As the former Executive Director of Joint Council on International Children’s Services, I often received phone calls from birth parents and prospective adoptive parents who would ask, “How do adoption agencies work”? I still receive those questions from friends and acquaintances who know about my experiences as an executive at Joint Council on International Children’s Services and on staff at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. There was not a clear specific answer, but I was always able to share some important specifics on how adoption agencies work, regardless of what types of adoptions the agency facilitated, geography, or whether they were Hague accredited. I am also even more aware of the importance of finding and using a reputable, ethical adoption agency to support you as you make the important decision on whether to place your baby for adoption.

What Are Adoption Agencies?

First, as you begin your research in answering the question “How do adoption agencies work,”  you may realize that there are two types of adoption agencies in the United States: public adoption agencies and private adoption agencies. Each helps to facilitate domestic adoptions, determines whether the prospective adoptive parents qualify to adopt, and helps the prospective adoptive parents with their home study process.  

Public adoption agencies are mainly used to help finalize adopting a child from the foster care system in your respective state.  

Private adoption agencies serve to help birth parents find the adoptive families for their child, help with the legal paperwork, and help facilitate agreements and adoption payments and birth mother expenses (that is the money you receive to cover the expenses incurred during your pregnancy). When adoption agencies are referenced throughout this article, it is mainly private adoption agencies discussed.

The role of an adoption agency is to help the birth mother and/or birth family and prospective adoptive parents throughout the adoption process. They are the intermediary providing support throughout the process to both prospective adoptive families and the birth parents. Agencies are licensed in their respective state (and many meet other accreditations based on the types of adoptions they facilitatelike international adoptions from Hague Convention countries). They can serve both the prospective adoptive parents and birth mothers and birth fathers. However, some do just one or the other. It is important to do your research to see which agencies work with birth mothers and fathers. Using an adoption agency is incredibly helpful, especially as you navigate the legalities, expenses paid to you as a birth mother, and the process. Sometimes, it is even required by the state for you to use an adoption attorney or adoption agency as your adoption service provider. 

How Do Adoption Agencies Work for Pregnant Women Contemplating an Adoption Plan?

Adoption agencies are a wonderful place to begin your process. Whether you feel pretty certain of your decision to place your baby for adoption or are still gathering information on all of your options, adoption agencies are a good starting point. There is no pressure or commitment to work with an agency at the onset of the process. You can research agencies and find ones in your state at the adoption agency directory. Deciding which agencies are best to interview can be a daunting step in the process. How to choose a great adoption agency can be overwhelming, but it does not have to be. Narrowing the list based on geography and services they provide birth mothers (and potentially prospective adoptive parents) is important. Many people enter the adoption process for the first time with the misconception that all agencies are the same. They are not; so do your research and make sure your questions are answered during the interview.

Once you have narrowed down your list of adoption agencies to interview, think of the questions that are most important to you right now. They may not seem like the savviest or well-researched, but the questions in YOUR heart are the most important ones you need answered. Reach out to the adoption agency and ask to set up a time to either meet with or have a phone call with one of the social workers at their organization. They will answer the questions you have and also give you information, very inclusive information, you may not have even considered. Recognize that this relationship will be an important one in your journey. The person or people you speak to may help determine the next steps of your journey. If you do decide to move forward with an adoption plan, the agency you choose will play an integral role in your life and your baby’s life.  Once you feel an agency is the best fit for you through prayer, research, or referrals, follow your heart. Feeling comfortable with the team you will be working with is key to having a great experience with an agency. 

What Services Do Adoption Agencies Provide? 

How do adoption agencies work after you decide to move forward with an adoption plan? What services do adoption agencies provide? 

Most adoption agencies specializing in private domestic adoptionsand especially those who help support and facilitate the adoption for the birth motherwill offer a plethora of different services. These services will be specific for each member of the adoption triad: the birth mother (or birth parents), the child, and the prospective adoptive parents or family.  

These services provided by each agency will differ, but most are the same to meet the requirements and regulations within your respective state.  

The first service they will provide you is information for every step of the journey. This will feel like a lot of information at once. It will include timelines, expenses you may receive from the prospective adoptive parents or agency, legal paperwork, and counseling resources to name a few. Their goal is to ensure you have all of the information you need to make the best choice for you and your baby. If you feel like you do not understand something or that your questions are not being answered, do not be afraid to change agencies. You want this relationship to be one where you feel informed and secure.  

After you have been given all of the information on the process for you and your baby, the adoption agency will work with you to help you decide on the next best steps in meeting with prospective adoptive families you may choose as your child’s adoptive parents. Many agencies that are licensed and specialize in facilitating adoptions for both the birth mother and/or father and prospective adoptive parents will work with the prospective adoptive parents to create a profile or book of letters, photos, and information on the adoptive family. The profile the agency collects on the prospective adoptive family is conclusive. The prospective adoptive parents will have gone through the first step in their process with the agency which is to complete a home study. The home study needs to be done by licensed social workers or licensed adoption professionals in their state (dependent on licensing requirements). 

Many times, the agency with whom the prospective adoptive couple is using to match them with a birth mother and facilitate the adoption will also have completed a home study. The home study is exhaustive in ensuring the home and family are safe and prepared for adopting a child. The prospective adoptive parents will need to complete a number of hours of parenting training, complete numerous interviews with the social worker, and have visits to their home to ensure it is safe and prepared for a child. The home study also includes recommendations from faith leaders, employers, friends, family, and teachers of children in the home. Every individual living in the home is interviewed, and all go through an FBI livescan background check and a check in each county where that person has lived. Driving records, income levels, medical, education, and employment histories are also disclosed and included in the home study report. 

After the agency completes the home study, they will work with the prospective adoptive family on building their profile and photo pages for your viewing. Once you have chosen one or a few sets of parents with whom you would like to connect, the agency will act as an intermediary and help facilitate that first conversation. They will work with you as you navigate that process of connecting with and interviewing prospective parents for your child. They make the process as seamless and stress-free as possible for you.

Once you have chosen an adoptive family for your child, the agency will work with you on paperwork, negotiating what expenses will be covered by the prospective adoptive family during your pregnancy, and other legal paperwork. They will help you get your questions answered throughout your pregnancy and will help you work through each step of the process.

Once you are in labor, the adoption agency will inform the prospective adoptive parents if you have not, and they will work with you to create a birth plan for you and your child. They will ensure your wishes are communicated with the prospective adoptive parents. They will also be there to help you complete the relinquishment paperwork when and if you are ready for that. Once those papers are signed, your agency will also work with you through the process and emotions that may arise before and after the adoption is finalized.  

Most importantly, the adoption agency will help you decide what kind of relationship you would like to have with your child and his or her adoptive parents. Would you like a very open relationship where you call, visit, and send and receive photos? Or would you like a more semi-open adoption where maybe you just receive photos or updates at milestones? The agency can help you work through those decisions, create an adoption plan for you and your baby, and craft the agreement you will have with your child’s adoptive family on the amount of contact you will have.  

Most agencies will also touch base with you as the birth parent once a monthusually up to six monthsto report back after post-placement visits with the adoptive family. Sometimes, it does not happen as often, but agencies will check in with you and see how you are doing. The relationship with a good agency does not end at relinquishment.  

The relationship you will have with your agency will be one of the most important relationships you will have during this season of your life. The adoption agency and staff which support you throughout your pregnancy many times feel like friends and family. They will be there to support you and your baby each step of the way. No question is too small, too silly, or too big. They have heard and dealt with it all. The good agencies have done this hundreds, if not thousands, of times for birth parents and prospective adoptive parents. When you ask, “How do adoption agencies work,” it is important to see that, although there are similarities, there are big differences in how that question is answered. Picking an agency during your pregnancy can seem overwhelming, but when you have a deep understanding of the process and what to expect, you will be at ease. It is important to do your research. and are wonderful resources to explore as a birth parent. Read reviews from other birth parents who have gone through the process. Search profiles of prospective adoptive parents and read articles on the process.   

Whether you are just beginning to consider adoption or have been matched with prospective adoptive parents through a personal connection or online profile, it is important to select an agency that has a reputation for being respectful and attentive to the needs of birth parents. You and your baby’s needs are most important, and selecting an agency who believes that as well is much more important than any answers you will receive on the question, “How do adoption agencies work?” Most of all, trust your heart, lean on those you love, and you will make the best choices for you and your baby.

Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit or call 1-800-GLADNEY.

Jennifer Mellon has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving in varying capacities as the Executive Director and Chief Development Officer of Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) and the Corporate Communications Program Manager for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Jennifer has served on the Board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro Area and on the Development Committee for the National Council for Adoption. She is the mom of three children and resides in Alexandria, Virginia.