When embarking on the journey of adoption there are many things to consider. Are you interested in adopting domestically, from foster care, or internationally? What age would be the best fit for your family? Are you open to building your family with a child of a different race, ethnicity, or nationality? And should you use an adoption agency or adopt independently?
Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer. Whether to use an agency or begin the process independently differs for each family. There are pros and cons to each and at the end of the day, the right decision is what is right for you, your family, your time frame, and your set of circumstances. Here are some things to consider:
Private Adoption Agency
Families pursuing a domestic adoption may choose to work with a private adoption agency. There are many agencies throughout the country and there is no need to work with an agency specifically in your state of residency. Thanks to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, adoption across state lines is possible. When choosing to adopt using a private adoption agency, families will essentially be led and guided through the adoption process from the very first stages of inquiry through the entire post-placement process. When beginning your adoption journey be sure to do your research and interview several adoption agencies. Knowing the right questions to ask can mean the difference between a good fit and numerous frustrations down the road.
At the beginning of the process, a private adoption agency will conduct a home study by a state-licensed social worker. During this time the agency might have you begin to work on your adoption profile. However, it is important to note that many private adoption agencies have prospective adoptive parents waiting lists so your profile will not be shown until your home study is approved. This is to ensure that a prospective birth mother does not choose someone with a failed home study. Once your home study is approved, you will be eligible to be matched by your agency, but even then it can take some time before your profile reaches the top of the list. That said, one of the benefits of private adoption is that agencies have a large network through which to advertise prospective adoptive parents. Many prospective adoptive parents choose to work with an adoption consultant, in addition to their agency, to better advertise themselves.
Once a match has been made, private adoption agencies can be particularly valuable in the assistance they provide to both the prospective birth and prospective adoptive parents. Private agencies will help negotiate the terms of the adoption (whether it will be open, semi-open, or closed); handle payments to the prospective birth mother for medical, legal, travel, and reasonable living expenses; and coordinate hospital plans, birth plans, and health insurance. Private agencies also provide excellent pre-adoption training to prospective adoptive parents as well as both birth and adoptive parent counseling prior to placement. When it comes time for the birth of the child, the birth parents will relinquish parental rights to the agency, who in turn give consent for the adoption to the adoptive parents. Once the adoption takes place, the same private adoption agency will follow-up on post-adoption placements and help new adoptive parents finalize their adoption when the time comes.
One final note about working with a private adoption agency is that each agency has the legal capability of setting the standards for prospective adoptive parents with whom they will work. This means that despite state standards (which are often minimal) a private adoption agency can set age, income, marital status, sexual orientation, and even religious requirements for potential prospective adoptive parents.
Independent adoption, also called private adoption, refers to the process wherein prospective adoptive parents work with an adoption attorney to facilitate the adoption. Unlike agency adoptions, the only requirements placed on prospective adoptive parents are those which are mandated by the state. Whereas private agency adoption is a full-service package, families considering adopting independently should think about the process like an a la carte menu. Adopting independently puts the prospective adoptive parents in the driver’s seat, allowing you to complete and multitask the steps of your adoption process at your own speed. The downside, however, is that if you are not organized or self-driven, it may lead to a longer adoption process.
To begin the process, families may choose to first locate an adoption attorney. A good attorney will answer any questions about the process you may have and supply a list of potential fees. The attorney will advise you on state advertising laws, relinquishment laws, and the rights of birth fathers in your state(s) of interest. Next, you will need to complete a home study by a state-licensed social worker. A good adoption attorney will be able to refer you to a home study provider as well as experienced adoption counselors. Upon home study approval, the prospective adoptive parents are eligible to adopt.
However, unlike in most private agencies, prospective adoptive parents may begin advertising at any time during the process. Many prospective adoptive parents employ media specialists to help them with their adoption profiles and advertising. Unless prohibited by state adoption laws, attorneys may begin to show your profile even before your home study is complete. And unlike a private adoption agency, adoption attorneys have no adoptive parents waiting list.
One of the benefits of independent adoption is that a birth mother can choose the adoptive parents directly. This leads to a closer, more personal relationship between the prospective birth and adoptive families than is typically experienced in private agency adoption. Additionally, many families feel this leads to a less risky adoption because a personal connection has already been established. On the flipside, screening and matching is often the most difficult part of the adoption process. While a media specialist and an adoption attorney can help facilitate the process of matching, often they do not have the reach that a large private adoption agency does with respect to networking to prospective birth mothers. Additionally, families interested in adopting independently should be careful when screening potential birth mother matches. Scams do happen and part of what private adoption agencies offer is the protection and peace of mind that comes with a more thorough background screening and vetting process.
Once a prospective birth mother has been identified your adoption attorney will work out the terms of the adoption, pre-natal and post-natal financial arrangements. Most states require birth parents to have separate legal counsel, but even if they do not it is the ethical thing to provide for the birth parents as legal counsels have their clients’ best interest. The prospective adoptive parents and birth parents will work out a plan for the child’s birth and will, more often than not, be at the hospital when the time comes. When the child is born, the birth parents relinquish rights directly to the adoptive parents, without the need of the adoption agency intermediary.
To date, only four states do not allow independent adoption: Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and South Dakota. If you are interested in adopting from one of these states then you must use an accredited adoption service provider.
For families considering adopting internationally, the questions of “should I use an adoption agency or adopt independently” is contingent upon from which country a family wishes to adopt. Of the top five countries to adopt from in 2019, China, Colombia, Haiti, and India are all Hague Convention countries. Noting that a country is a Hague Convention country is important because if a country has signed the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, then a prospective adoptive family must use an accredited adoption agency both to conduct a home study and to facilitate the adoption. In fact, for Hague Convention countries, it is not possible for a prospective adoptive parent to have contact with an overseas orphanage or foster family. Until the adoption is finalized all contact must go through the U.S. based adoption agency, to the sending country’s central adoption authority, and then on to the prospective adoptive child’s caretaker or childcare facility. The reason for this rule is to cut down on the number of instances of child trafficking and to ensure that every intercountry adoption is completed in the utmost ethical way possible. Another popular sending country, South Korea, is not a Hague signatory but still follows Hague Convention guidelines that a U.S. adoption agency must be used in order to complete an intercounty adoption from South Korea to the United States.
For countries which are non-Hague Convention, an independent, intercountry adoption would be feasible, in theory. Nicaragua and Samoa, for example, are non-Hague Convention countries, and it is possible to conduct an independent, intercountry adoption. However, because the U.S. is a Hague Convention signatory, certain standards must still be met. In order for the child to be adopted into the United States, the onus would be on the prospective adoptive parents to prove that the prospective adoptive child is in fact an orphan and that every effort has been made to place the child in-country. If the child is an orphan and has been deemed unadoptable within their country of origin, then the child is eligible for intercountry adoption to the United States. The prospective adoptive parents would then need to file all paperwork exhibiting these facts directly with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
But there are other challenges to independent intercountry adoptions. Prospective adoptive parents will be responsible for compiling, translating, and authenticating their country-specific dossiers. Knowing which documents to include is not always clear without the help of an agency. When it comes time for a referral, there are no rules or regulations which dictate what must be included in the prospective adoptive child’s file. Prior to the Hague Convention, there were routine instances where prospective adoptive families accepted a referral only to arrive in-country and meet a child with far greater special needs than the initial referral indicated. When adopting from a Hague Convention country, prospective adoptive parents will receive a referral which includes as much physical, social, developmental, medical, and family history as possible. There is no standard in non-Hague countries.
Timelines can vary vastly with non-Hague convention countries, even once a child has been identified. Whereas Hague Convention countries must follow strict guidelines and timetables with respect to intercountry adoptions, with non-Hague countries prospective adoptive families are at the mercy of the sending country and the sending country’s federal and, often local, court system. Lastly one of the pillars of the Hague Convention is to not only protect the child but to protect prospective adoptive parents as well. Under the Hague Convention, all adoption fees (including an estimate of travel expenses) must be disclosed to the prospective adoptive parents at the beginning of the adoption process. This came about as a result of several adoptive parents traveling overseas to meet their child only to have a new list of fees and financial demands made of them before they could leave the country with their child. Thus, it is strongly advised that prospective adoptive parents wishing to pursue international adoption do so with the aid of an agency.
When it comes to the question of, “Should I use an adoption agency or adopt independently?” only you know the answer. Are you more interested in a more personal adoption experience or are you more comfortable having an agency handle the logistics? Are you happy assuming the role of coordinator for your adoption or would you rather have someone else take the reigns? Remember there is no right or wrong answer. However you choose to build your family through adoption will be the right path for you. And at the end of it, you will have a beautiful addition to your family.
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Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller, and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.