Using an Adoption Agency

An adoption agency can help prospective parents with a wide range of services. It can help find the child's biological parents and organize and file the adoption paperwork. 

There are many benefits to choosing an agency to help with your adoption journey. Agencies are skilled at matching children to families. They are also familiar with the legal issues that tend to come up. Adoption agencies also can help with home inspections, obtaining consent from birth parents, and helping parents understand state laws that cover adoptions.

This article provides a general overview of agency adoptions (versus independent adoptions) and the advantages of using an adoption agency.

What Services Do Adoption Agencies Offer?

The types of adoption services will vary depending on the agency chosen. At their core, most agencies offer services to match adoptive parents with children available for adoption. Agencies also provide screening, education/training, home study, and adoption referral services.

Benefits of Working With an Adoption Agency

Adoption agencies help to reduce some of the anxiety associated with adoption. Agencies can help match adoptive parents with potential adoptees.

Reputable, licensed agencies have experience in all aspects of adoption. These agencies help both prospective adoptive parents and birth parents. This experience extends to their knowledge of adoption laws, local and international.

Without an adoption law attorney on staff, agencies cannot provide legal advice but can help parents understand the legal process. Anyone considering adoption should consult with an adoption lawyer.

Should I Choose a Private or Public Adoption Agency?

Choose the type of agency that best aligns with the type of adoption you're seeking.

There are two categories of adoption agencies: private and public. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Carefully review your options when deciding which type to choose.

Using Private Adoption Agencies

A private, licensed adoption agency can assist the birth mother, the birth family, and the adoptive parents throughout the adoption process.

Private adoption agencies have many functions, including:

  • Helping birth parents find adoptive families
  • Preparing legal paperwork
  • Facilitating agreements
  • Organizing adoption payments
  • Settling birth mother expenses (the money you receive to cover the costs incurred during your pregnancy)

One of the main benefits of a private adoption agency is that it will provide extensive counseling for adoptive parents, biological parents, and children. Counseling aids in smoothing the transition to a new family and protects the adoptive parent later in the process. Biological parents who don't have counseling are less likely to sign the necessary paperwork to finalize the process.

But there are also disadvantages to private agencies. They're often very selective when it comes to the parents with whom they work. Also, private agencies tend to handle fewer infant adoptions.

Private agencies may use many screening factors to choose adoptive parents, such as:

  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Income
  • Health
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Personal history
  • Family size

Using Public Adoption Agencies

Public adoption agencies finalize foster care adoptions.

Children available through public agencies come from the foster care system. They often have different backgrounds from those available through a private agency. For example, many of the children are older. They are also more likely to have spent their lives in group homes and foster families. They may have special needs from early childhood exposure to abuse and trauma. The likelihood that the child was born to or raised by a drug-addicted parent is also higher.

Public agencies offer fewer amenities. Public agencies often don't have the resources to provide services, such as counseling, that help smooth the adoption process. As a result, they charge much less than private agencies.

Agency Adoption Expenses

If you choose a private agency for your adoption, you can expect to pay a high premium for its services. For example, if you've matched with a birth parent through the agency, you may end up paying for the medical and living expenses incurred by that person before the child is born.

The fee structure determines how much a private agency will charge for adoption. Some agencies charge a flat fee for each adoption. This fee can vary, depending on the age of the child. According to some sources, adoption through a private agency can cost anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000. If you choose to go through a public, state-funded agency for your adoption, you probably won't have to pay any fees.

Aside from adoption agency fees, remember that you may have to hire an attorney to prepare the adoption paperwork, handle adoption-related legal issues, and appear in court for the adoption proceedings. Paying an attorney can cost anywhere between $50 and $500 an hour.

Adoption help in the form of state and federal tax credits, grants, and employer subsidies is available.

Waiting Period and Agency Adoptions

Some agencies have a waiting period before a child can go to their adoptive parents' home. The child may also go into foster care during this period, depending on state law.

Many adoptive parents don't want their child to go into foster care and often opt for a "legal risk placement." This is where the child is placed in the new home despite not having all the necessary consents in place. But this can be risky. For example, if a birth parent decides not to consent to the adoption, the child will leave the adoptive home.

Upon the finalization of the adoption, the parental rights of the birth parents are terminated, and you become the child's parent.

Finding the Right Adoption Agency

There are thousands of adoption agencies to choose from across the United States. A good place to start when searching for an agency is the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Another good place for information about an agency is the placement agency's website. The adoption agency's website can tell you a lot about its adoption programs. The websites often:

  • Provide the agency's history
  • Explain the criteria for adoption eligibility
  • Explain the type of adoptions it handles
  • List the adoption services the agency provides, including post-adoption services
  • Provide a list of the countries for which it handles adoptions. Hague Convention adoptive placement agencies must provide adoption costs upfront. Most of them provide this information via their websites.

If you've found an agency you think might work for you, you can learn more by contacting the agency and conducting an informal background check of your own.

Checklist for Choosing an Adoption Agency

Below is a checklist of issues to consider before pursuing an agency adoption:

  • What type of adoption best suits the adoptive family? This question will help the potential parents narrow their choices. Domestic adoptions have different regulations as compared with international adoptions. Do you want closed adoption or open adoption? Is this a relative adoption, where a family member is adopting a relative?
  • What are the agency's services to prospective adoptive parents, birth mothers, or biological parents? Many agencies offer home study courses, training, and ongoing support for adoptive parents and biological parents. Ask about support groups for either birth or adoptive parents.
  • What is the home study process like? The home study allows prospective parents to learn more about the process. The home study is also an opportunity for the home study professional to evaluate the prospective parents. Will the agency complete a home study or provide a referral to a home study professional or social worker? Will the agency prepare the adoptive parents for the home visit? Does it give likely parents an adoption home study checklist?
  • Will the agency complete a background check or provide a referral to an affiliated company? Background checks are a critical part of the adoption process. Adoptive parents must provide documents such as their marriage certificate (if applicable), reference letters, affidavits, medical histories, and copies of their driver's licenses. Prepare certified copies in advance.
  • Is the adoption agency close to the area where you live? Adoption is a legal process. The petition for adoption is a legal document filed in the state where the potential parents live. The adoption agency should know local adoption rules and requirements.
  • Will the agency provide the child's medical history and family background?
  • What role does the agency play in obtaining the adoption decree and finalizing the birth certificate? If the adopted child is not an infant, does the agency provide support after the adoptive placement?

Also check adoption laws by the state for related issues, such as home residency requirements, child's consent, and others. For example, children can consent to stepparent adoptions between 10 and 14 years of age. "Child" consent is also required in adult adoptions.

Check with your local State Licensing Office. This office has resources to help all parties vet adoption agencies and adoption professionals. Your local department of social services is another good resource for information.

Check with your attorney general's office for any adverse actions against the agency. If the agency has violated any laws in the past, the attorney general's office may provide information on fines or orders issued against the agency.

Finally, check out the agency's reputation. You can read internet boards or local blogs on adoption to see which agencies adoptive and foster parents recommend. Of course, if you know anyone who adopted through a specific agency, talking with them about their experience is a good idea.

Questions To Ask the Agency

When you meet with your potential agency, here are some questions that can help you decide whether to begin the adoption process through it:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Do you work under the license of another agency, facilitator, or attorney? (If so, get the name of the other authority and verify the information.)
  • What fees does the agency charge?
  • What role does the agency play in the adoption process? Is this a child-placing agency?
  • Does the agency have a list of references and phone numbers from prior adoptive families who have used these services?
  • How does the agency handle the termination of parental rights?
  • May I have a copy of a recent financial audit report?
  • Are agency members paid for services or on a contingency basis? You may want an agency that pays fees for services to avoid adoption incentives to employees for high volume numbers.
  • Is the agency a member of the Child Welfare League of America? This is a group of private and public adoption agencies dedicated to positive outcomes for adoptive families.
  • If you are a prospective birth mother, does the agency offer free support and guidance on adoption child placement? Also, ask whether you have a say in the parental selection or ongoing contact with your child if these factors are important to you.

Read more helpful questions to ask a caseworker.

Using Agencies for International Adoptions

There are many U.S. adoption agencies specializing in international adoptions. Agencies that specialize in international adoptions will know the relevant U.S. immigration laws as well as foreign nation adoption laws.

Parents seeking to adopt must file an Orphan Petition form with the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS). You'll also need a positive home study report from an adoption agency. Home studies must comply with state law, as described below. 

If the USCIS approves your petition (and there are no other factors), you can get an immigration visa for the child. One of the advantages of international adoption is that much of the required paperwork can be completed even before you've matched with a child.

Some nations require finalization of the adoption in the U.S. This re-adoption takes place in state court. An agency or an adoption attorney can help you with this additional step.

Adoption Agencies Conduct Home Studies

home study is required for most adoptions. Whether public or private, domestic adoptions and international adoptions require a home study. Agencies must comply with state law to evaluate an adoption applicant.

An adoption agency or a social worker will complete the home study process. They review the prospective adoptive parents and their home for suitability to adopt by:

  • Interviewing prospective adoptive families
  • Talking to household and family members
  • Reviewing the parents' home for appropriate safety precautions
  • Checking family and friend referrals
  • Conducting background checks

The caseworker's written report includes the recommendation of the children you can adopt. For example, the social worker might approve you to adopt one child under age 5. In another instance, the caseworker might approve an adoption plan allowing you to adopt two children younger than 12.

Agencies Coordinate Interstate Adoptions

The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) is a legal agreement that regulates adoption and placements in the United States. Interstate adoptions must meet ICPC requirements. ICPC is an agreement among the states that children who are placed for foster care or adoption across state lines must receive adequate protection and support services.

One of the ICPC's requirements is that adoptive parents stay in the adoptive child's home state until they get clearance. Each state involved in the adoption must approve the ICPC paperwork and adoption placement before the child can be taken out of the sending state to the adoptive family's home. Leaving the child's home state before obtaining clearance could jeopardize the adoption.

An adoption professional, such as an adoption agency or an adoption attorney, can make sure that you've met the ICPC requirements for your adoption.

Getting Post-Adoption Support

Some agencies provide support after the adoption. Such support can be invaluable in handling issues that arise after the child has been placed in the home.

Support services can include:

  • Counseling
  • Education resources
  • Respite care (temporary childcare aimed at providing the regular caregiver with a break from parental responsibilities)
  • Support groups

Post-adoption services are available through a state's social and human services agencies. For example, post-adoption services in Maryland are available for children adopted through a public agency or a licensed private agency. Post-adoption services are also available for their adoptive families. Maryland's Department of Human Resources Social Services Administration offers post-adoption assistance through its local offices.

Get Professional Legal Help with Your Agency Adoption

Using an adoption agency instead of going through the process on your own can ensure that all the correct paperwork, consents, and other legal and administrative requirements are met. But in most cases, particularly if you go through a public agency, it's very helpful to have an attorney on your side. Find an experienced adoption law attorney near you today.

Learn more about adoption law on our adoption attorney legal answers page.

Was this helpful?

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • It is a good idea to have an attorney for complex adoptions
  • An attorney can ensure you meet all legal requirements and that your adoption is finalized appropriately
  • An attorney can help protect the best interests of adoptive children, adoptive families, and birth parents
  • For simple adoptions, you may be able to do the paperwork on your own or by using an agency

Get tailored advice at any point in the adoption process. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

 Find a local attorney

Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Adopting a child is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

Start Planning