Sunday, November 16, 2008

Choosing an Adoption Agency

If you are arriving at this post through a Google search and have never read my blog before, please go back and read this post first. Thank you.

I will list several positive and negative aspects of our adoption agency, but before I give them I want to share the serendipitous story of how J and I ended up working with our agency. (Side note: I am happy to share the actual name and web address of our agency with any readers who are serious about working with our SW, just e-mail me. The link is in the sidebar.)

My story stretches back to New Year's Eve 2004/2005, when we welcomed two sweet Korean boys into our home as short-term exchange students. They were attending a local Catholic K-8 school and studying English at the college in our town from 4-7 each evening. We learned about the "home stay" program from a woman who came to our church and spoke about these students, requesting families to sign up as host parents. J and I were intrigued at the idea and I was particularly thrilled because my family had had a wonderful experience hosting a foreign exchange student from Germany during my senior year of high school. Her name is Anne and we still refer to each other as a sister. (BTW: Evie and her daughter were born less than a day apart, and Anne and I are only 4 days apart in age!) Our boys were Frank, 7th grade, and Summer (the literal translation of his Korean name), 6th grade. Wow, we had no idea what we were in for, going from 0 to 60 as parents of middle school boys. Those of you who have boys that age will get a good chuckle at the thought of it, I'm sure. I have lots of good stories to tell from that time, like the time when Summer decided to boycott showering and we had no idea. But I digress...

Having the boys led us to hosting a 23-year-old law student named Cristina, from Colombia. She was studying English at our local college because it would mean a higher salary after she graduated from law school in her country. Cristina and I had so much fun together during the summer of 2005, talking and drinking margaritas and watching CSI. We talked about my newly diagnosed infertility and she volunteered that her boyfriend's mother, back in Colombia, ran a large orphanage that cared for many infants and some of those infants were adopted by U.S. couples. We did some research and found that it would be almost impossible for us to adopt from FANA unless we lived in a handful of states, but our interest in international adoption was piqued.

When we finally decided to abandon infertility treatments and adopt a baby, we sought an agency that would facilitate an adoption from Latin America, because of our connection to Cristina. We were overwhelmed by the number of options out there and finally decided on B.ethany C.hristian S.ervices (BCS) because 1. they are a non-profit, 2. we knew a casual acquaintance who'd worked with them to adopt a baby girl from China and 3. hey, they are Christian, we are Christians, it just made sense, right? Nope. I am not going to go into the full story here because it really deserves its own post (if you are considering using BCS just e-mail me and I'll share more if you like) but we found BCS to be disorganized, unreliable, overly bureaucratic and money-grubbing.

Around the time that we were ending our relationship with BCS, I was also going through a very dark period in my life. I'm not going to go into detail with this, either, because it, too, deserves its own post. Anyhow, I ended up asking my pastor for a referral to a Christian counselor, where I spent some very difficult and weepy hours, grieving the death of my dream for a biological child and trying to reconcile my pain with God's love for me. During one session I mentioned what was going on with BCS and my counselor brought up that her sister had adopted a 3-month-old baby boy from a local orphanage through a small agency, nearby in Kansas. She got our SW's contact information from her sister and during the next session gave it to me.

I have to pause here to acknowledge that all of us who are in the process of adopting are inundated by well-meaning friends and family members recommending one agency or another "because I know someone who adopted a baby with them..." and if you follow up on every agency lead you get you'll go nuts.

However, the recommendation by my counselor felt right; the agency she was recommending was not in another state, was not a big, national, bureaucratic monster, it was a small local agency run by a licensed social worker. Here are the things we like/love about our agency:

  • It is a sole-proprietorship and the owner is a social worker with a master's degree in the field of SW.

  • Our SW has over 26 years of experience in SW and over 20 years of experience in the field of adoption.

  • She is local and we were able to meet one-on-one with her several times and develop a personal relationship and friendship with her. She counseled me for free after we lost Lucy.
  • She makes herself available by cell phone 24/7 once couples are matched with a birth family.

  • She personally visits families while they are in the hospital during the birth and relinquishment of a baby.

  • She also has contacts with reputable international orphanages and organizations and offers international adoption as an option to adoptive families.

  • She does not advertise her agency but instead accepts clients through word-of-mouth referrals. This decision to avoid advertising is an ethical one and is meant to make ensure that no families are lured into the process; all families who work with her are so sure of their choice that they have sought her out. This goes for birth families, too.

  • Because of this, her pool of waiting families stays small and the couples she works with never feel "lost in the pool."

  • Despite her lack of advertising, she has a steady stream of birth families asking to work with her because she has established an excellent reputation in our community for ethics and for facilitating open adoptions.

  • She requires extensive counseling for all birth moms and strongly encourages counseling for birth fathers as well. She does not allow them to select an adoptive family until the third trimester, when birth mothers are more likely to be certain of their choice to make an adoption plan. She offers and encourages counseling for birth mothers post-placement, as well.
  • Adoptive families pay for the birth families' counseling whether or not the adoption is finalized.
  • She highly recommends open adoption and makes sure that all of her clients understand it thoroughly before she allows them to decide in favor of it or against it.
  • She does not advertise placement rates, does not try to improve placement rates beyond the counseling policies I just described, and follows all ethical guidelines of her profession.
  • She requires reading from both adoptive and birth parents before she will work with them.
  • She matches birth parents with adoptive families outside her agency, as is necessary for the best interest of the child, and also locates birth families from outside her agency who are excellent matches for adoptive parents in her agency. This is called networking, it requires a lot of energy and organization from our SW and she does charge an extra fee because of it. However, I believe it is an ethical fee because she is seeking matches in the best interest of the children involved.
  • She is happy to put together home studies for families and then have them choose not to use her agency for their adoption.
  • She is open and honest about the serious issues that can occur in adoption. Specifically, when we first met with her we were still interested in international adoption. She confronted us with some disturbing facts about Guatemalan adoptions and gave us further information about international adoption (specifically the Hague Adoption Convention underway and the effect it would have on international adoptions). She presented us with the facts about domestic adoption and dispelled the myths we still harbored (e.g. domestic infant adoption usually costs $40,000; there are so few infants whose birth parents make adoption plans that we would be waiting 4 years or more; the birth parents have the right to take the child back). Between the information she provided and our reading of Dear Birthmother, we chose domestic adoption.
  • Finally, she is a genuinely friendly and empathetic person. She is easy to talk to and a good listener. You can see in her eyes, facial expressions and body language, and hear in her voice, as well as her words, how much she deeply cares about the work that she does.

From my limited experience with adoption, I am happy with our agency and we plan to use our SW again when we adopt for a second time. However, there are things we do not prefer about our agency:

  • Our SW makes her living from this agency; it is not a non-profit. This is a conflict of interest for her because her salary depends on keeping up a steady pace of adoptions. Some SWs in this position might be tempted to match birth and adoptive families who are not exactly right for each other, in order to pay their bills. We are comfortable that this is not the case for our SW because her husband has a high-profile job with a huge salary (i.e. she doesn't "need" the money), she charges very reasonable fees and she does not advertise her agency.
  • Our SW doesn't offer support groups and other opportunities for birth families, adoptive families and adopted children to meet, mingle and support each other. There is one BBQ each summer that is an official "open adoption reunion" event for birth families and adoptive families to all hang out together and eat and talk for a Saturday afternoon. We went this summer and it was fun, but once a year seems like a token effort. However, our SW and her family organize the event themselves, so I would think she would need to hire extra staff in order to add more events and support groups.

These are the factors that we have found important in our agency and are factors that other adoptive families may consider as they select an agency to assist and represent them through the adoption process.

Readers, what factors have I missed that are also important in choosing an agency? Feel free to leave a comment and add to my list.

There are thousands of adoption agencies and facilitators in the U.S. and searching for the right one can feel overwhelming. Many couples feel so confused about this choice that they simply choose a large agency whose name they have heard before (much as some people visit a new city and decide to eat at Applebee's because they just aren't sure about the local restaurants). These large agencies have their place and I'm sure there are wonderful people working there who deeply desire the best result for all members of the adoption triad. However, they just weren't for J and I. If you've worked with a large national agency or another type of agency that is different from the agency J and I worked with, please comment and give us some of the pros and cons of the agency you used. Thanks!

If you want to find an agency similar to the one J and I used, I would suggest calling up local adoption attorneys, hospitals, churches and pregnancy support centers. These are all sources of referrals to small, local agencies. Another strategy would be to find a local adoption support group (for adoptive couples) and use the inevitable mingling period before and after the meeting to inquire about the agencies that other families have used and get the scoop about the pros and cons of each.

Here is another perspective on this topic, from Lori. (added 11-18-08)


  1. We chose our agency based on the fact that 1) they were local, 2) they were small (even though that meant possibly a longer wait), but mainly because of 3) the way they treated their birthmothers and the ongoing relationship they had with them.

    We LOVE our agency and our caseworker. We've never felt lost in the pool or out-of-the-loop and know that they will be there for us for the rest of our lives if we need them! They still keep in contact and counsel birthmothers from 20, 30 years ago.

    The most important thing is to find an agency and SW that makes time for you, is patient and understanding, and that you feel is being honest with you. It makes all the difference in the world when you know they care.

    This is GREAT info. Sounds like you found just the right place!

  2. This is a wonderful resource. I've bookmarked this post to share with others starting out in the process.


I love comments! If you ask a question, I'll probably reply in the comment thread, and I try to visit the blogs of everyone who comments.

My Shelfari Bookshelf

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog