The path to adoption can be a very slow and expensive process for hopeful adoptive parents. Most people consider adoption to be a “happily ever after” for children in need of homes and parents who want to have children. But with infertility struggles, couples getting married later in life, and increasingly diverse family structures, the adoption industry cannot keep up with the demand for children, particularly babies. This has led to agencies advertising to find more expectant parents, a growing desire to foster-to-adopt, and other problematic practices.
While many adoption agencies focus on placing the child’s needs first, America’s for-profit adoption industry has led to many unethical practices in the past as well as (unfortunately) the present. This can be chalked up to a lack of federal regulation regarding adoption laws and policies as well as gray areas wherein agencies—particularly private agencies—aren’t held accountable for their actions. An example of this is the lack of central tracking of private adoption numbers, which has increased the “need” for for-profit middlemen who take advantage of couples or single parents looking to adopt. So as a warning to parents looking to adopt, here are some adoption agency red flags to look out for.
1. Their emphasis is on the money
Although many families turn to for-profit adoption agencies, they can be highly unethical in their practices. Some approach placing a child as if they’re a cog in a money-making machine and will do anything to make that sale, including coercing parents in crisis to choose adoption. This may be hard to spot at first, particularly when the agency is saying all the right things. It’s important to ask tough questions about where the money goes, whether they encourage advertising to match with expectant couples, and how many applications they deny from hopeful adoptive parents.
If an agency is constantly trying to upsell you on packages for family profiles, websites, and marketing online, that’s a big red flag. If they use race-based pricing for fees and encourage adoptive parents to be open to adopting a child of color because it may be cheaper or take less time, that’s equally sketchy.
2. They talk down to expectant parents and birth parents
One of the first things adoptive parents need to look for in an agency is one that respects and cares for expectant parents in crisis. Put yourself in a pregnant person’s shoes when considering each agency and find out how they treat people in crisis. If you were scared and alone with no support, how would this agency help you? Listen to how they treat everyone who comes in to explore their options and how they talk about things like abortion and open adoption. Also pay attention to how they refer to people considering adoption.
Some questions to think about are:
- Do they refer to parents as “birth parents” before they’ve signed over their rights? Or do they instead refer to individuals considering adoption as “expectant” parents to limit any possible coercion from using the “birth parent” label?
- Does the agency encourage and support open adoption?
- What are their actions when an expectant parent chooses to parent instead of going through with an adoption? How do they support the person?
- How do they interact with expectant parents? Do they use pro and con lists to convince parents to place?
- How do they handle birth father rights?
- Do they provide counseling or support groups for expectant parents?
3. They encourage unscrupulous matching practices
Right now, most agencies are struggling to keep up with the demand for newborns and infants and have started to suggest parents approach pregnant people in crisis on social media or reach out to friends and family who may know someone who’s pregnant and struggling. These are very big red flags for an agency, especially if they ignore advertising laws in their state or encourage skirting around them.
If an agency or adoptive parent needs to advertise in order to secure a match with a parent thinking about placement, both the agency and the adoptive parents need to think about why this is necessary. Are they finding homes for babies in need, or are they finding babies for people who want to be parents?
4. They have little to no post-placement resources
Whether an adoption goes smoothly from the get-go or has a few bumps, it’s still important to find out what kind of resources an agency provides after a placement is completed. Many adoptive families will face challenges as the child grows up, and it’s important for agencies to provide access to resources like parenting classes, adoption- or trauma-informed therapists, adoptee events, and support groups for adoptive parents. While adoptive parents may not necessarily need these resources, they should be encouraged by the agency to utilize them if necessary.