Selecting an agency to complete your home study is one of the most important decisions you can make on your adoption journey. The partnership you form with your agency and their ability to advocate for your family can be critical in helping you adopt from foster care. While Northwest Adoption Exchange doesn't endorse any specific agency, we have learned that there are a few key questions families can ask to make sure you're making an informed decision on which agency to work with.
What makes your agency different?
Every agency is unique. When you're interviewing an agency, it's important to ask why an agency is special and what makes them different than other agencies in your area. Finding out what an agency values and how that shapes their work can be a great indicator if the agency might be a good match for your family. For example, if an agency is primarily focused on their great foster care program and you're a family who is not interested in taking temporary, foster care placements, that agency may not be the best fit for you. The right agency should be able to clearly spell out how their model benefits families and children and what makes them stand out.
Can you outline how your process works all the way up to placement?
Adopting from foster care can be a complicated process that may seem overwhelming to prospective adoptive parents. One of the best ways to better understand the process and also learn more about a potential agency is to ask them to clearly explain the process families who are working with that agency go through. Clearly asking "can you walk me through this process step-by-step up until I would have a child placed in my home" can do wonders in understanding how an agency operates. It can also give you a clearer sense of what responsibilities in the process are the agency's and what fall on the family. For example, some agencies might have a policy where they prefer to make inquiries on featured youth on a family's behalf, where others might encourage families to place the inquiries themselves. There's not a specific way for an agency to answer this question, but your family should feel comfortable with the process that's outlined and clearly see how it could lead to your final goal of adoption.
What are the fees associated with your agency?
Different agencies can vary widely in the fees they charge families. For example, public agencies can be mostly free-of-cost, whereas most private agencies will charge a fee for completing a home study and adopting from foster care. Those fees may be one lump sum, or they might take the form of a more detailed fee structure such as an application, home study, and placement fee. For agencies that charge fees, it's important to learn of all costs involved so you don't run into any surprises.
While we don't recommend one approach over the other when it comes to working with a private or public agency, we do think it's a great idea to interview at least one private agency and your local public agency. Regardless of which approach you choose, be sure to also ask about the potential for post-adoption support or other financial assistance like cost reimbursements. A good agency will be able to help you access all resources that may be available to your family.
Do you support adoption from foster care and out-of-state adoption?
When interviewing agencies, it's important to understand where they operate in the adoption landscape. Not all adoption agencies work with families looking to adopt from foster care and some who do might not be supportive of families inquiring on kids located out-of-state. For example, an agency might focus on private infant or international adoption and have less expertise in working with families who are looking to adopt from foster care.
We encourage families to work with agencies that complete home studies and foster licenses using the same standards and training requirements as the local child welfare agency. In Washington, that means working with a local child placing agency, but the terminology can differ from state to state. While it may be possible in some areas to adopt from foster care with an adoption-specific home study completed by a private social worker or an agency that specializes in another type of adoption, it is almost always beneficial for families to complete a home study that also meets local foster care licensing requirements through an agency that primarily works with adoption from foster care.
Just as it's important to check with potential agencies about their experience with adoption from foster care, it's also helpful to check about their willingness to support out-of-state adoption. While many agencies may indicate support of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), a process that helps facilitate adoptions across state lines, they may have policies that are not as supportive of families in the matching process inquiring on out-of-state kids. Your agency will play an important role in advocating for your family during the selection process and if your agency is not supportive of inquiring on children in other states, it could have a significant impact on your ability to adopt a child from another state.
Have you worked with similar families to ours?
Asking if an agency has worked with a family like yours is one of the most important questions that families need to ask any prospective agency. When you share your story and what you're hoping for when adopting from foster care, you give the opportunity for an agency to let you know how their program fits your family. For example, if you're a military family who has concerns about how redeployment may impact adopting, you should feel comfortable asking an agency if they have worked with military families who have had similar concerns in the past. Knowing that an agency has (or hasn't) helped families like yours adopt from foster care can be important information in deciding if an agency can be an effective and passionate advocate on your behalf.