Agency adoptions in this country can be accomplished either through a public agency or through a private agency. The main difference between the two is the method by which the parental rights of the birth parents are terminated. In public agency adoptions, the termination is generally involuntary. The precipitating factor is often abuse or neglect of the child by a birth parent, but not necessarily. The event which precipitates the termination may be some other event; but it does not usually involve a voluntary decision by a birth parent to relinquish his or her parental rights.
In the section on independent adoption, voluntary and involuntary legal methods for terminating the rights of birth parents were discussed. In general, the same legal methods are applicable to agency adoptions except the legal document signed by a birth parent is normally called a relinquishment instead of a consent. As in independent adoptions, it is sometimes necessary to terminate non-participating birth parents by delivering a court order to that birth parent or by placing a notice in a newspaper.
Because of the above, public agency adoption commonly involves older children. Private agency adoption is more likely to involve younger children, even newborns, since a birth parent will usually make a voluntary plan in advance with the agency.
In an agency adoption, it is important to clarify who is being represented by the attorneys who are involved. With respect to the agency attorney, that attorney is ethically prohibited (and prohibited by statute in some states) 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.
The emotional and financial risks associated with independent adoption were discussed. In an agency adoption, at least in the traditional model, the emotional risks are eliminated by the child going into foster care and staying there until the legal risk period has passed. In other words, the child does not enter the adoptive parents’ home until after the legal rights of the birth parents have been irrevocably terminated. Today, many agencies make what are known as “legal risk” placements which involve a child going into the home of the adoptive parents before the birth parents’ legal rights have been terminated. The primary reason for doing this seems to be a desire by the birth parents to avoid foster care and a willingness by the adoptive parents to assume risk in order to experience early bonding with the child.
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