The International Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, Inc

When an Adoption Doesn't Go as Planned

When an Adoption Journey Doesn't Go as Planned
An essay from the heart.


My husband and I went through 7 years of infertility and lost four angels to miscarriage before we had our one and only live birth. My conception and pregnancy were both nightmares. There was nothing easy we did to either get or stay pregnant and giving birth was not much different. These experiences were filled with fear, dread and dealing with multiple roadblocks. There were a number of midnight trips to the emergency room before my one scary live birth story. But at the end of this ordeal, was a healthy, happy baby. We were overjoyed and settled quickly into everyday parenting of our first miracle child.

It is no surprise then, it took us four years to even begin to discuss how we would add a second child to our family. But add we did on May 23, 2001 in the lobby of the third floor of the China Hotel, a stunning little Cantonese beauty!  Another long road traveled but this time through adoption. Our expectations the second time the same --- a healthy baby. This time, however, the twists and turns were not in the conception or adoption but in the parenting of our new little miracle.

On January 1, 2000 we decided we wouldn’t pursue fertility treatment this go around but instead adopt to grow our family. We used a local agency, added our names to a number of listservs and jumped feet first into the throes of the “paper chase”. As in birth, our adoption was eagerly anticipated with great exuberance and expectations of a future filled with happy parenting complete with a built in big sister.

So often I heard other eager waiting parents refer to their adoption as a “leap of faith”.  But then life is a leap of faith too. No one is guaranteed tomorrow or a perfect child --- not through birth or adoption. Although feeling thoroughly prepared through research, education and support groups, our life changed in a number of ways the day little Xiao Rong entered our family.

It was a heart-pounding, exciting and exhilarating experience full of anticipation when the orphanage personnel handed over this little tiny twig of a baby. This minuscule little girl was 14 months and a whopping 13 pounds (the size of a four-month old). In the months to come, we would discover our sweet little girl had a number of developmental delays, chronic anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder and a variety of letters and acronyms all boiling down to one damaged little girl who had suffered greatly and who desperately needed specialized professional care as well as a savvy family to navigate a labyrinth of procedures, treatment and a magnitude of healing. I remember flying home from China and wondering how this child was going to change our family dynamic. Our life would be out of the ordinary and not what we had planned. Having had more than a decade of experience teaching handicapped children, and being an older parent, I knew life would be “special” and I worried about being “up to” the tasks ahead.

Before we made this trip to China, we agreed the child selected by the CCAA and entrusted to us would be the child we were destined to parent. This was our leap of faith. I think to deny the feelings of loss, loss of that dream, of a whole child, a “normal” little sister to her sibling, would be to deny what everyone hopes for when they have a family. Somehow I felt to accept this circumstance as a loss of a dream, was somehow rejecting our child. I came to learn that accepting this loss was the biggest hurdle to clear and enabled me to move on and to truly appreciate the miracle this baby was in our hearts and lives.
At first I felt very alone, another loss in a string of multiple losses, more challenges and added stress. It occurred to me a key component for successfully working through this is the strong bond between husband and wife. Our marriage withstood the loss of four babies and because of the willingness to communicate on new levels and continuing to work as a team, we strive to carefully navigate the maze in order to meet our daughter’s special needs, taking each day as it comes one day at a time. 
Sometimes I feel myself tensing up, thinking about what the future holds and worrying about what I might have to cope with tomorrow. But then I look to my youngest daughter. She is my hero, my miracle. What adult do you know who could have survived abandonment at birth, month after month of neglect in severe  physical pain, all with no coping skills, no language with which to answer back, no support group, no therapist to talk to, no friends and no family to nurture her. She was stripped of her dignity, her future and her culture; kidnapped by strangers but she never gave up. I see her tenacity and her strength and it gives me strength. I am so honored to be her mother.  God must really believe I have the integrity, skill and love to put this little life in my hands. Yes, it is a responsibility and sometimes feels like a weight on our shoulders but it’s also an awesome gift and a miracle. 
It’s been 5 years and thousands of miles since I first experienced those feelings of grief on the plane ride home to the US. Instead of loss, I am just beginning to realize how really fortunate we are. When adopting internationally, you’ll often hear how wonderful it is that we “rescued” an orphan. But the truth is, our little Cantonese beauty rescued all of us. To live life without our youngest family member is unthinkable.  We’ve been so fortunate and not once but twice blessed with beautiful daughters; one who grew under my heart and the other who grew in it. My older daughter born after a 7 year struggle with infertility and pregnancy loss, and our youngest adopted May 23, 2001 mainland China. What more could any parent ask for?


Adoption Advocacy - National Zoo Exploits Children with Adopt-a Confusion

Dear Adoption Community

I received the following letter from the National Zoo's Deputy Director in response to the letter I sent several weeks ago. As you can see from their response, it is clear they don't "get it". I sent Mr. Schroeder a copy of the Adopt-a Confusion fact sheet as well as a letter encouraging them to stop using the adopt-a theme which I as way as many experts and researchers believe exploits children.

Please write to them and tell them adopt-a confusion is not OK and feel free to pass this on to anyone who has an interest in educating the public about respectful adoption language and the problematic programs using adopt-a confusion to raise money for their respective causes!



Nancy P. Hemenway
INCIID Executive Director
(703) 379-9178 (Office)
(703) 379-1593 (FAX)

Dear Ms. Hemenway:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about our Adopt a Species program: This has been an exceptionally busy period for FONZ and I apologize for the delayed response.

Our intention in using the phrase "adopt a species" is deliberately metaphoric and symbolic, and in no way trivializes the process of building a human family through adoption. We hope to inspire people to make a lifetime commitment to cro;ing about and working toward a secure future for wild animals and the habitats they need to survive, analogous, although certainly not identical, to, the comtp.itment adoptive parents make to their children. We also hope that the financial contribution that people make to adopt a wild animal species is just one of many ways that they help to ensure the survival of wildlife, just as financial support is just one of the many ways that parents ensure the welfare of their children, adopted or not.

After receiving your email, I asked the advise of a thoughtful 21-year-old who is an adopted child. The following is from her response:
I like the phrase "adopt a species." Although you're not taking the animal home, expressing your human love for it, and nurturing it through years ofJife until you send it off to college-you can, and I've witnessed people, fall in love with an animal (in a broader sense) and devote time and money to its cause-which, in my opinion, is just as worthy of the term "adoption." As a child growing up in the environment-conscious nineties I often heard the term adopt in phrases like "adopt a whale" "adopt a highway" and "adopt an endangered species" and never once did it bother me. In fact I thoughtit was really cute and really great-,-and really liked the idea of "adopting" even a highway. I loved seeing the "adopt a highway" or "adopt a road" signs and reading which school children were taking care of it. Kids are way tougher and smarter than parents believe. They know the difference. If anything, I know similar phrases ~arked (in me and other kids dreams of actually adopting a panda and having the panda live with us for a lifetime to become a true family member-what a fantasy!

Indeed, this is the experience of just one child, but I suspect that hers is representative of that of many children. Undoubtedly, as your examples indicate, some other children may be puzzled about how their adoption is like or unlike these other "adoptions." However, we have structured our programs to avoid the suggestion that someone is literally adopting a particular individual animal or that one animal is worth more than other. Our program encourages people to adopt an entire species, emphasizing the metaphor, and attaches identical value to each of the species that people can adopt. We do not substitute a new species for adoption each year-people can and do symbolize their commitment to wildlife conservation by adopting the same species for many years. .

We agree that some adopt programs are silly, and that the "adQption" of a pothole or a light bulb in no way compares to adopting a child; in our view, neither of these compares either to adopting a species, in the sense of making a commitment to caring for the future of the animals with whom we share the planet.

James M. Schroeder
Deputy Executive Director Friends of the National Zoo Washington, D.C. 20008

Friends of the National Zoo. Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, 202 6734961.

Below Please find below the National Zoo  CONTACT INFORMATION 

Please politely inform the zoo staff and board members that The National Zoo has suffered so much embarrassing controversy lately, that exploitive and controversial adopt-a programs might expose the zoo to more negative attention from the adoptive professional and parenting community.
If you have time --- By far, a neatly hand written or typed letter gets much more attention than sending an email. Sending an email as a follow-up is effective, but for the greatest impact make sure to send that postal letter. Since it takes a little bit more work than just sending an email it shows that you really care about the topic if you are willing to put in the extra effort. 

Zoo Staff

Smithsonian National Zoological Park
3001 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008 

Lucy Spelman,, Director of the Smithsonian National Zoo
Clinton A. Fields,, Executive Director, FONZ
Jim Schroeder,, Deputy Executive Director, FONZ

Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) Board of Directors 

To contact any FONZ Board Member, send an email 

Or send postal mail to:

Friends of the National Zoo
3001 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008 

Lloyd W. Howell, Jr., President of the Board of Directors 

Mark R. Handwerger, First Vice President 

Jeffrey Lande, Second Vice President 

Grace Y. Toh, Treasurer 

Nicole M. Chestang, Secretary 

Other Directors: Thomas B. Arundel, Marcie Bane, Patricia A. Bradley, Jeanne Beekhuis, Christopher Capuano, Robert V. Davis, Sheila M. Ford, Michele V. Hagans, James F. Hinchman, Richard C. Hotvedt, Bernard K. Jarvis, Alberta A. "Missy" Kelly, Robyn S. Kravit, Gloria Kreisman, Harald R. Leuba, Suzanne Mink, Sue Ruff, Edward A. Sands, Eric Douglas Weiss, and John J. Ziolkowski 

Smithsonian Institute Contact Information

Smithsonian Institute
PO Box 37012 
SI Building, Room 153, MRC 010 
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012 

Smithsonian National Zoo Board of Regents 

Regents ex officio 
Chancellor William H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States, c/o Smithsonian Institution MRC-016, P.O. Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013-7012, ph 202.479.3400 

Vice President Richard B. Cheney,, postal addr as above or The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC 20500, ph 202.456.1414 

Congressional Regents 
Senator Thad Cochran,,, postal addr c/o Smithsonian Institute (SI) or 326 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510-2402, fx 202.224.9450, ph 202.224.5054 Senator 

Bill Frist,, postal addr c/o SI or 416 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510, fx 202.228.1264, ph 202.224.3344 

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, , postal addr c/o SI or 433 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510, fx 202.224.3479, ph 202.224.4242 

Honorable Sam Johnson, , postal addr c/o SI or 1211 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, fx 202.225.1485, ph 202.225.4201 

Honorable Robert T. Matsui,, postal addr c/o SI or 2310 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515, fx 202.225.0566, ph 202.225.7163 

Honorable Ralph Regula,, postal addr c/o SI or 2306 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515, fx 202.225.3059, ph 202.225.3876 

Citizen Regents 
Honorable Barber B. Conable Jr.,, P.O. Box 218, Alexander, NY 14005, fx 202.477.6391, ph 716.591.1233 

Dr. Anne d'Harnoncourt,, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Benjamin Franklin Parkway and 26th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19130 (or P.O.Box 7646, Philadelphia PA 19101-7646), fx 215.232.4338, ph 215.763.8100 or 215.684.7600 

Dr. Hanna H. Gray,, University of Chicago, Department of History, 1126 East 59th St., SS Box 109, Chicago IL 60637-1539, fx 773.702.4600, ph 773.702.7799 

Dr. Manuel Ibanez,, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Dept. of Biology, P.O. Box 158, Station 1, Kingsville, Texas 78363 (or 7737 Starnberg Lake Dr., Corpus Christi TX 78413-5288), ph 361.854.5818 

Dr. Walter E. Massey,, Morehouse College, 830 Westview Drive SW, Atlanta, GA 30314, fx 404.659.6536, ph 404.681.2800 

Mr. Roger W. Sant,, The Summit Foundation, 2099 Pennsylvania Ave. NW 10th fl, Washington, DC 20006, fx 202.912.2901, ph 202.912.2900 

Mr. Alan G. Spoon,, Polaris Venture Partners, 1000 Winter Street, Suite 3350, Waltham, MA 02451-1215, fx 781.290.0880, ph 781.290.0770 (or 7300 Loch Edin Ct, Potomac MD 20854-4835, ph 301.365.4650) 

Ms. Patty Stonesifer,, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PO Box 23350, Seattle, WA 98102, fx 206.709.3184, ph 206.709.3100 

Mr. Wesley S. Williams Jr.,, Covington & Burling, 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004-2401, fx 202.778.5628, ph 202.662.5628 (or 7706 Georgia Ave. NW, Washington DC 20090, 202.726.3631) 

Also -- for alerts please sign up for our Adoption Hit List.

Finding a Trauma Therapist for my Child

Asking the right questions to help
identify the right therapist.

Trying to find a competent therapist to treat and work with a post-institutionalized and traumatized child can feel like an overwhelming circumstance. Before you start this process, it is important to first educate yourself.

Take yourself through a crash course in learning some of the basics about trauma and attachment disorder in internationally adopted children. There are a number of good websites and organizations:
Attach-China International (is not just for those who have adopted from China).

It has a lot of great resources on its website.  

If your child is a PI (Post-Institutionalized) child who has been subjected to early childhood trauma and/or attachment challenges, you can click on the link from that website to join the Attach-China's listserv. This educated group of moms (and a few Dads’) is very active and offers a wealth of information and support.

In the Attach-China files section you will find three articles that the list-owner has written about interviewing therapists for internationally adopted children with trauma and/or attachment issues. She lists some very good questions there for interviewing therapists.

Another good place to start your education on child trauma is Bruce Perry's Child Trauma Website

Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., explains the circle of trust in this article:
Some recommended books:
Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Troubled Children by Daniel A. Hughes
While this book focuses on a composite story of a domestically adopted little girl who was abused and neglected in her pre-adoptive life, Dan Hughes teaches critically important lessons about parenting children who have experienced traumatic loss prior to adoption. The parenting philosophy shared through this book is invaluable. It educates about early child trauma. The first chapter is difficult because it describes the little girl's pre-adoptive life, but the rest of the book is easier to read. It is ultimately an incredibly optimistic book full of hope. Dan Hughes is a brilliant therapist, who has retired from private practice and is currently traveling around the U.S. and internationally training other therapists to work with traumatized and attachment disordered children. His main focus is on foster and adopted children.  He has developed an approach to therapy called dyadic developmental therapy, which I think is the most credible, appropriate, and non-fringe way of treating many children's struggle with trauma and attachment issues. His website is:

Another excellent book is Lark Eshleman's Becoming a Family: Promoting Healthy Attachments with Your Adopted Child. Read in particular, Chapter 10: Therapy: How to Get Professional Help for Children with RAD. in the book by Lark Eshleman. This book is excellent resource. You may need to expand on some of the points she makes if your child is not so attachment disordered as struggling with broader trauma issues.

Another practical resource is: Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections, from EMK Press. This hefty book is a collection of essays by adoptive parents who've BTDT. In particular, you might want to take a look at the essays in the chapter on therapy.

Check out the EMK Press' website too since they have a lot of good parenting articles that you can download for free:  

Because you want the best for your child who may be struggling with trauma, attachment, and/or sensory issues, it is important to ask targeted questions. Don't be afraid to "grill" the perspective therapist who may not be used to this type of procedure.  We like to think of therapists, physicians and other professionals as knowledgeable and helpful but children can be harmed by inept therapists and doctors who don't have the expertise they need to treat complex trauma issues.

This list of basic questions was formulated based on a female child in the preschool age range who spent the first year to year and a half in an institution in China. Such a scenario lends itself to C-PTSD (Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) or attachment challenges, and SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) from deprivation. This list is a starting point. Please adjust the questions for a particular child.

  • Is the practitioner male or female? (Your child may only tolerate men or women.)
  • What type of clinician: a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist?
  • Where is their degree from and where did they do their post-degree training (with particular emphasis to trauma training).
  • Does the clinician take ____ insurance?
  • If so - does this cover my family?
  • What kind of location or setting:
  • Is it a hospital setting,  or a small medical building, a home? (Keep in mind what your child can tolerate. It could be any kind of "institutional" type of office or hospital may re-traumatize the child)
  • What is the emergency contact plan during non-business hours or in a crisis?
  • Is there a charge for a preliminary, face-to-face interview? If there is a charge, try to prolong the phone interview and get as much information as possible. If you do decide to meet a possible or likely candidate, you won't be wasting your billable hour on incidental information.

When you meet face-to-face or for prolonged interviews:

  1. How many internationally adopted children are currently in you practice?
  2. How old are they?
  3. How many of them are struggling with post-institutionalized behaviors?
  4. What kinds of behaviors?
  5. What is your understanding of the difference between children who were born into their families and children who were internationally adopted into theirs?
  6. What is your formal and practical training in treating children in the [age] range with C-PTSD, attachment issues, and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) etc.
  7. Where were you trained (for the specific procedure), for how long, by whom?
  8. What treatment methods do you use with a young child who is struggling with trauma, attachment issues, and SPD?
  9. Do you include the parent in the therapy sessions? If yes, in what way? (Parents of traumatized child should be included in treatment.)
  10. Do you do any coaching with the parents? If so what kind of coaching?
  11. Are you trained to do EMDR with children?
  12. Do you work collaboratively with any attachment therapists/trauma therapists/sensory integration certified occupational therapists?
  13. What kind of work do you do collaboratively?
  14. Do you work collaboratively with any parent peer educators?
  15. Do you work with any school-aged children who need Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) based on PTSD or SPD?
  16. If yes, do you participate in team meetings at the school for the child?
  17. Do you collaborate with any educational consultants or advocates who assist families of children with IEPs for these issues?
  18. How do you get supervision?
  19. How do you address your own vicarious trauma as a trauma/attachment therapist.

Often you may only have to go through a limited number of questions before disqualifying a therapist.

For example, someone could be a phenomenal trauma therapist, but have never worked with post-institutionalized, internationally adopted children. They could be peripherally qualified but may be unfamiliar with the specific related issues. This may not work for your individual child.
Wait before you make an appointment and absorb the interview. It may not be good to make a decision about a therapist on the spot, no matter how good they seem to be. Let the interview experience settle and then decide whether to further question a specific clinician or make an appointment.

It is a good sign if a therapist seems comfortable with the extent of your probing. Getting the right help for your child, having the determination to find the right team, should only be looked upon as doing the job a mother is supposed to do in protecting and providing for her child.

If you would like further information or have questions, please contact us.

Adopt-a Campaigns: Why they are not respectful by Jane Brown, MSW

SPEAKING POSITIVELY : Why Adopt A…. Campaigns are not Respectful
By Jane Brown, MSW, Adoption Educator, Adoptive Parent

Dislike of and complaints about Adopt A.. campaigns often cause controversy within adoptive parent groups. Some parents write or say that they don't mind them, others detest them, others say that they think they positively influence people to think adoption is terrific.

What I've learned over the years is that it is not our opinion that should be put in the position of priority-- but CHILDREN'S opinions.

With many of our children being way to young to have an opinion or to be able to understand the implications of why these campaigns are so popular or what they convey as far as attitudes about adoption, its important, I think, to consider how many adult adoptees think about this. In my experience which includes a great deal of direct work with the adult adoptee community, I have tried to pay attention to the fact that the adoptees, themselves, do not particularly like these ads for they encountered them repeatedly and their effect built-up for many, over time, to help reinforce the societal attitude that adoption equated with "buying and selling" children; that adoption is a substitute for the real thing, and that those who are adopted are pitied by others (not the way they want to be regarded-- so it caused them embarrassment and shame). Many were teased and ridiculed when the newest Adopt A.. campaigns started up in their community. Many had parents who told them to "buck up" and "not make a big deal out of nothing" which they silently resented-- silently angry and resentful that their parents failed to understand how it is to be someone looking at adoption through THEIR lens of experience and instead, expected them to accept their point of view and swallow their negative feelings of hurt, anger, resentment, shame, embarrassment, and "otherness."

If you are a parent of a young child, this may seem innocuous to you because your CHILD has not encountered this and has not expressed his or her feelings to you. Those of us with older children who are teens or adults may also have, at an earlier stage of our parenting, thought it wasn't such a big deal. Looking into the eyes or face of a child or teen who has been ridiculed and shamed by peers has raised our consciousness in a different way; one that makes it impossible to dismiss these campaigns as irrelevant and "not something WE get upset over."

The term "adopt" was co-opted from our adoption community because it effectively brings forth the image of a helpless, orphaned, vulnerable waif who needs to be "saved." People respond almost at a visceral, gut level to such appeals for donations to charitable drives. While that may be a positive outcome in terms of raising money for a worthy cause, it undermines and causes damage, psychologically to adopted youngsters for whom the term is ALSO emotionally-loaded, but for a different reason.

When the term appears in this way-- in campaigns to Adopt a Zoo Animal, or a Highway, or Nerd (candy), or a Cabbage Patch Doll -- adopted children often feel enormous shame over the way their community relegates adoption to something temporary, not-human, ugly & bedraggled, unkempt, and not worthy of respect. In addition, it suggests that "adoption" is about money -- paying for children since the "adoption" campaigns are usually about collecting dollars. It trivializes adoption which already is confusing and complicated for both adopted youngsters and their non-adopted peers to understand as a family-building process and it undercuts their sense that it is an equally-first-best way to have become a member of a family. "Adopt a.." campaigns devalue the adoption of children which is offensive because the frequent and regular use of this form of advertising to persuade people to part with money for a cause sacrifices children's psychological well-being for something else-- something far less worthy and vulnerable of protection/advocacy. We sincerely hope that that is not your intention.
Often, those who formulate the ideas for these type of campaigns are unaware of the fact that they subject adopted youngsters to ridicule from their non-adopted peers when those peers taunt children they know were adopted into their families with the campaign messages or hang "Adopt a..." posters on their school lockers or on school walls after having written in the adopted youngster's name on the posters.

As an adoption social worker and educator, I travel across the US and Canada every other weekend to work with adopted youngsters through a program called Adoption Playshops. In the sessions, the children, some as young as five, describe their experience in growing up adopted which, unfortunately, often includes being subjected to taunts stemming from these Adopt A.... campaigns which undercut their self-esteem and their status in their peer groups. When I hear this from hundreds of youngsters each year, I know that it is not all right to dismiss complaint from adoptive parents about these campaigns as overzealous, overly sensitive, or as making a big deal out of nothing.

While it has been possible, up to the present, for Society to devalue adoption and adoptive families through minimizing or dismissing their complaints because the number of adoptive families has been relatively small and adoptive families lacked a way to gather and collectively use their voices to stand up for their children, that is no longer the case. Thousands of families are adopting children internationally from fifty different countries worldwide. They are matched by an even larger number of families who are adopting children born within the US. No longer is adoption a secret so that adoptive parents are unwilling to bring attention to the way they built or expanded their families and remain in the shadows over the embarrassment these adopt a... ads cause. They are proud of having adopted their children and will tolerate no more marginalizing of adoption as a valid, first-best way to bring children and parents together through remaining silent when Adopt A… campaigns are launched.
The Internet has become a plethora of adoption-related forums and in which thousands of individuals participate. These parents, friends and siblings have worked together to rid our communities of ads that denigrate adoption like the recent Toyota ad that sought to promote new car sales with the line: "Buying a used car is like adopting a child-- you never know what you'll get." Parents of Asian-born adopted youngsters recently shut down jokes about Asians on two nationally-aired late night television programs and the adoption community stopped a company intending to piggy-back on a US Postal Stamp honoring adoption when it sought to denigrate adoption by selling Adopt A.... products. All these ads trivialized the adoptive family status.

While it highly doubtful that those who use denigrating language intentionally seek to cause harm or embarrassment to children and parents who have come together through the adoption process, once they understand there IS a substantial "cost" to them, we hope and expect these kinds of ads to stop. "Adopt-a-[name your campaign] programs need to be rethought for the sake of adopted children and their families.

Jane Brown is a long time social worker with years of experience working with children. She is both an adoptive and foster parent. In her work, she saw that children act one way with their parents, but very differently when with a group of their peers. They open up, they talk about their feelings, they interact. She also listened to adult adoptees who had grown up in multi-racial families, who told her that they really wished they had known more kids like themselves when they were younger, kids living in a family like theirs. Jane designed playshops to give our children, interracially adopted or not, that chance to interact with their peers. For more information on playshops please E-mail: contact INCIID and we will forward this to Jane.

The Legal Rights of Birth Fathers in an Adoption by Amy Silverberg


The U.S. Supreme Court has said that a man who is a putative (alleged) father has an opportunity to establish an interest in a child who may be his biological child. He must grasp this opportunity by establishing a substantial relationship with the child before he will have constitutionally protected parental rights.
Generally birth fathers, like birth mothers, love their children and want what's best for them. For a variety of reasons, birth fathers and birth mothers may not agree about whether adoption is the best plan. Even if they agree on adoption, they may not agree on the specific adoption plan.
While not ideal, in some cases the birth mother and the adoptive parents make an adoption plan completely independently of the birth father. Be aware that this practice can be very dangerous. To accomplish a legally secure adoption, it is critical to assess the legal risk by carefully considering who the child's father is and what his legal rights are.

Legal issues are not the only considerations. Social and medical history information from the birth father is critical to the health and wellbeing of your child. Will your child grow up knowing the birth father or will the identity of the birth father be a disturbing mystery? Remember that the child's interests should come first in the adoption process. Consider what the impact of your present decisions will be on your child in the future.

What Laws Apply?

Adoption law is complex. To make things even more challenging, adoption law is determined at the state level. This means that in each state there is a unique set of laws defining who is a father and directing the legal process that must be followed to free the child legally to be adopted.

What is the Best Practice?

In an ideal adoption both birth parents would be involved in the decision-making and planning of the adoption. They would fully cooperate with the legal process and the adoption would be finalized with their blessing.
In the real world, birth parents may not see eye-to-eye about adoption. They may not get along or they may not even know each other very well. Mental illness, domestic violence, substance abuse or other factors may affect the relationship between the birth parents. Because the legal interests of the birth mother and the birth father may be in conflict, it is very important to determine whether one or more men have legal rights with regard to the child.

Who is a Father?

A man may be able to establish a legal connection to the child, depending on state law, by one of the following methods:

  • Marrying or attempting to marry the mother;
  • Providing financial support for the mother or for the child;
  • Holding the child out as his child;
  • Registering with the father's adoption registry;
  • Cooperating with genetic paternity testing; or
  • Signing and filing a recognition of paternity document with the state.

The state law may require that a man be provided with notice of the adoption proceedings. For example, in some states a man who has registered with the state's father's adoption registry is entitled to notice of the adoption proceedings even though he has not established paternity to the child.
Most states provide a procedure that allows the birth parents of a child to sign a recognition of parentage form and file it with the state registrar of vital statistics. By filing the form, the birth parents create a legal presumption of paternity.

Is it Possible for a Child Have More Than One Legal Father?

Because there are many different ways to establish a legal connection to a child, it is possible for a child can have more that one legal father. To be legally safe, it may be necessary to notify or to obtain the consent of all of the child's legal fathers.

What Happens if a Birth Father is Unaware of the Pregnancy or if he is aware of the Pregnancy, but is Disinterested?

The answer to this question is complex and will depend on the legal status of the birth father and the applicable state law.

What is a Father's Registry?

Twenty or more states have registry systems to allow men who believe that they may have fathered a child to register with a state administered database. Depending on the specific provisions in the state's registry law, registration gives a man more rights regarding a child. A grid detailing the fathers' registry laws state by state, is available at the web site of the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse .
There currently is a legislative effort at the federal level to enact a federal registry law. A federal law would make the registry process uniform nation-wide. This would be a big improvement over the current system in which more that one state's registry laws may be applicable.

Resolving Conflicts

When conflicts arise, don't panic. Sometimes merely including the birth father in the adoption planning will resolve the conflict.
Like birth mothers, many birth fathers are not comfortable with an adoption without any contact after finalization. If a birth father is reluctant to participate in the adoption planning, it may be that he wants some contact after the adoption is finalized. Of course the type of contact depends upon the birth and adoptive families, and to a certain extent, on the relationship between the birth mother and the birth father.
Again, state law controls. Depending upon the applicable state law, it may be possible to negotiate a legally enforceable contact agreement. Even if a legally enforceable contact agreement is not provided for under state law, it may possible to make an informal agreement that everyone can live with.


The best way to accomplish a safe and secure adoption is with the full cooperation and participation of the child's birth mother and birth father. If the father is missing or uncooperative, it may be possible to negotiate a resolution or to accomplish the adoption without the cooperation of the birth father. Adoption is a complicated area of the law and legal mistakes can result in devastating consequences for children and their families. Consult with an experienced adoption attorney to determine what legal process you must follow in your state in order to legally terminate the birth father's legal connection to the child before you adopt.

Transracial and Transcultural Adoption: A Lifetime Journey, How do I decide? by Beth Hall and Gail Steinberg

Transracial and Transcultural Adoption: A Lifetime Journey. How Do I Decide? 
By Beth Hall & Gail Steinberg

When you are considering a domestic or international placement, this kind of adoption raises different questions than adoptions where children look just like their parents. Parenting is a developmental process. You won't have all the answers at the beginning. Enjoy and grow! The world is full - and if you decide to adopt in this way your life may be about to get fuller!

Race is a "hot potato" issue, and most of us are afraid of being judged poorly because we don't know as much as we wish we did. But nobody starts out with all the answers, and adoptive parents who raise children across racial, ethnic and cultural lines usually find out much more about themselves and the world than they could possible have anticipated before they become parents. If this possibility excites you, you are likely to enjoy the challenge. If it doesn't, then move away from transracial parenting without guilt.

Transracial parenting is not for everyone.


Each of us is "hard-wired" in particular ways. That means we are comfortable in certain types of circumstances and are likely to make life choices that reflect our particular personality traits. Although personality traits are not usually changeable, understanding who you are can enable you to decide whether your temperament will lend itself comfortably to the issues you and your family will face. Transracial/transcultural adoption almost always means that your family becomes "public," because your differences are readily apparent to others. Do you feel sick at the thought of the lady in the grocery store who asks inappropriate questions about your child or do you relish the thought of learning how to help your child develop the strength and capacity to cope with racial bias? As a parent, you will be "on display." You will need to seek help from adult mentors of your child's ethnic heritage who understand firsthand your children's experiences in ways that you cannot. If you hate to seek help or dislike contact with strangers, such tasks will likely prove demanding for you. If you enjoy complexity in life, transracial parenting will suit your strengths. If you enjoy being different and standing out - great! If you like to blend in and go with the crowd, think again. If you are attracted to learning new ways of thinking, you will enjoy the challenge. Parenting should be enjoyed, not weighted down by tasks so foreign to you they will almost certainly feel like a burden. Look to your strengths. Acknowledge your weaknesses. Now is the time to determine the compromises you can live with forever or those that would create a lifetime of discomfort you may not want to take on. Parenting is not charity work, if it works great, if it doesn't move on and choose other forms of adoption.


We all bring assumptions and unexamined ideas to new situations. You can expect to find that you carry within yourself both negative and positive internalized attitudes about adoption and race. Our society is biased in many ways and each member of society has learned the lessons society teaches us. But attitudes can be changed. Transracial/cultural adoptive parents are afforded continual opportunities to examine and develop new attitudes that expand beyond the simplistic and often inherently negative values held by a society undereducated about adoption and race. First, we must acknowledge where we are beginning from so we can become conscious enough to change.

"The first time someone asked, "Whose child is she?,' I was unprepared to answer. Now the kids and I have three or four ways to respond, depending on our mood. The other night right before bed, our youngest began to cry. I heard my oldest son tell her, 'People are mean. Because we are brown, some people don't like us., I know it's hard, but we can't let them win.' I wanted to run in and scoop them up, tell them I could protect them and that it would be ok.,. but I know I can't do that.. Watching your five-year-old learn to toughen up is hard, but better tough than unable to survive."

When you choose to become a family that is different from most, you must be prepared to confront your own biases in both overt and subtle ways. The first step in the process is also the one that never ends. Acknowledging your own racism and "adoptism" is painful, particularly since it means you carry prejudices against your own child. Though you may feel yourself free from these biases, it is more likely that you just don't recognize them fully yet. If you think that racism is getting better, you probably aren't dealing with it much. If you think that most people feel adoption is a good thing, you probably haven't yet had the opportunity to experience people's "special" reactions to special families. If you haven't had much experience with these issues, your antennae are not yet well developed. The more you know, the more you will realize how much race and adoption matter. The more you realize how much they matter, the more you will know how much there is to learn. If growth and learning sound like fun, jump in. If confronting stereotypes and bias sounds overwhelming, here's your opportunity to pass. Either way, you've expanded your thinking and been honest about some of the most hotly contested and visceral issues of our time.


Where we live and who we know, things we do and places we frequent - these are the factors that comprise our lifestyle. The truth is that you, and especially your child, will have a much easier time if your world is populated by people who share your child's racial and/or cultural background. Most families who adopt transracially or transculturally are only beginning to assess their lives from the point of view of their child. Be honest with yourself. If your lifestyle isn't as diverse as it could be, you can choose to change. More than our words, and regardless of our intentions, children take our actions to heart. If there are many people of color important to your life, you will deliver the message that people of color are important and valued. If your child is the only one, how will you avoid the message that she is an exception to her race, or that there is something wrong with his ethnicity? If you can comfortably imagine expanding your lifestyle in ways that may mean changing comforts and connections you currently enjoy, then transracial parenting will certainly offer you many opportunities to do so. If this sounds like a burden, you can modify and plan how to best manage the challenges for all of you.


How much do you really know about your child's heritage? Most of us learn nothing in school about the history or contributions of people of color in America; consequently, we generally don't know much. Don't get discouraged here - get energized. There are whole new worlds you can learn about and help your child to discover. Recognizing what you know and what don't know can light the path to future learning and growth. If you choose to do so, you can learn about anything you want to, at your own pace and in your own space.
What we know - and what we think we know. What is - and what has been. For the sake, strength and often the safety of their children, transracial families need to examine these questions more than most white families do. Schools teach us mostly European-based history and knowledge. Society teaches us to view the world from the point of view of white America, a point of view that sometimes includes immigrant- or minority-bashing to justify our history and current actions. Parents must understand the limitations to such "official" versions, going beyond what is easily available in order to learn more and to provide access to more knowledge for their child of color. Without positive history and a realistic understanding of current race-based realities in society, children will think that white is better and that people of color have accomplished little in their world. Such limited understanding cannot help but to undermine their own self-esteem and sense of ability and possibility. As a parent, you will have to safeguard and promote your child's cultural legacy in order to offer him or her the opportunity to thrive.

Where Do I Go From Here?

Transracial/transcultural adoption is a lifelong journey, complex and challenging. It can work well for kids and families when parents are prepared to look at things from a new point of view. Most adoptive parents can tell stories about how they fell in love with their own most precious, best-beloved child, the child they love more and better than all the sweetest and most gratifying pleasures of the universe. Most parents raising a child not born to them can recount the wonders of coming to know that their family was destined to belong to each other and discovering for sure that, although blood may be thicker than water, love is thicker than blood. We know from personal experience that on top of all that, being white adoptive or foster parents of a child of color is as exhilarating and world altering as standing on your head for long periods of time. Upside down, everything looks different - is it the world that has changed or is it we who are different, looking at the world from a different point of view? We believe multiracial families are enhanced by developing the ability to catch a glimpse of each member's unique vision, together deepening and pooling their collective insights, and wondering at the beauty and complexity of the world as seen through the differing prisms each person contributes.
Beth Hall and Gail Steinberg are the founding Co-Directors of Pact, An Adoption Alliance, authors of Inside Transracial Adoption and Below The Surface: A Self-Assessment Guide For Adoptive Families Considering Adoption Across Racial Or Cultural Lines Beth & Gail conduct numerous trainings each for local and national parent and professional groups on issues related to race and adoption, client assessment, services for adoptive families after placement, recruitment of families of color among other topics. They are both parents to children of different racial and ethnic heritage than their own.

Adoption Reading Lists


A Selective List of Essential
Decision Making Tools
Designed for:
Just-Thinking-About-It Beginners

by Pat Johnston

This bibliography is not meant to be in any way exhaustive. Instead, it includes resources that will help people ending infertility treatment and considering whether to build a family by adoption to make the most important of decisions about adoption by answering these questions:

1. Should we adopt at all? Can adoption meet our needs? Do we genuinely understand its lifelong impact on everyone it touches?

2. If we adopt, should we adopt a baby or an older child? from this country or from another? What do the ideas of "healthy" and "special needs" really mean to us; what do we honestly expect; and can we be flexible?

3. If we adopt, would we use an adoption agency or adopt without an agency? What do we understand about openness and confidentiality?

4. We've said yes to adoption. How do we find the child meant for us to adopt?


Reading each of the books below will give you a framework and tools for thinking about ending treatment as a separate issue from deciding whether or not to live childfree or build your family by adoption. Though many people will have presented adoption to you as if it is a "next step" after treatment, in much the same way as they might have suggested that Metrodin or Pergonal were "next steps" after clomiphene treatment. But adoption is really a very separate issue from infertility treatment. It needs and deserves its own decision making process.

Adopting after Infertility by Patricia Irwin Johnston (Indianapolis: Perspectives Press, 1992). An extensive three part handbook for couples considering or pursuing adoption. Section one examines infertility and making all kinds of related decisions. Section two explores all of the issues to be decided in adoption--agency or independent, infant or older child, international or domestic, open or confidential-- and includes guidance on choosing professionals and services which meet your needs. Section three explores life after adoption in a manner important for pre-adopters to explore: talking to kids, dealing with the world at large, infertility revisited, etc. This book replaces by updating and vastly expanding the material in Johnston's earlier An Adoptor's Advocate (Perspectives Press, 1984) which is now out of print. This comprehensive decision-making guide also fits in each of the resource categories which follow, but will not be listed there.

Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again by Mike and Jean Carter (Indianapolis: Perspectives Press, 1989, with a revised version coming in the Winter of 1998.) An infertile couple--she an ob/gyn and he an English professor-- describe their method of learning to communicate with one another that ultimately led them to stop treatment and decide to embrace with joy a childfree life-style. Order it through INCIID

Motherhood Deferred by Anne Taylor Fleming (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1994) Journalist and feminist Taylor Fleming explores her delay of childbearing and subsequent long and ultimately fruitless high tech struggle with infertility and her decision not to adopt. A provocative and important view for those considering leaving treatment. Order it today!

The Whole Life Adoption Book by Jayne Schooler (Colorado Springs: Pinon Press, 1993) is, as one reviewer has called it, a pre-adopt course on paper, introducing (though not covering thoroughly) multiple issues of importance. Order it through INCIID from Amazon

To Love a Child: A Complete Guide to Adoption, Foster Parenting, and Other Ways to Share Your Life with Children by Marianne Takas and Edward Warner (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1992. A wonderful exploration of alternative ways to add children to one's own life and make a difference in theirs. The only title to realistically explore fostering, big brothering and other non-permanent nurturing relationships as viable alternatives. Order it from Amazon.

Adoption: The Tapestry Guide by Laurie Wallmark (Ringoes, NJ: Tapestry Books, 1997) An introductory booklet covering the adoption basics. Order it from Amazon.


Having read the books above, if you feel more inclined toward adoption, you will want to learn about the children available for adoption. These books and magazines will introduce you to special issues to be considered in advance before deciding whether or not you would like to adopt a newborn, a toddler, an older child, a child with special needs, a child who matches you ethnically or not.

Adoption Today: Options and Outcomes edited by Cynthia V N Peck (Hackettstown, NJ: Roots&Wings, 1997) A collection of one page stories about and by families who have adopted through every conceivable source and children of all ages and backgrounds which will give you a practical look at how adoption is working and how much it is costing today.

Launching a Baby's Adoption: Practical Strategies for Parents and Professionals by Patricia Irwin Johnston (Indianapolis: Perspectives Press, 1997) a guide to the "expectant" months leading up to and the first year following the placement of a baby under a year of age. Includes preparing self and family, promoting bonding, exploring breastfeeding, and more. Order it today from Amazon.

Toddler Adoption: The Weaver's Craft by Mary Hopkins-Best (Indianapolis: Perspectives Press, 1997) An exploration of what to expect when adopting a child older than one year but younger than school age--a toddler. Advice for preparing one's self and transitioning the child and unique issues of parenting a child who arrives during toddlerhood. Order today.

Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today's Parents --- A must read for all adoptive parents. Gray, a clinical social worker specializing in attachment, grief and trauma, has penned a comprehensive guidebook for adoptive parents, taking an in-depth look at how children and families adjust. The author notes that many of today's adoptions involve older children who may have been abused or neglected, or who may have spent years in institutions or various foster situations; due to their past experiences these children may have difficulty attaching to their adoptive parents.
Order it today.

Parenting With Love and Logic : Teaching Children Responsibility by Foster W. Cline, Jim Fay Psychiatrist Cline and educator Fay's "Love and Logic" parenting method advocates raising responsible children through practice. "Helicopter" parents hover around their children while "drill sergeant" parents give orders to theirs, they claim. Neither of these styles permits children to learn how to make choices and learn from the consequences. The result is that as early as adolescence these children too often make bad decisions. In the context of a healthy, loving relationship, "Love and Logic" parents teach their children responsibility and the logic of life by solving their own problems, providing skills for coping in the real world. After laying out the principles of "Love and Logic," the authors provide "parenting pearls," which are strategies for applying the method to actual situations such as back-seat battles in the car, homework, and keeping bedrooms clean. The narration, performed by Tim Kenney and Bert Gurule, is clear and energetic. This is an upbeat and sensible approach to child rearing that will be popular in public libraries.?Nann Blaine Hilyard, Fargo P.L., N.D.
Order it today.

A Child's Journey through Placement by Vera I. Fahlberg, M.D. (Indianapolis: Perspectives Press, 1991). Pediatrician and therapist Fahlberg helps both parents and professionals understand how the experience of being moved impacts on children. Provides a clear description of the attachment cycle and how to support attachment in children who have left important early caretakers. Order today.

Self Awareness, Self-Selection, and Success: A Parent Preparation Guidebook for Special Needs Adoption by Wilfred Hamm, T Morton and L Flynn (Washington: NACAC, 1985). A workbookish series of questionnaires and exercises for people considering special needs adoption. Order from AFA.

Helping Children Cope with Separation and Loss (revised edition) by Claudia Jewett Jarratt (Boston: Harvard Common Press, 1994). Another valuable resource for those considering an older child. Order it today.

Adopting the Hurt Child: Hope for Families with Special Needs Kids by Dr. Gregory Keck and Regina Kopecky (Colorado Springs: Pinon Press, 1995) An honest and accessible exploration of the challenges faced by families adopting children with difficult histories by one of the most intriguing educators in the field of attachment issues. Order today.

Inside Transracial Adoption by the staff of Pact (San Francisco: Pact, 1997) A manual of articles and materials compiled to prepare families for adopting across racial lines. Order it today.

Pact Press (see address for Pact: An Adoption Alliance, below) is a magazine dealing with issues of openness and adopting children of color. Published by Pact--An Adoption Alliance, which is a placement service. $32.00 annually.

Are Those Kids Yours? American Families with Children Adopted from Other Countries by Cheri Register (New York: The Free Press, 1991). A thorough, practical, down to earth discussion about the realities of and guide to parenting a child born outside the U.S. Order it today.

The Post, from the Parent Network for the Post Institutionalized Child (PO Box 613, Meadowlands, PA 15347; phone 412-222-1766, email will be particularly valuable for those considering adopting a child who will come from an international orphanage. Institutionalized children have unique issues which must be quickly identified and addressed in order to be successfully managed. Too many agencies and facilitators are unaware of these issues, and that's where PNPIC can help parents and parents-to-be! $20 annually


And how about communicating with a prospective child's birthfamily? Before you can decide to adopt, this is something to think through fairly carefully. Open adoption is becoming more and more common, but do you understand what this really means, or are you only as literate about open and confidential adoption as the last horrific news story about either one?

Open Adoption Birthparent is a newsletter for birthparents and adoptive parents in open adoptions which is edited and published by birthparent Newsletter subscription price (annually): $36.00 Brenda Romanchik. Open Adoption Birthparent, R-squared Press,721 Hawthorne, Royal Oak, MI 48067.(810) 543-0997. Quarterly newsletter edited by Brenda Romanchik, a birthmother in an open adoption. Covers all aspects of birthparenthood in an open adoption situation. Open to adoption professionals and all triad members.

An Open Adoption by Lincoln Caplan (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giraux, 1990). After extensive fascinating interviews with professionals on both sides of the controversy surrounding open adoption, journalist Caplan attempts to present objectively the intimate details of one particular open adoption in which both birth and adoptive parents allowed him to follow their progress from before the birth through a year following the placement, including a disturbing conclusion. The result is a book which is fascinating, and which neither pro-open or pro-confidential advocates find satisfying, but which certainly goes farther than any other book available to identify and present the elements of the pro/con debate. Order it today

How to Open an Adoption by Patricia Martinez Dorner (Royal Oka, MI: R-Squared Press, 1997.) A guide to opening an adoption that was begun confidentially, written by one of open adoption's pioneers. Order it today.

Adoption without Fear edited by James. L. Gritter (San Antonio: Corona Publishing, 1989). A series of essays written by birth and adoptive parents who participated in open adoptions through the same Michigan agency. Order it today.

The Open Adoption Book: A Guide to Adoption Without Tears by Bruce Rappaport, Ph.D. (New York: MacMillan, 1992) The director of the Independent Adoption Center and founder of the National Federation for Open Adoption Education's guide for consumers. Order it today.

The Open Adoption Experience: A Complete Guide for Adoptive and Birth Families by Sharon Kaplan Roszia and Lois Melina (New York: HarperCollins, 1993). A practical guide to making decisions about openness adoption, living with openness over time, adapting to changing needs and relationships, this resource is unique in that it speaks to birth and adoptive families together. Order it today.

The Adoption Triangle: The Effects of the Sealed Record on Adoptees, Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents by Arthur D.Sorosky, Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor (San Antonio: Corona Publishers, rev 1990). A classic report calling for a revolutionary change to totally open adoption prepared by three long term adoption professionals. Order it today.

Dear Birthmother: Thank you for Our Baby by Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin (San Antonio: Corona, 1982). This is the book that started the discussion of openness in adoption. Startlingly controversial when new just 15 years ago, the form of open adoption it then promoted was the exchange of anonymous letters through an intermediary! Order it today.


(Adopted People, Adoptive Parents and Birthparents)

Understanding how issues in adoption reverberate both positively and negatively in themselves, in their children, in their children's birthparents over a lifetime will help prospective adopters to become better parents to a child they adopt.

Growing Up Adopted: A Portrait of Adolescents and Their Parents by Peter L. Benson, Ph.D, Anu Sharma Ph.D. and Eugene C. Roehlkepartain (Minneapolis: The Search Institute, 1994) A large and significantly more inclusive than usual study of children and families joined by adoption between 1975 and 1980, this study challenges many of the assumptions of earlier less representative studies composed of those in a mental health setting or uncontrolled self volunteers.

Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self by David M. Brodzinsky and Marshall Schechter and Robin Marantz Henig. (New York: Doubleday, 1992). Integrating both psychological and educational theory, the authors offer a model of normal development in adoptees. Order it today.

Searching for a Past: The Adopted Adult's Unique Process of Finding Identity by Jayne Schooler (Colorado Springs, CO: 1995: Pinon Press) How and why adoptees look at the process of searching for their birthfamilies, how they process these experiences, and the impact of search on themselves and their relationships. Order it today.

Giving Away Simone by Jan Waldron (New York: Times Books, 1995) The beautifully written, tortured account of a birtmother's attempts to resolve grief, shame and self-loathing she associated with being a birthparent to a biracial daughter in an identified but for many years non-communicative adoption, Waldron's book explores the struggle of birthmother and adolescent daughter to figure out their relationship with one another. Order it today.

Birthmothers: Women Who Have Relinquished Babies for Adoption Tell Their Stories by Merry Bloch Jones (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1993) A carefully explored collection of interviews with birthmothers, this book looks for commonalities of experience and is honest without being angry or hopeless. Order it today.

Shattered Dreams--Lonely Choices: Birthparents of Babies with Disabilities Talk about Adoption by Joanne Finnegan (Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1993). This unique resource of guidance and support for birthfamilies who find themselves needing to consider alternatives (parenting, abortion, adoption) for a baby born with disabilities they feel unprepared to deal with shares the stories of several couples. Offers clear guidance for medical and mental health professionals serving such couples and will help prospective adoptive parents understand the dilemmas of such birthparents. Order it today.

Out of the Shadows: Birthfathers' Stories by Mary Martin Mason. (Edina, MN: O.J. Howard Publishing, 1995) A collection of stories about the experiences of birthfathers. Order it today.

The Adoption Life Cycle: The Children and their Families through the Years by Elinor B. Rosenberg (New York: The Free Press, 1992). Psychiatry professor and adoptive parent Rosenberg presents a view of the challenges of successfully integrating adoption and the changes it continuously brings into the lives of those whom it touches--adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents. Order it today.

Perspectives on a Grafted Tree: Thoughts for Those Touched by Adoption edited by Patricia Irwin Johnston (Indianapolis: Perspectives Press, 1983). A collection of poems written by birthparents, adoptive parents, adoptees, and professionals in the field in an effort to demonstrate the gain and loss, happiness and pain that are part of the adoption experience for all involved. Order it now.


You've considered it all--infant/older, domestic/international, relative health, agency/independent, open/confidential, and you're ready to pursue adoption. These materials will streamline your search for a child.

There Are Babies to Adopt (revised) by Christine Adamec (Kensington Publications, 1996). An exploration of various options in and routes to adopting an infant. Order it today.

The Adoption Resource Book by Lois Gilman (New York: HarperCollins, rev. 1995). This is the most authoritative adoption how-to available and has been updated several times. Journalist and adoptive parent Gilman carefully explores all types and styles of adoption and provides excellent resources for pursuing specific strategies. Order it today.

Adopting in America: How to Adopt Within One Year by Randall B. Hicks (Los Angeles: Wordslinger Press, 1995.) An adoption attorney's guide to successful independent adoption.
Order it today.

Adopt International by Robin Sweet and Patty Bryan (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1996.) A step by step guide to international adoption, from picking an agency to travel arrangements and advice. Order it today.

Winning at Adoption by Sharon Kaplan Roszia (Studio City, CA: The Family Network, 1991). A multimedia approach to making decisions about adoption style, this well put together package includes videotapes, audiotapes and workbooks.

Bringing Family and Friends on Board

Your family is several steps behind you in embracing adoption! The booklets below, and subscriptions to an appropriate period will help prospective grandparents, aunts and uncles learn what they need to know to share your enthusiasm and joy about adoption!

When Friends Ask about Adoption: Question and Answer Guide for Non-Adoptive Parents and Other Caring Adults by Linda Bothun (Chevy Chase, MD: Swan Publications, 1987). A booklet designed to be given to those whose lives may touch our families. Order it today.

Supporting an Adoption by Patricia Holmes (Wayne, PA: Our Child Press, 1984). A booklet for families, teachers, clergy, doctors, and others who may come in contact with adoption-built families. (Order from publisher at 800 Maple Glen Lane, Wayne, PA 19087 for $6.00 postpaid.)

Additional National/International Circulation Magazines and Newsletters for Parents and Clinical Professionals

Adoptalk is the newsletter of North American Council on Adoptable Children (address below).

Adopted Child (P.O. Box 9362, Moscow ID 83843) is a monthly four page newsletter which is written and published by journalist/author/trainer and adoptive parent Lois Melina, who features a single topic covered in depth in each of six annual issues.( $25 annually

Adoption/Medical News is a ten times a year 4 page newsletter offering adoption-related medical information to parents and adoption professionals concerning children with special needs, children adopted internationally, etc. The editor is a pediatrician and the adoptive parent of four children. (1921 Ohio St NE, Palm Bay FL 32907). $36 annually.

Many local and regional adoption support groups publish excellent newsletters, such as FACE Facts from Families Adopting Children from Everywhere in Maryland, News from FAIR from Families Adopting in Response in California and many more!

National Organizations Offering Information and Support to Adoptive Families and Prospective Adopters

American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, P.O. Box 33053, Washington DC 20033-0053. A national association of attorneys who handle adoption cases or otherwise have distinguished themselves in the field of adoption law. Membership is by invitation only and based upon demonstrated in and experience with adoption law. The group's work includes promoting the reform of adoption laws and disseminating information on ethical adoption practices. The Academy publishes a newsletter and holds annual meetings and continuing education seminars for attorneys. Families adopting independently should ask whether the attorney they are using is an AAAA member, and if not, why not!

National Council for Adoption, 1930 17th St NW, Washington DC 20009. Phone 202-328-1200. An advocacy organization promoting adoption as a positive family building option. Primarily supported by member agencies, it does also encourage individual memberships ($50 annually) from those families who share its conservative stance on open-records/confidentiality and its wary view of independent and open placements. If you have decided to pursue a traditional, confidential, agency adoption, call NCFA for a referral to a member agency.

North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), 970 Raymond Ave. #106, St Paul, MN 55114-1149. Phone 612-644-3036. An advocacy and education resource concerning waiting children, NACAC publishes the periodic newsletter Adoptalk, which reviews new books and tapes, and sponsors each August an enormous, well respected conference on special needs adoption for professionals and parent advocates. This conference rotates through five geographic areas. If you are considering a special needs adoption, call NACAC first for information about local and national resources, parent groups, and adoption exchanges. Membership $30 annually.

Pact: An Adoption Alliance, ( 3450 Sacramento St Ste 239, San Francisco CA 94118. Phone 415-221-6957. Pact is an unusual animal. Focusing on issues related to the adoption and parenting of children of color, Pact does workshops, publishes the magazine Pact press, offers a comprehensive bookstore on issues related to adoption, race, parenting. Though it does facilitate domestic open adoption placements of children of color, Pact is not an adoption agency. Membership (benefits of which include discounts on bookstore purchases and workshops but which is not tied in any way to separately available adoption facilitation services) is $32.00 annually.

Miscellaneous Resources of Value That Just Don't Fit Elsewhere

Designing Rituals of Adoption for the Religious and Secular Community by Mary Martin Mason (Minneapolis: RAP, 1995) A unique and valuable guidebook to planning entrustment or arrival ceremonies and other rituals of placement.

Adoption Subsidy: A Guide for Adoptive Parents by Tim O'Hanlon, Ph.D. (Columbus, Ohio: New Roots, an Adoptive Families Support Group, 1995) A guidebook to the process of finding, getting, and keeping the financial assistance children with special needs are entitled to receive.

Some Questions and Answers About Finding a Legitimate Agency or Attorney:

Q: How do I find and check out the legitimacy of an adoption service provider before signing up?

A: There are many ways to check out AGENCIES, ATTORNEYS and FACILITATORS (who are each completely different kinds of service providers) through reputable and experienced consumer-protection channels:

  • Contact LOCAL TO YOU and LOCAL TO THE PROVIDER adoptive parent groups about members who have used the services you are considering and then follow up with those referrals.
  • Also contact NATIONAL adoptive parent groups (see referrals elsewhere in this R&R list) when working with a provider outside your own state.
  • Contact the state attorney general's consumer protection division (both in your state and in the state in which the provider is located) about possible complaints on file.
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau in the city in which the provider is located about any complaints on file
  • Contact your state's family and children's services department's agency licensing division about the licensing status of those claiming to be AGENCIES (not all who "seem to be" ARE licensed agencies!)
  • For a referral to an experienced, reputable ATTORNEY contact the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.

Q: Why not just ask on the adoption support boards on INCIID and other internet sites instead?

A: Because while these are wonderful places for general support, you need to remember that you are asking mostly individuals who are posting anonymously (and thus could be ANYBODY) and most of whom are total strangers to you.. At INCIID we work VERY hard to keep these boards "clean" of trollers looking for business rather than looking to offer support, but its hard to do that in an anonymous internet environment.

Patricia Irwin Johnston, MS

Pat Johnston is Perspective Press' publisher. She has been writing and speaking and advocating about infertility and adoption issues for nearly 30 years, beginning as a long-term volunteer in Indiana coalition building and with RESOLVE (for which she chaired the national board of directors for three years) and including several years on the national board of Adoptive Families of America.

An innovative thinker, in 1979 Pat and two partners (Carol Hallenbeck and Dr. William R. Keye, Jr.) conceived of and planned what they later discovered had been the first consumer symposium on infertility held anywhere in the world! It became the model for the RESOLVE/Serono symposia series. A regular columnist ("Growing Up Adopted: 0-2") for Adoptive Families magazine for over five years (ending in 2000), Pat is an on-line expert for INCIID's Exploring Adoption and Expecting by Adoption bulletin boards. As well, she is a frequent contributor to many other magazines and newsletters.

Pat's books include Understanding Infertility: Insights for Family and Friends, Taking Charge of Infertility, Adopting after Infertility, Launching a Baby's Adoption, and Adoption Is a Family Affair! What Relatives and Friends Must Know and editing the poetry anthology Perspectives on a Grafted Tree. Pat and her husband, Dave, are the second generation of their family to extend it beyond infertility through the adoption of three children. (See Pat's Recommended Reading List).

Pat Johnston's decision-making and special-issue-exploration workshops for consumers and her in-service trainings for allied professionals are routinely praised for their friendly, inspiring, and gently provocative nature. Frequent topics (as one hour sessions or mixed and matched for half and full day sessions) include

Infertility: Issues and Decisions

  • Life at the Crossroads
  • Taking Charge of Infertility
  • Making Good Decisions
  • Creating a Balance
  • For Men:What to Do when You Can't "Fix It"
  • Fostering Effective Communication between Partners
  • Dealing with Family and Friends
  • Coping with the Holidays
  • Choosing the Right Professionals
  • Doctor/Patient Relationships
  • Where Do We Go from Here?--Evaluating Options
  • When Is Enough, Enough?--Knowing When to Stop
  • Ethics and Choices
  • Why Childfree is not Childless
  • The Quasi-Adoption Options: Donor Insemination, Surrogacy, Egg and Embryo Adoption
  • Is Adoption for You?--Making the Decision
  • Is Adoption for You?--Making the Commitment
  • Tough Adoption Choices--Making a "Match", Openness, Artificial Twinning, and more
  • Parenting after Infertility

Parenting in Adoption

  • Launching a Baby's Adoption
  • Promoting Attachment
  • Growing Your Family--Entitlement, Attachment and More
  • Getting the Words Right--Using Respectful Adoption Language
  • Adoption Expectancy--Feeling "Pregnant"
  • Eggs, Cabbages Patches, Airplanes and Social Workers--What Kids Think
  • Attaching through the Senses
  • Children's Developing Understanding of Adoption
  • Sex Education and The Adoption-Built Family
  • Conspicuous Families--Parenting across Racial Lines
  • Embracing Difference
  • Opening Ourselves to New Issues
  • Bringing Family and Friends Aboard
  • Promoting Understanding in the World Outside

And, for profressionals ,The Infertile Client in the 21st Century a half or full day workshop on dealing with today's changing issues with today's changing clients

To contact Pat Johnston about speaking for your organization, e-mail Pat at the office of Perspectives Press

Pat moderates the Exploring and Expecting through Adoption Forums

Children First: Making the Paradigm Shift from Infertility to Adoption By Patricia Irwin Johnston, MS

Moving from infertility to adoptive parenting is a complicated emotional process. In transferring from the process and the culture of infertility and its treatment to the process and culture of adoption, consumers are expected to make a huge shift. The Barrier? Medical treatment is centered on the needs and wishes of the paying-client—the adult who wanted a baby (that’s you!). Adoption’s culture is centered on the needs and best interests of the one client who has no say in the process and who bears no financial responsibility—the child (not you!) Adoption is child-centered rather than adult-centered. But you, one of three clients in the picture, will carry all of the financial risk and burden.

Not fair, you say? I understand. Been there. Felt that. But as my children by adoption have grown up, as our relationships with them and some of their birthparents have developed, I’ve changed my thinking a lot.

Here’s something you probably don’t understand if you are not yet a parent. Parenting itself changes everything. From the moment you become a parent forward, your child’s needs will always come before yours and before anyone else’s in your life. For those who conceive their children, that shift comes automatically as part of the pregnancy experience. Indeed, it’s that shift in thinking that makes it possible for birthparents to plan an adoption.

For those who adopt, however, making that shift is not automatic. Unless one makes a deliberate choice to shift thinking, to participate in an adoption expectancy period, the shift won’t likely happen until after the child arrives. And by then, many infertile couples can have made some pretty bad choices already—choices rooted in their frustration, in their reactions to many losses that infertility has brought to them, in the desperation they have begun to feel about ever being able to parent.

Over the past twenty years or so, changes in adoption have done little more than move the locus of power in adoptions. First power was moved from adoption professionals to adoptive parents, and now it has been transferred to birthparents. But changes in who holds the power have not often included the education necessary for all of these parties to understand and accept what children themselves need from adoption. And what is it that children need? They need well-prepared, unafraid, stable and loving families over their entire lifetimes!

Too many of those involved in adoption right now seem to experience it as a competition. Agencies compete with other agencies and with independent service providers to draw in limited numbers of birthparents whose healthy babies can be offered to an apparently unlimited supply of prospective adopters. Special needs agencies compete with one another for public and private grant money, and often trash one another and their differing approaches to counseling and preparation. Prospective adopters compete with other prospective adopters for the opportunity to adopt available babies. They look for too many shortcuts to “faster” placements by looking for providers who will not require education, extensive preparation, and screening, because it is too “invasive and unfair.” Adopters attempt to demonstrate to expectant parents that their adoptive family would offer a "better" life for the child about to be born than would the child’s family of origin or any other prospective adopters. When an expectant parent has a change of heart about adoption during the window of time a state or province grants for the change-of-mind process, many adopters and their professional advisors take the stance that possession-is-nine-points-of-the-law and go to court so that they might "keep" the baby, even though they are not yet the legal parents. Adopters, birthmothers and professionals often conspire to keep birthfathers and their families out of the picture entirely.

Ideally, changing adoption so that it really meets the needs of children would begin with fundamental changes in thinking and in the law. Different thinking would end the adversarial aura that surrounds adoption. If adoptions really kept the child's interests center-stage, everybody involved in any untimely pregnancy would be seeking the best possible solution for the child to be born. This solution would find him with his permanent family (birth or adoptive) as soon as possible after his birth.

Getting off to this kind of a "clean" start in an adoption, however, demands a tremendous amount of understanding and emotional work on the part of both sets of parents, as well as careful judgment on the part of well trained and well informed professionals. Those working to launch a child-centered adoption must be helped to understand how each of the decisions made and each of the procedures followed will help the child at the adoption's core.

For a baby's launch to be optimal, everyone involved must be committed to being honest with everyone else in the adoption. Birthparents must be honest with one another, with helping professionals, and with prospective adopters. Adopters must be scrupulously honest with professionals and expectant parents. Intermediaries must be scrupulously honest with expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents. There must be no assumptions that “leaving that little something out” “letting that little something go,” causes no harm. Scrupulous adherence to ethical standards that keep the child at the center while respecting the needs and interests of both adoptive parents and birthparents is absolutely crucial in making all decisions concerning an adoption.

As an adoptive parent, wife, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, cousin-in-law, sister-in-open-adoption to my child’s birthmother, and adoption educator, I hold those who elect to join to adopt to very high standards. That’s because this is what children deserve from their parents.

Patricia Irwin Johnston. is an INCIID Advisory Board Member. She is a long-time advocate, infertility and adoption educator and author of several books, including Adopting after Infertility, Launching a Baby’s Adoption, and INCIID’s own Adoption Is a Family Affair, written with the participation of the INCIID community members on two of the forums which Pat moderates: Exploring and Expecting through Adoption.

Contact Information:

Phone: (317) 872-3055



Guides to Adoption: Credentials and Qualifications by Patricia I. Johnston

Understanding the Qualifications of
Businesses Which Offer Adoption Services

What Is an Adoption Agency?

An adoption agency is a business entity which is licensed, regulated and monitored by a state to provide adoption services, including options counseling for pregnant people considering adoption, and homestudies and parent preparation for those who want to adopt. Adoption agencies bring together these two types of clients and offer post-adoption services for all. States set minimum standards for how agencies are to be staffed and how they are to operate, and rules vary from widely state to state. Almost always those standards require that a person with a master’s degree in social work supervise the work done by all other casework employees of the agency.

States monitor adoption agencies at regular intervals to be certain that they are following the financial standards, employee credentialing and training standards, and homestudy standards that the particular state requires. Because they are licensed, agencies are regulated, and that means that when something goes wrong because of suspected misbehavior, consumers can file a complaint with the state’s licensing body and expect that that complaint will be thoroughly investigated.

There are both public agencies and private agencies. Public agencies are supported by the tax dollars of a state, province, county, or municipality and may also receive federal funds. Often these agencies carry names such as Whatever County Department of Family and Children’s Services, This State Children's Services, Anywhere Department of Human Services, or Someplace Children's Aid Society. Public agencies serve the public at large, but this does not mean that they do not have requirements and prerequisites for adopters. Those prerequisites, though, are generally more flexible than those of many private agencies. Though public agencies rarely directly accept applications to adopt from people who are not legal residents of their tax-based service area, they do work cooperatively with agencies in other geographic locations to arrange placements of children with special needs outside of their service areas when necessary or appropriate.

Private agencies are supported by funds other than tax dollars, obtaining their financial support from sources such as adoption fees, private donations, United Way or a religious, fraternal, or family foundation benefactor (for example--Jewish Social Services, Latter Day Saints Social Services, Lutheran Family Services, Salvation Army Adoption Services, Spence Chapin Agency, The Cradle). Sectarian private agencies are religiously connected and may or may not serve only clients of a particular faith. Nonsectarian agencies have no connection with a specific religion. Many private agencies are supported by a combination of the above types of funding.  Private agencies do not have to serve the public at large, but most often do serve a rather large pool of people who meet requirements set by their boards of directors. These agencies, like public agencies, are licensed by the states in which they operate, and must follow the same kind of minimal rules and regulations about how they operate. Their licenses to operate as agencies do not extend beyond the borders of any single state. A few agencies choose to be licensed in more than one state.

A license granted by a state assures that an adoption agency is qualified to provide full services. This means that an ethical full-service agency can

  • advertise their services widely and in as many ways as they possibly can—yellow pages, display ads in newspapers and magazines, TV and radio commercials.
  • provide counseling to families experiencing an untimely pregnancy—and they do so face-to-face, not over the phone—or, if the client is geographically distant, make sure that this service is provided to the client face-to-face in their location. This service may include counseling and even mediation services with the pregnant mother, the baby’s father, and even the baby’s grandparents. When agencies are doing their job ethically, such counseling is objective—offering these families information about all of their options, including both adoption, in all its detail, and parenting, as well as ways to find support for doing that.
  • conduct the legally required investigational process which is called a “homestudy,” and in addition provide many hours of parent preparation education--often accompanied by a variety of reading material such as books and photocopied articles. Their social workers visit client homes and offer workshops for groups of clients.
  • offer ongoing supportive counseling, mediation, and education for their birthparent clients, their adopting parent clients, and their adoptee clients throughout their lifetimes-- much of this at no additional fee.

Sometimes (though far less often than they did a generation or more ago) agencies provide housing for expectant parents. They may help them with other costs and expenses. Most of these family clients cannot afford to pay for these services, so the agency does not charge them—whether they choose to plan an adoption or not. Indeed, it is not unusual for an ethical full-service agency to provide some level of counseling services to 100 families and have 5 or fewer actually follow through with an adoption plan. The financial investment in the services to those 95 families comes from somewhere—much of it from the fees charged to families who adopt those five children.

Agencies, public or private, set their own policies about openness, and there is a wide variation among these policies, some of which are influenced by the laws of individual states. Some agencies facilitate open adoptions and some agencies continue to provide for full confidentiality—though these numbers are shrinking rapidly.

At one time all licensed agencies offered all of the services listed above. Recently, however, some agencies have chosen to devote almost all of their time to doing assessments and preparation—homestudies. These agencies do most or all of their business working with attorneys doing independent adoption, or with agencies in others states who have clients in need of a domestic or intercountry homestudy.

These agencies do not have their own programs in other countries, rarely if ever are contacted directly by an expectant parent exploring adoption, and less often actually make matches. These agencies, while licensed as full-service agencies, bill for the services they actually perform for clients—the homestudy and parent preparation process, counseling to a birthparent brought to them by the would-be adopter or an attorney. Perhaps (but not always) they provide post-adoption education and support. Most of these agencies have a menu of flat fees for services, and while they sometimes are able to make exceptions and lower fees in exceptional situations, their profit margin is very close to the wire.

Consulting/Matching/Facilitation Services

Any adoption business which is not licensed as an agency by the state in which they operate is a facilitator—that includes agencies licensed in one state which are doing business in another state where they are not licensed. If you are thinking about using an adoption facilitator as your intermediary, know that it is not currently considered a quantifiable professional field and that in some states these businesses are illegal—whether they are located in the state, or advertising and accepting clients from a home base outside that state. Instead, people from all sorts of educational and vocational backgrounds who have a strong interest in adoption issues simply set themselves up as adoption consultants. Consultants are often people who have adopted themselves and who wish to pass on their knowledge and experience about networking to find a baby, about how to write a resume, and about what books and articles will provide useful information to prospective parents. They do not make matches.

These can be very useful services. However, it is important for consumers to understand and be cautious concerning the entrepreneurial nature of such a profession. One cannot take courses to qualify for such a position. There is no degree. There is no licensing. There is no specific form of continuing education. The result of this is that there is even more variation among consultants than there is among social workers and attorneys. Consultants, however, do not run agencies and therefore don’t have lists of qualifying factors for their clients, so the choice to use or not to use a specific consultant is perhaps much clearer and more easily made than the choice to use a particular agency.

Additionally, while shopping for service providers, it is very easy to make the mistaken assumption that a facilitation service or consultation service is a licensed agency. No law says that only licensed agencies can use the word agency in their names or in describing their services in brochures or on websites, and few consultants and facilitators go so far as to state up front that they are not an agency and are working without any licensure.. Many licensed agencies forget to include the fact of their own licensure (and in what state or states) in their marketing materials.

Many people make the deliberate choice to use facilitators and consultants in planning fully independent adoptions, but others do so out of ignorance. Be sure that you know, when choosing any adoption service provider, just what licenses and credentials your chosen business has or does not have, as well as whether or not you even need the service being advertised or offered.

How Businesses Are Organized: For-Profit vs. Not-For Profit

Until quite recently all licensed adoption agencies were also registered with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as not-for-profit (501c3) organizations, though now in the U.S. a few states do provide for the licensing of for-profit organizations as adoption agencies. On the surface, the difference between for-profit and nonprofit agencies may seem to be that donations of money and in-kind services to for-profit organizations are not deductible. But the differences between for-profit and not-for-profit businesses are much more complicated than that, and the differences change perspective. These two types of businesses are simply by nature (and by regulation) operating under differing goals.

  • A nonprofit is driven by its service mission philosophy rather than by the profit motive.
  • A nonprofit serves those who cannot afford to pay full costs.
  • In nonprofit, excess revenue over expenses is used to further the organization’s exempt purpose.
  • A nonprofit likely will remain in the community even if it suffers financial losses.
  • A nonprofit is more accountable to its board and the public than are for-profit organizations.
  • A nonprofit looks for ways to respond to community needs without regard to profit.
  • A nonprofit may not compensate its employees higher than “reasonable” rates.
  • A nonprofit’s board of directors is typically made up of unpaid community leaders motivated by public service.
  • A charity attracts thousands of hours of volunteer time and philanthropic contributions. [i]

Here’s another view. I was inspired by and so adapted the following table, a board training handout developed by Dr. Robert Andringa for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. It compares the roles and goals of boards of for-profit and not-for profit organizations.[ii]

Are We Confused Yet?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell, on the surface, whether a business is a licensed agency or an unlicensed entrepreneur, whether an agency is public or private, whether an organization is for-profit or nonprofit. Public agencies and private agencies both facilitate the domestic adoptions of babies, older children, and children with special needs; although some private agencies do specialize in one of these types of adoption placements (for example the private, nonprofit Aid to Adoption of Special Kids focuses on special needs placements and the private nonprofit Homes for Black Children recruits minority adopters for minority children). Increasingly, the majority of agency-arranged infant placements are occurring through private agencies (which are often able to offer an expectant mother more financial support and/or private medical care as opposed to clinic care) and fewer infant adoptions are handled through public agencies. Facilitators, consultants, coaches, and law firms are almost always set up as for-profit businesses.

To further complicate issues, as some states privatize their social services, many private agencies have taken on contracts with individual states to provide recruitment, fostering, homestudy, parent preparation, post-adoption support, and other services for the families of waiting children who are wards of the state.

Most intercountry adoptions are done through private agencies. While a public agency could do a homestudy for an intercountry adoption, few do, as they are kept busy by their mandate to deal with children born locally who are in need of services. But U.S. licensed private agencies working in intercountry adoptions are not necessarily working with similarly well-trained and accredited business people in the countries from which they place children. Those countries themselves determine whether or not people who make money (often at fees substantially above the norms within their culture) need any training, licensure, or government oversight. Those sending countries alone police local service providers to ensure that they are operating legally and ethically. Each U.S. agency determines whether to hire and train its own in-country staff to work with government agencies, courts and orphanages or foster parents, or whether to use local “freelancers.”

Although all agencies are licensed to offer a full range of services, not all do. There is a small but growing number of private agencies whose primary work is to assess and prepare adoptive parents whose adoptions are arranged independently or internationally. Most of their domestic adoption clients are being matched through a facilitator or a large adoption law practice. Those same services are doing most of the marketing that recruits expectant parents, so the agency does little to no recruitment of birthparent clients. They do, however, provide counseling for the expectant parents recruited by the facilitator or attorney. These homestudy-only agencies also forge relationships with out-of-state agencies which have programs in several foreign countries. The “placing agency” handles everything for the would-be adopter except local preparation and assessment, and post placement follow-up provided by the homestudy-only agency. Depending on the agencies and the relationship, there may or may not be available long term post-placement education and support available

Intercountry Agency Adoption

Choosing service providers for intercountry adoption is becoming increasingly difficult. That’s because there are so many agencies working in intercountry adoption today and most of them work in just a handful of countries while advertising their services nationwide. There is a mixture of for-profit entities and not-for-profit businesses marketing intercountry adoption services, and many agencies are not completely open about how their placements and referrals come to them.

I have some strong recommendations about choosing intercountry placement agencies. After very careful research has helped you to weed out all agencies that do not have squeaky clean reputations among parents who have used them, with the professional organizations with whom they may network (such as JCICS) and with consumer groups such as the Better Business Bureau and their home state’s agency licensing and attorney general’s offices, consider that the fewer processes and bureaucracies between you and your child, the less financially and emotionally risky your adoption. With this idea in mind, the following is recommended.

  • Whenever possible, avoid using businesses which piggyback on, partner with, or umbrella under another agency. Using reputable placement agencies that have established their own programs on the ground--using local employees that they hire, train, pay (fairly), and supervise and/or agencies which build careful ethical relationships directly with local agencies or orphanages in the countries in which they work will eliminate several layers of emotional and financial risk
  • The fewer layers that must be gone through between you and your child, the less risky your process. When possible use the same agency for both homestudy and placement.
  • Never use an agency which suggests that you lie by omission or commission on an application or to a foreign court. Run, don’t walk, from a program which suggests that you identify yourself as a client of an agency other than theirs.
  • The cultures and layers of some countries take for granted and encourage bribes and payoffs. Consider carefully whether you are willing to participate in a system which violates your own personal principles. Someday you may be called upon to explain this to your child.

Successful adoption is to a large extent dependent on finding the right resources to support a growing family. Your experience with other professionals in other fields has no doubt demonstrated for you that not all professionals are good at what they do—despite education and training, despite fulfilling licensing or specialization requirements. It is important that you, as prospective adoptive parents, understand and take hold of your power and responsibility if you choose this path to parenthood.

[i] Nelson, Betty “For-Proft vs Nonprofit” for Greater Knoxville SCORE

[ii] Andringa, Robert, Ph.D. “Profit vs Nonprofit Boards”,parentCatID.162/rc_detail.asp