As in many professions, adoption agencies need to be licensed to provide their services. Agencies are licensed by the state where they operate, usually by a state Department of Health & Human Services.
Lots of people who provide adoption-related services, like facilitators and online matching companies, aren’t licensed. They don’t have to go through a state government’s rigorous vetting process, and we think that puts adoptive parents at risk.
What Does Being Licensed Say About An Adoption Agency?
Beyond being a legal requirement, being licensed tells you a few things about an adoption agency – before you’ve even spoken to a social worker. Every state has its own licensing guidelines, but here are a few things you can know about an agency just by knowing that it’s been licensed.
1. We Put Children First
To be licensed, adoption agencies are required to investigate a prospective adoptive family’s home (in what is commonly called a “home study“), ensuring that it’s an environment in which a child will grow and thrive safely.
In fact, most state laws explicitly say that children are the primary “clients” of licensed adoption agencies. Licensed adoption agencies have to prove their commitment to child health, by submitting written policies to a licensing board and undergoing annual reviews.
2. We Offer Services Before, During & After Placement
Licensed agencies are tasked with supervising placement. This highlights what some people call “continuity of care”; a licensed agency won’t just handle the legal work, like an adoption attorney, but provides support before, during and after placement.
Licensed agencies are required by law to supervise families for a set period of time after the placement of a child. Through our post-adoption services, Adoptions From The Heart commits to the families we help for life.
3. Our Staff Members Are Qualified To Help
The staff at a licensed adoption agency will be qualified, certified if necessary and competent. Staff members at a licensed agency are personally vetted, in lengthy interviews and background checks, by consultants from a licensing board in most states.
Most licensing boards also require basic business plans, making sure that when an adoption agency opens, it has the financial know-how to stay open.
Licensing underlines the fundamental goal of every reputable agency: to protect the well-being of children and find them loving, permanent homes.
4. We Don’t Discriminate
Licensed agencies are legally barred from discriminating against prospective adoptive parents on the basis of ethnicity, race, color, national origin or heritage.
At Adoptions From The Heart, we’ve committed fully to this principle, and pride ourselves on being fully supportive to LGBTQ people who wish to adopt. We also provide a safe space for single people interested in adoption, a group that many adoption agencies turn away, or fail to serve properly.
How To Vet An Adoption Agency
When you’re looking into adoption agencies, it’s extremely important to check with your state’s licensing authority. Make sure that any agency you consider is in good standing before making this important decision.
Simply ask the agency for their licensing number and the phone number for the state’s licensing authority. Then call and verify. But just because an adoption agency is licensed doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for you and your family.
Here are three ways to learn more about an adoption agency:
- Call the Attorney General’s Office in your state and ask if any complaints have been filed against them.
- Get references. Ask to connect with three or more families who adopted through the agency you’re interested in. Try to speak with families who adopted several years ago so you can learn about the agency’s commitment to post-placement support.
- Join a support group and talk to members about their experiences at various agencies near you.
- Attend an event to learn more about the agency you’re considering and see if you think it’s a good fit. Adoptions From The Heart hosts free “Learn About Adoption” webinars and in-person meetings for families considering adoption. The meetings are a great way to learn about the process, meet our staff and ask any questions you have.
Researching adoption agencies online is a good place to start, but after a while, you might get the impression that every agency is out to find children for homes, not homes for children. Online reviews can be misleading, although discovering that a large number of people have had bad experiences with an agency isn’t a good sign.
As everyone knows, adoption is a highly-charged issue. For families, it’s the biggest decision of their lives, so take the opinions you find with a grain of salt. People who have had bad experiences, for whatever reason, are probably more likely to write these reviews in the first place, since satisfied adoptive parents are busy getting on with their lives.
To check out what some families have to say about their experience with Adoptions From The Heart, visit our Google+ page.
What’s The Alternative?
Generally, the alternative to a licensed adoption agency would be an adoption facilitator: one person or a group of people who “match” expectant parents with prospective adoptive parents, but usually don’t offer any other services.
In many states, including [….] adoption facilitators who accept payment for their services are breaking the law. This can become a serious headache, if not an outright tragedy, for families unaware of the complex laws surrounding where and how adoption facilitators are allowed to work.
You can learn more about the advantages of working with a licensed adoption agency instead of a facilitator here.
Why Not Just Use An Adoption Lawyer?
Adoption lawyers will certainly be licensed as attorneys, but their services begin and end with filling out legal documents. In our experience, both expectant parents and adoptive parents are far-better served by the range of support only a licensed adoption agency offers.
While formally a legal transfer of parental rights, adoption is much more than a legal endeavor. Adoption is more importantly an emotional, spiritual journey and having a qualified team of social workers and counselors at your side will be invaluable, both in ensuring your child’s health and well-being and the success of your family.
Adoptions From The Heart is a 501 C-3 nonprofit agency licensed in the states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.