Monday, October 31, 2011

Adoption 101: Choose a Great Agency

I've gotten some questions about adoption in general and although I'm absolutely no expert, I'm going to share some key things we've learned about navigating the adoption process.

Seeing as how I've spent the day at all sorts of festivities with Robin Hood, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and a knight, and I'm completely worn out, I'm only going to highlight one key thing tonight and I'll share others later.

Choose a Great Agency

I cannot begin to tell you how key this is.

With everything we've been through adopting from Ethiopia -- slowdowns, investigations, major changes in procedures, unknowns, etc. -- I am so glad we chose well at the beginning. There were many nights we were (still are) able to sleep soundly knowing we could trust our agency. That doesn't mean we haven't asked questions here and there. It doesn't mean we didn't visit the region our daughter was from and poke around into her story. Because we did ask questions and poke a bit, but the trust proved true and in fact, our agency's reaction to our times of asking or poking made us respect them even more!

Also, for us, a key deciding factor in the agency we chose was that they run their own care center in Ethiopia, so the children in their adoption process are transferred out of the orphanages where the care is not as good and into the care of our agency where it is a whole lot better! Now, having so long between our trip to meet our daughter and the time we can bring her home (which is still unknown), I'm so thankful she's well cared for! There is no way I could have left her in Ethiopia if I did not believe that to be absolutely true!

I got further assurance of the care level this past weekend. My husband and I attended an adoption conference and part-way through one of the sessions I realized I knew one of the speakers. She was one of the people who had recently travelled to Ethiopia for humanitarian work and met our daughter, took pictures of her, found out we were her family and emailed the pictures to me. After the presentation we met this lady face-to-face and it was so fun to gush together over how amazing our new little girl is. But also, this lady shared with me that they saw the children walking outside their guesthouse as a group with their caregivers and that they watched through the window for a long time before going out and playing with the kids. She told me how struck she was by how well the nannies interacted with and took care of the kids even when they thought nobody was watching!

So, how do you choose a great agency?

1. Do not go with the agency that claims the shortest wait or lowest fees.
Pretty much all agencies are playing in the same arenas with the same rules, so if someone is claiming to do it much faster or cheaper that would be a huge red flag to me, likely either they are not being honest in setting expectations or they are doing something shady to achieve the faster or cheaper.

2. Pick an agency with a proven track record for the type of adoption/country you are doing.
An agency could be great at domestic adoptions but not have enough experience in a particular country. Some basic Internet searches can uncover any scandals that may be brewing around a particular agency.

3. Talk to other families who have used the agency.
Go beyond the references the agency will provide you because those people are guaranteed to only give you a glowing report. Instead seek out adoption groups in your city, your church or other local churches (remember when we began the adoption process our church did not have an adoption ministry, so we attended meetings and events at other churches) and ask those people what agency they used and what their experience was.

4. Pick an agency where you feel like you connect with the staff.
I picked the OB who ended up delivering all 3 of my biological children, not just because she's a great doctor, but because I loved how sweet and kind she was, yet she still gave honest answers. My theory was, being pregnant and giving birth are very emotional experiences and I wouldn't want to go through them with someone I wouldn't consider as a friend. Well, I'm hear to tell you adoption is a very, very, very emotional experience and we've been blessed to always be treated kindly and with compassion by our adoption agency staff.

5. Pick an agency that offers real post-adoption support.
You are going to need support. We are going to need support, I have no doubt. We attended a 2 day optional training course offered for free by our agency where they provided tons of real help for the issues many adoptive parents face. But most important, I know staff that specialize in post-adoption that I can call on if and when we need help. In fact they emphasized, "Call before you lose your compassion" (meaning your compassion for your new child and the "hard places" they've come from that is contributing to the really annoying behavior).

There are a few other things I could cover and maybe even some big things I'm forgetting, but just like my 4 year old's little session of cutting his own hair tonight (Oh, yes he did! Thankfully only a few strands were snipped - he was "trying to get rid of the bumpy part".), I'm ending it.

** That is our little girl in the top picture, just an earlier picture of her than what I've showed before -- such a punkin'!! **

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