Organizations that screen prospective adoptive parents and place children in adoptive homes.
Agencies vary according to the types of children they place. Some agencies concentrate on newborns, while others primarily place older children or hard-to-place children. Some agencies concentrate on U.S.-born children while others specialize in international adoption. There are an estimated 3,000 adoption agencies in the United States.
Agencies that make adoptive placements must be licensed by the state in which they practice, although some agencies are also licensed to place children in other states. Agencies that place children in other states usually work with another agency in that state and through the INTERSTATE COMPACT ON THE PLACEMENT OF CHILDREN, which is a sort of treaty between the states and governs interstate adoption. A small number of agencies are licensed by more than one state to make direct adoptive placements in a state other than the one in which they are based.
Sometimes adopting parents deal with two adoption agencies; for example, an agency in their state who approved them and an agency in another state where the child to be placed resides.
The size of agencies varies greatly, ranging from agencies with a staff of one director and one social worker placing 10 children a year to facilities that include a large complex with housing, a hospital and other facilities and place hundreds of children per year.
Agencies under the auspices of a particular religious faith are called sectarian agencies. Such agencies may concentrate on serving individuals of a particular faith or group of faiths. Some sectarian agencies serve persons of all faiths and even allow adoptive parents of other faiths to apply to adopt a child.
Agencies operated under nonreligiously affiliated auspices that do not restrict applications from prospective adoptive parents based on their religious preference are called nonsectarian agencies. Although questions may be and probably are asked about the applicants' background and current religious participation, membership in a specific religious group is not required as a criteria for adopting.
Nonsectarian agencies generally do not have denominational or religious labels, such as "Baptist," "Catholic," "Lutheran," "Jewish" and so forth, as part of the agency's name.
Public adoption agencies are nonsectarian, as are many private adoption agencies. Persons who are strongly religious as well as persons who are moderately religious or not religious may apply to nonsectarian adoption agencies.
Agencies are usually staffed by social workers who have a degree in social work or a degree in a helping profession, such as psychology or counseling. They are usually supervised by a person with a master's degree in social work or psychology.
Most adoption agencies believe strongly that their mission is to find good families for "their" children, rather than to find babies and children for families. They may, however, have criteria limiting the applications for healthy infants to only infertile couples.
Most agencies engaged in adoption work provide counseling to pregnant women and mothers considering placing their infants or older children for adoption. Their goal is to ensure that the birthparents make a good parenting plan for their child and for themselves and that, if adoption is chosen, they be as comfortable as possible with it.
Agencies also offer counseling and assistance to birthfathers and the parents of birthmothers and birthfathers to help them deal with their feelings of grief and loss.
The birthparents considering adoption are almost always in a period of crisis. The pregnant woman may have been abandoned by a man she thought loved her, or she may have been shunned by her own parents. In addition, she may have difficulty meeting her basic needs of survival, including food and shelter. The birthfather may feel that he and the birthmother are too young and immature to marry and raise a child. (Some birthparents are married. See MARRIED BIRTHPARENTS.)
The agency will assist by helping the pregnant woman find a place to live, showing her how to apply for public assistance and providing extensive supportive services so desperately needed. In addition, they will help her find a physician who can provide her much-needed prenatal care.
Such agencies also provide counseling to prospective adoptive parents and perform an evaluation of their potential parental fitness in a process called the HOME STUDY or family study.
When prospective parents are applying for an infant, social workers also want to ensure that the family has worked through all or most of their feelings of grief related to infertility. They want parents who consider adoption their first choice and not a poor "second-best" option.
Most adoptive parents have been through extensive infertility testing, which was painful physically and emotionally. By the time they come to the adoption agency, they may still be distraught and the social worker helps them work through any remaining sense of trauma connected with their infertility. Prospective adoptive parents and also pregnant women considering adoption are often very fearful of the social worker and the power invested in her or him to make decisions of lifelong impact.
Some agencies have introduced more candor into their process and encourage the adopting parents to write a nonidentifying resume, which describes why the family wants to adopt, what the family's hobbies and interests are and other facts. A pregnant woman or a birthmother considering adoption will review these resumes and select the family she wants for her child.
OPEN ADOPTION is another option offered by some agencies, wherein a total disclosure of identities is directly or tacitly given by the adoption agency social worker.
Agencies placing older children and children with SPECIAL NEEDS must also provide counseling to the child(ren), preparing the child for adoption, explaining adoption, introducing the prospective parents to the child and serving as a child advocate if there are any questions or problems subsequent to placement.
One purpose of the home study is to help in preparation for parenting and explanation of many adoption issues, for example, how and when to talk to the child about adoption and how to deal with the reactions of friends and family to adoption. The average person is very unaware and uneducated about adoption issues, and social workers do not want adoptive parents to be as ignorant; therefore, an educational component has become a popular addition to the adoptive parent preparation process.
CLASSES with other prospective adoptive parents are increasingly popular among adoption agencies. These classes cover a variety of adoption issues and also enable adopting parents to meet others in the same situation. Often friendships are formed that last for years.
Agencies may not discriminate against minority pregnant women or adoptive parents, although some agencies may have difficulty identifying appropriate parents for a minority child, particularly a black or biracial infant or child.
Some agencies place only American-born children, while other agencies concentrate on international adoptions. Most of the international adoption agencies also place a small number of children from the United States.
Most adoption agencies are nonprofit, but their funding varies depending on whether they are public or private and several other factors.
Public agencies are state, county or local social services adoption units, and these are funded through state, county and federal funds. The primary focus and activity of public adoption agencies is to find families for children with special needs who are awaiting adoption.
Private agencies include sectarian agencies-those with religious auspices, such as Bethany Christian Services, Catholic Social Services, Jewish Family Services, LDS (Latter-day Saints) Social Services and similar agencies. These agencies may receive partial funding from members of their respective religious groups and are usually able to charge less than agencies that receive no outside funding.
Other agencies are nonsectarian but receive a portion of their funding from charitable, fund-raising organizations, such as the United Way. The balance of their funding comes from the money paid by adoption applicants.
Many adoption agencies rely solely on fees paid by prospective adoptive parents. These fees must cover expenses related to the pregnant women themselves (for example, shelter provided to them or money paid for food or medical bills), counseling services to adoptive parents, salaries of social workers and office expenses, such as rent, heat, lights, and phone.
Agencies vary greatly in what they charge adopting parents. They may charge a flat rate or a percentage of gross income or have some other means of computing the adoption fee; for example, they may charge a flat rate for the home study and add on the cost of the prenatal care and hospital bill.
The key advantage to the pregnant woman, the prospective adoptive parents and the child in dealing with an adoption agency is the counseling provided by an adoption agency before an adoption as well as the counseling available after the adoption has been finalized.
The disadvantages of agency adoptions are that the waiting period may be longer than the adoptive parents desire and that a newborn child is usually placed in a temporary foster home rather than directly from the hospital into the adoptive home. (Some agencies do strive to place infants as quickly as possible to promote early bonding and will even place an infant in a LEGAL RISK adoptive home. See AT RISK PLACEMENT; HIGH RISK PLACEMENTS.)
Agencies use their own foster homes rather than the state foster homes. Birthmothers sometimes confuse the term foster home with the shelter homes provided by the state when an abused child is removed from the home. The reason many agencies insist on temporary foster care for infants is that they want the birthmother to have time to fully rethink the decision and plan she embarked upon before the child's birth.
They believe she may be too emotional to think clearly right after the baby is born, and needs to go home without the child to think the whole idea of adoption through thoroughly. Then, if she still wants the child adopted in a few days or weeks, depending on the agency and the situation, she signs the appropriate papers, and the child is placed.
Some mothers voluntarily make an adoption plan for toddlers and older children, and agencies also place these children. Many young women think they can parent a child successfully but find the burden of single parenthood intolerable. After a period of months or even a year or more, they turn to the agency for assistance.
Virtually all agencies place children with SPECIAL NEEDS, and the definition of special needs varies drastically from agency to agency. One agency may consider any child over the age of two as a child with special needs because that agency rarely receives children over that age. Another agency may consider only children over age eight as falling under the category of special needs. In addition, newborn infants and older children with birth defects and/or correctable or noncorrectable problems are also considered to have special needs.
Children who are black and biracial are almost always considered to have special needs, even when they are healthy and of normal intelligence, because their number exceeds the number of homes available to adopt them. The reason for this apparent "surplus" is complex and much-disputed. The National Association of Black Social Workers has alleged that insufficient numbers of black parents have been recruited and contends that many more black adoptive parents could be identified. Others contend that the problem is in public or private agencies that discourage TRANSRACIAL ADOPTION.
Agency criteria for individuals wishing to adopt a child with special needs are usually relaxed in the sense of age limits, number of children already in the home and other criteria in effect for people who want to adopt healthy white infants. As a result, a person over age 40 who is single and already has three children may often be considered as a prospective parent.
Some agencies charge a much lower rate for children with special needs while other small agencies cannot afford to charge substantially less because of their own expenses.
Agencies may also assist the state social services office by placing children with special needs for adoption, primarily children who have been abused, neglected and abandoned and subsequently lived in foster homes.
Postplacement services are provided by many agencies, who will counsel adopted persons, adoptive parents and birthparents years after the adoption. If the adopted adult wishes information about birthparents, the agency will usually provide assistance within the limits of their agency policies and the laws of the state.
Although agencies are usually licensed, mere licensure of an agency does not necessarily ensure that good, ethical practices will be provided by an agency. Agencies should be investigated by various means, including an examination of accreditation, to ensure as much as possible that services and fees will be appropriate. Similarly, non-agency adoption arrangements should also be checked out. Professional licensure of an attorney, member of the clergy, physician or social worker is no guarantee of competence in adoption practice. (See also AUTOBIOGRAPHY; CONFIDENTIALITY; INFANT ADOPTION; INTERSTATE COMPACT ON THE PLACEMENT OF CHILDREN; OPENNESS; POST-PLACEMENT SERVICES; SOCIAL WORKERS; TRADITIONAL ADOPTION.)
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©2000 by Christine Adamec and William Pierce, Ph.D. Reprinted from The Encyclopedia of Adoption, 2nd Edition (2nd Edition) with permission of Facts On File, Inc.
Note: Our authors are dedicated to honest, engaged, informed, intelligent, and open conversation about adoption. The opinions expressed here may not reflect the views of Adoption.com.