So you’ve made the decision to adopt and have an idea of what kind of adoption you want to pursue. (You did think about this, right?) Now it’s time to start taking action. But obviously you don’t want to go it alone. You need to find an adoption professional to work with.
This can be a very difficult and overwhelming decision, as there are literally hundreds of adoption professionals and services out there to choose from. But they generally fall into one of three different categories: agencies, attorneys, and facilitators. In later blog posts, I will go into all the nitty gritty details of how to find the right adoption professional for you, but for now, we are just going to keep things simple and break down the differences between the three.
Adoption agencies basically fall into two categories of their own: state agencies and private agencies. The differences between the two are significant, so let’s take a look at each one.
If you are looking to adopt or foster an older child or a child with special needs, a state agency will usually be your best bet. State agencies are run by the state governments and usually take in children who have been determined by the courts to be children in need. They may have been orphaned, abused, neglected, or come from other circumstances where the parents are unable to take care of them. Adopting from a state agency is usually inexpensive because the state simply wants to find a suitable home for the children, but in some cases the state may try to reunite the children with their parents before terminating their parental rights and granting you full custody. This may prolong the process, especially with the bureaucracy that is often far too common with government agencies. This is also not the route you want to take if you want to adopt an infant.
By contrast, a private agency is a privately-run agency that is licensed by the state. Private agencies are like “one-stop shops” that provide a wide range of services to both birthmothers and the adopting families. The services they offer may vary by agency, but they usually will take care of all aspects of the adoption. They will provide counseling to the birthmothers and help them create an adoption plan for their child. For the adopting family, they will conduct the home study and provide you with education and resources. They may help you prepare an adoption profile and will usually take care of advertising (that is, connecting you with a potential birthmother) for you, and they will screen the birthmothers for you to minimize your risk of being scammed. Some agencies even have an attorney in house to finalize the adoption for you.
Private agencies usually have a set fee schedule so that you have a good idea up front what your costs will be. However, you may still need to pay all or part of the birthmother’s expenses, such as medical expenses and living arrangements, so be sure to ask. Some agencies offer a sliding-scale fee structure that charges you based on your income; for instance, families who earn less money would pay lower fees than those who earn a higher income. While many agencies are non-profit, some agencies are for-profit, so you may want to take that into consideration.
An adoption attorney is a lawyer who handles the legal aspects of an adoption. Even if you work with an agency or a facilitator, you will need to hire an attorney at some point in order to finalize the adoption in the court. However, some adoption attorneys provide services that go beyond just the legal aspects. They may provide you counseling and help you with advertising and matching.
However, there are some services that attorneys cannot provide, such as the home study. You will need to find an adoption agency to conduct this for you. (Your attorney may be able to refer you to one.) Also, depending on the attorney, you may be responsible for doing your own advertising and outreach to potential birthmothers, although some attorneys will assist you with this, so be sure to ask. The upside to this is that you have more control over the process and may be able to find a match quicker by doing more advertising. (Just be sure to figure that into your budget, as more advertising will cost more.) The downside is that you could be opening yourself up to risk of being scammed. I strongly recommend having an objective third party screen the birthmothers for you, since you may be too emotionally invested to do this safely on your own. Your attorney may do this for you, so again, be sure to ask. Also, many states require the birthmother to be represented by her own attorney, who should not be the same person representing you. It’s customary for you to cover this expense for the birthmother as well, so be sure to figure that into your budget.
Like agencies, attorneys will usually have a set fee schedule, but the amount you spend will vary more depending on the amount of advertising you do and the amount of financial assistance you provide to the birthmother. If you decide to adopt through an attorney, I strongly recommend one who specializes only in adoption, rather than a general lawyer who only practices adoption law on the side. Those lawyers won’t have the same kind of expertise and may only be doing it for the money.
Adoption facilitators are basically matchmakers between birthparents and adoptive parents. You pay a fee for them to match you with a potential birthmother. They usually handle most of the advertising and outreach for you. However, they do not conduct home studies, so you will still have to find an agency for that. You will also need to hire an adoption attorney to finalize the adoption.
One major downside to adoption facilitators in general is that there is no governing body regulating them, and most states don’t license them. (In some states they are not even legal.) They could be run by social workers who are credentialed in adoption, or they could just be businesses looking to make a profit. This is not to say that you should avoid all facilitators, but you will need to do some research to make sure they are reputable and find out what your state’s laws are regarding adoption facilitators. The upside to facilitators (the good ones, at least) is that they may help you find a birthmother faster, as they usually search nationwide. They can also help you put together your profile and get it out there to potential birthmothers.
So Which Is Right For You?
There really is no right or wrong answer for everyone. Whether you decide to adopt through an agency, attorney, or facilitator, or even a combination of these, will depend on your needs and preferences. You’ll want to consider the following factors:
- How involved you want to be: Agencies and facilitators will usually handle finding a birthmother for you, whereas with attorneys you are likely to be more on your own. Dealing directly with birthmothers can be a risky and emotional proposition, so if you are not comfortable with that, it’s a good idea to work with a professional who will act as a liaison for you.
- The flexibility of your budget: Since you will be doing a lot of the advertising on your own with an attorney adoption, your costs may vary more depending on how much you do. With an agency adoption, you usually have a better idea up front what your costs will be, since they usually handle everything for you. But keep in mind that even in an agency adoption, you may need to contribute to the birthmother’s medical and living expenses.
- How long you are willing to wait: Agencies may sometimes work with a limited pool of expectant mothers, which means that wait times may be longer depending on the agency. With attorney adoptions, you generally have more control over this as you can control how much advertising you want to do. Facilitators may also be able to find a match faster since they specialize in matching birthmothers with adopting families. Of course, no two agencies, attorneys, or facilitators are alike, so be sure to do your research and ask questions.
My wife and I ended up going with an attorney for our adoption. We were originally going to go with an agency, but after interviewing several of them and not finding one that was a good fit for us, we were introduced to our attorney by a coworker of my wife’s who had used her services before and highly recommended her. We felt comfortable going with this attorney for several reasons: she practices adoption law and only adoption law, she has many years of experience in adoption law, she was up front about her fees, and she helps with advertising and connecting with and screening potential birthmothers. We did have to find an agency to conduct the home study, but our attorney was able to connect us with a good one.
I’ll go into more detail about finding an adoption professional in future blog posts, but I hope this post gives you an idea of what your options are.
Question: What are your thoughts about adoption agencies, attorneys, and facilitators? Which ones have you worked with or are currently working with, and what has your experience been like? Sound off in the comments below!