Educate Yourself Before You Sign on the Dotted Line! A common theme seems to be “you get what you paid for” in the adoption business. Buyers Beware! States govern the statutes over a legal adoption but adoption agencies have little monitoring and standards that are enforced to prevent adoptions gone bad from happening. Many agencies are promoting themselves as being able to “streamline the process,” which they are promoting as a more cost effective alternative. However, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” seems to apply as these agencies are taking a couples money and then disappearing into thin air. Although the words “transaction” seems cold, the fact of the matter is that the adoption process especially internationally is a costly transaction, not only for the prospective parents but for the adoption agency and its staff. As such, it is imperative that clear contractual parameters be established at the commencement of the adoption process in an effort to foreclose on any wrongdoing on the part of the adoption agency. Without such, prospective parents find themselves in uncharted and unprotected territory, shelling out tens of thousands of dollars on sometimes nothing more than the agency’s guarantee that they will procure a child for them. Contractual terms of engagement are critical. Most people would not shell out thousands of dollars to enter into a business relationship or real estate transaction without a contract, so why would you do so in the event you are seeking to adopt a child? The simple answer for most potential parents is that they trusted their agency and that they are desperate to find a child to complete their family. Unfortunately, especially in this economy, trust is often not enough. Most adoptive parents whose agencies have now gone under and no longer exist, find themselves with no monitory recourse whatsoever because they either lack the contract altogether, or the contract they did sign was arguably one of adhesion leaving them without the possibility of actually suing their agency for fees and/or their child, that they believed they were in the process of adopting. Aside from the contractual consideration, another key issue is the lack of both state and federal regulations in the adoption arena. In the United States adoptions are governed by state not federal law, but a major glitch arises when families adopt oversees that reside in the United States. They Hague Convention established in 1976 and incorporated into U.S. Law on July 1, 1988, required an extensive government crack down on adoption agencies, forcing them to comply with accreditation standards. Unfortunately little has actually been done to enforce these requirements and disreputable agencies are still operating throughout the country. As a result, prospective parents should read and educate themselves on the accreditation principals set forth in the Hague Convention and seek out licensed agencies state by state. The national adoption directory is a data based funded by the Department of Health and Human Services that rates licensed agencies in each jurisdiction. It is a great tool because you can research an agencies history of complaints by contacting the licensing specialist where the adoption took place. In addition, the directory can point you in the right direction as it relates to support groups that offer independent references for a specific licensed agency that you are researching. Agency and private adoptions can range from $5,000 to $40,000 or more depending on a variety of factors including services provided, travel expenses, birth mother costs, specific legal requirements in the specific state or country and specifically the requirements in that state or country and other factors. International adoptions can also range from approximately $7,000 to $30,000 depending on what country you have targeted for your adoption. Remember, you have many other costs which can include a home study (generally required by each state), the process of identifying a specific child, placement fees and post-placement visits by a social worker. Other out-of-pocket costs for international adoptions may also include the cost of visas, document translation and maybe even a tax donation or contribution to an orphanage. It is imperative to comparison shop and require licensed agencies for an itemized list of charges that are required before the application process begins, during the process and after the actual adoption takes place. Red flags should appear if a great deal of money is required to be paid by you in advance of the application process before you even get started. Even reputable agencies have found themselves charged with fraud, racketeering, bankruptcy and other felonious criminal offenses. In many cases, although parents are making full and faithful payments to their agencies, they are in turn failing to forward those payments to the liaison adoptive agencies oversees. Most reputable agencies agree that it is good practice to not charge the full adoption costs until the process has actually been finalized, realizing that although unforeseen delays are possible the ramifications of such should not be past on to the prospective parents. A useful Web site that gives adoptive prospective parents a checklist for what to look for and other information going through the process is www.adoptionagencychecklist.com. This way you can try to be one step ahead of the process and be familiar with the procedure and costs involved during the emotional roller coaster of the adoption process. Be proactive!! Adoptive parents and expectant moms should contact their local or state resolve chapters for referrals on adoption professionals. Once prospective adoptive parents and even expectant mothers have narrowed the field down to a few adoption professionals they need to really investigate thoroughly understanding that are no guarantees in this process. It is important to check for complaints with the state’s attorney general’s office, the state licensing agency, local police departments, reputable internet sites and the Better Business Bureau. It is important to ask a great deal of questions and to do a background check on the business and the adoption agency as a reputable adoption professional does not need to seek out clients. Some internet sites can be misleading and it is important to use wise judgment when researching online. The bottom line is this: if you cannot afford the costs described in this article, you need to think clearly about the potential of other alternatives, whether it be surrogacy or adoption from the foster care system, which may be a more economical method to find the child of your dreams. There is no panacea from a legal prospective if you are adoptive parents trying to adopt a child in this country or internationally and find that your adoption agency has gone bankrupt or belly up. Your best bet is to educate yourself on the licensed adoption agency, ask questions and not gratuitously pay all of the costs up front. Make sure that you bring your contract that you signed to a lawyer to ensure that you are fully protected in the process from the adoption agency to a birth mother trying to regain legal rights to the child that you may want to adopt. All in all, adoption is one of the most altruistic selfless acts people can do for an unwanted child. Don’t be discouraged by the potential pitfalls that may incur from adoption agencies. Do your due diligence and set your goals accordingly and insure that you are protected to the best of your ability. Published on FOX News Blog, Team Washington on April 23, 2009.