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Deciding Adoption Preferences: Agency, Lawyer or Facilitator

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Adoptions are usually coordinated by a third-party agency or institution. Adoption agencies exist to broker the relationship between birth parents and adoptive parents. They list the children available for adoption, and introduce prospective adoptive parents to those children. They help coordinate the legal processes that must occur for adoption to become finalized. They shield the identities of the various adoption parties from one another as is appropriate to each adoption context.

A private adoption agency is licensed by the state to provide services to birth parents and adoptive families and to facilitate adoptions. Such agencies have social workers on staff that counsel birth parents and conduct home studies and follow-up visits with prospective adoptive couples. Each agency will have its own guidelines and restrictions for adoptive families in terms of the clients they will serve. Some agencies are open to all comers, while others restrict their provision of services to people from certain religions, races, ages, or particular sexual orientations (e.g., heterosexual only). Many traditional private agencies place infants or toddlers only and do not deal with older children. The average timeframe for an adoption through an agency typically ranges between six months and two years, depending on the specificity of characteristics that the adoptive family is looking for in a child and the number of client children that the agency has available. There are both for-profit and non-profit agencies. Some feel that working with a for-profit agency is the equivalent of "buying" a child, while others feel the for-profit agency may have more staff, and therefore they will receive better service in the end. It is important for families to think about which type of agency is best suited to their needs and feelings.

Individual states also generally offer state adoption services through their Department of Family and Children's Services or Department of Human Services. Such state-run adoption agencies work to place children who have become wards of the state, most commonly because their birth parents' parental rights have been terminated for a variety of reasons, including child abuse. Generally, a state agency works with older children, not with infants or toddlers. Often these children have medical or psychological "special needs" issues secondary to neglect, abuse, or poor prenatal care from the birth parents. Because state agencies often find it necessary to terminate birth parents' parental rights, they often come into custody of sets of siblings. The agencies do their best to adopt out brothers and sisters as a set so that family units are able to stay together. State adoption agencies are notoriously understaffed, bureaucratic, and inefficient by nature. Although a state-agency adoption is generally cheaper than a private agency adoption, it may take much longer to complete.

Some lawyers who specialize in adoptions not only handle the legal process but also actually help the adoptive family find birth parents that are looking to adopt out their child. When this arrangement occurs, the lawyers end up functioning as mini-adoption agencies. The services of a lawyer who coordinates adoptions in this manner may include advertising for birth parents (often before they have given birth) and helping to facilitate meetings between birth parents and adoptive parents so that they can agree upon adoption arrangements. Lawyer-facilitated adoption can be very expensive, as families will be paying advertising costs to locate birth parents, medical expenses for the birth mother, and other expenses that are not usually involved in standard private agency adoptions. The benefits to be had from this arrangement can be substantial, however. The adoption may occur more quickly than otherwise possible (several months to a year), and the child may be delivered to the adoptive parents at a much younger age than through an agency adoption. In a lawyer-facilitated adoption, the adoptive family will still need to work with an agency for the home study, as lawyers are not licensed to conduct these and they are required by the courts before any adoption can be finalized.

A facilitator adoption is similar to a lawyer adoption, except that the facilitator is simply an unlicensed individual who works to connect adoptive parents to birth parents for a fee. Adoption facilitators are not regulated or required to have any special training or education. It is important that adoptive parents thoroughly investigate anyone they might hire in this capacity. Adoption facilitators typically charge an up-front fee of $4,000 to $8,000. They work to connect the adoptive family to a birth mother (often one who is still pregnant) after the fee is paid. In addition to paying the facilitator's fee, the adoptive family also typically agrees to pay medical and living expenses for the birth mother and any other expenses that are negotiated. These fees are in addition to other agency and attorney fees that will still be required to make sure a home study is performed and the necessary legal work involved in an adoption is completed. Though going with an adoption facilitator can be a very expensive option, it may result in a faster route through the adoption process and in the adoption of a newborn when that would not otherwise be easy to accomplish.