The Adoption Process: Agency vs. Independent Adoption

Find out the differences between agency adoption and independent adoption to determine the method of adopting that best suits your needs.

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The numerous venues for adoption can be overwhelming for people just starting to consider adopting. We're here to help.

The first step when considering adoption is to learn which types of adoption placements are allowed in your state. Since laws where you live govern your options, read up on your area's policies by searching for your state here.

Once you know which options are available to you, the next step is determining how you'd like to adopt a child. We broke down the various ways you can adopt through agencies and adopt independently to help you determine which adoption process is right for your family.

Agency Adoptions

Of your adoption process options, agency adoptions provide the greatest assurance of monitoring and oversight since agencies are required to adhere to licensing and procedural standards. Here are your options:

Choosing a Private Adoption Agency

Who it’s for: Families interested in adopting internationally. Private agencies includes both domestic and international programs.

The cost: Private agencies handle both domestic and international adoptions. You will need to decide which kind of child you want to join your family. Fees charged by private adoption agencies range from $5,000 to more than $30,000 for both domestic and international adoptions.

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.

Getting started: To obtain the names of local private agencies, you can search the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory by state here provided by Child Welfare Information Gateway. Check with your state adoption specialist, the Better Business Bureau near the agency, and the state attorney general's office to see if other adoptive families have lodged any complaints. You can also check with local adoptive parent support groups for their recommendations of reputable agencies.

RELATED: How to Assess the Reputation of Private Adoption Agencies

Choosing a Public Adoption Agency

Who it’s for: Families wanting to adopt older children, sibling groups, or children with special physical or psychological needs. Many of the children waiting for placement through public agencies are children of color.

The cost: 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. Even 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.

Getting started: You can find an appropriate public agency for your state by searching this list of contact information for Local and County Child Welfare Agencies provided by Child Welfare Information Gateway. Each state organizes its agencies somewhat differently. They may be organized regionally or by county. To begin, find your state’s site, then navigate to the adoption section, or 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.

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's 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.

RELATED: Adopting an Older Child

Choosing to Foster a Child

Who it’s for: Families willing to be foster parents while that is the child's need and understand that a public agency will make all efforts to reunite the child with the birth parents. However, if the child is freed for adoption, the foster/adoptive parents may be given priority consideration as his or her potential adoptive parents. If you can stand some uncertainty, it is a viable option, especially if you have your heart set on a young child and you do not have the funds for a private agency or independent adoption.

The cost: Foster parents receive a monthly stipend for a child's living expenses. In general, the goal of the foster care program is to reunite the child with his or her birth parents if at all possible. However, there is a growing trend toward freeing children for adoption (that is, terminating the parental rights of the birth parents) as quickly as possible to prevent years of drifting in foster care.

Getting started: Children are placed with foster parents through a public adoption agency to give birth parents a chance to improve their situations. You can find an appropriate public agency for your state by searching this list of contact information for Local and County Child Welfare Agencies provided by Child Welfare Information Gateway. In almost all states, the vast majority of children adopted from the public foster care system were adopted by their foster parents or by their relatives.

RELATED: Adopting a Foster Child

Independent Adoption

Adoptions can sometimes be arranged without an agency. Initial contacts can be made directly between a pregnant woman and adoptive parents or by the pregnant woman and an attorney, depending on state law. Independent adoption is legal in all but a few states, but there are significant variations regarding specific aspects of adoption laws of which you should be aware.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About International Adoption

Choosing Independent Adoption

Who it’s for: Families that want to customized their own experience, and are comfortable with the risk involved. Since many birth parents change their minds after the child is born, prospective adoptive families must often deal with the loss of funds paid for birth parent expenses in addition to the loss of the anticipated baby.

The cost: Each potential independent adoption situation is different, and this method can be expensive. It's not uncommon for the expenses in an independent adoption to equal those of a private agency adoption, unless the birth mother has health insurance or is covered by medical assistance.

It's customary for adoptive parents to pay for the birth mother's medical and legal expenses, in addition to their own. Some states also require the adoptive parents to pay for counseling for the birth parents so that the court can be satisfied that they both fully comprehend what they are planning to do. A home study, for which there is a fee, conducted by a certified social worker or a licensed child-placing agency, is usually required. In some states, the adoptive parents may also help out with the birth mother's living or clothing expenses. Again, with each of these issues, you must know your state adoption laws and what they allow or prohibit in an adoption.

Some adoptive parents purchase adoption insurance as a way to guard against such financial risks; insurance underwriters require that families work with preapproved agencies or attorneys in order to purchase this insurance.

Getting started: If you pursue this approach, retain an experienced adoption attorney to explain the adoption laws in your state. Talk to other adoptive parents. Become familiar with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), because in interstate adoptions you will be required to comply with the adoption laws of both states. You certainly do not want your adoption to be challenged because of failing to comply with the relevant adoption laws.

To initiate an independent adoption, you must first locate a birth mother interested in relinquishing her child. In the states where it's legal, advertising in the classified section of local newspapers has proven to be a successful method for bringing birth parents and adoptive parents together. You can advertise on your own or use a national adoption advertising consultant.

Another way to locate a birth mother is to send an introductory letter, photo, and resume describing your family life, home, jobs, hobbies, and interests to crisis pregnancy centers, obstetricians, and all of your friends and colleagues who might possibly lead you to the right person. Some families have even advertised on the Internet.

Simply locating a birth mother is only the first step. You also need to know about the birth father. States have recognized the rights of birth fathers to be involved in decisions about their children, including adoptions. Many states have established registries (putative father registries) as a way for birth fathers to register their intention to support and be involved in their child's life. Several high-profile lawsuits have involved contested adoptions where birth fathers were not notified of the adoptive placement of the child and subsequently objected.

Types of Independent Adoption

Identified Adoption

Who it’s for: Families who want the best of both worlds. Identified adoption is a form of independent adoption in which a birth mother and adoptive parents locate one another, but then go together to a licensed adoption agency.

This process combines some of the positive elements of all types of adoption: the birth mother can feel confident that her child will have a future with an approved, loving family, and the adoptive parents can feel confident that the birth mother has thought through her decision carefully. As in any adoption, however, a birth mother may still change her mind about placing the child.

In a few states, this is the only type of independent adoption allowed. The agency conducts the home study for the adoptive parents and counsels the birth mother.

All the parties know that the birth mother's baby will be placed with that couple. Many couples who have adopted infants independently found it was the right solution for them. It may be the solution for you; however, it is not for everyone. Some adoptive parents who have adopted independently say later that it might have been nice to have had the emotional support and thoughtful preparation for adoption that an adoption agency provides. Most parents want to be well prepared to help their children deal with adoption issues they will face at different points in their lives. Some parents seek support before and after adopting independently by joining adoptive parent support groups.

Adoption Attorneys

Who it’s for: Families who do not want to use an agency, but who want more assurance. Attorneys must adhere to the standards of the Bar Association, and some attorneys who specialize in adoption are members of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, a professional membership organization with standards of ethical practice.

RELATED: Start Your Search for an Adoption Attorney

Adoption Facilitators

Who it’s for: A few states permit adoption facilitators to act as "matchmakers" who recruit and counsel birth parents and then make introductions to prospective adoptive families. The facilitators charge families for their services and allow the birth parents and the adoptive family to make the rest of the placement arrangements.

Adoptive placements by facilitators offer the least amount of supervision and oversight. This doesn't mean that facilitators are not ethical professionals with good standards of practice! It simply means there are few or no oversight mechanisms in place at this time.

Source: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse

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