The Basics of Choosing an Adoption Agency

How to begin when choosing an adoption agency.

choosing an adoption agency

Agency 101

  • A “sending” agency has custody of the child and the legal right to decide where the child will go.
  • A “placing” agency is the matchmaker between the child and the parents.
  • The “home study” agency approves potential adoptive parents.

Depending on kind of adoption you’re doing, you may work with one, two, or three agencies; if you’re lucky, your sending agency can also be your placing and home-study agency.

Which agency do I choose first?

When you set out to find an agency, it’s smart to choose the sending agency first; you want your principal contact to be the one that knows most about the child. If the sending agency is in another state and can’t do your home study, ask them to recommend a home-study agency or a social worker whom they’ve worked with before.

 What’s the difference between public or “state” agencies and private agencies? Who regulates agencies?

Public agencies are part of your state or county government. They deal mostly with foster children. Private agencies are licensed by your state’s department of social services, and must submit to regular inspections—usually one a year.

Straight talk: Many adoption agencies with religious-sounding names have no religious restrictions (“Christian” or “Jewish” in the name doesn’t mean they work only with Christian or Jewish families); some agencies with secular-sounding names actually have a religious mission. When you start looking for agencies, don’t rule anyone in or out based on the name, but do ask up front about religious preferences.

What is an adoption facilitator or an adoption consultant?

An adoption facilitator or is someone who matches prospective adoptive parents to birth mothers and/or children. An adoption consultant is someone who advises you on your path, and helps you choose an agency or attorney.

In the United States, facilitators don’t have to have any kind of license or training, and aren’t subject to professional regulations or codes of conduct. Many states restrict what facilitators can do. Even if your state permits them, but the birth mother or birth father’s state doesn’t, you’ll run into trouble. Based on our families’ experience, we would recommend against using a facilitator, unless he or she is also licensed as an attorney, or works in partnership with an adoption attorney.

If you are doing an international adoption, your agency may have to use facilitators in the sending country. Most of the complaints the U.S. state department received about adoptions gone wrong involve facilitators. If  your agency does use them, ask for a list of parents who adopted recently using the same facilitator, and talk to them about their experiences.

Do adoption agencies make money?

Adoption is a multi-million dollar business in the U.S. Even public agencies need fees to support their programs. Private agencies can be for-profit (like any other business) or nonprofit (a charity). Some of our families find that the idea of people profiting from an adoption makes them queasy. If you’re like them, you may be more comfortable going through a nonprofit agency with humanitarian programs as well as adoption services.

What happens if my adoption agency goes out of business?

If the agency is licensed, state law requires them to transfer your records to another licensed agency, so that you don’t have to start your application, home study, and so on, all over again.

What happens to your fees, though, depends on the the agency’s management or board of trustees. Some of our families in this situation have had all their fees refunded Others have been left high and dry—yet another reason to choose a large, nonprofit agency with a long track record and deep roots in the community.


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Families Share: Agency Experiences

"We had unsatisfactory experiences with two private adoptions; we spent a lot of money but did not receive the services promised. Then we checked out the county social services agency and were impressed. They stressed open adoptions (but were not dogmatic about it), and offered classes for adoptive parents. We had a good feeling that we would end up with a baby, no matter how long it took. It is important to trust your gut. We’d had anxieties about the private agency and found them to be justified. But the county played straight with us; they were thorough and realistic. It took about two and a half years after the first paperwork was filed to get our son. Other people we know have gotten children sooner. In our case, Michael (now four and a half) was definitely worth the wait!" —Ed & Karen

"Facilitators are illegal in the state we lived in. Nevertheless, we encountered two who were eager to tell us how to “get around” the law! Yikes! Talk about not having our best interest in mind!" —Steve & Regina

"Once we decided to go the domestic adoption route, we chose to use an agency, so that we could have more assistance with the entire process, would be assured of expectant/birth mother counseling, and could look for lower fee ranges. We worked with a local faith-based agency, and its fees were more than reasonable. We liked the fact that they worked only in our state, not the entire country. It gave everything a "small-town" feel. We felt an immediate connection with one particular employee we met at the beginning, and our caseworker ended up doing our home study and counseling our son's birth mother." —Amy

"We adopted through fost-adopt. It took two very emotional, difficult years to finalize, but we persevered. The only things that made us successful were the support network we had—especially from workers with the county—the prayers of friends and family, and the determination to see it through." —AF reader

"Testimonials and technology made all the difference in our choice of adoption agency. We heard other adoptive families’ rave reviews about the agency, and talked with them privately. The other important advantage to our agency was its vast online resource center, with a step-by-step guide to the paperwork, fees, links to immigration forms, and so on. Whenever we had a question after-hours, or needed to know what came next, we could look it up online and get the most accurate information. It was a huge help as we waded through the piles of paperwork."—Robyn

"We began our journey to our children with limited information about adoption. Completely unaware of the vast adoption resources available, or of the need for them, we simply opened the Yellow Pages of our phone book and looked under “adoption.” We quickly located an adoption attorney, who accepted us on his waiting list of families but cautioned us that our wait for a newborn would be at least one to two years. He told us that he believed in limited communication with birth parents, perhaps speaking with them on the phone but no face-to-face contact. In retrospect, instead of beginning our search by opening the Yellow Pages, we should have begun by opening our minds to the special issues in adoption—and how they affect all parties to an adoption—as well as to the many options available to families. The more we read and talked with others, the more we recognized the myths and misinformation about adoption pervasive in society, and the more empowered we felt to make the right decisions for ourselves and for our prospective children. Ultimately, a conversation Pat had with a coworker led us to pursue open adoption. We signed with an agency that advocated for open placements. For us, open adoption not only works—it is a blessing!" —Diane

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