that the agency you choose will respond to your needs as you embark on the adoption process.

Keep a Consumer Mind-set
The first step to choosing an agency is to make yourself a good consumer. Gather as much information as possible about adoption, agencies and state requirements. Explore the range of available options and the various programs. If your options seem limited, don’t rule out any possibility without thoroughly researching it. Spend at least two to three months investigating all alternatives before deciding what is right for you.

Armed with this information, begin evaluating agencies. Find out which agencies offer the kind of programs you are looking for. Many agencies offer informational meetings once a month or so. Attend one, and don’t be timid about asking questions. After all, the agency you choose will certainly ask you a lot of questions!

Ask the Right Questions
Which questions should you ask? What should you be looking for in an agency? Take AF's questions to ask before choosing an adoption agency (available at or as download the PDF at with you to each agency to compare the services they offer.

What training does the agency offer for various types of adoptions? If you are adopting internationally, how will the agency prepare you for parenting children of a different racial and/or cultural background? Are parents who are adopting children with special needs well prepared to do so? (This is essential!) What other support services does the agency provide? What help is given to families experiencing postplacement difficulties? If you are adopting an infant domestically, what counseling do the birth parents receive? If you adopt from another state, will your local agency work with you to satisfy the requirements of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)?

Network to Obtain Information
Networking with others is invaluable. Contact an adoptive parent support group or a RESOLVE group in your area to connect with parents who have adopted through the agencies you are investigating. These parents can tell you what they thought about a particular agency. Previous clients are the only source for those nitty-gritty details about agency personalities, quirks and personnel that can either make an agency easier to work with or cause friction and anxiety. 

Fee Structures
Make sure that you understand what fees you will be charged and when they are due. It is important for you to be well aware of the complexities of the adoption process. Remember, you are entering a fee-for-service arrangement, and the fees are for the agency’s services. They do not guarantee you a child. Be suspicious if an agency requires that all fees be paid up front. No matter what reasons the agency may give for requiring payment in advance, this is not an accepted ethical practice.

Be wary of signing a fee agreement that doesn’t allow you to cancel the agreement if the agency increases its fees. Ask an attorney to look over any agreement before you sign it. Agencies typically charge a modest application fee, then require fees for the home study when the home study begins. When the home study is completed, you should understand which additional fees are due as services are rendered and which are due after you have received a referral for a child. Often, when you work with a not-for-profit agency, the adoption fees you pay contribute to other service programs the agency administers. Sometimes portions of the adoption fees provide support services in the children’s country of origin, bolster existing relationships and build new relationships in child-referring countries. Not-for-profit agencies publish annual reports that describe their organizations, their budgets (revenues and expenses) and programs. Ask for copies of your agency’s recent annual reports if you’re interested in knowing how the fees your agency collects support the agency’s mission and programs.

Red Flags
Although there is no way to guarantee smooth sailing through an adoption, there are some red flags that may signal problems. Adoptions director Debbie Schmidt of Catholic Charities in Indiana advises adopters to be wary of agencies that promise a child before a family assessment; agencies that tell clients that the birth parents will relinquish a baby before birth; and agencies that require no home study fee. “I wonder about agencies or attorneys who don’t mention Interstate Compact, and who tell families that they can leave the state immediately without ICPC approval,” she adds. 

Investigate agencies carefully. Agencies should be licensed, and the workers should be professional licensed social workers, preferably with master’s degrees in social work and experience in adoption! Find out how long the agency has operated and how many children it has placed in recent years. Ask the agency about its professional affiliations; for example, is it a member of the Child Welfare League of America, Joint Council on International Children’s Services and/or the Council on Accreditation?

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Call the attorney general’s office and the Better Business Bureau in the state where the agency is licensed to check whether any complaints have been filed against the agency.

Taking the time and effort to select an adoption agency carefully may save you a great deal of unnecessary stress and loss. Choosing the right agency will help improve the chances that your adoption process will go smoothly and work successfully for your family.

Jennifer O’Riordan, M.S., is an adoptive parent and a psychologist.

©Copyright 2002 Adoptive Families magazine. Reproduction in whole or in part wihtout permission is prohibited. Subscribe to Adoptive Families online at or via toll-free phone 800-372-3300.

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