Many families considering adoption wonder whether they should work with an adoption agency or complete an independent adoption. Just as some people prefer to fix their own cars or sell their own houses, some couples choose to take the DIY route and pursue an independent adoption — while others choose to leave it to the professionals and work with an adoption agency throughout the process.
The primary difference between independent and agency adoption is the adoption professional you will work with and the services that will be available to you. In an agency adoption, you will work closely with an adoption specialist through every step of the process, from matching and screening to communicating with prospective birth parents and legally finalizing the adoption, and the agency will coordinate all of the services necessary for the birth parents as well.
What is an Independent Adoption?
In an independent adoption, adoptive parents work directly with an adoption attorney to complete an adoption without the use of an agency. Adoption attorneys are necessary in all adoptions to ensure legal requirements are met, but in independent adoption, an adoption attorney may be the only professional a family will work with.
Because many adoption attorneys do not (or legally cannot) provide matching and screening services, and because advertising for birth parents independently can be challenging, families who choose to pursue an independent adoption often have already been matched with a prospective birth mother, either through another adoption professional or independently.
Agency Adoption vs. Independent Adoption
An adoption agency is essentially an all-inclusive, one-stop shop, while independent adoptions require adoptive parents to “outsource” the services they need from multiple adoption professionals. Some services will be more difficult to obtain in an independent adoption.
Adoption attorneys will vary in the services they are able to offer, but in general, adoptive families who choose independent adoptions will have to independently coordinate necessary services that are typically offered by adoption agencies, including:
Adoption agencies usually coordinate advertising for adoptive families using large networks and professional media services. These agencies typically work with a large pool of pregnant women considering adoption and can match them to adoptive parents based on both parties’ preferences, such as the amount of contact they’d like to share after the placement.
If an adoptive family needs to find a birth mother independently of an agency, they must use their own networking and advertising avenues (if legal in their state) to locate a pregnant woman interested in adoption. Parents may spend more money on less effective advertising than they would through an adoption agency, as agencies often have large adoption advertising networks. The adoptive parents will then need to answer phone calls and set up meetings to discuss their adoption plans and determine whether each prospective birth mother is a good fit for their family.
Screening and Fraud Protection
Adoption agencies work closely with prospective birth mothers to measure their commitment level throughout the adoption process. When a woman begins the adoption process, most agencies will also collect information about her and her family’s medical history and substance usage. Working with an experienced adoption agency can also help lower the risk of adoption fraud, as adoption agencies carefully screen expectant mothers and gauge their commitment and sincerity before matching them with adoptive families. Some adoption agencies will also provide financial protection in the case of adoption fraud.
In an independent adoption, once the adoptive family finds a woman interested in adoption, they will need to find a way to screen her on their own. In these situations, it may be more difficult to learn important medical information and gauge her commitment level to the adoption. Because it is more difficult to screen women independently, families who choose independent adoptions and find birth mothers on their own, especially through the internet, may need to take extra precautions to avoid adoption scams.
Some adoption agencies are licensed to conduct adoption home studies in certain states. If the adoption agency is not able to perform the study, staff will often refer the adoptive family to a reputable licensed home study provider. If the family is working with a national adoption agency to adopt across state lines, the adoption agency will review the family’s home study to ensure it includes all elements necessary for adopting from the birth mother’s state.
Adoptive parents pursuing an independent adoption will need to independently contact a home study provider and coordinate the home study process.
If a woman contacts an adoption agency early enough in her pregnancy, the adoption agency can work with her and her doctor to provide necessary prenatal care and provide prenatal records to the adoptive family.
In an independent adoption, the adoptive family may be more limited in their ability to encourage the mother to receive prenatal care and coordinate those services.
Counseling and Support
In an agency adoption, each adoptive family and prospective birth mother will be provided with their own individual adoption specialist, who will not only help each party through every step of the process but will also provide adoption counseling and support. This guidance is especially important in helping the birth mother to process difficult emotions throughout the process. If she has a tough day and is reconsidering her adoption plan, her adoption specialist can help her talk about her feelings and remind her why she chose adoption in the first place.
In an independent adoption, counseling services may be outsourced to another professional at the adoptive parents’ expense, or it may be provided by an unlicensed paralegal.
Adoption agencies are able to facilitate and mediate communication between birth parents and adoptive families before, during and after the adoption takes place. Prior to the adoption, they can set up conference calls to help the families get to know each other. They can provide guidance to the adoptive family and birth parents as they establish and grow their relationship throughout the adoption process, and they can coordinate pictures and letters and other post-placement communication for years after the adoption is complete. If the birth parents and adoptive family would like to maintain a semi-open adoption, adoption agencies can coordinate contact between the parties without ever exchanging identifying information.
In an independent adoption, it will be difficult for the adoption to take place without the birth parents and adoptive families exchanging personal contact information or other identifying information. If an adoptive couple chooses to complete an independent adoption, this means they will likely need to be prepared for a fully open adoption, in which identifying information such as last names, hometowns and phone numbers are exchanged. It is also unlikely that either party will receive professional support as they navigate the relationship.
Insurance and Hospital Coordination
Adoption agencies will help the birth mother create a hospital plan, which outlines her wishes for her hospital stay. The agency will work with the hospital social worker and other staff to inform them of the plan, ensuring a smooth delivery. The adoption agency can also help coordinate the sometimes complicated issue of insurance and help get the birth mother and baby on Medicaid, when applicable.
The hospital stay is one of the most emotional — and sometimes hectic — steps of the adoption process, both for the birth mother and the adoptive family. Coordinating the hospital stay and organizing medical expenses and insurance can be difficult for adoptive parents in an independent adoption, especially when so much of their energy will be focused on welcoming their new child into the world.
Benefits of Independent Adoption
Like fixing a car or selling a house, completing an independent adoption can be challenging and often requires more time and knowledge of the process. However, families who are comfortable enough with the adoption process to choose independent adoption enjoy several benefits, including:
- Lower cost: In an agency adoption, “agency fees” cover services like support, counseling, case management and process coordination. These services and fees are not involved in an independent adoption, making the overall adoption cost lower on average.
- More private and individual process: Some families prefer to get to know birth parents without agency involvement. An independent adoption can give the family more control over this and other aspects of the process, as they can choose which services they’d like to use and pay for.
- Fewer professionals involved in the process: If a family finds a birth mom match on their own and does not require many other services, the adoption attorney may be the only professional they need to legally complete the adoption.
Independent and agency adoptions both have their advantages and disadvantages. Which you choose will likely be influenced by the type and amount of support you’d like to have. If you are comfortable navigating the process on your own, independent adoption may be a good option for you. If you’d be more comfortable working with an adoption agency to walk you through the process, agency adoption may be a better fit.