You did your homework. You looked into all the different ways gay men can become fathers — surrogacy, co-parenting, foster care — and decided adopting an infant was the best route for you. Hard part is over, right? Sure. Until you realize the next big decision is just around the corner: Should you choose an agency adoption or an independent adoption to complete your adoption journey?
First, let's get some definitions out of the way. An agency adoption is more or less what it sounds like: you will select and work with a state-certified adoption agency throughout your entire adoption journey. However, you could also choose to work closely with an attorney and other adoption professionals to find a prospective birth family without the help of an agency. This is known as an independent adoption or a private adoption.
Neither route, it turns out, is inherently better or worse for prospective gay dads. Your choice will instead be influenced by a number of factors, such as cost, how much support you'll want, and comfort level with having a one-on-one relationship with the birth mother.
In five states — Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts and North Carolina — that decision has already been made for you: All of these states require adoptions to occur through a state-certified adoption agency. But if you live in a state that allows independent adoption, here are a couple of factors to keep in mind as you make your decision:
How Much Contact Do You Want With the Birth Family?
Perhaps the most important difference between an agency and independent adoption is the level of contact between birth and adoptive families. Independent adoptions typically invite a higher level of involvement between the families, and allows the process to be customized to the needs and interests of both. Birth mothers are allowed to meet and select the adoptive parents of her choosing, for instance, rather than rely on an adoption agency to make that decision for her.
Prospective parents interested in playing a larger role in the search process may also find an independent adoption more attractive than an agency adoption. In an independent adoption, rather than wait for agency professionals to match them with a birth family, adoptive parents can be actively involved in the search process. Often, prospective parents will buy ads in newspapers, rely on social media, and create personal websites to help them match with a birth mother. If you choose this route, however, be sure to check with your adoption lawyer prior to starting the matching process; many states regulate or outright prohibit certain types of advertising in the adoption process.
Is Your Agency or Lawyer “LGBTQ-Competent"?
Regardless of whether you work with an agency or independently to complete your adoption, you will want to find professionals with a proven track record of success placing children with LGBTQ parents. These days, with the breadth of options available to prospective gay adoptive parents, it's not enough to work with an "LGBTQ-friendly" adoption agency or attorney. You will want to find professionals that are "LGBTQ-competent."
If you are considering using an adoption agency, a good place to start your search is the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) All children, All Families (ACAF) project. For many years now, HRC has worked diligently to pre-screen adoption agencies on a number of factors, ensuring organizations have a history working with LGBTQ families, and that staff are probably trained to address issues specific to LGBTQ parents. Agencies that pass muster receive HRC's "Seal of Recognition" and are included on the group's website.
If you are in an area without an HRC-endorsed adoption agency, you may want to consider pursuing an independent adoption. However, you will need to do your own research to find an LGBTQ competent lawyer. In addition to conducting some online research, you should also reach out to your local LGBTQ community center or advocacy organization and ask for recommendations. Some national organizations, like the National LGBT Bar Association and Lamda Legal, may be able to offer recommendations as well. Be sure to ask any potential lawyer you hire to share certain information with you: how many of their previous clients have been LGBTQ families? Do LGBTQ families have longer wait times, on average, than their heterosexual clients? You may also want to ask to speak with your lawyer's previous LGBTQ clients to gain further insights into the experience.
How Much Support Will You Want Through the Process?
A primary benefit in conducting your adoption through an agency is the built-in support system you'll receive throughout the process. A good agency will work hard to prepare you for your journey, and will offer a range of supportive services. Your caseworker will help you complete the home study process, provide counseling to the birth parents, complete all post placement requirements, and assist you with documents for court finalization.
If you are looking into adopting a child with special needs, agencies will also often have programs to assist you. Some agencies have specialized social workers that can help educate prospective parents on a range of special needs, such as prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs, history of mental illness within the birth family, and on a range of genetic disorders.
In an independent adoption, families work on their own to find their future child. If you choose this route, you will have to find and hire a range of professionals to complete the process, including an attorney to draw up the contracts and assist you with finalizing your adoption in family court, and a social worker to complete your homestudy and post placement reports. In some states, you can hire an "adoption facilitator" who will act similarly to a caseworker in an adoption agency. But be sure to first check the laws in your state: Some areas prohibit the use of adoption facilitators.
While an independent adoption provides less built-in support systems, they also have fewer regulations. Private adoption agencies are allowed to screen potential adoptive parents on any number of factors — everything from sexual orientation to age — before determining whether or not you are fit to "match" with an infant in their care. In an independent adoption, there is no agency performing this screening process, meaning the only requirement prospective parents must meet are those required by state adoption laws.
How Much Money Can You Afford to Spend?
One of the main benefits of using an independent adoption is the price tag: on average, using a private attorney to complete your adoption is cheaper than going the agency route. However, the costs can still vary considerably. In an independent adoption, prospective parents are often responsible for paying of the medical expenses for the birth mother. This amount can fall anywhere between $0 to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on whether the birth mother has insurance. You will also want to research the costs adoptive parents are responsible for covering in your areas, as laws governing this practice vary by state.
A private adoption also requires prospective parents to find a birth family independent from agency professionals. This can also affect the prices considerably depending on how much money you choose to spend on advertising. Again: Check the laws in your state as many have restrictions on advertising allowed in an independent adoption.
Are you a gay dad who has already completed the adoption process? How did you make your choice between an agency and independent adoption? Tell us in the comments below!
Please note this information included above is meant to be educational, and is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice.
For more, read our article “Adoption Glossary Terms Every Adoptive Gay Dad Needs to Know."
Don't forget to read our indispensable guide to adoption: “Paths to Gay Fatherhood: The Adoptive Dad."
And read all the “Adopting a Newborn Through an Agency? What Gay Dads Can Expect."