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There are three types of adoption professionals: agency workers, attorneys (lawyers), and facilitators. It’s important to ask lots of questions to be sure you feel good about any adoption professional you work with. Research has shown that people who feel they were well-informed about their options and decided on adoption based solely on their own wishes were more likely to feel accepting of their decision in the long run.

What are adoption agencies?  

Agencies are licensed by their state’s government to provide adoption services. The majority of adoption agencies are affiliated with churches. These agencies are licensed to investigate and approve adoptions, and they prepare prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) and counsel pregnant people who are considering adoption. Keep in mind that agencies, even those that are non-profits, need to place enough children with PAPs to stay in business, so they’re motivated to convince people to choose adoption.

In an agency adoption, the legal custody of the child belongs to the agency, which then supervises the adoptive parent(s)’ physical custody of the child until the adoption is finalized. 

What are adoption attorneys?

Adoption attorneys are lawyers who provide the legal services needed for adoptions. These attorneys handle the paperwork necessary for you to legally give your parental rights and responsibilities to the adoptive family in an independent adoption. Adoption attorneys can also work with an adoption agency to complete an adoption. 

Adoption attorneys are typically paid by the prospective adoptive parent(s) (PAPs) and represent them and their interests. Sometimes attorneys will represent the person placing their child, but even in those circumstances their fees are typically paid by the PAPs. 

In some states, adoption attorneys are allowed to represent both the PAPs and you in an arrangement called “dual representation.” This is banned in most other areas of law because if there are disagreements the attorney may favor the paying client. It is always safer to have separate representation

What are adoption facilitators? 

Facilitators or intermediaries charge prospective adoptive parents money to find and connect them with pregnant people who are considering adoption. Facilitators are banned in a growing number of states because they’re operating as a for-profit business to place children for adoption, but don’t have a license to complete adoptions or often any training in child welfare or adoption laws and processes. 

Facilitators can’t do any of the legal work, as they aren’t lawyers. Their job is to find pregnant people for prospective adoptive parents. Generally facilitators charge fees for matching pregnant people with PAPs, and very often those fees — paid by the adoptive parents — aren’t given back if you change your mind.

What is an adoption marketer? 

There are people or companies who advertise adoption to pregnant people in the hopes that they’ll decide on adoption. Adoption marketers aren’t licensed to offer any services needed to complete a legal adoption. 

Marketers are usually hired by adoption facilitators, attorneys, and agencies, who then pass along their fees to prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) once a pregnant person is introduced to them. 

It can be hard to tell who is an adoption marketer, but one phrase they often use in their advertising materials is “we represent a group of agencies, attorneys, and facilitators.” You can also ask if they’re a licensed adoption agency or attorney. If they’re not, they’re either a marketer or facilitator.

Comparing Adoption Professionals

Private Adoption Agency Adoption Attorney Facilitator / Intermediary Marketers
Licensed by State Department of Social Services or similar  State bar association often none; may have a business license often none; may have a business license
Non-profit or for profit? Almost always non-profit, but can be for profit For profit For profit For profit
Roles Provides all pre-adoption and post-adoption counseling, social work, and legal services  Provides all legal services needed in an independent adoption; sometimes provides counseling and social work services  Introduces people considering placing their child to people who want to adopt; generally doesn’t provide counseling, social work, or legal services Uses Google and other sources to advertise adoption to pregnant people
Who do they represent? Supposed to represent the child, but their paying clients are prospective adoptive parents Their paying client, typically the prospective  adoptive parents Their paying client, typically the prospective  adoptive parents The adoption professionals or prospective adoptive parents who hire them

What questions should I ask adoption professionals?

  • Who gets the money generated from adoptions?
  • Am I allowed to choose the prospective adoptive family I want to place my child with?
  • What support services do you offer for birth parents, adopted people, and adoptive parents?
  • How do you charge fees to adoptive parents? What are those fees?
  • Can I have my own lawyer who specializes in expectant parent rights?

Questions to ask an adoption agency

  • Are you affiliated with any religion? If so, how does that affect me, the pregnant person?

Questions to ask an adoption attorney

  • Since you’re licensed to give legal advice but not counseling or child welfare advice, who will be doing that if I work with you?

Questions to ask an adoption facilitator

  • What professional adoption training do you have (for example social work, counseling, psychology, or law)?

  • If you’re not licensed to give legal advice, counseling, or child welfare advice, who will be doing that if I work with you?