Selecting an Agency
When seeking to adopt a foreign-born child, it is advisable to use a reputable adoption agency with experience in intercountry adoption. Although service quality can vary, adoption agencies are regulated by State governments. Non-agency intercountry adoptions are rarely regulated and pose many risks, including involvement in the black market, loss of confidentiality, infringements upon the child's rights to privacy and permanency, failure to meet INS guidelines required for immigration, inadequate health information, incomplete or flawed legal processing, insufficient counseling, and outright fraud. Regardless of the involvement of an adoption agency or other processing assistance, you are ultimately responsible, financially and legally, for any commitments you make.
There are hundreds of licensed private agencies that arrange intercountry adoptions; public social service agencies do not do intercountry placements. You can shorten the agency selection process by checking out which source countries have stable political situations and well-established adoption processing mechanisms in place with governmental oversight. The U.S. State Department's Web site http://travel.state.gov/adopt.html can be a starting point for identifying those countries since it provides a country-by-country guide to adoption processing in more than 60 countries. In general, the fewest international adoption scandals have occurred in countries where the government has centralized authority over adoption processing. Adoption fees tend to skyrocket in countries where there is little governmental oversight and many non-governmental intermediaries involved throughout the adoption process.
Once you have narrowed down the countries in which you would like to adopt, you can contact agencies working in the particular country. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of working with a large, national agency (which may have larger numbers of children to place and longer waiting lists of applicants) versus working with a smaller, local agency (which may have fewer children to place but shorter waiting lists). Evaluate the agency's accessibility and past working relationships with applicants. Once you have a list of agencies, call them to ask about their services. Some agencies have contracts or contacts with foreign adoption programs, institutions, and/or lawyers, while others can only do a home study and process the paperwork in the United States. Look carefully at the agency's relationship with its foreign contact and evaluate the foreign contact's proven track record.
While most private agencies are reputable, some are not, and it is vitally important to select an experienced, licensed one. First, call the State licensing specialist to verify that the agency is licensed and find out if complaints have been filed against the agency. In some States, you can arrange to review complaint files. Then, check with the State's Office of the Attorney General, again to see if there are complaints on file. If you can, talk to members of adoptive parent support groups local to the agency to check their reputation. You can call us or Adoptive Families of America (at 800/372-3300) for lists of adoptive parent groups in each State. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau local to the agency (check www.bbb.org to obtain a contact phone number) to see if complaints have been lodged against an agency.
Most agencies have some minimum requirements for prospective parents (often related to marital status, age, income, and perhaps infertility). In some cases, agency restrictions reflect the laws of the child's country of origin or requirements of the agency in that country. Inquire about applicant restrictions to ensure that you are eligible to adopt with the agency's programs. Determine whether the agency conducts its own home studies, which countries it works with, how many children it places, its requirements and fees, and what types of postplacement services it provides. Request written materials and references from past clients. Ask agencies to provide itemized lists of expenses and fees, keeping in mind that some costs, such as travel costs, cannot be predicted in detail. If possible, attend orientation meetings at all agencies that interest you, while continuing to ask other adoptive parents about their experiences. Consider not only the range of services the agencies offer, but also their client satisfaction and your level of confidence and comfort with their staff. Then choose the agency that best meets your needs. Most agencies do not allow applicants to work with more than one agency at a time.
Once you have arranged to work with an agency, the agency will assign a social worker. The social worker will discuss your preferences, provide information on source countries, and explain the agency's policies and procedures. At this point, you may be required to pay the first installment of the adoption agency fees. Some agencies will prorate their charges according to your income. You should avoid programs where you are required to pay all the fees in advance. Most programs have a fee payment system which allows payment as services are rendered. Find out what fees are refundable if you withdraw from the adoption process or the agency withdraws its services after a service agreement is signed.
Every adoption requires a home study, which involves a series of interviews with a social worker and/or group sessions with other applicants. The home study helps applicants think through their desire and ability to adopt a child from another culture. The social worker wants to ensure that you will provide a safe and nurturing environment for a new child. A home study is usually completed in a few months. The final, approved home study documents your suitability as adoptive parents and provides a description of the prospective home to the foreign source. Home study fees vary from $750 to $5,000 and may or may not be included in the overall fee. When a home study is approved, your case is assigned to a particular foreign adoption agency, orphanage, institution, or private attorney.
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