Choosing the Best Adoption Agency to
Make Your Gay Family a Reality

by Katharine Swan

Choosing an adoption agency is one of the most important parts of adopting a child. The agency you choose has a great deal of control over the adoption process, even to the point of refusing to place a child with a couple or individual. For gay or lesbian adoptive families, the choice is even more critical, as there are still many prejudiced adoption agencies in operation.

Know the Basics

Before you can even start your search, you need to know the basic information about adoption agencies. Understanding the differences between public and private agencies and the issues you will have to face as a gay or lesbian adoptive family will allow you to make an educated decision about the agency you select.

Public vs. Private Adoption Agencies

The difference between public and private adoption agencies is exactly what it sounds like: one is intended to serve society’s interests, whereas the other is geared toward its clients’ interests. This differentiation does not necessarily make one better than the other; each has its own set of pros and cons. For instance, an adoption through a public agency will cost far less, as the state absorbs much of the costs of placing the children in its care. However, an adoption through a public agency can take considerably longer, and most of the children available for adoption through a public agency are older and in foster care already.

Adoptive MotherOn the other hand, a private agency is a business that matches children (or birth mothers) with adoptive families. Because these agencies are independent from the state, they are much more expensive. However, the adoption process can take much less time with a private agency, and most are equipped to handle every aspect of the process for you. Also, using a private agency may allow you a little more control over your options, such as the choice of open adoption or the availability of an infant.

Important Issues

One of the most salient issues for gays and lesbians who want to parent is the presence of laws and prejudices that could hurt their chances of adopting. Although there are only a handful of states that restrict gays and lesbians from adopting, there are still many adoption agencies that are openly or overtly prejudiced against homosexuals. In fact, some states allow adoption agencies to discriminate against gays and lesbians by finding another reason – such as the family’s religious preferences – to refuse to place a child with them.

Some adoption agencies also discriminate against single adoptive parents on the premise that a child cannot thrive in a single-parent involvement, further damaging the gay or lesbian individual’s chances of adopting. Therefore, a single gay or lesbian who wants to adopt could be doubly discriminated against.

Interview an Agency

The initial meeting with an adoption agency should not be thought of as the agency’s first opportunity to assess your potential as an adoptive parent. Technically, you are interviewing the agency, deciding whether they will meet your needs during the adoption process. There are many questions to ask an agency during this early stage, as you need to gather as much information as possible in order to make an educated decision.

What is the agency’s placement record?

The adoption agency should be able to tell you the number or percentage of successful placements they arrange. Singles and gay and lesbian families have an additional set of questions to ask, as they also need to know how many singles, gays, and lesbians the agency has successfully found children for. If the agency does not have a strong track record, either in placing children with nontraditional families or in placing children at all, chances are your luck with them wouldn’t be much better.

How long will the process take?

All agencies have different timelines. Public agencies tend to take a little longer, whereas private agencies can whisk you through the adoption process almost as fast as you want to go. Be sure to ask how long individual parts of the process will take, such as the home study, approval decision, and the expected wait for a child.

What costs are involved?

Agencies also tend to have their own fee schedule. It is important to ask about the cost of the entire process, as the individual fees can add up quickly and take you by surprise. Be sure to also ask for a breakdown of the individual costs, such as the home study, processing fees, placing agency fees, pre-placement and post-placement visits, medical fees, and travel fees in cases of international adoptions.

Financial aid and tax breaks also go hand-in-hand with the costs of the adoption. Most agencies will not relay this type of information unless asked, so be sure to do your research and ask the right questions. Typically, families who adopt special needs children will receive financial assistance to compensate for the financial burden. Some agencies may also offer other opportunities for financial aid, and there are tax credits available to balance the cost of adoption.

How does the agency keep clients informed of their legal rights?

Adoption can be a somewhat confusing legal process, making it necessary for the adoptive family – as well as the birth parents – to be well informed as to their rights. The agency, as the expert and intermediary in the process, should have a policy for keeping their clients informed of their rights at all times. When meeting with the agency for the first time, ask about the written materials they provide for adoptive families, such as the agency’s policy, a copy of your rights and responsibilities throughout the process, and the availability of support services. It is also important to find out how the agency handles adoptions that fail.

Is the agency ethical?

A good deal of your questions and behind-the-scenes research should be geared toward ensuring an agency is ethical. Doing your own research about the agency is especially important. You can check the agency’s license with the state licensing bureau, and ensure that the agency doesn’t have any complaints with the attorney general’s office and Better Business Bureau. In the case of international adoptions, you can verify the agency’s reputation – as well as the information they gave you about the country’s stability and adoption policies – with the US embassy. If there are any inconsistencies between what the agency told you and what these sources tell you, or if you find any complaints of unethical practices in the agency, do not do business with them.

How the agency conducts its business is also important. Be sure to ask the agency the “hard” questions, such as how they verify that the children they place are actually orphans or otherwise available for adoption, how they ensure that the adoptive family cannot be convicted of buying the child from its biological parents (which is prohibited by law), and how they actively help special needs children to find homes.

Ask for Advice

Choosing an agency can be difficult work, even when you know all the right questions to ask. Also, a preliminary interview may not expose the potential for problems that can surface later in the adoption process. For example, just because the agency claims to have a nondiscrimination policy does not mean that they will not find another, more obscure reason to refuse to place a child with you.

To ensure that you find an agency with a proven track record for placing children with nontraditional families, talk to other gay or lesbian families who have adopted. Give the agencies they used special consideration during your search, as these are agencies you know for a fact will not hesitate to place a child with gay or lesbian parents.

Cover All Your Bases

Obviously, choosing an adoption agency is a lot of work – probably the biggest decision you’ll make after deciding to adopt a child in the first place. However, it can be sobering to realize that as you go through the adoption process you are literally placing your future in the agency’s hands. Decisions of this magnitude should not be taken lightly. Thoroughly research the agency, ask them lots of questions, get recommendations from other gay and lesbian families who have successfully adopted – and make sure that you get that parenting opportunity you’ve dreamed of.

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