Are You Pregnant and Thinking About Adoption?
Series: Factsheets for Families|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2007|
Placing your baby through an agency or independent adoption
If you are seriously considering adoption as an option, you will need to talk to some licensed adoption agencies or qualified adoption lawyers, or both. This section outlines the process of adoption through an agency (agency adoptions) and through an independent (private) adoption. Some legal considerations and infant safe haven laws are also discussed.
Selecting a Licensed Adoption Agency or Qualified Adoption Lawyer
There are some differences and similarities in agency adoptions and independent adoptions. Agencies are generally full-time organizations whose main work is adoption. They usually employ a number of people and work with many families and pregnant women in order to find the best homes for babies. In an independent adoption, the pregnant woman generally works just with a lawyer and the family that she selects to adopt her child. Read the descriptions below under “Placing Your Baby Through an Agency” and “Placing Your Baby Through an Independent Adoption.”4
You may not know which type of adoption will work best for you and your baby until you talk to some licensed agencies and qualified lawyers. Talk to several agencies or lawyers before making a decision and ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable. Here are some general questions to ask either an adoption agency representative or adoption lawyer:
- Will I get counseling all through my pregnancy, after I sign the papers allowing my child to be adopted, and after my baby is placed?
- Can my baby's father and other people who are important to me join me in counseling?
- Will you help with medical, legal, and other costs?
- If I change my mind about the adoption and decide to parent my child, will I have to pay for services I received?
- How will you handle obtaining the consent of the baby's father?
- How would you handle the situation if my baby were born with a disability?
- Does your agency practice open adoption where I can meet and get to know the family who will adopt my child? [If this is what you want]
- If you don't practice open adoption, what information will you share with the adoptive parents about my family and me?
- Do the adoptive families receive education and training on adoption in addition to their home study?
Talk to your counselor or lawyer about the type of adoption that is best for you. Do you want to help decide who adopts your child, or would you rather allow the agency to select the best parents for your child? Would you like to be able to communicate with your child in the future through an open adoption, or would you rather not participate in this type of arrangement? If you have strong feelings about these things, work with an agency or lawyer who will listen to what you want.
If you choose to work with an agency, you should make sure that they are licensed to place children in your State. If you choose to work with a lawyer in an independent adoption, be sure that the lawyer has a license and adoption experience. It's important to check on the reputation, license, and authority of any agency or lawyer that you are considering. An honest agency or lawyer will have nothing to hide and won't mind answering your questions.
For information on how to find out whether or not an agency is licensed, follow the instructions provided in Child Welfare Information Gateway's How to Assess the Reputation of Licensed, Private Adoption Agencies at:
Some States permit adoption facilitators to arrange adoptions between birth mothers and families seeking to adopt. State laws vary quite a bit on this topic. In some States, facilitators can be anyone at all. In other States, they need to be licensed. In some States, 'facilitators' is a general term that also refers to adoption lawyers who arrange adoptions. In other States, adoption facilitators are completely illegal. In these States, birth parents and adoptive parents who work with a facilitator also may receive penalties for disobeying the law.
Before you work with anyone, find out what the laws in your State say. In every State, there are people who may try to take advantage of your situation.5
Placing Your Baby Through an Agency
Once you contact a licensed agency, you will work with a counselor. The counselor's first job is to provide you with information and support as you consider your decision about your baby. The counselor will ask you to think about many of the same questions that you have been considering, such as your own hopes and dreams for yourself and your child. The counselor will ask about your living situation, family support, and educational and career goals. She or he may ask questions about the baby's father and your relationship with him. The counselor works with you to help you come to the decision that is right for you and your baby—whether it is to parent the child yourself or to make an adoption plan.
If you decide to make an adoption plan for your baby, the counselor will explain the agency process. This may include information about how adoptive parents are selected for babies, your role in the process, and how the actual adoption is finalized. The counselor will also ask questions and collect information about you and the baby's father in order to put together a medical and social history of the baby. This may include:
- Your age, race, what you and the father look like, and other facts about you and the father
- Medical history for you, your family, and the father's family
- Any family history of mental illness
- Whether you have been to see a doctor since you became pregnant
- Whether you have been pregnant or given birth before
- Whether you smoked cigarettes, took any drugs, or drank any alcohol since you became pregnant
It's important for you to be honest in your answers. The counselor asks these questions so that the best decision and placement can be made for the baby. It's also important for your baby to have a full medical history.
In some cases, the agency will collect both identifying and nonidentifying information for your baby's record or to share with prospective adoptive parents. Identifying information includes things like your name and address. Nonidentifying information includes things like the color of your hair and eyes and your medical history.
Agencies may provide you with a number of services, such as:
- Providing counseling throughout your pregnancy and after your baby is born
- Paying your medical, legal, and living expenses
- Arranging medical care and the hospital stay for the birth
Most agencies will encourage you to look at descriptions and photo albums of families who want to adopt a baby. Many families write letters telling about themselves, their homes, and why they would love to adopt. Many agencies will arrange for you to meet the families, if you like.
Agencies also work with the couples who want to adopt—the prospective adoptive parents. The agency will visit them in their home and interview them. They will find out about their medical and family histories and check to see if they have a criminal record or a record of child abuse. If the prospective parents have such a record, it may mean that for your baby's safety, and for yours, the family will not be allowed to adopt. Safety is another reason for you to make sure that any agency or lawyer you work with is licensed by the State and experienced in adoption.
The agency will ask about the prospective parents' interests, careers, and hopes for a family. This does not guarantee that they will be perfect parents. However, they will have completed a home study process that shows their desire to adopt and their potential to be good parents and provide a safe home for the baby. Some agencies also require that prospective adoptive parents complete special training on adoption issues.
Placing Your Baby Through an Independent Adoption
This type of adoption is usually arranged by a lawyer, depending on the laws in your State. Independent adoption is legal in most but not all States. There is generally no agency involvement. Your lawyer works with the lawyer for the adoptive parents to arrange the adoption. All States require that the adoptive parents in an independent adoption complete a home study.
In an independent adoption, as with many agency adoptions, you would generally expect to meet the adoptive parents. In most cases, you, as the birth mother, or you and the birth father actually choose the adoptive parents. The information you receive about the adoptive parents will come directly from the family members themselves or their lawyer.
You should plan to have your own lawyer represent you and your baby, while the adoptive parents will have a different lawyer represent them. It's important that you have your own lawyer, especially if you change your mind about the adoption. In addition, it may not be legal in some States for the same lawyer to represent both you and the adoptive parents. Look for a lawyer who won't charge you a fee if you decide not to place your baby for adoption. In most States, adoptive parents are allowed to cover the cost of the birth parents' lawyer.6
Finding a lawyer. It is important to find a lawyer who is currently licensed in your State, is in good standing with the State bar association, and has experience with adoption. Remember, you need a lawyer who can represent you and your interests and is able to protect your legal rights and those of your baby.
Here are two organizations that keep lists of adoption lawyers:
- The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys lists lawyers who specialize in arranging adoptions: www.adoptionattorneys.org
- The American Bar Association has listings of lawyers by location, as well as other helpful information: www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/home.cfm
Also, many States have a toll-free number you can call to find specific types of lawyers in your area.
Finding adoptive parents. In an independent adoption, there are many ways to find potential adoptive parents, including through your lawyer, doctor, family, friends, or faith community (church, synagogue, or mosque). Some couples who want to adopt run personal ads in local newspapers or magazines. This type of advertising is restricted or illegal in some States but is very popular in other places, as well as on the Internet. If you decide to answer a personal ad, you call the family and talk to them or you email them. After that, your lawyer can help you follow up, if you would like to do so.
With an independent adoption, the prospective adoptive parents generally pay for your medical and living expenses. There are strict laws in each State about what prospective parents and adoption agencies can and cannot pay for. These laws exist to make sure that "baby selling" doesn't occur and that mothers aren't tempted to place their child with the person willing to pay the most in money or gifts.7
Legal Considerations in Some Cases
Adoption agencies that receive Federal money are required to follow the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act. This states that agencies cannot delay or deny the placement of a child due to the race, color, or national origin of either the child or the adoptive family. It also requires agencies to find adoptive families that reflect the diversity of the babies and children available for adoption.
If your baby will be Native American (American Indian) because you or the baby's father are Indian or even part-Indian, then there are special laws that will affect the adoption.8 The Indian Child Welfare Act, a Federal law, states that if a baby is placed for adoption, the child's extended family must be given the chance to adopt. If they choose not to adopt, members of the child's Tribe, followed by members of other Indian Tribes, must be given the chance to adopt the baby. This law gives the Tribal court the right to decide on the adoption. Talk with a lawyer who specializes in adoption law if you have a question about this or how it could apply to your baby.
Infant Safe Haven Laws
You may have read about infant safe haven laws in many States. These are laws written to protect newborn babies when their mothers feel they have nowhere else to turn. These laws allow the mothers to leave their babies at certain places—often, hospitals or fire stations. Mothers can leave their newborns without giving their names or other identifying information. Some States require that a mother leave her child with a person working at an approved safe haven location within 72 hours (3 days) of the child's birth. Leaving a baby in a safe place is a much better choice than leaving the child in a place where there is not a responsible person who will make sure that the baby is safe and that the proper authorities are contacted to take custody.
Some States require that infant safe haven providers ask mothers for family history and medical information. If this information is not provided, the child may grow up with little or no information about his or her heritage and medical history. Also, it may be difficult for mothers who leave their babies at safe havens to receive medical care or counseling.9
4 Child Welfare Information Gateway has two factsheets that are designed for adoptive parents but may also provide good information to birth parents about the differences between agency and independent adoptions. See Adoption Options at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_adoptoption.cfm and Adoption Options-at-a-Glance at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_adoptoptionglance.cfm. back
5 For more information, see Child Welfare Information Gateway's Use of Advertising and Facilitators in Adoptive Placements at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/advertising.cfm. back
6 See Child Welfare Information Gateway's State Regulation of Adoption Expenses at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/expenses.cfm. back
7 For more information, see Child Welfare Information Gateway's State Regulation of Adoption Expenses at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/expenses.cfm. back
8 For more information, visit the National Indian Child Welfare website at www.nicwa.org. back
9 For more information, see Child Welfare Information Gateway's Infant Safe Haven Laws at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/safehaven.cfm. back
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