Adoption Self Help Manual
How to Work with a U.S. Adoption Agency
Nearly everyone who is trying to adopt a child will end up calling an agency sometime or another, regardless of other methods they try. This is because agencies have a good track record for finding and placing children. It's also because they know more about what they are doing than the average adopting couple. Most people need help. They have a very hard time trying to do it all themselves.
Because of their tremendous individuality, it will take a good bit of time for you to learn about agencies.
Don't worry. I will share information with you that will save you all kinds of time and money. I'll help you get to the right place as rapidly as possible. And you'll learn a great deal on how you can maximize your position with agencies.
But you'll have to work hard for this. This chapter is going to be difficult to get through, because there are so many details. Stay with it. Don't try to digest all of this at once. Make a promise to yourself to re-read this chapter a few times, because each time you do, you'll pick up a point you overlooked before.
Earlier, in Chapter Three , I suggested you contact you state regulatory agency and ask them to send you a list of all licensed adoption agencies in your state. The list was to include both public and private, as well as non-profit and for profit agencies. I hope you got the list. It will be especially helpful if they also sent you addresses and phone numbers.
In addition to the agency names you got from the state, also check the Yellow Pages. See if there are any agencies listed in the Yellow Pages that are not on the list you got from the government.
How Agencies Differ From One Another
It is important for you to know that though there are similarities among agencies, all of the agencies in your area are different. They have different requirements for applicants. Their process of approving families differs. One agency's philosophy may be nothing like another agency just down the street.
Many agencies specialize in one type of placement or another.
Private agencies usually deal with local infants or infants from neighboring states. Some agencies handle only newborn babies or only healthy baby adoptions. Public agencies generally place "special needs" children.
Most agencies have their own requirements for the types of people they will accept onto their waiting list. It's not like equal opportunity housing or equal opportunity employment.
Usually, they all prefer adopting couples, rather than single parents. They are happiest with people who are between the ages of 25 and 45. Many also require a couple to have been married for two or more years. Some agencies will not work with your family if you already have children. Virtually all agencies will want to be sure you are financially able to raise a child properly. Many also prefer to match race and ethnic background.
Where to Begin? What to do First?
The first thing to do is to purchase some yellow lined pads of paper. Also get several sets of manila file holders. You've got to get organized!
Then, start calling the agencies. Make a list as you go. Write down the names of everyone you speak to. Also mark down the date you called. Write down, too, what information they promised they'd send you.
I strongly suggest you make a manila folder for every agency you contact. Whenever you receive information from an agency, put it into the appropriate folder. Whenever you call them in the future, make a note of the conversation and add that note into the folder, too.
Don't be frightened off by all these specific instructions you're getting here. What I'm telling you isn't hard to do. And it will really simplify matters for you later on as you progress toward your goal of a successful adoption.
What the Agencies Should Send You
In the beginning, you are going to be unsure of yourself. You are going to feel self-conscious about what to say. What to ask. That's O.K. Whoever answers the phone isn't going to think less of you because of it. Don't get bent out of shape talking to these people. They're just people, too.
You are trying to accomplish two things at this point. First, you want to let them know you are looking for their help in adopting a child. Second, you need them to let you know what they can do to help you.
At the very least, you should get from them some statement about their philosophy and something that gives you any idea of the types of adoptions they do and the types of children they place.
If it isn't offered, specifically ask for a copy of their information handouts, any brochures and application forms. Also request them to send you a schedule of their services and fees. Make it a point to ask if they will send you their registration form. This will save you time as you work through the process.
Don't think you're going to "get them upset" or anything like that. Any reputable agency should be happy to send you at least a description of their program and a fee and service schedule before they ask you to send them any money.
Some of the people you talk to may be curt or rude. Talk to them anyway. You may have to "bite your lip," but they've got something you want. Why "cut off your nose to spite your face?"
What The Agencies May Tell You
Many agencies may tell you that they have closed their active waiting list for the present time. They'll tell you that they may reopen it sometime in the future. They may tell you they will take your name and number and call you whenever they reopen their waiting list. (But, don't hold your breath!)
Don't get discouraged. It's just all part of the process. Be persistent. Be determined.
Leave your name whenever you can. Make a note of the conversation and put it into the manila folder you have created for this particular agency. Make sure you put down the date you called and the name of the person you talked to. Later on, you'll develop a system where you'll call back at regular intervals. It will be a big help to you if you keep good records as you go along.
If you are more courageous, or if you reach someone who seems genuinely interested in helping you, you can go further. You don't have to stop this first contact with just leaving your name and address and asking them to send you some forms and brochures. You'll have to be the judge.
There are a number of facts you need to know about this agency, actually every agency, before you can go ahead with them. Sooner or later, you'll have to ask them certain questions. You will have to interview them.
What You Want the Agencies to Tell You
Remember back when you were told about calling someone in the state capital and asking about the adoption law? I told you not to worry that you didn't understand what all the questions meant. You just needed to find out the information.
The same is true here. There are a number of questions you will need to ask. Some of them are easy to understand. Others will mean more to you as you continue to learn about adoptions. In any event, the person on the other end of the line will be impressed by your knowledge. To know enough to ask these questions marks you as a "savvy" client. This is useful in helping protect you from unscrupulous intermediaries.
This is what you want to know:
- Ask what kinds of adoptions the agency handles. Be specific. Do they concentrate on newborn babies? Do they deal with bi-racial, special needs or older children? Do they do international adoptions? Ask how many children they placed last year – and what types of children they placed.
- Ask if they have any special requirements for adopting families. The things you are especially concerned about are these:Age, health condition of the adopting parents, financial status, religion, residency requirements, marital status, pre-existing conditions such as previous treatment for mental health problems.Ask if there are any other requirements you didn't know to ask about.
- Ask them how long their waiting list is, specifically in terms of the number of people ahead of you. Ask them to give you a "ballpark" idea of how long the waiting time for you will be. You might also consider asking how many children they place each year.
- If they have an active, open waiting list, ask how you can get on it. If their list is presently closed, ask how you can be included when they reopen the list.
- Ask about their registration/application process. Can you fill out an initial application form? Is there some way you can be sure you are notified of further developments?
- Question them about their home study policies:
Do they do individual and/or group home studies? Do they require you to attend some kind of home study seminar? How long does it take? Will they accept a home study from another agency? Do other agencies accept their home study evaluation? Is there a separate fee for the home study? If so, how much is it? Will they give you a copy or the original of any home study they do for you?
A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT THE HOME STUDY
Please note that the home study, also known as the "pre-adoptive home evaluation," is usually a critical part of all adoptions handled by agencies.
A home study is required for all international adoptions, all interstate adoptions, and most intrastate agency adoptions.
- Regardless of whether their list is open or not, ask them to send you a brochure and a description of their program.
- Ask about all the fees involved in the adoption process. Ask them to send you a fee schedule. Ask if their fees include medical and legal expenses, or are these separate? This is very important. Be sure you clearly understand what fees are going to be paid to the mother for her maternity expenses. What about expenses if the child has medical problems or complications?
- Ask if they have a fixed fee or a sliding fee schedule. For your own information, a sliding scale is illegal in some states. You will have to check your state law to be sure the agency you are dealing with isn't doing something they shouldn't be doing.
- Can you specify the sex of the baby you want to adopt?
- Find out if they use foster care placement until the birth parent's rights are terminated, or if they place the child immediately into your home.
- Question them carefully about what happens if the birth parents change their minds after you have already paid the medical expenses and/or agency fees. Will you be able to recovery any portion of your money.
- Ask if you need to hire a lawyer. Will legal services be provided to the birth parents? Will one lawyer serve everyone? Who pays for the legal services provided to birth parents and agency?
- Question them about their policies regarding open and closed adoptions.
- Ask if they have a support group for adopting parents.
- Do they offer any services after the child has been placed for adoption? How about after the adoption has been finalized?
- Do they offer any instruction in infant and child care?
- Do they have any type of contract with the birth parents? Specifically, do they have something in writing that deals with the birth parents' responsibilities if they change their minds? Will the birth parents have to pay back any of the money they have received if they change their minds?
- Ask if they use a guaranteed waiting list (i.e. first-come first served basis) or do they use a pooling technique where birth parents review adoption family profiles and select a family?
How to Achieve Official Agency Status
Merely calling an agency doesn't mean anything. In fact, even though you left your name with them – or filled out a form – you still don't have any "official status" with the agency. You don't really count until you are on their Active Waiting List, or whatever they call their list of families waiting to receive a referral of a child for adoption.
Here is an important strategy I recommend to help you achieve this "official status":
During the waiting period, contact every one of the agencies you've identified as being one you can work with. Do this regularly at eight to ten week intervals.
Just a call to stay in touch. Just checking in to see if anything is happening, or if there's a new development you should know about. That kind of thing. Keep it pleasant. Don't "bug" them or try to harass anybody. Keep a light touch, but keep in touch!
Make a note of the date of this contact on the outside of the manila folder. If there is anything important in any of these phone calls, note that on the outside of the manila folder.
Develop a system which lets you get back to these people on a regular basis, until you have been notified that you are on the active waiting list.
What Happens After You Are Put on The Active Waiting List
Once you have made it this far, you will have to complete application forms and pay fees. Each agency will probably have a start-up fee to cover time and effort spent in processing your registration and/or application.
After that, there will be a home study done.
Once the home study is completed, you will have to wait until you get a "referral call". This is the one you have been waiting for. The call that tells you there is a child for whom you are the intended adopting couple.
But I don't want to give you the wrong impression here. It only took you 20 or 30 seconds to read the last couple of paragraphs. The time spent waiting for that referral call will, unfortunately, be much, much longer than that!
This is where it gets discouraging. This is where you will feel the most helpless and uncertain. It is during this period that you must be the most determined and persistent.
What to do While Waiting For Your Child
Even after you have been placed on the Active Waiting List, Don't just sit around and wait! Keep going and plugging away.
It is a good idea to continue calling the agency, just as before. You should not call so frequently now, however. Increase the length of time between calls somewhat. There isn't any hard or fast rule. You'll just have to feel your way along.
Go back over the information in this manual. See if you overlooked any possibilities.
If your state allows interstate adoptions, for example, have you contacted agencies in nearby states? Have you placed ads in newspapers? Don't leave anything out. Don't cut corners. Now is the time to redouble your efforts.
Keep calling other agencies. If you have the chance, register and get on the Active List of as many agencies as possible. But watch out. Some agencies won't work with you if you are on another agency's list.
Call the counseling centers. Check the birth clinics. Don't shortchange yourself by overlooking any possibilities. Keep in touch with everybody. Never stop looking for additional sources.
I know one couple who had little business cards printed up, announcing the fact that they were trying to adopt a child. They handed these cards out at every social function they attended. They passed them out at church. At meetings. At parties. Guess what? It paid off! They located a birth mother who worked with them.
A long shot, you say? Yes, that's true. But you never know what is going to work for you. It only takes one connection to make your dreams come true!
Your persistence will pay off. You must believe that!
Finally, The Referral Call. Now What?
You will have such a rush of feelings when the call finally comes through. You've waited a long time for this call.
But the job isn't finished. There is still much work to be done.
Start by getting as much information about the birth mother as you can. Get every bit of medical background. If it is at all possible, do the same for the birth father. This information may be vital to you for years to come. Don't assume the agency will automatically do this for you. It is too important for you. Don't leave it to chance.
If the baby has already been born, get all the details about the birth.
- When was the baby born?
- What kind of childbirth was it – regular, caesarian?
- Were there any drugs used during the birth?
- Any complications? Is the baby O.K. now?
- What are the A.P.G.A.R. scores? (These scores are useful in estimating the baby's vitality and "normalcy.")
- Were forceps used?
- Was oxygen given to the baby?
- Are there any signs the child is bi-racial?
- Will the baby be circumcised?
- What is the hospital typical discharge plan and time-line?