January 15, 2009

The Agency Responds

[T] and Heather,

I am so sorry that you feel our marketing is in any way coercive, but this is not the case. We are deeply committed to providing non-directive counseling to all pregnant women.

Since we have been doing adoptions for 27 years we have long-term statistics to guide us. For example, over the last 27 years, on average, we have talked to 1,000 pregnant women a year. Of these about 200/year decide to place. This statistic has remained stable for so long that we know only 17-20% of women who do an intake should end up placing. If this number, creeps up we know there is a problem with our counseling program, and we would investigate immediately.

Our advertising is completely focused on increasing the number of pregnant women who call us. The reason for this is because we know we are committed to non-directive counseling and many other, if not most, other agencies are not. We also believe that if a birthmother decides to place that we will be able to provide her with the best counseling-based services. But as you can see from these statistics 80% of the pregnant women who call us do not place. This number is so high that there is no way that we are providing anything except non-directive counseling.

We have not changed the amount of money or effort we put into marketing. We are still a counseling based agency. Most of our resources go into our counseling program. We have more than 20 counselors on staff, while our marketing department has two people. Over the last couple of years the type of advertising we are doing has changed in response to the type of media that most people, including young people, are using. Our small marketing team has had remarkable success as we are much more effective in our outreach than we had been before we made these changes.

I know some people also think that our more professional looking newsletter means we are dedicating more resources to this sort of outreach, but the reality it the new marketing team discovered that the new format is actually much cheaper to produce and mail than our old xeroxed copied format.

I am very sorry that these changes have caused you to believe that we have changed our fundamental philosophy. We have not. Please feel free to email or call me if you have any other concerns.

[Executive Director]



Anonymous said...

But there is a point that you know they don't get when they are calling a woman thinking about placing "a birthmother".

I've talked about this with my agency's social workers a couple of times. Calling someone an expectant mom instead of birth mother, until after they place. They claim that birth mother is understood more universally. I get that rather than first mom, but expectant mom? Who doesn't understand that. And it is a subtle coercion, defining someone's role before they have made the decision.

Third Mom said...

I wonder how those stats compare with national stats, or even if national stats for placement vs. parenting exist. Have you ever seen any?

Anonymous said...

Interested in hearing your thoughts on this response...

Heather said...

@ThirdMom - I know there is a national placement rate stat available, but it's out of all births. I haven't seen any stats for placement rates among women who contact an agency/lawyer/facilitator at any point during their pregnancy. That would be a handy number to have.

I know we tried to consider placement rates when we were looking at agencies. It's hard to compare, though, because each agency figures their stats differently. Some agencies count it as an 'intake' when they have as little as a phone conversation where they get some basic information from the expectant mom. Whereas others only count women who've actually come in for counseling when figuring their placement rate. Obviously it's much easier to have a lower rate using the former.

One of the stats they touted at the time we worked with them was their low rate of moms w/an adoption plan opting to parent post-birth (it was something like 2%). Which you could interpret as evidence of a strong counseling program in which expectant parents are able to decide on parenting well before that point. Or you could interpret it as evidence of (direct or indirect) pressure being put on women to follow through with an adoption plan. What the numbers mean depends a whole lot on who is interpreting them.

It would be great to have an organization like Donaldson take on the question of standardized statistics for domestic adoption.

Anonymous said...

You know re:placement rates. I have to write stats on our school test scores all the time. I can say "frequently outscoring district, state and national standards" and that's totally true. But not always accurate.

You can manipulate stats. But obviously know that considering your previous comment.

Andy said...

I've worked in telemarketing, so I'm looking at their stats from that angle.

If I need to make 20 sales tonight I know that I have to call 100 people because only 20% of the people I talk to will buy what I'm selling.

When the agency says "Our advertising is completely focused on increasing the number of pregnant women who call us." this screams marketing strategy to me! They have 27 years of proof that only 20% of pregnant women will place with them, so they know that, in order to keep placing X number of babies every year, they have to increase the base number of pregnant women they talk to.

Nothing is done in any company unless it helps to increase the bottom line.

Anonymous said...

Referring to it as marketing?


That's all there is to it.

Anonymous said...

I was happily surprised that they responded to you so quickly...and then I read the letter.

Does it seem a bit formulaic to anyone else?

I'm guessing, with the quick turnaround and formulaic-reply-at-the-ready that this is not the first time they've received a letter like yours.

Like mama2roo, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

a Tonggu Momma said...

The two things that bother me the most are that they refer to it as marketing and that they refer to women considering adoption as birthmothers.

Heather said...

@mama2roo @Spring - Yeah, I definitely have some thoughts. I'm running around with pediatrician appointments and errands right now, but hopefully I'll get time to write soon.

BTW, I'm probably going to take down most of this post in a week or so. I wanted to show it to you all, but no one really wants their email messages posted forever on the internet.

Anonymous said...

I also wrote down immediately, "if a birthmother decides to place..." as the first red flag of the letter. If a WOMAN decides to place. The fact that the agency hasn't gotten that down yet upsets me terribly.

They say: "This statistic has remained stable for so long that we know only 17-20% of women who do an intake should end up placing. If this number, creeps up we know there is a problem with our counseling program, and we would investigate immediately."

THEN they say: "Our advertising is completely focused on increasing the number of pregnant women who call us. "

Now, I'm no mathemetician, but if you market to MORE women and seek out more phone calls, then to keep your 17-20% placement rate (so as not to alert your stats and call for an immediate investigation!) you would need to have MORE placements.

SO YES, you ARE "marketing" (and I agree with Jenna, "marketing" is disgusting) with the desire of more placements. And using coercive methods? Wouldn't surprise me the way this letter was written....

cindy psbm said...

My biggest problem with the ads when I watched them is that one women said 'it really is the best of both worlds'
Unless contact in open adoption could be legally enforced it isn't the best of both world for many many women.
I have a personal policy that I never buy things that come with a pitch. Usually anything I need in life I have to seek it out for myself.
I placed my birthson through a agency that admitted they never advertised, that they are part of a government health project, but I live in Canada. Things like adoption work a little bit different I think.
I only learned of them through a pregnancy care centre that focuses on helping women parent who need extra support.
I don't like that 20% thing.
The agency I placed with said that only 5-10% of women they counsel place. Of course this agency has only be running for less 20 years I think.
They really should focus on the child more than the women who places the child. They should stop making ads.
People don't need to have adoption promoted.
This agency should rely on word of mouth from real birthmoms who placed and if they really are having such a good experience they will relay it personally to others.
Besides, every adoption is so unique noone can possibly guarentee a good outcome. The agency has no control over adoptive parents, or anyone else related to the adoption experience.

Anonymous said...

In our state, it is illegal to advertise, even in the phonebook. You can have your name in the yellow pages even under crisis pregnancy. But you can't have a big ad.

The weird thing is that out of state agencies can have an ad in the phone book.

But tv, billboards, print ads? Not gonna happen. I think actually working on national legislation would be great, but I'll bet we couldn't get it passed.

Anonymous said...

I don’t know how I feel about marketing. Many women don’t even consider adoption because they know nothing about it or it seems scary to them, and a woman facing a situation where she is not sure what to do deserves to know about all her options. Women know they can parent and they know they can have an abortion, but adoption usually isn’t something women have tons of information about (unless they have personal experience with it in some way). The major problem I have with marketing efforts is that I believe that agencies present open adoption as a beautiful, magical relationship with no pitfalls to both birth and adoptive parents! I think this makes it very difficult later on. It’s been tough adjusting to my role as mom and “adoptive mom” in our OA and I don’t believe we were fully prepared for the reality of what this relationship was going to be like.

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