With literally thousands of adoption agencies to choose from, it can be confusing, to say the least, to know which way to turn or who to trust when choosing the right one for you. Although possibly one of the last things prospective parents want to be concerned with when deciding to grow their family through adoption, the agency you choose can make all of the difference for both you and an adopted child.

Most people new to adoption know very little or next to nothing when it comes to the topic of adoption. Why is an adoption agency necessary? What services do they provide? How are they different? What will they do for me? What can I expect?

Before beginning our adoption journey, admittedly, I knew nothing about agencies or their purpose and relied heavily on others to help me navigate the very complicated waters surrounding the agency we inevitably chose.

Regarding finding an adoption agency, The Child Welfare Information Gateway states, “Locating an agency to assist you in building your family through adoption should take into account your family’s personal preferences regarding the adoption services provided by that agency. While there are overarching characteristics that should be true of any agency, there are different qualities that families might find important.”

State-Licensed Agency Defined

Within the USLegal.com definition of an agency adoption, they also define a state-licensed agency as one “that provides counseling to birthparents, homestudies to prospective adoptive parents, relinquishment services and post-placement programs for triad members. These agencies may also provide …[international] and special needs adoption services.”

Adoption agencies prepare adoption home studies, match adoptive families with birth mothers, and sometimes provide counseling and support for birth mothers. Some adoption agencies provide counseling for adoptive parents and adoptees. 

Agency and Everyone Else

In addition to adoption agencies, prospective adoptive parents may decide to work with adoption attorneys, adoption facilitators, and adoption consultants. Not all are equal or the same and you should know the difference.

Whereas adoption agencies are licensed businesses that offer a variety of services during pre- and post-adoption and help to place children in adoptive homes, adoption attorneys are adoption law experts. However, they are usually less inclusive than agencies in the services they are able to offer adopting families. Don’t expect an adoption attorney to locate or match prospective parents with birth mothers; however, they may assist by helping to place ads in various places.

An adoption facilitator is a person who serves as an intermediary between prospective adoptive parents and birth mothers considering adoption. Unlike adoption agencies, not all adoption facilitators are licensed and they typically refer families to other professionals to finalize an adoption.

Finally, adoption consultants serve as unbiased partners who help to educate adopting families to assist them through the adoption process. Consultants often work with agencies and attorneys and refer prospective parents to them. Consultants provide advice to hopeful parents who are creating adoption profiles. 

Do Your Research

There is no shortage of available information when it comes to adoption research. Whether you choose to start your search online, in a book, in an article, or in person (you should probably do all four, by the way), you will want to do plenty of it and be thorough. Remember that you are not only doing research for yourself, but on behalf of a waiting child.

Adoption.com’s offers a plethora of information here. A good adoption agency will also be more than willing to provide you with the resources and information you will want and need to make important choices.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway lists the following steps to assess the reputation of licensed, private adoption agencies:

 – “Contact the State Licensing Specialist in the state where the agency is located. The State Licensing Specialist will be able to tell you if the agency is in good standing, if there have been any complaints lodged against the agency and how long the agency has held the license. The State Licensing Office maintains complaint files as a public service. 

 – “Contact the State’s Attorney General’s Office to see if any legal action has been taken against the agency. The Attorney General’s office is a government office in the state capitol. You may find their contact information in Government section of the telephone book. Ask whether there is pending litigation against the agency or whether the agency has an established complaint file.

 – “Request at least three references from the agency. Ask them to provide you with the names and phone numbers of three clients whose adoptions were completed at least three years ago. You may ask those adoptive parents how the agency handled the adoption process, including post-adoption services. Ask these parents if they had any problems or concerns with agency.

 – “Join an adoptive parent support group in your area. In adoptive parent support groups, you can talk with other parents about their experience(s) with local agencies. You may encounter individuals who have worked with the agency you are considering. For a list of adoptive parent support groups in your area, and near the agency you are considering, search the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory. If there are several parent groups in your area, contact each of them to find out about their membership, activities, and any support services available, to find the one best for you. 

 – “Contact the Better Business Bureau closest to the agency. The Better Business Bureau also provides a helpful tip sheet on “Using an Adoption Agency.” Always ask the Better Business Bureau office staff person if that office covers the location of the agency and if their office takes complaints on adoption agencies. If they do not, then check with the State, City, or County Government Consumer Protection Office where the agency is located for complaints.”

In addition to professional resources, it’s extremely beneficial to reach out to other adoptive families in order to speak with parents and children impacted by adoption. What better way to learn the behind-the-scenes details than to speak with those living it?

What Sort of Adoption Will You Pursue?

Before you decide on an adoption agency, you will want to determine what type of adoption you want to pursue. You will need to ask yourself whether you are interested in domestic or international adoption? Are you open to foster to adopt? What age feels like the right fit for you—infant, toddler, or older child? Are you hoping to adopt a child of the same race and ethnicity? Or are you open to transracial adoption? How about special needs adoption? 

There is no right answer for everyone. You should do your research and take your time in deciding what sort of home is willing and able to provide for a child in need of a family.

Choosing Domestic Adoption

Many hopeful parents plan to adopt domestically. Adoption.com offers in-depth information concerning domestic adoption here. Prospective parents may pursue domestic adoption privately with the assistance of an attorney or with the assistance of an agency.

Families who choose to foster first with the possibility of adoption also may turn to an adoption agency to assist them throughout the process.

Choosing International Adoption

Did you know that there are hundreds of private agencies in the United States that place children from foreign countries for adoption? There are hundreds of thousands of children available for adoption in countries worldwide. Oftentimes, these children live in orphanages or other institutional or temporary home settings similar to United States foster care. You can learn more about international adoption here. According to Travel.State.Gov, “the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity … accredits adoption service providers and approved persons for intercountry [or international] adoption. Information on accredited adoption service providers and approved persons can be found on IAAME’s website.”

Be Prepared 

Before you seek out the assistance of an agency, you will want to know that you are, in fact, ready to begin your adoption journey. Believe it or not, agencies are not meant as a roadblock, but rather to help all involved in the adoption process.

They will have questions for you and you should be ready and prepared to respond to their inquiries. 

Ask Lots and Lots of Questions

Just as your adoption agency, attorney, and other adoption facilitators will have plenty of questions for you so should you compose and be ready with your own list of questions for them. How long have they been serving the adoption community? Are they familiar with the type of adoption that you are pursuing? Do they provide a fee menu? How long for a typical match? What sort of requirements are you looking at? Can they provide you with solid references and proof of other successful adoptions?

Ask Around

You ask for referrals for plumbing, electrical work, and yard work. You even spend time researching menus and reviews before selecting a restaurant at which to dine. You are most certainly not being sneaky or pushy by asking around about the adoption agency you choose to go with. A good adoption agency should be proud to share its success stories with you and oftentimes, will have developed strong relationships with the families it has serviced.

Look for all the Red Flags

Although most of us don’t have a “Spidey sense” to let us know when something is off, we can and should rely on research done and common sense when things seem too good to be true. Just because an agency claims to be reputable does not mean they are, nor does it mean they have your best interests at heart or that of waiting children. One of the most important things you can do, before you do anything at all, is to make sure they are properly accredited and licensed. Does your agency play by the rules or try to bend them?

Make sure that the adoption agency you choose is affiliated with other reputable organizations locally, nationally, and internationally, if applicable. Do they seem demanding? Are they being forthcoming with an itemized list of fees and associated adoption expenses? Are their fees reasonable? And are they asking for fees to be paid upfront? 

Communication is key, as they say. A good agency will make itself available to you to answer your questions. They will respond to your phone calls and emails. They will be professional and work in your best interest. Their bottom line is providing good service.

Leave a Bad Agency

Some hopeful adoptive parents who have found themselves working with an agency that displays certain warning signs find it difficult to back away once the adoption process has begun, and who can blame them with the time it takes to complete paperwork, the monetary investment, and the faith placed in people who claim to be working in your best interest. 

In her article, “5 Red Flags Your Adoption Agency is Unethical,” author Chelse Shultz recommends laying the groundwork for a successful adoption by ensuring that it’s being handled ethically and responsibly. She points out the following five warning signs to look for:

 – “Uneducated or demeaning adoption language.

 – “…Shorter wait times in exchange for higher fees.

 – “…Charging different fees for the adoption of different race children.

 – “…Little or limited pregnancy counseling.

 – “…A lack of long-term support for any member of the adoption triad.”

How to Get Started

Adoption is not momentary or temporary, but a lifelong commitment. Every adoption is unique and different for all parties involved. Although adoption can feel overwhelming and confusing for both adopting families and birth mothers, no matter the pathway—domestic or international—the right adoption agency can and will be able to help you through the process even after the paperwork has been signed and finalized. Before committing to an agency, make sure that they are a good fit for you and your family to be.

Ready to get started? Find an adoption professional here today who can provide you with professional guidance, give you advice on adoption financing, and help you with adoption planning. You can also find professionals who specialize in international adoption here.

Learn how to have a more successful adoption journey. Watch 70+ adoption leaders and experts FREE at the virtual Adoption Summit. Get your free ticket.

Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.