Perhaps I'm jumping the gun by writing this post; after all, we are towards the beginning of our adoption journey. However, I have seen a number of blog posts recently which made my heart ache, because couples have been poorly served by their adoption agencies. No one deserves this, particularly infertiles who have already been repeatedly traumatized on their journeys to parenthood. So I've put together these posts in the hopes that future prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) can avoid further heartache and trauma.
1. Why use an adoption agency?
Many couples do not use an adoption agency at all. Instead, they network to find birthparents and then use lawyers to handle the legal transfer of parental rights. I do not recommend this. An honest and ethical agency can help you avoid minefields.
Case in point: I recently read the heartbreaking story of a couple who found an expectant mother, flew to her city for the birth, met the baby in the nursery, fed him, changed his diapers, took him back to where they were staying and parented him for two weeks. Then their lawyer called. The birthmom wanted her baby back.
But there's a catch here: The mother had never signed the TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) papers. The baby did not legally belong to the adoptive parents. Not only was there nothing they could do, but there's a word for taking a child with whom you have no legal relationship. It begins with a "k".
An ethical adoption agency would have both protected both the mother and the PAPs by insisting that the PAPs not cultivate a relationship with the baby before the papers had been signed. Perhaps there are adoption attorneys who would do the same thing, but an attorney's primary responsibility is to handle paperwork, not review best adoption practices with PAPs.
Another factor is cost. I was stunned to learn that adoption attorney's can charge as much as $30,000 per adoption! From what I've seen, many agencies charge less and give you more.
An ethical agency will also offer counseling and post-placement support to birthmothers (see #3 below).
2. Does the agency have a religious affiliation? Is the religious affiliation the same as yours?
If the agency has a religious affiliation that is not your own BEWARE. There are agencies which require all PAPs to sign a "statement of faith" which you may or may not share. (For example, a very large Christian organization here in the US requires PAPs to sign a statement of faith which Catholics cannot sign.)
If you are considering a religious agency, bring up your (different) religion in the first phone call. "We're _________. Do you work with ________ couples?" Also, make sure that the denomination of the adoption agency does not have a record of problems with your denomination. You do not want to encounter any discrimination from your adoption agency once you have signed up with them, as it could involve an extended wait.
I hate to point out particular denominations, but evangelical Christians have a reputation for thinking that no one is saved except fellow evangelicals. If you were evangelical, would you want to adopt children to parents who were bound for hell? No, you would not.
3. What support services does the agency have for mothers, both before and after placement?
Every time I hear a blogger complaining that an adoption agency "only cares about birthmothers," I roll my eyes. Keep in mind that as PAPs, you are the most powerful member in the adoption triad. I know you don't feel this way. I know that you feel that you are powerless because your body can't do what everyone else's body can. But you are the ones who have tens of thousands of dollars that you can spend on this adoption. You're the one who can provide a child a stable safe home and myriad educational and economic opportunities. Women who are even considering making an adoption plan have none of this. You are not the one who is facing the painful choice of either parenting a child without the financial or emotional resources to do so, or placing her in the care of complete strangers, where you may not ever see her again.
If an adoption agency can be trusted to be fair and just to the vulnerable women who are not paying them, then they are more likely to be fair and just to you. The reverse is also true.
If an agency doesn't have much support for birthmothers, especially post-placement counseling, I would think twice about signing up with them.
These women are entrusting us with the most precious thing in the world. The least we can do is make sure they have the support they need during the most difficult times of their lives.
4. What is the agency's reputation?
This is tricky, because it involves digging up dirt on agencies on-line. Most agencies have at least a few negative reviews. Read the content of the reviews and try to ascertain whether the complaints are 1) consistent with one another and 2) reasonable. Pay no attention if the reviewer is complaining, "They only care about birthmothers." Or "They didn't return my non-returnable applications materials." (Yes, this is an actual quote.)
But if review after review alleges that the agency mistreats birthmothers, be very, very careful about proceeding. If the agency pressures or coerces mothers into placing their babies, this is not the kind of agency you want involved with your family.
You can also post a query on on-line adoption forums. Many of these websites have a policy against gossiping about particular agencies, but you can ask that people who have used the agencies in question respond to you via private message or email. Again, take everything you learn with a grain of salt.
Next up: Wait Times, Fee Schedules, and Home Studies