By: Maggie Moriarty, Esq.
My passion for adoption is personal. I have three adopted children – all with their own unique, personal stories. My road to adoption finalization was long and complicated. My journey has been my main inspiration and motivation for the adoption law practice at HLG.
As an attorney, I know the law. I know the rules and how the process is supposed to work. I am in a unique situation in that I can merge my knowledge with my personal experiences to advocate for, inform, and represent our clients in the best possible way. For better or for worse, I have experienced an awful lot. I completed a successful domestic agency adoption after several failed adoptions – one of which included an FBI and criminal investigation into the fraudulent practices of a Texas adoption agency, as well as a Dateline special featuring a portion of my story. I worked through unbelievable heartbreak – and financial loss – after learning that an expectant mother that we had been communicating with for months never actually intended to place her child for adoption.
As I prepare to travel to Texas to testify for what we hope will be the end of the federal court case against the Texas adoption agency that scammed families out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, I cannot help but think about how I can best help other families avoid being victims of adoption scams. (Sidenote: this article relates to private, domestic, agency adoption specifically.)
Generally speaking, there are significantly more prospective adoptive families than there are expectant families looking to place a child for adoption. So, unfortunately, as with anything that has high demand, the adoption industry is not free of scammers and fraud.
As prospective adoptive parents, we tend to conduct a massive amount of research. We want to know everything about the adoption process: How much will it cost? What are my odds? Which agency is best? Should I pursue an open adoption or closed adoption? Do I need an attorney? We come across all kinds of information and all kinds of platforms through which we can increase our odds for a match or increase our visibility to expectant families.
It can be hard to take a step back and look at the adoption process objectively. However, it is essential to consider all the information about a possible placement or agency before making a final decision.
Some prospective adoptive parents choose an adoption agency as their first step in the adoption process. Adoption agencies are a great place to start since they can hold your hand through the entire process. Agencies in New Jersey can help you find an expectant family to match with. Typically, agencies work with expectant families that are interested in choosing adoption for their unborn child. Agencies will provide advice, counseling, and services to expectant families to support them through the pregnancy and beyond. When an agency feels that an expectant family is confident in their adoption plan, the agency will work on finding an appropriate prospective adoptive family. Some expectant families have particular parameters or ideals that they consider when choosing a family for their unborn child. Expectant families may have a specific age range, race, gender, socioeconomic status, or religion in mind. The agency will work with the expectant family to find a prospective adoptive family that best fits the expectant family’s wants and needs.
It is imperative that prospective adoptive families choose an agency that they feel comfortable working with. The agency should consider your wants and needs – as well as the wants and needs of the expectant families they work with. Ultimately, you want to ensure that the agency has the unborn child’s best interest at heart.
In choosing an agency to work with through the adoption process, prospective adoptive families should beware of these warning signs:
- Large Upfront Payments – Upfront agency fees should be reasonable and relative to the work that is provided and the need of the expectant family. If an agency is seeking a lot of money upfront, it is imperative to find what the intended uses of the funds are. Ask questions about what the money will be used for, how it will benefit the expectant family, etc.
- Lack of Post-Adoption Support – Agencies are empowered to provide expectant families with support before, during, and after the birth of a child. If an agency does not provide post-adoption support, expectant families may be left feeling stuck, insecure about their decision, or just generally in a bad place emotionally. It is crucial for expectant families to feel supported during the entire adoption process, including after the actual placement.
- Housing for Expectant Mothers / Expectant Families – Agencies that provide expectant families with living quarters during the pregnancy often make huge profits from the accommodation provided. Moreover, if expectant mothers or expectant families feel indebted to the agency, they may also feel like they cannot change their mind about an adoption plan in general.
- Lack of Communication – The waiting period can be hard. Once you are an approved prospective adoptive family, there is a period in which you are merely hoping and waiting for a match with an expectant family. Then, once you are matched, there will be some time – maybe even a few months – before a baby is expected. During this waiting period, or the match period, the agency should be in regular communication with the expectant family, as well as the prospective adoptive family. The agency should provide the prospective adoptive family with updates regarding the process, the next steps, the status of the unborn baby and the expectant family, etc.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is – If an agency claims that their waiting times are shorter, their fees are lower, and they have access to more expectant families than other agencies you have researched, chances are the agency is not providing the whole story and may not be conducting their due diligence inquiries into each expectant family. Agencies cannot guarantee what expectant family will walk through their door tomorrow, nor can they guarantee anything that will happen throughout the entire adoption process. Be on the lookout for agencies that always seems to have the “perfect” expectant family on hand right when you need it or are in a rush for you to make a decision or find an expectant family to match with.
When presented with a possible match with an expectant mother or expectant family, emotions run high, and it is easy to become sidetracked by excitement and joy. As a prospective adoptive parent, you need to make the best decision for your family. Before you say yes to a match with a particular expectant mother or expectant family, take a step back and evaluate the following:
- Has this expectant mother or expectant family ever chosen adoption for a child before?
- Has this expectant mother or expectant family ever backed out of an adoption plan?
- What are the expectant family’s expenses for the remainder of the pregnancy? Do the expenses seem fair and reasonable, or do they seem abnormally high? Unreasonably high expenses should be avoided. Expectant family expenses are paid for by the prospective adoptive family, and if a match falls through, the prospective adoptive family loses out. Expectant family support is merely financial support to help the expectant family through the pregnancy. The money that a prospective adoptive family pays on the expectant family’s behalf cannot and will not be returned if the match falls through.
- Will there be communication, or a meeting, between the expectant family and the prospective adoptive family before placement happens? If an agency does not allow contact between the families, or one of the families seems disinterested in communication, it may be a sign that the agency or family is not fully committed to the adoption plan.
- Have you seen proof of pregnancy?
- Does the expectant mother or expectant family seem interested in getting to know the prospective adoptive family at all? Expectant families and prospective adoptive families do not have to become best friends, but the families will likely want to see some information about one another.
- Is the expectant mother or expectant family nonchalant about the emotional implications of an adoption plan? If an expectant mother or expectant family seems detached from the adoption plan or thinks it will be an “easy” process, she/they are likely not fully invested, or informed, about the process or their decision.
- Does the expectant mother or expectant family seem to avoid answering questions or providing information? If information is not shared openly, there is typically a reason – good or bad – but it important for prospective adoptive parents to make fully informed decisions.
- Does the social history of the expectant mother or expectant family make sense? Is it consistent? If a story doesn’t add up or often changes, it may not be true.
- Are the expectant parents involved in an on-again, off-again relationship? You want to be cautious of an expectant mother that makes decisions during “off” periods.
- Has the expectant mother or expectant family shared their adoption plans with their extended family? Does their family approve? Sometimes expectant parents think that adoption is the best option because they worry that their family will be upset about an unplanned pregnancy. However, extended family may end up being more supportive of the unplanned pregnancy than they are of an adoption plan. Extended family support may make parenting a more viable option for an expectant family.
- When is the expectant mother due? Be careful of matches early on in a pregnancy.
You have to trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right about a placement or an agency, it probably is not the best fit for you and your family. Becoming a parent is exciting, and it is easy to get caught up in the moment when an expectant mother or expectant family is telling you that they want you to parent their unborn child. However, remember that the adoption process is an emotional roller coaster. You have to prepare yourself for every possible situation that may come your way. The decision to adopt is driven by emotion, love, and care. But, unfortunately, it is also a business. There is a high cost involved with private adoption, and you want to make sure that you approach each possible match with a level and a clear head. Even though you want to be a parent, and you want to accept a new baby into your home, not every situation is perfect for every prospective adoptive family.
During my adoption journey, I had to do some soul searching of my own to determine if the situations that were presented to me were the best fit for my family. As hard as it was, not every situation was a good match for us. Sometimes the risks associated with a particular pregnancy were too high or more complicated than we, as a prospective adoptive family, were willing to take on.
I was the last person to think that I would be fooled or scammed by an expectant mother or an adoption agency. However, it happened to me. It happened to me twice – once by an expectant mother, and once by an agency. In retrospect, many of the red flags I just mentioned were present in my “matches.” However – at the risk of being too personal – I knew that my family was rejected over and over again by expectant mothers and expectant families due to the mere fact that we were a two-mom household. Maybe I ended up being more vulnerable than I should have been and was too willing to take risks that I did not feel comfortable with, because I was afraid that nobody would give me the chance to become a mom.
However, when the phone finally rang with “the call” about my daughter’s birth mother, it just felt right. Was the situation perfect? No. There were risks associated with the match, as there always will be, but the level of communication from the agency was completely transparent, and the birth mother was open and honest. Adoption is about human connection. It is dealing with real people, living real life. There is always the inherent risk of an expectant mother or expectant family changing their mind about an adoption plan. That is human nature. We can plan for things all we want, but the plan is never complete until the moment comes when we have to sign on the dotted line. We cannot control what other people will do or the decisions they will make, but when it comes to planning for an adoption, we can control the people we work with.
Do your research, don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions, and make sure you do not have any major concerns about an adoption agency or a match before you move forward. Most adoptive parents can pinpoint their “ah-ha” moment when they knew they said yes to the right agency and the right match.