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Choosing an Adoption Agency, Lawyer, or Facilitator

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Once a decision has been made with regard to what sort of agency to work with, the next step for the adoptive parents to take is to determine which agency, lawyer, or facilitator to use.

Families may want to consult with those around them to find referrals or begin an Internet search (databases, phone directories, state bar associations, etc.) to locate agencies or lawyers in their area. Networking with other families who have already adopted, in person at support groups or on the Internet in forums and chat rooms, may provide a fruitful source of referrals for adoption agencies, lawyers, or facilitators. Some families may also have access to an employee assistance program (EAP) through their job that may be able to provide referrals. With lawyers, it is essential to find one who specializes in adoption law, not just general family law, in order to gain the expertise needed to ensure a smooth process. Facilitators can more difficult to locate since they are not licensed or monitored by any government agency. One may often be found through the Yellow Pages, Internet directories, or referrals.

It is a good idea to construct a relatively long list of potential candidates and then to do a quick screening of each of these candidates to develop a shorter list of candidates to be screened more rigorously. A good way to do a simple screening is to call each candidate and then pay careful attention to how promptly they return your call, how professionally they present themselves, and how thoroughly they answer your questions. A good candidate should returns calls promptly, answer questions openly and honestly, and genuinely want to provide services to families. Poor candidates will not return calls within a reasonable amount of time. Explicitly bad candidates who should be eliminated use hard sell tactics, suggest that the adoption process is easy and fast (it is neither), or immediately steer the conversation toward money.

It is important to check on the licensure status of any agency or lawyer considered. Adoptive parents should request all of their candidates to provide them with their license numbers and then check the validity of those licenses with the relevant state licensing agencies. Attorneys' licenses should be checked with each state's bar association. Adoption facilitators are not licensed. Expired or revoked licenses, or licenses with complaints against them, are a bad sign; it is not advisable to go with an agency or a lawyer with license problems.

It is a good idea to interview or question each candidate to determine how long they have been in business, the total number of adoptions they have handled, the number of staff they carry, the average length of time it takes to complete an adoption, etc. If a lawyer is being interviewed, questions to ask include how long the lawyer has been in practice, how many adoptions he or she has facilitated, and the types of those adoptions. It is best if each agency can be asked the same questions, so that each completed interview can be accurately compared against the others.

Whether dealing with an agency, lawyer, or facilitator, it is appropriate to ask for a list of references to contact. Speaking with past recipients of services can help adoptive parents develop a good sense of what it is like to work with each candidate. If a number of references have negative things to say about an agency, the adoptive parents know to avoid that agency.

An important question to ask when interviewing is what services the agency provides and how payment for those services is handled. An agency should be assisting with adoption paperwork, conducting the home study, providing education to the adoptive parents about issues they will face during and after the adoption process, providing referrals to lawyers to handle the legal process, facilitating regular communication to both parties, etc. The agency should also be providing counseling and support to the birth parents, helping them with medical appointments and needs, etc. in order to ensure that the adoption goes smoothly.

It is particularly important to do a thorough screening when choosing an adoption facilitator, since there are no licensing bodies to determine that a required minimum amount of training has taken place. Questions to ask a facilitator include their background and education, how they became involved in this line of work, how many adoptions they have facilitated, their approach to the process, what they charge for their services and exactly what those fees cover, how they go about locating birth mothers, etc. Adoptive parents should also listen closely for the facilitator's attitudes towards birth mothers and the adoption process to determine if their intentions are simply to help with adoptions or rather to make money by "selling" children. It is particularly important to ask for and thoroughly check references when choosing an adoption facilitator.