Is Directed Agency Placement the Right Choice?

Most of the newborn infant adoptions in the United States are done through the independent (non-agency) process. By some estimates, the percentage of adoptions done that way may be as high as 80%. This is true because birth parents in increasing numbers are choosing not to work with agencies. There are obviously many reasons why a birth parent might make such a choice but there are two frequently offered rationales (1) that the birth parents like to play a greater role in the selection of the adoptive parents and (2) that birth parents are fearful of foster care which is a component of traditional agency adoption.

Some agencies are attempting to combat the above situation by recommending a process which is sometimes known as directed agency placement. The concept involves adoptive parents themselves identifying birth parents but then turning what started out as an independent adoption into an agency adoption. This is accomplished by having the birth parents relinquish their legal rights to the agency and then having the agency consent to the adoption by the specific adoptive parents who have already been selected by the birth parents. Such an arrangement would seem to be questionable under the licensing regulations which restrict an agency from relinquishing its placement discretion. At the same time, this impediment has not stopped the growth of the use of this procedure.

The agencies which are selling this new concept contend that it is advantageous because the birth parents will be counseled by staff social workers and because the legal proceeding will be handled by the agency’s attorney. These contentions are misleading and have caused much confusion. There is no reason why adoptive parents must choose an agency adoption in order for the birth parents to be counseled. There are many qualified adoption counselors in the local community whose services can be retained on an hourly basis so that the total expense to the adopting parents is much lower than the fee paid to the agency. With respect to the agency attorney, that attorney is ethically prohibited (and prohibited by statute in Maryland) from providing any legal advice to either the birth parents or the adopting parents. That attorney represents the agency’s interests which are different than and potentially in conflict with the interests of the birth parents and the adoptive parents.

Aside from the above, there are other down-sides to the directed agency placement. In most cases, it will make the total adoption expenses higher since in addition to the other normal expenses, the adoptive parents will be required to pay a placement fee to the agency.  Another down-side is obvious from the above discussion. If a birth parent has made a conscious decision to pursue independent adoption and not agency adoption, that birth parent may be upset if the adoptive parents attempt to compel that birth parent to work with an agency. Related to this is the fact that birth parents working with agencies are more likely to change their mind about placing with the adoptive parents. This may be due to the fact that the birth parents have less direct contact with the adoptive parents when an agency is involved.

Directed agency placement is an option which should be considered by adoptive parents only after receiving independent legal advice concerning its feasibility. There are some situations in which directed agency placement makes sense and in which it may be recommended by legal counsel. For example, there are four states which do not permit independent adoption. If the adoptive parents reside in one of those states or if they are working with birth parents who reside in one of those states, it may be necessary to do a directed agency placement in order to satisfy local law.

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