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The Role of Facilitators in Adoption

The Role of Facilitators in Adoption

All adoptive couples start their adoption journey with questions. Some questions may be the following; “Where do I go to adopt?”, “What agency (or facilitator) can give us wrap around services for our adoption?” “How do I know if they charge honest fee’s?”,  “Who do I trust? How do I know who I can trust if the term “licensed agency” can be misleading and confusing?” 

Karen S. Law, Esq. and Teresa McDonough, ACSW address many of these popular questions in the NASW April 2014 article titled ‘The Role of Facilitators in Adoption’.

The article outlines the recent growth in the use of unlicensed and typically unregulated adoption intermediaries or facilitators. They address the big question “Who do I trust?” as they address the significant risks for expectant parents and prospective parents who work with a facilitator as opposed to a licensed agency or attorney. The article also includes a list of recommendations for those considering adoption.

As the adoption world is changing and providing adoptive couples numerous routes, Forever Bound encourages each adoptive couple to become educated so they can be confident in their adoption process. Below Forever Bound has compiled a summary of the highlights of the article. Or you can find the whole article here.

Risk of Adoption Failures and Disruptions

“Adoptions arranged by facilitators can and often do fail for many different reasons. Some families who reside in states where payment to facilitators is illegal unwittingly engage and pay facilitators to match them with birth parents. Yet, prospective adoptive families often hire facilitators before consulting a knowledgeable adoption attorney who can help them avoid illegal payments that will impact the entire process and even the ability to finalize the adoption without running into legal challenges. These prospective parents are left distressed and financially drained when they learn that an adoption with the birth family cannot be finalized due to such an illegal payment.”

“Even in the states where facilitators are allowed to work, many of the matches they arrange do not result in adoption. Facilitators do not have the training, skill, or experience to ensure a safe and legal outcome.”

“The National Council For Adoption urges both expectant parents considering an adoption plan and prospective parents hoping to adopt to work only with licensed nonprofit adoption agencies and attorneys—and even then to carry out their due diligence researching and selecting a fully qualified and experienced adoption service provider. While adoption facilitators often present themselves as “adoption experts,” they are typically unsupervised and unregulated, and may have little or no experience providing adoption services.”

Lack of Counseling Services When Using a Facilitator

“A qualified and thoughtful counselor’s involvement can minimize the risk of adoption fall-throughs or disruptions, and ensure that there is never coercion or pressure placed on expectant parents… The counseling relationship is essential to helping the expectant mother consider her options and make an informed and non coerced decision.”

“A counselor can also help birth parents and adoptive parents verbalize expectations regarding post-placement contact or openness in the adoption, and come to an agreement that all parties can honor and support. Counseling helps prepare expectant parents for the emotional impact of labor and delivery, and separation from their child if they do choose adoption. If a mother does choose to parent her child after giving birth, her counselor can serve as her advocate, helping to ensure that she is not pressured into the placement by distraught adoptive parents.”

The Rise in the Use of Facilitators

“Most would agree that online advertising has been a huge factor in the rise of facilitators. Facilitators typically have enormous advertising budgets, and pay top dollar for search engine optimization. As a result, an expectant parent or adoptive parent often finds a facilitator by performing a basic search online, before consulting with a licensed agency or experienced adoption attorney. 

Many nonprofit adoption agencies are struggling to find the resources for search engine optimization and online advertising, as they cannot compromise the quality of services provided to adoptive parents and birth parents, and are reluctant to raise fees to cover rising costs. As one director of a small adoption agency in Pennsylvania notes, “The Internet has changed the face of adoption. Agencies have seen a decrease in pregnancy counseling clients because we cannot compete on the Internet. Women do not realize that they have local resources they can trust for counseling, placement services, and post-placement services.” Online advertising makes it difficult to determine where the facilitating entity is located, what services are provided, and whether the entity is licensed to operate in that state.”

Inconsistency of State Laws

“In a recent survey of adoption attorneys from 22 states, co-author and adoption attorney Karen S. Law found that state laws regarding facilitators vary widely.4 Most states mandate that only public agencies, licensed in-state or out-of-state private agencies, and attorneys can provide “child-placing services.”5 Since facilitators typically do not fall into any of those categories, it would appear that to the extent that they are providing “child-placing services” in those states, their activities would not be lawful.

Since facilitators charge money for their services, and these fees have to be disclosed when the adoption is finalized by the prospective adoptive parents, the finalization may not be approved by the judge if a facilitator is used. Further, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) regulates placements of children for purposes of adoption across state lines. As ICPC offices often require an Affidavit of Expenses, a state which prohibits payments to facilitators may not approve the placement if one is used.”

“Fees paid to facilitators are listed as “advertising” or “legal services”.”

“…If the fees paid to a facilitator are considered “excessive,” an individual judge in any state might refuse to finalize the adoption.”

Recommendations Given the Increasing Use of Facilitators

Better enforcement of existing laws:

“If a state such as California permits facilitators to operate, we would suggest strict enforcement of licensing and training requirements as well as advertising disclosure restrictions.”

Advertising disclosure laws:

We recommend both state and federal laws mandating that print and Internet advertising by facilitators disclose both the state(s) where the entity is located and whether they are licensed to operate in the state where the advertising appears. This would give prospective adoptive parents and expectant parents more information to decide whether to work with a particular entity. It would also ensure that individual state standards are met.”

Research and due diligence on the part of adoptive parents:

Prospective adoptive parents should check with state licensing to determine whether an agency or entity is a licensed child-placing agency.”

Full compliance with the ICPC:

Prospective parents adopting a child from another state must ensure that their agency is capable of meeting and fully complying with all ICPC requirements.”

Expectant parents must know their rights:

Expectant parents should be aware that they will typically receive a higher level of service from an agency that has a physical presence in their state. Local agencies can provide in-person, ongoing options counseling from a social worker with knowledge of resources in the community, and can also ensure that the expectant parents’ emotional, legal, and medical needs are met before they are called upon to select adoptive parents or make an adoption plan.”

Expectant parents may also be more likely to receive the information agreed upon about the child after the placement if an agency is used, and will know who to turn to if they need post-placement counseling”

Improved oversight of adoption fees:

“State laws should require full disclosure of all fees paid by an adoptive family for an adoption placement. There should be full oversight of these fees mandated by the state Attorney General’s Office”