Selecting an Agency
There are several steps you must complete for any type of adoption through an agency. In addition to the four basic procedures described below, other procedures may be necessary, depending upon your particular needs and those of the child and the birth parents.
There are both private and public adoption agencies. A private adoption agency is supported by private funds and should be licensed or approved by the state in which it operates. A public agency is the local branch of your state social service agency. Most public agencies handle only special needs adoptions -- not infant or international adoptions.
Using a private agency
To obtain the names of local private agencies, look under "Adoption Agencies" or "Social Services" in the Yellow Pages. You can obtain a free copy of your state's agency listing from NAIC. If you have Internet access, you can visit the NAIC Web site at http://www.childwelfare.gov/to access the National Adoption Directory online. You should check with your state adoption specialist, the Better Business Bureau near the agency, and the state Attorney General's office regarding any complaints that might have been lodged by other adoptive families. You may also wish to check with local adoptive parent support groups for their recommendations of reputable agencies.
Private agencies handle both domestic and international adoptions. You will need to decide which kind of child you want to join your family.
Make sure you ask any agency you might work with what its fees are and what the schedule is for paying them. You should also ask what services are and are not covered by the fees. Most will allow you to pay fees in installments due at particular points during the adoption process. If the fee policy is clear from the beginning, any misunderstandings about payment will be less likely.
Using a public agency
You can find an appropriate agency listed in your telephone book in the government section under a name such as "Department of Social Services" or "Department of Public Welfare." Each state organizes its agencies somewhat differently. They may be organized regionally or by county. To begin, call your county office and ask to speak to the adoption specialist. If the county office cannot help you, ask to be referred to the regional or state office.
In general, public agencies will accept adoption applications from families wanting to adopt older children, sibling groups, or children with special physical or psychological needs. Many of the children waiting for placement from public agencies are children of color.
Adoption services through a public agency are usually free or available for a modest fee, since the services are funded through state and federal taxes. Federal or state subsidies are sometimes available to assist families adopting a child with special needs. If a child has no special needs, adoptive parents may only be asked to pay legal fees, which are often quite reasonable. In some cases, subsidies may even be available for the legal fees, too.
Children in the custody of a public agency were either abused, neglected, or abandoned by their birth parents. Abuse and neglect can leave physical and emotional scars. It is important to discuss all aspects of a child's history with the agency social workers and to discuss the availability of counseling or other services, just in case they might be needed, before deciding to adopt a child with a traumatic history.