You may have seen that an adoption agency with a program in China was recently “temporarily debarred” by the State Department. Some of the violations by this agency included (I am paraphrasing):
Charging families in-country fees that were different than what they had previously quoted.
Charging fees that were unreasonably high in consideration of services rendered.
Withholding information about children from prospective adoptive parents (PAPs).
Discouraging clients from voicing complaints about the agency.
Failing to supervise its in-country staff in order to prevent child trafficking.
Failing to ensure that proper procedures were followed regarding birth parents.
You can read the full list of violations here.
When I read that list for the first time, it honestly scared me. I remembered back to when we started our adoption process, and thought about how trusting and naïve we were. I knew that all agencies were not created equally, but I had no idea what questions to ask in order to determine which agencies were ethical and reputable.
It would be hard to overstate the importance of vetting potential agencies prior to starting an adoption process. No adoptive parent wants to work with an agency that is using sketchy business practices, or not following the requirements of the Hague Convention. No adoptive parent wants to bring home a child that was taken from her birth family, or given up under less than ethical circumstances. But, when you’re first starting out in the adoption world, it might be easy to miss some of the red flags, and sign up with an agency that isn’t using best practices.
I’ve seen it mentioned on Facebook several times in the past few days, and I think it is worth repeating — adoptive parents can put a stop to an agency’s unethical business practices by refusing to sign with that agency. Unethical agencies only stay in business when we continue to use them.
There are two schools of thought when you are looking at waiting children:
1. Go with the agency that has your child. If you see a child on a photolisting that you believe is yours, you make it happen with the agency, no matter what the agency’s reputation is.
2. Do not go with a bad agency, regardless. If the child is meant to be yours, the agency will transfer that child’s file to a more reputable agency in order for your to complete his or her adoption, or the child will wait until the agency loses the file, and your agency can try to grab that file from the shared list. Using a bad agency is just not worth it.
Of course, some agencies refuse to transfer files. You may end up losing the opportunity to adopt a child if you take a stance against an agency that has unethical business practices. You have to decide for yourself what your priorities are, while always keeping in the back of your mind that you don’t want to find out years down the road that your child’s adoption wasn’t on the up and up.
Although the China program generally is known to be ethical, and although the Hague Convention requirements, at least in theory, should provide some check on unethical business practices, all agencies are not created equally, and we parents have the power to choose to use reputable agencies.
The quickest and easiest way to determine an agency’s reputation is by going to the Rate Your Agency Page on Facebook. Agency reps and advocates are not allowed in the group, and parents are free to give their honest feedback and criticisms regarding their experiences with their agencies. You can type an agency’s name into the search bar at the top of the group, and get a sense of that agency’s business practices.
In addition, and equally as important, call the agency. Get an actual human on the phone, and make sure that they can answer your questions about the adoption process. Make sure that their costs are outlined clearly, and get a sense of how they obtain files from China. Talk to them about their partnership orphanages. Then talk to moms who have used them — ask about the accuracy of their files (understanding that there is never a guarantee as to the accuracy of a China adoption file, and that the orphanage may be listing the child’s special need in the file to the best of its ability, even if it turns out to be incorrect). Compare the agency’s advocacy listings to what actually appears in the file — are they minimizing or failing to list children’s diagnoses when they advocate? Figure out how they handle the matching process, and whether you are comfortable with that process.
Here are some words of wisdom from one adoptive mom, who learned some lessons the hard way. If she’d known then what she knows now, she’d have done some things differently.
“We used the agency that was recently debarred to adopt our son from China in 2014. Looking back I can see that there were several little red flags indicating that the agency was not on the up and up. Unfortunately at the time, we didn’t recognize them as red flags and not long after arriving home with our son we started the process to adopt with the agency again.
It was during our second adoption process that additional issues came to light, and a month after our dossier was logged in we were having second thoughts about continuing with the agency. By two months post LID we had made the decision to terminate our contract and break ties with the agency knowing that we would almost certainly have to start our adoption process over.
Although it was an extremely difficult and stressful time, we do not regret our decision and now want to help other prospective adoptive parents avoid making the same mistakes we made by sharing what we would have done differently.”
Below she shares her recommendations for other adoptive parents when choosing an agency:
Interview and vet multiple (3-4 minimum) agencies.
I am embarrassed to admit that we signed with our first agency without interviewing or really researching other agencies. While I can’t say this for sure, I think that if I had contacted and spoken with other agencies, my comfort level with the agency we ultimately chose would not have been as high, and we may have chosen differently.
Research your top 3-4 agencies thoroughly.
When we chose our first agency we went on the recommendation of some friends who had used the agency for their Russian adoption. At that time the Rate Your China Adoption Agency group did not exist. I did Google the agency name, and found a few reviews that were mostly positive with a few negatives mixed in. We felt that the choice was easy — the agency had been in business for so long with so many country programs, plus they were based in our state and could be our home study agency. If I had to do it again, I would have done more digging and researching. I would have Googled the names of the agency director, board members, CEO, etc.
Take the negative feedback, experiences, and warnings more seriously.
Although the Rate Your China Adoption Agency group did not exist at the time, when doing my limited research, I did find a few negative reviews on our agency. In retrospect, I wish I had put more weight on those negative reviews than the positive ones. Not because I think that every agency with a negative review is bad, but because there were multiple reviews and the concerns that they expressed were serious. If someone raises ethical concerns regarding an agency, even if they seem minor, take them seriously. At minimum, go into the interview process with that agency with a healthy dose of caution and skepticism. If any agency is unethical in the little things, they are almost certainly unethical in the big things too.
Review a copy of each agency’s contract before making a final decision.
As I was checking out the various agencies, I wish I had asked to see a copy of their adoption contract and fee schedule, and then gone over them with a fine-tooth comb. Key things to be on the lookout for include:
Are all of the fees listed on the schedule also listed in the contract along with the terms governing the refund policy for each fee?
Is the grievance/complaint filing policy included and outlined including a timeline for how the complaint will handled and by whom?
Are there any red flags in the contract or anything you do not feel comfortable with? If so ask the agency to explain the section/item in detail. If the agency is your top choice and you are still unsure, consult an attorney before signing anything.
Yes, they are long and boring, but had we done this at the beginning of our process we would have discovered that our first agency was in violation of more than one Hague standard much sooner.
NHBO has a great series on Choosing an Agency as well as A Beginner’s Guide to Special Needs Adoption Post Four and Post Five.
We truly believe that adoptive parents should go into this process armed with as much knowledge as possible. The more you know, the more questions you will be able to ask potential agencies, and the better prepared you will be to notice if an agency is using less than ideal business practices.