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 to figure out how 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 facilitate domestic adoptions, determine whether the prospective adoptive parents qualify to adopt. and either compete or help 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, facilitate agreements, organize adoption payments, and settle birth mother expenses (the money you receive to cover expenses incurred during your pregnancy). When adoption agencies are referenced throughout this article, it is mainly referring to private adoption agencies.

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 facilitate, like 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, and processes. Sometimes it is even required by the state for you to use an adoption attorney or adoption agency. 

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 feel stressful. Many people are unsure of where to begin the process. Narrowing the list based on geography and services they provide expectant parents and potentially prospective adoptive parents is important. You cannot call or meet with an infinite number of agencies. This is why it is important to narrow down the list of agencies you plan to interview. It makes sense that you may think all agencies are the same when you begin the process, but this is a misconception. All agencies are not the samethey actually differ drastically, even if providing the same services. So, it is very important you do your research and make sure your questions are answered during the interview with the agencies you first identified in your list.

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 most researched, but the questions in YOUR heart are the most important ones you need answered. Reach out to an 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 plan an integral role in your and your baby’s lives. 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 adoptions, and especially those who help support and facilitate adoptions for birth mothers, will 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, also do not be afraid of changing 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 best next 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 them. 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 the prospective adoptive parents are using to match them with the birth mother and facilitate the adoption will have also conduct the 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 check that it is safe and prepared for a child. The home study also includes recommendations from faith leaders, employers, friends, family, and teachers of other children in the adoptive family. Every individual living in the home is interviewed, and all go through an FBI livescan background check and a check in each county where they have lived. Driving records, income levels, medical, education, and employment histories are also disclosed and included in the home study report. 

After the social worker in the hopeful adoptive parent’s state of residence completes the home study, the agency will work with the prospective adoptive family on building their profile for you to view. Once you have chosen one or a few sets of potential adoptive 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. The agency’s goal is to make this part of the adoption journey as stress-free as possible for you as the expectant parent.

Once you have chosen an adoptive family for your child, your adoption 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 help you work through each step of the process.

They will work with you to create a birth plan for you and your child. Once you are in labor, the adoption agency will inform the prospective adoptive parents (if you have not) to 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 walk you through the process and emotions that may arise before the adoption is finalized a few months later, per your state requirements.  

Most importantly, the adoption agency will help you through the process decide what kind of relationship you would like to have with your child and their 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 an agreement on the amount of contact you will have with your child’s adoptive family.  

Most agencies will also touch base with you as the birth parent once a month for usually up to six months to 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 that support you throughout your pregnancy will 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. is a wonderful resource to explore as a birth parent or as a hopeful adoptive 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. It will be incredibly helpful to have this information as you move forward in your journey.

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 that believes that as well is much more important than any answers you will receive to, “How do adoption agencies work?”

Considering adoption? Choose a family to adopt your child. Visit Parent Profiles on or call 1-800-ADOPT-98. 

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 currently serves on the development board for the National Council for Adoption and currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and five children.