Finding an Adoption Agency
Screening an Agency
After you've picked one or two agencies that seem like a good fit, make sure that you screen them carefully. No matter what good things you may have heard about an agency, people change and policies change, and the agency that was aboveboard last year may now have financial problems—problems that it's now trying to bury with cash flow. Protect yourself.
This does not mean that I think most agencies are “bad.” In my view, only a very small number of agencies will knowingly rip you off. A slightly greater number of agencies are incompetent at either adoption practice or at dealing in the business world. Because adoption represents a considerable investment of your time and money, as well as a major emotional investment, it's well worth it to be careful.
Here are some effective screening questions to ask the adoption agency:
- Does it have a board of directors? Ask for a list of the board members.
- Is it nonprofit? This is no guarantee of purity, but in adoption, a nonprofit adoption agency is preferable. Ask whether it is a 501(c)(3) corporation. This means it is registered with the state and also the IRS as a nonprofit organization.
- Does it produce an annual report? Ask to see the last one.
- Does its staff have child welfare training—degrees in social work, psychology, or counseling?
- Does it provide a contract to its adoptive family applicants? Ask to see a standard contract.
- How large is the staff? If there are only one or two people in the agency, this could mean that it is understaffed or that it is a startup agency. Find out.
- What will the agency do if a family adopts a child and the newly adopted child turns out to have unexpected problems? If the answer is “None of our children ever have problems,” or “God helps all our families cope with any problem,” they are probably in denial. Problems occasionally happen, and the agency should be willing to assist you within a reasonable time after the adoption. (If you adopt a baby and he then becomes a problem as a 16-year-old adolescent, the agency couldn't predict this!)
- Does the agency have a business manager or accountant who handles its financial affairs? Remember, an adoption agency is a business. Bills have to be paid or agencies go out of business.
Don't be afraid to ask these questions and others! You could save yourself thousands of dollars and untold heartache by just being a little careful. In addition, call the local Better Business Bureau and find out whether anyone has complained about the agency. Also call the state adoption office, usually located in the capital of your state. (See State Public Adoption Agencies for listings of public social services offices in each state.)
Signs of an A+ Agency
Although it's certainly not foolproof, some things indicate that an agency might be “good,” meaning that it deals ethically with adopters and birthparents. Here are a few signs that an agency is one you should consider:
- The agency brings previous adopters and birthparents to a meeting where you can ask questions. They don't try to steer people away from asking questions they don't like.
- Social workers and staff seem to know and understand their roles and seem to feel that their jobs are important.
- No complaints have been made to the state or Better Business Bureaus against the agency. Keep in mind, however, that even a good agency may have been complained about for causes that the average person might find silly or unreasonable. So find out the nature of the complaint.
- The agency hasn't been sued more than once or twice. (Even a good agency can be sued. These are litigious times. Find out the reason for the lawsuit.) How do you know whether the agency has been sued? Believe it or not, in most cases you just ask them.
- The agency provides a clear and understandable explanation of its fees.
- The agency doesn't demand five figures ($10,000) or more right away, before you even have a home study.
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adoption © 2004 by Christine Adamec. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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