How Do I Find My Domestic Adoption Team?

An adoption lawyer advises on deciding between independent and agency adoption, and on hiring the right professionals.

What to consider when deciding independent vs agency adoption.

Adoption is a team sport, regardless of how you choose to adopt. You might already know a particular player you want involved in the process–for example, an agency recommended by a friend, or a lawyer used by a family member–and your desire to work with them may determine your route to adoption. Or you might have decided on private adoption, and need to assemble the necessary players.

Who should be on your roster? When it comes to a domestic adoption, the first fork in the road is deciding on independent vs agency adoption–whether to work on your own or with an organization. (A few states have made the choice for you by outlawing private adoptions.) The type of adoption you pursue, and your own preferences, will determine how you assemble your team.

Team Agency

Working with an agency is like hiring a general manager. Agency adoptions appeal to parents who would rather have an organization directing each step of the process. Keep in mind that agencies are private businesses, and many of them promote a particular point of view, sometimes a religious one. Agencies locate prospective birth mothers and provide them with counseling, support, and profiles of waiting families. Most agencies act as intermediaries in the relationship between both families.

Adoption agencies walk parents through every stage of the process: providing a social worker to perform the homestudy, helping to prepare a Dear Birth Mother letter and scrapbook, linking families, handling the termination of parental rights, and recommending attorneys to finalize the adoption. Of course, there are costs and conditions associated with these services. Agencies typically require a non-refundable fee when a family signs up with them, and most have specific requirements for homestudies and classes or training that adoptive parents must complete.

The attorney plays a limited role in agency adoptions. Birth parents relinquish custody to the agency, not directly to the adoptive parents, so the attorney is needed only to prepare and obtain the final adoption decree.

Team Independent

If agencies provide a full-meal deal, independent adoptions are an la carte experience. Assuming they are legal in your state, private adoptions give parents a great deal of control over their adoption process. Independent adopters decide where and how to locate a potential birth mother, and deal directly with her. They can decide what type of expenses they are willing to pay, and what type of relationship they want with her, both before and after the delivery. To some extent, independent adopters also retain more control over expenses, because they pay for each step of the process individually, rather than committing to a package deal. Still, independent adoptions are labor-intensive and far less private than agency adoptions.

To adopt independently, parents must be willing to announce their plans to the world as they attempt to find an expecting mother. Are you comfortable advertising in newspapers? Setting up a toll-free phone line and fielding calls from birth mothers? The idea of marketing yourself is strange at best and deeply offensive to some.

For these reasons, attorneys, social workers, and facilitators play large roles on independent adoption teams. Because you can work with any court-approved social worker, you are free to shop around for a personality that clicks with you and a methodology you like. Every adoption social worker approaches the homestudy process differently, so it makes sense to interview several candidates.

The attorney usually plays the most significant role in an independent adoption. When parents locate a birth mother, the attorney will obtain her consent to the adoption, identify and obtain consent from the birth father, and terminate the birth parents rights. The lawyer may also suggest representation for the birth parents and, if the adoption is interstate, work with an attorney in the sending state to process the adoption according to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. Adoption attorneys can also screen potential birth mothers for families, help both families address logistics at the hospital during delivery, and prepare written agreements for future contact.

Another potential player is the adoption facilitator or intermediary. These are individuals or organizations that match waiting parents with expectant mothers. More than three-quarters of states have laws regulating or banning adoption facilitators, because of the possibility of profiting from the placement of a child. There are well-run and ethical intermediary organizations throughout the country; just be sure you know the laws of your state before you begin working with a facilitator.

Whatever your route to adoption, and your stage in the process, professionals are there to support you, and can shoulder as much of the administrative load as you desire. Although building a family is not usually considered a group activity, the joys of working with a caring team far outweigh the challenges. When you have your child, you have won, and the victory is even sweeter when teammates can celebrate with you.

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