Selecting An Agency For International Adoption

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As most prospective adoptive parents realize, choosing a good agency to work with will be one of the most important decisions made during the adoption. Unfortunately, international adoptions have become a lucrative business creating a great potential for fraudulent and unethical practices. Two common abuses are 1) obtaining prepayment for adoption of a nonexistent or ineligible child and 2) knowingly offering a supposedly healthy child for adoption who is later found to be seriously ill. You can avoid the potential heartache of such fraud by using only reputable agencies, attorneys, and facilitators.

Below are a series of questions the answers to which any ethical agency will be able to provide. Use them as a guide when requesting information about an agency's adoption programs and services. Much of the information, especially about fees, should be contained in the agency's contract. Much of the other information should be contained in the agency's printed material or in letters addressed to you. If the answers to your questions appear to be contradictory, vague, or unrealistic, or if the agency requests large sums of money before services are rendered, beware.

Programs

What are the agency's and country's requirements for prospective adoptive parents? Some may have requirements about religion, marital status, age, number of current children, and ethnic heritage. Will the agency place restrictions on us (me) not normally placed on others?
What age ranges, sex and number of children may we request? How much experience does the agency have in placing these types of children?
How many adoptions has the agency processed from a particular country/region? Why that number? Remember each country and its laws are different. Sometimes even regions within a country will have different adoption laws and procedures.
How familiar are the in-country facilitators with the adoption procedures in their regions? How familiar is the agency with the facilitators? How is the agency informed about changes to foreign laws and procedures?
Does the agency have other programs in case serious problems arise in a particular country or region?
How long does an adoption take from time of application; completion of dossier; acceptance of a referral? Delays can and do occur in international adoption. Therefore, an agency's reliance on such words such as 'fast' and 'guaranteed' should be seen as danger signs. Honest answers usually contain a range from best case to more problematic case scenarios.
How and when is a referral made? A referral made early in the application process may pose additional risk that a particular child will not be available at the time foreign approval has been obtained.
What happens if we (I) feel a referral is not a good match?
Will we (I) receive photographs (video is better) and medical/social information and be given adequate time to make a decision? Will the agency provide assistance in obtaining more information if needed? If an older child referral is made will there be psychological and emotional information available as well?

Finances

Do the agency fees seem to be commensurate to the services being provided?
Will the agency give an itemized estimate of the total cost of the adoption? Be aware that often agencies do not estimate costs such as local document preparation (including homestudy), traveling, and meeting post-placement requirements.
What type of payment schedule does an agency have? Most ethical agencies do not ask for large payments before services are rendered. Typical application fees are $500-$1000. Fee payments are then scheduled as the adoption progresses with the bulk of money due just before or at the time a child is actually placed.
What is the agency's policy about fee payment if the adoption is not completed?
Can the agency give you estimates on the cost of traveling? This should include the cost of services such as room and board, translator, translation fees for documents provided to the US consulate, drivers, donations to orphanage, gifts to officials and host families etc. These types of expenses add up and need to be estimated to budget your adoption.
How much money will you be required to carry with you while traveling? Some agencies require that you take thousands of dollars of foreign source fee with you while others do not.

Support

How much and what type of parent education and preparation does the agency supply? Do the preparation resources offered match the type of child you are wishing to adopt? Note: older child, special needs and sibling group adoptions will present unique challenges to adopting parents for which they must be prepared.
How much and what kind of support does the agency supply during different phases (application, dossier, referral, waiting, and post-placement) of the process? What are the typical times needed for different phases? Will you be informed of the status of the different phases of your adoption in a timely fashion?
If you apply, who will be assigned to your case? What is the experience and the typical caseload of such a person? Who will be the back-up during absences?
What role does the agency play in completing the homestudy? If this is an out-of-state agency can it provide recommendations for a homestudy agency? How much will the two agencies work together?
How will the agency assist in completing the dossier? Do they provide information about how to apply to INS approval? Do they provide forms and translations for documents required by the foreign government?
How will the agency ensure that all paperwork has been prepared accurately and that you meet all local and foreign requirements for adoption.
If when calling you were required to leave a message, how quickly did someone respond? This is especially important for those of you who are trying to work with long distance agencies. It may also be very important while you are traveling.
How much hand-holding does the agency supply when traveling? Does the agency help with travel arrangements such as flight reservations and visa applications? Are you sent over there on your own or does an agency facilitator stay with you throughout the entire process? Will your US agency routinely contact you while you are abroad?
Did the agency provide information about possible orphanage donations and expected gift giving in the foreign country?
How satisfied are parents currently in the program, and those who have completed the process? Would they use the agency again? The testimonials of families who have been there are the best indicators of a good agency. Find referrals not only through the agency but also through support groups.
Will you be provided with opportunities to visit the agency's office?
Does the agency have special meetings just for waiting parents?
What post-placement services are available? Remember: older child, special needs and sibling group adoptions will present unique challenges to adopting parents for which they must be prepared.
Does the agency honor and help in providing an understanding of the cultural, racial, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds of the children it places.
Does the agency print and distribute a newsletter? Can you get a copy or two of back issues?

Ethical Business Practices

How long has the agency been in business?
What does the agency do to ensure that the child is a documented orphan and that the best needs of the child are being considered in an adoption?
What information was supplied by local and state authorities responsible for licensing when asked about a particular agency?
What information was supplied by the Consular Affairs Bureau, US State Department and US embassy in the capital city of the foreign country when asked about a particular agency?
Will the agency provide you with referrals of those who have successfully adopted from a particular region?
Is agency following laws/guidelines established by domestic and foreign governments?
Is the agency non-profit?
Does the agency actively promote the placement of special needs and waiting children?
Is the agency involved in child welfare in that country?

Credits: Cynthia Teeters

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