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The "Players" in an Adoption

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

In addition to the type of adoption, a birthmother must also choose the people who will be involved in adoption process. The three major options are an agency, a lawyer or a facilitator.

Most adoptions occur through a private adoption agency. Adoption agencies play the part of broker, bringing couples desiring to adopt together with birthmothers who are looking for a family to raise their children. Adoption agencies are generally licensed by the state to provide services to birthparents and adoptive families and to facilitate adoptions. Each agency tends to have its own guidelines and restrictions about the types of adoptive families they will service. Some agencies are more or less open to all people, while others restrict their provision of services to people from certain religions, races, ages, or possessing particular sexual orientations (e.g., heterosexual only). There are both for-profit and non-profit agencies. Some birth parents feel that working with a for-profit agency is the equivalent of "selling" a child, while others feel that this type of agency may have less staff who are overworked and therefore, will provide better service in the end. Therefore, it is important for birthmothers to think about which type of agency is best suited to her needs, values and feelings as she searches for an appropriate adoptive family.

Agencies assign each birthmother to a Social Worker. Social workers will work with the birthmother to identify the type of adoptive parents she is looking for and to assist with the matching process. The social worker will make sure that the birthmother is adequately prepared for the decision of placing her child with an adoptive family and has considered all options available to her. He or she will also typically assist the birthmother in connecting with additional resources that might benefit her, such as support groups or medical assistance.

Social workers at adoption agencies also conduct the home studies that are done with potential adoptive parents. They also perform follow-up visits after placement has occurred so as to check on the adoptive child's adjustment to his or her new home. While the social worker's primary role is always to protect the best interests of the child, he or she can also become an advocate helping both birthmother and adoptive parents through all the paperwork and steps that must be handled during the adoption process.

Lawyers are often necessary in adoption proceedings, as they are the only professionals competent to represent adoptive parents before the court that is empowered to make the adoption legal and permanent. Lawyers handle the legal paperwork and court filings that accompany this process. A birthmother may also select a lawyer to help her coordinate the adoption process in lieu of an adoption agency. In this role, the lawyer may help link a birthmother to adoptive parents, just as an adoption agency would. The services of a lawyer who coordinates adoptions in this manner may include advertising for birthmothers (often before they have given birth) as well as facilitating meetings between birthmothers and adoptive parents to arrange adoption details. Lawyer-facilitated adoption may occur more quickly than otherwise possible (several months to a year), and as a result, the child may be delivered to the adoptive parents at a much younger age. In a lawyer-facilitated adoption, the adoptive family will still need to work with an agency for the home study process. Lawyers are not licensed to conduct these home studies, which are required by the courts before an adoption can be finalized.

Facilitators are unlicensed individuals who work to connect adoptive parents to birthmothers. Adoption facilitators typically are paid an upfront finder's fee of between $4,000 and $8,000 (U.S. Dollars) by prospective adoptive parents. These high fees are at least partially offset by the manner in which facilitators may streamline the adoption process by helping birthmothers and adoptive parents connect more efficiently than may be possible through alternative channels. All other expenses associated with adoptions (e.g., payment for lawyers, social workers, etc.) still apply.

It goes without saying that all adoptions also involve adoptive parents (those people who are permanently adopting a child and becoming that child's legal and responsible parents), and also adopted children (the child or children who are being permanently adopted). We mention these important players as well for the sake of completeness.

Finally, no adoption is ever final until it goes before a Judge who is empowered by the state to place the final seal of approval on the adoption process. The judge reviews all paperwork submitted by the lawyers and social workers involved in the adoption process and makes the final determination as to whether or not the adoption will occur.