Wednesday, August 8, 2012

on agencies.

I've belonged to an adoption agency review group for many years.  That probably sounds silly, because we're only adopting now. But adoption was in my heart for a long while.  I dreamed of adopting from Guatemala, long before it closed and long before I knew of some of the corruption that existed there.  Had I had my choice, I would have loved to adopt from Latin America.  We sponsor three children in Latin America.  I learned Spanish in high school and have taken two classes about Latin American culture in college.  It's a wonderful place with many amazing countries...but the adoption prospects are minimal, especially for younger children. We did not want to adopt out of birth order, so Latin America wasn't realistic for us.

I still read and occasionally comment in these forums.  There are few of them that are without some sort of rancor and prejudice toward certain agencies, but the one I belong to has a robust archive that easily searchable.  Trends can be ascertained that way.

Choosing an agency is an important choice.  Sometimes, the "choice" is made "for" you; when an agency has a child's file, it is that agency or no agency.  This can be frustrating, especially if you have your heart set on a particular agency to use.  It is often difficult, if not impossible, to have a child's file moved to your preferred choice.

When we were choosing agencies, we had two lists.  One was the "preferred" list and the other was a "short list".  The "short list" had five agencies on it; the "preferred" list had two.  Before we found our son, we were fully prepared to sign with one of our "preferred" agencies.  We had the documents printed off and we were going to get our pastor to fill out some of the paperwork.  Yes, we were going to use a Christian adoption agency.

Before we were able to complete our documents, however, we found our son. He was listed with an agency on our "short list" but not on the "preferred" one. We felt confident we were going to use an ethical agency, even if it was not our "preferred" one, and we moved forward.  I'm glad we did, because our experience has been fantastic and I know the little boy we met is meant to be ours.

But going back to my experiences in the adoption agency review group, as I said, I've been a member for probably six years.  I still pay attention.  I see prospective adoptive parents rushing to the group to ask their most important question: "What can you tell about 'x' agency?"  For future adoptive parents who are preparing to shell out thousands and thousands of dollars, it's an important question.  No one wants to be stuck with a dishonest, unethical agency who may run off with their money or promise them a child that never materializes.

Invariably, just a few things happen.  When a future parent asks this question, the answers range from:

1.  A wide contingency of people who begin to tell the same story and paint a picture of an agency gone wrong; or, more probably..

2.  A mixture of answers, with some claiming problems with an agency while others expressing a positive experience.

Picked apart further, sometimes the problems revealed are country-specific (for example, an adoption agency that has problems in Ukraine but good results in China) or even time-period specific (for example, an agency that may have had problems five or so years ago, but due to change in staff or other changes, has been better).

Additionally, complaints and praise are personal.  Someone may say an agency is "bad" because they felt that much of the work assembling their dossier fell upon them.  Some people prefer a high level of "hand holding", while others may have had a poor experience with an in-country adoption representative and blame the agency.  To a prospective parent, however, these complaints are hard to decipher, and the power of the words, "I would not recommend using... [insert agency here]" from the mouth of the adoptive parent carry huge influence.  Prospective adoptive parents are preparing to part with probably the most money they've ever spent short of buying their home, and recommendations - real ones - often seem tough to find.

Recently, and quite by surprise, I found myself in the middle of a discussion about the agency we're using.  I was surprised when I read comments made by people - people I very much like and respect! - who characterized my agency as, among other things, "dishonest".  I read a few people actively discourage people from using this agency, and even for the country that we are adopting from!

Of course, we've had a good experience overall with our agency.  Really.  I'm not standing on the rooftops declaring who we are using; it's no secret in some circles, but keeping with my policy not to divulge more than I ought to on this blog, I've actually never said.  Still, my lack of description about my agency is in no way reflective of my experience.  We've had a good experience and our point of contact at our agency has been terrific.  When you can skype in-country with your representative, that's a nice thing. 

The facilitator we are working with (the NGO in Bulgaria) has also been outstanding.  A key difference between ours and others is their flexibility.  I hear so often from people adopting from Bulgaria that they were "told" their travel dates or "given them".  This is foreign to me.  We CHOSE our travel dates - completely and totally chose them.  No one dictated anything to us - they were not assigned.  Obviously, we had to wait for the process to be completed (and to receive our referral) but once we had it, we were told that any date we wanted was available to us.  That was huge for us, and appears to be a rarity among facilitators.  Our facilitator in Bulgaria is incredibly honest.  She took the time to explain every document.  Even as we arrived in Bulgaria, she never pressed us about our decision to adopt our future son.  We were immediately ready to accept his referral, but she still spoke about "if" not "when". We finally had to tell her -plainly and clearly - that we knew we had met our son and there was no longer an "if" about it! She wanted us to be sure.  I appreciated that.

Fundamentally, I think it matters what you choose to believe about agencies.  If you believe, as some appear to, that adoption agencies are run by greedy, unethical people whose sole goal is to extract as much money as possible from the process, then it stands to reason that there would only be a small handful of "good" agencies.  Generally, people like to gravitate to Christian agencies, assuming that these agencies will be ethical and honest.  But did you know that one of the bigger Christian agencies we contacted for Bulgaria costs many thousands more than our agency? Did you know that we actually had a poor experience with one, or that another larger one has been the subject of investigation and innuendo about the ethical nature of their programs?  "Christian"is not always the rubber stamp of honesty and uprightness.

I believe, as many others do, that most agencies are honest. Most of the people who work at adoption agencies are not rich people.  Some of these people have credentials that would afford them tens of thousands of dollars more in any industry other than adoption facilitation. This does not mean that an honest agency isn't disorganized or that their workers are, well, overworked.  It is the heart of the agency that matters.  Does this agency care about money or children? Does this agency advocate for the children they represent?  Does this agency counsel prospective parents to make an orphan "wait" until that child's file can be (hopefully) transferred elsewhere?  (Who would EVER want an orphan to wait??)

No agency is perfect, but I believe few agencies are really "bad".  Some may be better than others.  Some people may have a good experience, while others may not. Especially in the case of a waiting child, it is often not practical to transfer that file to your agency "of choice".  In that situation, you must be prepared to work with the agency, or not.  I believe if that child is truly meant to be with your family, the agency probably doesn't matter much.  Unless it's an agency who has been actively involved in corruption (an agency in Ohio immediately comes to mind...) you will likely be just as well served with one agency as another. 

If this is the view, then actively "knocking" agencies is probably not wise.  It's fair to share an experience if you have one, but discouraging a family based on conjecture or hearsay isn't fair.  To do so so that another agency will benefit is even more dishonest.  It brings shame on an industry that often bears more than its share.  I'm happy to recommend our agency if asked, and I believe there are other good and ethical agencies in Bulgaria and in other countries too. 

I hope that those who choose to offer opinions about agencies will do so only with confirmed information and espousing the view that most agencies are good.  Thus, if there are "two ways" to take a situation, I'd prefer to believe that the agency is trying to do good rather than being dishonest.


  1. I HAVE told you before that you are an amazing writer, haven't I? I really enjoy your balanced and succinct view on things. When there is sometimes so much drama in the adoption world you seem to always be a voice of reason. I really enjoy reading your blog and I am so glad you have had a good experience with your agency. I can't imagine making that kind of decision - but then, I guess I'll have to someday sooner rather than later! I may be asking for your help, LOL. BTW, I'm in Ohio, I'm curious about the agency you're referring to (I'm not exactly aware of local agencies or anything, but I will be adopting someday), if you don't want to post about it publicly would you mind emailing me at Thanks so much. Always praying for you!

  2. Hi Jennifer!
    Would you mind giving me the name of the agency review group? Hopefully we will be adopting again and I like to research ahead of time. Thanks so much! If you want to send it privately, my blog is GetHimHome. Thanks!


Kind comments are welcomed. Poorly researched, ill-informed, horrifically biased comments are exploded. :)