By Leonette Boiarski, ACSW, LSW
So many times, I have taken calls from families who are dissatisfied with their adoption agencies. Often, this is caused by a lack of proper research on the part of hopeful parents when they are selecting an agency for the purpose of international adoption. Sometimes they have appalling stories to tell of being mislead or uninformed, and too late in the game they may find themselves looking to change agencies.
Looking back on 10 years as the director of an international adoption agency and 20 years as an adoptive mom, I have four important points for families to consider before signing on the dotted line.
Let me preface my recommendations with a caveat-‐ these suggestions are for those families who are looking for an agency that is vested in providing excellence in service as well as ethics, and not for families looking to receive a child as quickly and easily as possible, at any cost.
1) Ethics ‐ To me, ethics is something that families should prioritize. You don’t want to get vested in an adoption with an agency that is not operating within the guidelines of The Hague Convention, one that is very loose on screening standards or one who does not have good oversight of their in-country staff. Questions that I would ask an agency would be:
- How many families have you NOT accepted into your program for adoption in the last year and what were some of the reasons they were not accepted?
- How do you interview, hire, compensate and evaluate overseas staff?
- What degree does your family recruiter have? (In my opinion, a marketing or
business major may not be the ideal candidate for recruiting potential adoptive families unless they have additional experience in this area.)
What you are trying to assess is whether an agency has a commitment to ethics in vetting and recruiting families and staff. Do they recruit families by telling them it will be easy with no problems to get the family “in the door?” Do they omit things about lifestyle, health or medication from the home study? Do they hire in-country coordinators who are looking to find babies for families at any cost?
2) Continuity – It is very important that an agency does not see themselves as helping to build your family and then saying goodbye. Adoption is a life long journey and at various points throughout the life of your child, adoption issues can and do surface. It can be at age 10, when your child just begins to learn what it means to be adopted. It can be at age 14 when other people tease them about being adopted, or when they see adoption depicted negatively in the media, or perhaps when their teacher plans a family tree class assignment. (Yes, schools are still assigning family tree projects, even though the family unit has become so varied in its makeup with issues of adoption, third party reproduction and sibling groups, divorce, remarriage, foster care and kinship care.)
Knowing that you can pick up the phone to speak with someone at your placement agency about concerns, issues or a counseling referral is so important for a first step in dealing with identity/adoption struggles or just to gain some reassurance by talking things over with professional, experienced staff.
3) Not for profit – the nonprofit status is a very important one, in that the only agenda an agency should have is helping children and building strong families. Glitzy is not always better; large marketing budgets can make things look professional on the “outside,” but be wary and look at the staff providing the service.
4) Appreciation and support for cultural connections – your agency should provide support and encouragement to build cultural ties with your child’s birth land. A 2009 study by the nonprofit Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute found 78% of trans‐racially adopted respondents considered themselves to be white, 60% recognized racial identity as being important in middle school, and 61% as adults, traveled to South Korea to learn about their culture and birth parents. The research also indicated many adopted Koreans face challenges in accepting their ethnic and racial identities (A. and P. Bernstein, “Adoptions-‐ News”).
Once again, your agency should be at the forefront in encouraging your family to explore and embrace your child’s culture and to incorporate cultural role models into their lives and relationships with other adoptive families that “look like their families”. Sometimes, children of other cultures or ethnic groups who are adopted into Caucasian families are taken aback when leaving home as young adults. It may come as a shock that they are not perceived as being a member of a white family, but as a Korean, African American or Latino, and the world interacts and responds to them in a different manner than they previously experienced. They may be expected to speak the language, know the culture and assume the identity of their birth land and are caught in a world that does not see them as white, even though that is all they may have known until age 18.
So that’s my list. Four important things to consider that could impact a family after their child is home or during the adoption process or while in country; things that a family doesn’t always think about when they are looking to adopt.
Leonette Boiarski is Director of Welcome House and Opportunity House Programs at Pearl S. Buck International and a member of Path2Parenthood’s Adoption Advisory Committee.