One of the hardest parts of the adoption process for many families (including us so far) can be the hunt for the right agency. You could also go the route of an attorney or facilitator (which I don’t recommend), but since we’re using an agency, I thought I’d explain how we came to find and select our agency.
Let me first disclose a little sheepishly that I have a tendency to be…. obsessive… when it comes to hunting for important things. I spent months searching for an agency that met our needs and criteria. Because of this, I want to be thorough, so I’ve broken this entry into separate chapters. This first entry will cover how we narrowed down what we wanted out of an agency, and what things you must consider before diving in.
First thing’s first. Arm yourself with the law! Know what your state (or the state you’ll be adopting from) laws are regarding adoption! This is vitally important!! Every state has different laws regarding adoption. From personal research, I’ve found that two of the best states for adoption are Texas and Florida, but there are other great pro-adoption states out there. There are also states whose laws are not considered pro-adoption, and can get you in a world of trouble and hurt. So please, carefully read about your state’s laws before deciding anything.
Next, decide on what YOU want from your adoption agency. Before you ever pick up that phone and start calling agencies, set a list for your family of what you want and what you aren’t willing to compromise on.
For instance, are you interested in adopting a child of a particular race or culture? Decide on this. Arm yourself with information about trans-racial adoptions, raising children of other cultures, and how to prepare yourselves to become a multiracial family. Be steadfast in your decision. I spoke with agencies that tried to convince me to take interest in cultures I wasn’t open to, and they tried to convince me the cultures I was open to were wrong. Stay strong! You know what’s best for your family, don’t let a stranger convince you otherwise.
Open, Semi-Open, or Closed
Decide early on what adoption arrangement you’re interested in. I did months of research on open adoptions vs. closed adoptions, and learning what semi-open adoptions even were. I decided I was not interested in an open adoption, and was told by several agencies that I needed personal therapy because I wasn’t willing to change my mind on that issue! I felt bullied by these agents to change my mind. They want you to sign with them…that’s how they make money. Sad but true. They’ll tell you anything… You only need to worry about your own personal convictions and don’t let an agency convince you that you’re wrong.
We decided early on that there are amazing families out there called to adopt special needs babies, and these families are truly blessed with a gift. But we are not one of these families. We aren’t called to take on a special needs child, and to say we are called to take these situations on would hurt both us and the child in the future. I was told by several agencies that I had to be open to a certain level of disability. One even told me I would never find a healthy newborn to adopt in America! Hogwash. Ignore it and move on. If you are called to adopt special needs children, make this known when you contact agencies! They’ll be thrilled to hear from you, as most are usually hurting for special families to take on these special babies.
Now, I’ll admit. I don’t like the way most of the adoption agency applications phrase this question. When you check yes, that you are open to some amount of alcohol exposure, sometimes it’s hard to know to what extent they’re talking about. I was told by one agency that I wouldn’t find a baby with no drug exposure. I didn’t trust that piece of advice and moved on. If you don’t feel equipped to handle something, don’t say you are.
Baby Born Situations
This term applies to babies that are available for adoption that are already born. In other words, your family does not meet with the birth mother or receive word of her and her baby before the baby is born for your to be “matched” with or accept or decline. The agency calls you and says something along the lines of, “We have a baby that was born two days ago, the mother didn’t have an adoption plan made, but she’s decided to place. It’s a boy. Are you interested?” If so, then you have a baby! If not, you can say no, and they’ll call another family. These are also called “no risk” or “low risk” adoptions, because there is no longer a chance for the birth mother to change her mind. When you begin calling agencies, ask them if they ever have baby born situations. If they do, and you’re interested in such a thing, this is a wonderful option. I highly recommend taking interest in baby born situations.
Money Money Money
Doesn’t it make the world go round? Sure does! And it limits our list of potential agencies significantly. We have a set amount we are willing to spend and able to spend, and we can’t go beyond that. Agencies that have fees starting out at $20,000 and then go up from there were marked off of our list quickly. Ones that started out at $40,000 and then went up from there made me gasp, gag, and then were crossed off immediately. If we can’t afford it, we can’t afford it. Done.
Refunds and Transfers
Some agencies, should a situation fall through (as in, you’re matched with a birth mom and she decides to parent the baby herself), will offer a partial refund. Some won’t. Some will keep your money but transfer it to another situation, so as soon as your match falls through (if it does), your fees will transfer to a new situation and a new match. I like this arrangement, because we don’t have to start over again, and we can just move to the next situation without losing any money.
Birth Mother Expenses
Birth mother expenses vary from agency to agency. Sometimes it means you’re expected to cover the birth mother’s medical fees and tests during her pregnancy. Other times it means you are expected to pay for her rent, groceries, clothes, utilities, medical bills, and counseling during her pregnancy and up to six weeks after the baby is born. We won’t do it. We were told by some agencies that we didn’t have a choice. Others don’t have birth mother expenses at all. We had to find agencies that will allow you to sign up with them knowing you won’t pay a dime towards birth mother expenses. To us, it comes down to what we feel is an ethical issue. Paying for the lifestyle of a birth mother during and after her pregnancy feels like we’re paying her off somehow, and I just can’t justify this. To other adoptive parents, it feels like a natural gesture in exchange for a lifetime of joy with their baby. To each his own, but don’t feel like you have to pay birth mother expenses. You don’t.
Faith, Secular, State
There are agencies out there geared towards just about any specific faith you can think of. There are Christian, Jewish, Latter-Day Saint agencies, and many more. There are even specific denominational agencies if you want to narrow it down. Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, Assembly of God, and Church of Christ all come to mind, but there are hundreds of others. If you’re looking for an agency that gears specifically towards Christian (or whatever your religion is) families, chances are you’ll find one. Make no mistake though, just because these agencies claim to be affiliated with a specific church does not mean they are perfect or immune from flaws. Check your BBB (they make it very easy online) and research online for any complaints or law violations with whatever agency you’re considering.
Often the agencies affiliated with a church or synagogue will require that you present a letter from your pastor, bishop, priest, or elders saying that you do belong to this faith and that you regularly attend church and practice the religion honestly.
There are many agencies that fall in the ambiguously self-titled genre of “Faith-Based.” In all honesty, I’m not entirely certain what these agencies adhere to, or what “faith” they follow or support. My guess? They claim to be faith-based in order to draw in potential birth moms and potential adoptive families who are interested in a “religious” adoption agency of some kind. Sometimes this is just part of their schtick, and they really don’t adhere to any specific faith, or have any requirements that say that you must be a spiritual person in order to sign up. These do offer an option for families of faith who don’t belong to a church body, and therefore would not pass the letter required from a pastor or clergyman.
These agencies work almost exclusively through the state system, or the foster care system. Catholic Family Charities is one that comes to mind. These agencies will help you if you’re interested in adopting one of the thousands of children who are currently in our foster care system. Fees for adopting these children are exceptionally low (some even virtually free), so if you’re interested in an older child adoption, this is a wonderful route to take.
I hope this has helped you feel a little more empowered as to what your options are and not overwhelmed. If anything, I hope that this has helped you to see that you DO have options, and you don’t have to accept the first agency that pops up in the phone book, or the first agency that tells you that you HAVE to accept an adoption arrangement or fee that you aren’t comfortable with. Know your options, equip yourself with information, and make decisions that are best for you and your family.
Next time I’ll discuss how I went about narrowing down all of my options after deciding what I wanted from my agency. It’s more complicated than picking up the phone book, but it doesn’t have to be a completely frustrating experience.