March 21, 2011

A Question for You: Talking Agencies

Between not sleeping well (boo) and being on vacation with the family (yay) my online time has been scattered as of late. But a couple of recent posts got me thinking, not for the first time, about how hard it is to really research ethical adoption agencies and/or professionals online. You have to wade through their own marketing efforts to find people actually sharing about their first-hand experiences. There are some review sites and forums out there, but they're spotty in what they really tell you (not to mention pretty adoptive parent dominated). Someone's rating doesn't mean much to me if I don't know the values that are behind it, you know? Maybe they gave an agency five stars because they didn't have a long wait, but couldn't care less or don't realize that shady high-pressure tactics are being used to convince mothers to place. Not my idea of a five-star agency.

I say over and again that finding a high-quality, ethical, experienced agency is essential. And bloggers writing openly about their agency experiences would be a great way to circulate that first-hand information to help people make informed decisions. In the context of a blog, you have a better sense of the writer's values and principles and can measure them against your own. It would get the word out, for better or worse, about smaller regional agencies that tend to get overshadowed in search results by the bigger agencies.  Yet I know I'm not contributing to the conversation, because I've never named the agencies we've used outright.

I'm not criticizing myself or anyone else who doesn't name names. There are good reasons not to, especially for those working with the foster system. I'm just curious about what our different reasons are, partly because I'm re-evaluating my own.

Do you name names yourself when talking about your adoption experience? Why or why not?

I'll give you my data points to start things off. We've worked with two agencies and two adoption lawyers, a different pair for each of the adoptions (as the adopting party, obviously). I've always shared names in person or with people who have emailed me asking, but I've never named them on-blog. I think there are a few reasons:

  • I'm fairly protective of my online anonymity (although I'm beginning think that's a lost cause) and wonder if naming the agencies, especially the smaller one, would be too identifying.
  • Several years ago an online adoptive parent friend was pretty vocal on her blog with criticisms of their agency. The agency contacted her child's birth mom and outed the adoptive mom's blog to her. I think that sort of potentially very damaging meddling in an open adoption relationship is an extreme example and hardly the norm, but I've certainly never forgotten it.
  • I've noticed that one of the agencies is very aware and protective of what it out there online about them, probably because it is a key part of their marketing strategy. I've witnessed two examples of them contacting bloggers who wrote about their negative experiences and asking them to remove or edit the posts. I haven't wanted to deal with that kind of noise.
So, how about you? Do you openly talk about your agency/facilitator/lawyer experience online? Why or why not?


Reena said...

There is a yahoo group for rating adoption agencies that lists agencies and experiences of adoptive families.

Most adoption themed list serves have as policy that members cannot publicly post the name of their adoption agency in conjunction with their experience. If someone is considering an adoption agency they can post the name of the agency(s) and ask others who have used them to email them privately about their experience. This is because of liable reasons—at least that is my understanding.

I don’t openly talk about either of the two adoption agencies we used to complete our adoptions from China. The first agency is a large and at the time was a China only Adoption agency. At the time of choosing that agency, DH and I thought it was better to go with an agency that specialized in the country we were adopting from. They also do charity work in the country and this was another criterion we were looking for in the agency.

Most of the services we received were satisfactory—albeit at an inflated price we would later discover. Toward the end of our adoption experience with this agency we were not happy with some very key parts. Once we were home I did let the agency know that we were not happy with them and based on those experiences we would not recommend them.
We don’t talk openly about our agency because I have heard of them bringing legal suit against families and we don’t want to deal with that. I have emailed people privately who have inquired about the adoption agency.
We had a much better experience with the second, smaller, adoption agency we used. This agency provided just as high quality service as the larger agency but at a much lower cost. The smaller agency also focuses more on placing children with medical considerations—although, that is pretty much where adoptions from China is focused now regardless so this latter is likely true for most agencies working in China.
I think one area that most agencies (maybe even all) are lacking is in post adoption services. Especially with adoptions from China. More and more families are adopting children with medical consideration and/or who are older. China is really pushing the adoption of these children—making it easier for families to adopt children who are older and/or who have more serious medical conditions. China recently changed their rule to allow families to bring home more than one child at once if one child has a more sever medical condition. I understand the desire to find homes for these kids, but these kids tent to need more care, more doctor visits, more resources etc. Our daughter’s medical consideration is mild (in our opinion) and non-life threatening. We were as prepared as one could be and it still took us 6-months to get the resources she needs really rolling. Lots of doctor’s appointments- the first year was a whirlwind—plus she is adjusting to her new family, we are making adjustments. I cannot imagine also having another newly adopted child at the same time.
Some families are not fully prepared to address all the issues that come up after they return home—not that there are always a lot of issues that come up—but when there are--- families who need extra resources are having a hard time finding them and I am hearing that agencies are not really providing any kind of post adoption connections for families who need them.

Brandy said...

For the first time in months, I had a dream about adoption last night.

Not thinking about adoption these last few months has been great for me, with everything going on.

As for finding an ethical, above-board agency - it's hard.

First, you have a ton of people who interchange the word "agency" for professional - not all 'adoption professionals' are licensed agencies. I saw this in a recent post about Lifetime - an unlicensed adoption facilitator - not an adoption agency.

That can make a huge difference in the search.

I've seen the same with Adoption Network - also not a licensed agency.

Then there is the complication of changing staff and the changes that take place over time. A good example would be me sharing my's as valid as the next experience, but it's also almost 16 years it lends itself more towards historical experience than actual research-professionals-to-use-now experience.

For what it's worth - the agency I placed with was pretty awesome for the time being. How do they stack up now? No clue. I can tell you they don't offer lifetime counseling, but then again, I don't think they made that claim at placement.

I don't know.

I think almost all 'professionals' start out wanting to be ethical. Wanting to do the right thing. Wanting to act above board - but then they realize how expensive it is to actually provide services and be ethical, so things change.

What was once good is now bad and it's possible that what was once bad is good.

Then, of course, you have the whole uphill battle of having your motivations questioned as a birth parent who offers feedback on the professionals used in the placement.

I mean - if a woman can give away her baby, how reliable *is* her feedback, really?

For the record, I used Catholic Charities (Dallas Diocese) in 1995/1996 - at the time, they were pretty progressive about open adoption and very supportive in doing what I asked them to do (leave me the hell alone and just give me the books, please) - the counselors we (my daughters parents and I) used are no longer my feedback is, for the most part, irrelevant.

KatjaMichelle said...

While I've admitted to having used Lifetime in other places online, I'm pretty sure I've never said it on my blog. The reason I'm pretty sure is that it's been deliberate. Especially before I requested and received my "questionnaire" (which apparently is the only form in my file that i filled out since i requested a copy of ALL forms/paperwork i filled out or signed) I didn't have anything to back up my anger toward them and I didn't want to be just a bitter birth mom ranting.

I still don't really know where the line is and when to step over it. I saw someone provide a list of links to someone else and Lifetime was one of those links. Do I intrude on someone else's conversation and say "NOOOOOOOO don't do it!!!!" I tried to find a constructive way to phrase it but in the end it would have required me to create a profile for the site the discussion was occurring on anyway and that was too much for me at the time (was reading on my phone will i was "working")

To an extent as Brandy said (HI BRANDY!!!) my experience was 10 years ago, so it's possible for things to change...but as Jenna's conference call with Lifetime revealed they have not changed they are still unethical as ever.

Dawn said...

Yes and no. I didn't when we were starting because I wasn't sure if it was appropriate and then I didn't later because our social worker is/was great (she's freelancing now) but the agency is/was not. (They have gotten substantially worse.) And I didn't want anyone thinking that because I used them that they were good. But when they completely f*cked up the Grayson situation and I wrote about it, it's now obvious to any locals which agency I mean. NOW I'm careful because I don't want to get into any litigation threats. (Not related to adoption but I've had threats when talking about a publication that never paid me and my host made me take it down so now I'm cautious about that.) I tell people who email me and ask and I share the names of agencies that I've talked to and seem good but I am still cautious about saying, "Yes, that's a good agency" because so much depends on the worker.

sara said...

My situation is a little different in that we had a private adoption using an attorney we already knew. I'd happily talk about her, because our experience was wonderful but I never have. It doesn't occur to me to name her since it was such a unique circumstance.

I'd love to hear about agencies though since I very much want to adopt again and doubt we'll fall into another situation like our first!

Hilary said...

When we were in the process, I didn't flat out mention names, but I certainly made some hints and implications that with a little google searching would show who I meant. If someone asked me directly (mostly IRL people), I was happy to share. I definitely WANTED to name names, especially in regards to red flags at one of the most popular Christian agencies, but like you and others have mentioned, I didn't want to slander or become liable. I did however, name names in a comment over at Jenna's blog when she asked for specifics ( It's important for people to know who to stay away from.

call me mama said...

We removed ourself from two agency lists after meeting with them- and found a reputable attorney through a friend. We feel we have a great (ongoing) relationship with our attorneys and feel our first family 'relations' were treated honestly, fairly and lovingly. Result- we speak about them freely. In fact, three of our friends and co-workers have used their services- both as adoptive parents and first parents.

Lori Lavender Luz said...

I have consistently revealed the name of the agency we used to adopt both our children. One reason is that from everything I can tell, it did all the important things right.

It did right by us by being professional and ethical and it guided us well in what to expect. Various social workers were straight-up with us on every occasion. Adoption School was amazingly helpful.

And although we didn't get the full picture at the time (until later, when I was able to get the inside stories from our children's birth parents), the agency does well by expectant parents by counseling them on all options, by helping them know what to expect with any option, by allowing them to guide the process, by assisting with parenting plans if warranted, by acting with high ethics consistently, and by providing support post-placement, even years later.

If I had experienced anything less, I still think I would have named names. I would want to steer people away from a bad agency just as much as I'd like to steer them toward a good agency.

Alissabeth said...

I talk about our matching agency, WACAP, openly on my blog and elsewhere. I have had an excellent experience with them and they are aware of and supportive of my blog as well as really engaged in the ethical issues.

But they're not the agency that placed our child in our arms. In our program WACAP is a broker of sorts (hate that language) but they are working to meet a specific need in other agencies, agencies who don't have enough families to show expectant mothers in specific programs, or sometimes particular expectant mothers. I've never named the agency that worked with J's first mom. As long as they are the only link we have with Z, I don't think I will.

Heather said...

It saddens me that more than one person mentioned the spectre of litigation as a reason they don't share, because it's something I feel, too. Which should be ridiculous if all we do it talk about our personal experiences with these professionals in a fair way. I mean, even with the agency I don't recommend there are a couple positive things I can say about it. Such a bummer.

Anonymous said...

I have a whole web page devoted to our problems with ANLC. If they want to try and contact S, well, a) they won't be able to, and b) she hates them too. They apparently changed hands in 2006/07, but, as far as I can tell, are still unethical.
While we're in the process, I'm trying to be evenhanded in how I talk about agencies and other professionals. I figure after we have the baby I can be candid, but I don't want to burn bridges. I try to stick to the facts, like "they charge fees based on race", which I think is downright wrong.
I was just reading about how agencies are very rarely policed. Once an agency gets a license, they have to really mess things up to have it revoked, or even to have the state take any action at all.

Dawn said...

Oh another thing, the first comment on the post you link to at Open Adoption Support? That's from our fabulous social worker.

It is what it is said...

I would love there to be a Yelp-like way to read reviews (good/bad/indifferent) of adoption agencies. There simply isn't one adoption repository or clearinghouse though.

For reasons of my own anonymity, I have not used the name of our agency but I am happy to refer others to them or discuss my experience with them, by name, when asked directly. And, because we are "in process and waiting", while I can report on my experience thus far, the balance of our experience will likely shape our final impressions.

Jenna said...

I dare -- DARE -- an agency/professional/whatever to write me an email asking me to remove or edit a post. Their words would be up on my blog faster than I could blink. And I'd rally around anyone who experienced the same.

Anonymous said...

I don't name names on the blog because I worry about litigation or harrassment--although I hinted at it pretty broadly in one post, I think. But in person or in email, I'm very willing to warn people against using them. It's helpful, I think, to be able to mention that the adoptive parents in our situation hated the agency as well, and that I can list ways in which they acted unethically toward all of us.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a blog and am more of a "lurker" but wanted to comment. We are adoptive parents and are currently in the middle of litigation with an unethical adoption agency (not for slander but fraud). For this reason I don't publish their name. That being said I have found it very difficult to find information regarding how bad they really were before we were a part of this mess. Maybe we were blinded by hope and not looking in the right places, I don’t know. They are terribly unethical but we have been unable to "scream it from the roof tops" like I would prefer to do.

I think it is really sad that some agencies have such control over what is being said about them. I don't publish their name out of fear. This really isn't fair to other members of the adoption community considering adoption. Someone told me "that it isn't slander if it's true". It's important to use what avenues we can to let the community know our experiences good or bad. I don't have a blog but I hope to somehow let the community know our experience after the lawsuit is finished.

Thank you all for sharing! I have learnt so much over the past few years and I really appreciate your opinions and comments. :)

a Tonggu Momma said...

I don't publicly name our agency for a number of reasons. The first is that - although my anonymity is a thin veil of protection - naming my agency "outs" me more.

Another reason is that my agency has a fairly good reputation internationally and an excellent one in our state, but has a pretty awful reputation elsewhere in the US. With our agency, a lot depends on the director of the state you are in, and our director is a gem. (And no, we did not know of their terrible reputation elsewhere in the country until well after we became clients.)

And yeah, I'm also worried about litigation, although I have few negatives to say about our experiences. HOWEVER, I have friends with the same agency (both APs and first moms), who live in different states, who have truckloads of legitimate complaints. Which makes me feel like I shouldn't say anything, because I don't want to rave about our local office and then continue with, "but..." when I don't personally have knowledge of other offices.

Stapes House said...

We have no problem talking about our agency. They are made of wonderful people. We had a wonderful experience. We even sent links to our social workers so that they knew what was out there. (Prior to it be posted in case they preferred it not be out there.) My husband and I are both teachers and always think about what we do and how it affects us as role models to our students. This extends to what we put out there online. We never want to have to explain ourselves. I see nothing wrong with sharing the good experiences that you have had.

Anonymous said...

Most of my experiences with our agency were behind password protected posts. Legally, they handled everything just fine, but to make a long story short, we had to use another adoption lawyer (and pay his fees as well) because he was the one who ultimately found us a match. And then another one in the state in which she resided. I could have saved myself a fortune by paying for a homestudy and then going directly to a US lawyer. Oh, that's right, cause I have NO CHOICE legally speaking but to use a Canadian agency. Having said that, they were highly ethical and appropriate. And I will give the goods to any Canadian couple who wants to know my opinion.

Becky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky said...

I have blogged about our agency, but haven't really posted anything negative for one main reason - our social workers found my blog. This was kind of cool at first because they really liked it, and actually asked to use a couple of my blog posts in their classes with other potential adoptive parents. And that was fine, because the first time around we had a great experience. However, this time around, it's been a bit more rocky. So, because I know they're reading, I haven't so much posted about it. Which bugs me, I'd like to be able to be more honest than I've been.

Jennifer said...

I have not named our facilitator in any way because we are still in the middle of adopting and we are afraid of being dumped or sued if we say anything negative. Ugh. The thing is, we know someone who had a GREAT experience with this facilitator. Spent a few hours on the phone with her and she couldn't say enough great things about them. So, we signed on lickety-split and sent them tons of our money. Now, two years later I regret not doing more research online because as it turns out, our facilitator is one of those that is consistently labeled "unethical" and horrible to first mothers. Ugh. Ignorance when it comes to adoption is not bliss. If I had to do it all over again...I'd definitely do this whole adoption process differently.

Thalassa said...

I did, because we had a stellar experience with them and because they are a small agency who I want to see get positive attention. I dug around on the web looking for negative reviews of them before we selected them and I couldn't find much. I found one person who was upset because their international program had been suspended by the sending country and they didn't like how that shook out for them financially with the agency, but I found nothing negative from birthmothers. I was hoping that the BBB would have been more helpful, but most of the agencies I researched didn't have listings there. I agree with you that looking for a totally ethical agency is difficult!

I understand that there used to be a fairly comprehensive web-based ratings site and that it went down in an expensive legal firestorm for posting negative ratings without doing any detective work to verify that the reviews were legitimate. I think that has scared many websites away from carrying negative reviews, or any reviews at all.

Von said...

Some interesting points you make in your post and from the commenters too.
Adoption as Jennifer said is 'not bliss'! Finding an agency with ethics must be very difficult and it is wrong that there is not more transparency.

Cathy said...

I would LOVE it if more families shared their experiences, specifically their experiences with agencies/professionals because as a family looking to adopt, I am overwhelmed to learn how unethical the industry is and want to avoid that at all costs, for everyone involved. I definitely understand concerns of transparency revealing too much for various reasons... I would LOVE to see a central "clearinghouse' of sorts that would help diminish that to some degree so that, ultimately, the adoption industry would be forced to higher standards.

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