By Josh Redfern, LCSW // Utah Director of Social Work
Recently I was asked in a Facebook group about adoption about my thoughts on agency fees. They are high, everyone knows it, and it is a hard subject to talk about. Let me first say:
1) Fees should ALWAYS be about SERVICES rendered and not about “buying” a child.
2) While I certainly can’t say there are some bad actors in the adoption world, I have been around enough adoption people to know that this is not generally the case. Most agencies/workers/attorneys charge what they need to so they can stay open and continue to do the work that they love.
Some background on me for you that don’t know. I’m an adoptive father of 4 children. We’ve spent a lot of money on adoption; even on adoptions that never happened. I generally only like to spend money on food and on my favorite college sports team. I’m okay with it, now. Ironically, it took a reversed placement that we still had to pay a lot of attorney fees for that got me over the hump. I just got a better sense of the time and effort that even a failed adoption takes.
I’m also an adoption worker. At this point, I have worked for a church-owned adoption agency, as an independent adoption worker, in an international adoption and am now here at Adoption.org.
So, with that, I give you MY opinion on adoption costs. Remember that this comes from a SOCIAL WORKER that works in the business (not an MBA, economist or even a mathematician- which is why I will stay away from too many actual numbers). I’m sure I’ll say something wrong here. That will be due to either my ignorance, tiredness (two of our kids ended up in our bed last night), poor communication skills and George Bush or Barak Obama.
Okay, so first let’s look at some of the sort of non-adoption related costs an agency has. A licensed child-placing agency has to:
- Get licensed (this takes time and money)
- Have an office. Sure, you could do it from home but it’s not always viable. In our area, office space alone can be $12-24/sq ft/year. That’s thousands a month.
- Utilities: Phone (cell phones and land lines), Internet, Gas/Electric. You know what these costs can be.
- Signage, brochures, business cards, etc
- Insurance. Agencies are required to hold several insurances (some you’ve never heard of).
- Office Supplies. Paper, printers, ink, desks, pens, chairs, white boards, conference tables, waiting room chairs, decoration, staples, paperclips, routers, phones, etc.
- Advertising. This one can be a HUGE expense. It can’t be overplayed. It’s not uncommon for some agencies to spend close to seven figures yearly on this alone.
- When you think about what this costs your family or your business, you realize that costs add up quickly. And none of that guarantees that you earn any money. You could be paying all of that without any clients.
The costs that are more adoption related are mostly about the time of the workers. I know very few adoption workers that are making more than comparable jobs in their field. Let’s look at some of the staff it may take to run an agency:
- Executive Director. This is required by most licensing entities. They kind of supervise the entire process and have an incredible amount of responsibility.
- Social Workers. Some licensing agencies require, and you’d want to have, a Director of Social work and then several other social workers (often part time).
- Therapists. Sometimes your social workers are therapists but sometimes they aren’t.
- Case managers. Some agencies have workers that aren’t social workers but just help the expectant parents with day-to-day needs. This is more common with agencies that bring expectant parents in from other states and provide them with support and housing.
- Administrative staff. This can be one or multiple people covering jobs such as taking calls, filing, accounting, taking care of the office, etc.
In my experience, most of these people are being paid competitive (or even below average) wages and none of those careers are high wage earners, in general. You also need to consider that if you want better workers (and all of us do), you do have to pay them well enough to stick around. Not many people have the ability to do this work for free (even though some of us would love to).
The (wo)man hours needed to do GOOD work in an adoption case can be (and should be) pretty extensive. In any given adoption the agency could be spending 20-100+ hours on a case. We all want top notch service for expectant/birth parents and that can be A LOT of hours (which converts to wage costs). I’ve heard people clamor for, say, more, life-long service for birth parents AND lower fees. Those ideas are diametrically opposed.
Then there is legal fees (another industry that has a similar “over-fee” reputation), legal fees for out of state placements (some agencies make you pay these instead of rolling them into your fee), the need to earn some money to develop new programs/open new offices/invest in your employees, training staff (Social workers have to do Continuing Education), etc.
Then there are expenses for the expectant/birth parents. This can add up. Look up what it costs to have a baby at the hospital. Think about what your daily costs of living are. It’s not pretty. A good agency will keep these costs down through different means but I know some agencies feel some pressure to spend MORE so they can get more clients.
Now, I know some of you that have used agencies still will think “I and our birthmom/adoptive family still got crappy services.” I get that, but if you look at a lot of these expenses, they still would have to be covered whether the service was good or crappy. That’s sort of the same in any business. Some businesses are just better than others.
I’m always open to ideas on how to cut costs but I haven’t heard a lot of good ones. I WANT to cut costs. My dream is to win the lottery (a big one but without having to pay) and bankroll adoption (in an ethical and effective way). I literally have thought of how I would do this. Alas, my cheapness (and lack of lottery in my state) keeps me from playing the lotto.
I hope this is taken in the spirit it was given. One of empathy, willingness to look at the process, and of transparency. I’m sure this still won’t convince some of you, it probably won’t make you feel much better and it certainly won’t put the money in your pocket. I just wanted to get some information out there to help people understand that us adoption agencies aren’t evil.