January 28, 2009

Naming Names

Spring made this comment when we were talking about adoption agency shenanigans:
Here's the thing: we need a place where we can name names. I would SERIOUSLY caution anyone from using the agency we used in our last adoption and would encourage the agencies we used for our first two adoptions.

I would love to be able to put this info into the hands of parents who are looking...
Spring is right. About the naming names. I've said it before, but I think agency adoption is the best bet for ethical adoption in the U.S. But that all hinges, of course, on finding the right agency. And let me tell you, it is hard to find good, reliable information on agencies.

It's not hard to understand why we're not all out there naming names. Anonymity is a precious thing online and not something most of us give up lightly. Not to mention the handful of agencies who try to protect their online image by threatening critical bloggers. Or screw with the processes of people waiting to adopt. Or meddle in open adoption relationships in retalitation. (Those things all actually happened to bloggers I know.) I doubt such things happen all that often, but the possibility of them happening is enough to deter us.

This seems to be what Adoption Agency Ratings is trying to do--be that place where people can name names. I think that site is useful up to a point, but you really have to read it with an enormous grain of salt. The weakness of aggregate review sites of any kind is that they mostly draw the outliers--people with really strong opinions on either end of the spectrum. So you get lots of five-star reviews ("This agency can do no wrong!") and one-star reviews ("This agency is evil!"). Not much nuance.

The other difficult thing is that you never know what criteria people are using in their ratings. Most of the positive reviews for domestic adoption agencies boil down to: they were really nice and they got us a baby. Which are woefully incomplete bits of information if you're looking for an ethical, compassionate agency which supports open adoption. And sometimes you see people giving negative reviews because there was too much training or the agency didn't do enough advertising, which aren't negatives in my book. Unless you know what values someone brings to the table, their assessment of an agency doesn't mean much.

My vision is of an online spot similar to Adoption Agency Ratings, but much more structured. Instead of posting a brief review and throwing out a star rating, you'd answer a full questionnaire about everything from customer service to training to fees to wait to openness to post-adoption support. (I'm thinking from the adoptive parents side here, but you'd want a similar questionnaire for first parents and parents who interacted with the agency, but didn't choose adoption. And for adoptees about post-adoption support, although that data would probably be a lot harder to collect.) So everyone would be providing a full set of data points for others, no matter which factors are most important to them. That would be coupled with an agency profile with information about average fees, advertising methods, etc.--the kind of stuff no one puts on their website. People looking for an agency could search by the factors which are most important to them, instead of just seeing that an agency got lots of five-star reviews, without knowing what's behind them. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would be a start.

I'd love to see this kind of information out on the Internet where it can be easily found. The first agency we used regularly publishes information on how expectant parents find out about them. The internet is consistently the top referral source, usually bringing in more referrals than all other sources combined. They don't publish stats for adoptive parent referrals, but I imagine they're pretty similar. The internet is where most folks go first when doing adoption research. If we're talking about agencies without naming names, our experiences--both good and bad--are lost to the people who need to hear about them most.


GINA and KEV said...

So do you plan on realizing your vision? It sounds magnificent. It would have helped us tremendously when we searched for an agency. Even a family lawyer. We went by word of mouth alone. And not always by people who actually USED their services. We were completely lost when choosing, and we are unfortunately still WAITING with no word.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great idea. All the agencies we've been dealing with so far were recommended to us be the adoption counselor we've been working with. So far they all seem pretty good, but it's always nice to have 2nd and 19th opinions.

Heather said...

Sadly, I have no idea how to actually make it happen. I'm all ideas and no skills.

cindy psbm said...

I think its all about creating accountiblity. Without which things can go very very wrong.
Keep trying Heather, I am sure you will find a way to make it happen.
You're really smart and determined.
If anything maybe someone who reads this will be able to make it happen, you never know...

Anonymous said...

Rebecca, I have ideas about this and I will email them to you. We can do this. We must do this.

Anonymous said...

I've been working on this, actually. I have lists of agencies on my personal web site, which grew out of how much I hated our agency. People started asking me which ones I recommended, and I'd send a list of comments I got on my online support groups. Then, I made the "good" list. Then, I started reading about how horrible other agencies are, so I started a "bad" list. Now, I'm getting specific questions about the agencies. I put together an agency questionnaire, that I hope to have people on the groups pass on to their agencies, or I'll have to look up all the email addresses.
I have some of the skills, but not a lot of time.
Oh - the lists are here:
Scroll down to see the links.

Baby Smiling In Back Seat said...

Here from Lost and Found and Connections Abound to wish you a very happy birthday!

That sounds like a fabulous idea. The only downside could be that people are more likely to visit sites before than after -- the same problem with all online reviews, where only very satisfied or unsatisfied customers come back to give a review. But hopefully adoptive parents are more likely to return than people who buy toasters.

Lori Stark and Michael Barry said...

Oh how I wish this were available. My husband and I are thinking about adopting and it's such a murky search to figure out how to get past all the marketing crap to find out whether an agency is ethical. I live in Ypsilanti, MI (outside Ann Arbor) and if anyone is inclined to talk to me about their experiences with agencies, I'd be very grateful. rredhead, I so appreciate your lists!

I'm at lorista@gmail.com

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