How to Choose the Right Adoption Agency (in Seven Steps)

by Elizabeth Hunter on April 10, 2011

Here’s my 7 step method for choosing an adoption professional. I used it for each of our four adoptions and it never let me down. This is the single most important decision you’ll make, so take the time to really nail it!

Doing these steps gave me confidence and saved months if not years of time later on and it can do the same for you. It’s also fun, because you get to dream big and then narrow things down into a workable plan.  So let’s get started…

(*families adopting through foster care, please see note at bottom)

1. Use both information and wisdom to make a decision. Trying to make an adoption decision based on information alone is the reason almost everyone who adopts initially goes into complete overwhelm. There’s so much information out there!

Many people sign with an agency prematurely just to avoid this confusion. They pick the first nice website they see–one where they promise to bring your baby home in six months. They go with someone’s suggestion from an adoption forum.  Their mother’s neighbor says that her daughter had a decent experience adopting from a certain country. Or they choose an agency that has a free adoption meeting in their area.

These are all decisions made on information.  We do need good information to make informed choices. But information alone is NOT enough. Unfortunately,  almost every person who adopts underuses wisdom and overuses information.

What’s wisdom? Wisdom means filtering every piece of information out there through YOU. This may sounds obvious. But it’s easier said than done.  ‘Expert’ opinions can be very distracting!

Although you may not be an expert in adoption, you are the only expert in YOU– the particulars of your life, your values, your dreams. This is your wisdom. and it’s the hidden precious gold of all adoption success that hardly anyone ever uncovers.

Before hiring any adoption professional, ask yourself: ‘Have I taken the time to get both good information (see #4 and #5 below ) AND accurate inner wisdom (see #2, #3, and #7 below)?’

2. Know your values. What’s perfect for you is not what’s perfect for anybody else. Get clear on the qualities and characteristics you want from the people you’ll be working with. What things will drive you crazy?  Here’s a sample list to get you started:

  • a specific religious orientation (or absence thereof)
  • responding to questions in a timely manner
  • people who have the highest integrity
  • detail oriented/great at paperwork.
  • communicates well
  • quick response time
  • people you personally click with, like and admire
  • gives back to the community or country of adoption.
  • long track record of overall success in adoption
  • long track record of success in specific areas–completes adoption faster than average, at lower cost than average, babies and children super healthy, works successfully with adoptive parents in your specific situation (especially important for single, older, and lbgt parents).

Find a professional team who supports who you are and what’s important to you and can prove it.

Here we are with the lawyer for our first two adoptions, now a dear friend. We wanted to work with someone of the highest integrity. And boy, did we find that in him.

3. Define your best case dream adoption scenario If I asked you what your best case dream adoption looks like, would you know?  Honestly, most people are so afraid of avoiding something bad happening in their adoptions that they hardly spend any time imagining the best possible outcome.  Precisely how would that look for you?  (If this is hard, you’re not alone. It’s why we spend a lot of time on this in AG mentoring sessions.)

To begin, temporarily throw out all practical considerations (like money). Pretend anything is possible.  Aim high.  Stretch yourself.  Pay close attention to your inner excitement level as you try on each & every possibility.  Keep asking, can I make this picture even better? Take notes. In the next step we’ll research to find out whether what you uncovered is a real world possibility.

4. Do adoption research in ‘rounds.’ The best way I’ve found to do adoption research is in a series of ‘rounds.’  This method helps you gain information in bite sized, manageable chunks and avoid overwhelm

In the early rounds, you’re getting broad & general information, usually on the internet. Later rounds are detailed, nitty gritty and personal.

For round one, focus on getting information about: parent requirements, time frame, costs, age and health of children, how many children are being adopted per year (always use several sources). Keep a running list of questions. Don’t worry about sounding stupid.  Cultivate sheer curiousity. Don’t stop rounds until you find a realistic option that you can get seriously excited about.

5. Get social proof.  Once you’ve completed as many ‘rounds‘ of research as necessary to find an inspiring path, you’re going to go after social proof.  This is all about finding real people who have done EXACTLY what you want to do.

You’re looking for at least three actual families  who have gone down exactly the same road you want to, in every detail (same agency, etc..) within the past two years.

Comb your extended social network (or adoption forums) for anyone and everyone who knows someone who knows someone who  has done what you want to do.  Be persistent. Follow up on every single lead BY PHONE.    People reveal things on the phone that they would never tell you online. Ask detailed questions until you’re satisfied you have the full picture . People who’ve adopted know what you’re going through and are almost always happy to help!

6. Take baby steps before you ‘sign’ agreements ! Before signing ANY contract with an adoption professional, get to know them better in a series of ‘baby steps.’ Do this by taking your list of values from step #2 and giving the agency small tasks that relate to theses values.

If you want someone who communicates clearly, ask a tough question and see if they can give you a simple, clear answer.   If you want someone who is good at paperwork, ask them to walk you through one of the homestudy forms you’ll be filling out.  If you want people who are patient and kind, ask tons of questions and see how patient they really are!

7. Use the inner thumbs up test: Before making your final decision, always use the inner thumbs up test.   No matter what anyone else says, sleep on it. Forget about it for a day or two. Then, at an odd moment in your day,  get calm and simply ask yourself, ‘what kind of a feeling does thinking about (fill in the name of this agency or person here) give me?‘   Anxious? Calm? Upset? Excited? Ask for an inner thumbs up or thumbs down. (Make sure your partner does this too). Go with the first thought that pops into your head  Don’t overthink this. If you’ve thoroughly completed the above six steps, you can trust yourself and the answer you come up with.

(*note: families adopting through US foster care shoulld use this method to choose their adoption mentors–families in their local area who have successfully adopted through the foster care system.)

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

beth April 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I have one question. Does this method work for all types of adoption–international, private domestic and public domestic (foster care?)

Also, can I work with you and use these methods if am a Canadian citizen and not U.S. citizen?

Thanks for this interesting info.



elizabeth hunter April 12, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Yes, Beth, it works for all types of adoptions. And it absolutely works no matter what country the adoptive parents are from. Why? Most adoption ‘experts’ out there take the approach that if you pay them, they will wave their magic wands and magically bringing you your child. It’s like this Big Secret.

So everyone goes running around to find the ‘expert’ with the shiniest wand! Since we’ve all heard the stories of people paying ridiculous amounts of money and still not having happy, successful adoptions, this approach is obviously not a good one!

The Adoption Goddess method gives adoptive PARENTS tools to sort through all the ‘noise’ and massive amounts of conflicting information by adoption ‘experts’ out there in the adoption world and take away only the key pieces THEY really need to bring home the child of their hearts.

It’s like you get your own magic wand…

No matter who you are and where you come from, this approach will work if you are willing to take back control & take responsibility for your adoption.

Hope that helps,


Sue Sullivan April 16, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Wow, Elizabeth, I love your method and how clear it is, especially the distinction between information and wisdom. And step 5 Get Social Proof is so smart. It’s easy to forget that just because an agency is good at marketing itself, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good at being an agency. I love the proof in the pudding approach. This is great not just for adoption but for a lot of things we do!
Sue Sullivan recently posted..Mourning What I Didn’t Choose


elizabeth hunter April 18, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Thanks, Sue!


Anna Federer April 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I’m 59 years old, I have a son 36 years old, born with spina bifida.
We wodd like odopt 8-10 years old girl, do you know what is the age maximum you can odopt,
how long is take, older child processing.
We live in Florida, you can odopt any State?
Happy Easter!
Thanks Anna


elizabeth hunter May 20, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Hi, Anna, I know that many ‘older’ parents are adopting older children through the U.S. foster care system these days. There are foster to adopt programs where you first foster the child and then adopt them. This is done locally in Florida. Often in the County you reside in. Usually through a department of children and family services. Start by looking at the Florida Department of Child and Family Services website:
Contact them and ask about ‘foster to adopt’ programs in your local area. It is my understanding the available children and requirements differ from location to location.
Best of luck to you!


diamond56 October 27, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I love the proof in the pudding approach. This is great not just for adoption but for a lot of things we do! | 😛
diamond56 recently posted..paleo diet cookbook


c April 21, 2012 at 4:01 am

If adopting a domestic infant newborn agency website, check out the “unplanned pregnancy, “birthmother” pages. If they come across as overly flowery (eg constant use of the words selfless, miracle etc), promise stuff that they can’t promise (eg like how a bmom or child will feel” or have extremely long “consider your options” list that are designed to scare the pants of an emom should be avoided. Ones that constantly bring up what a gift the emom is giving to a family should be avoided too.


Dusty Laurin April 23, 2013 at 5:29 pm

I’ve just started researching adoption, and I don’t know very much about it. The steps you’ve listed above will help out a lot, but I don’t know what questions I need to ask the agencies. Do you have a list of questions to ask adoption agencies to determine if they are a good agency and if they are right for you?


White-Skinned Mom July 8, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Because I’ve always had strong spiritual ties to Native Americans, I really want to adopt a little Native American boy. But federal laws dictate that children should first try to be placed with families that have blood ties to the child’s specific tribe, or secondly try to be placed with families that have any sort of native blood ties. Which means that as a Caucasian, I’m considered a last resort. Reading up on the history behind this law, it does make sense and I understand the reasoning behind its inception. But I’m afraid that my dream adoption will be altogether impossible and my heart breaks at the thought. Any advice? What should I do?


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