8 Red Flags Of An Unethical Adoption Agency

An Unethical Adoption Agency

One of the most important choices you’ll make as a parent is which adoption agency to choose. There’s a lot at stake! One of those things is your future family—and the other is the financial means that (let’s face it) serves as the foundation for allowing you to move forward in the first place. You must choose wisely and know what red flags to be looking for in an unethical adoption agency. So, be sure to do your research carefully before committing to an agency. Know what those red flags are, and if you notice even one of them happening to you, MOVE ON. The reality is that although the vast majority of adoption agencies that you’ll come across are perfectly legit and on the up and up, unethical adoption agencies do exist. As engaged parents in the adoption process, when working with agencies, you have to stay one step ahead of the shady ones.

Here are eight red flags that suggest an adoption agency is operating unethically and illegally. Stay away from agencies that engage in these suspicious practices.

  1. The agency is non-accredited. This one’s fairly straightforward: If the agency lacks accreditation and you can’t find any evidence to the contrary, stay far, far away. Avoid contact with this agency, and don’t sign anything with them that would initiate adoption proceedings.
  2. Agencies and facilitators represent themselves as credentialed professionals who can “place children that other agencies cannot.” Basically, says Jennifer Mellon (child welfare professional and adoption author) in a recent article on adoption scams, “If it seems too good to be true, it often is.” Walk away.
  3. An unethical adoption agency (in the case of international adoptions) claims that they can place children from a country that is currently on a temporary or permanent ban. Even if you have your heart set on adopting a child from one specific country, don’t allow the agency to convince you that they can work the miracle you’re seeking. The law is black and white, and if an agency tells you otherwise, it means that this firm is operating not only unethically but illegally! “If a country closed to intercountry adoptions or the U.S. Department of State has placed a temporary or permanent ban on a country placing children in the U.S. then NO agency can place a child from that respective country. If they claim they can, they are operating illegally,” explains Mellon.
  4. The agency is placing surprisingly large numbers of children from a country where adoptions are normally very challenging. This is cause for great concern; do not allow an agency to sell you on their unique ability to move mountains and do what every other agency cannot. Again, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It’s time to move to the next agency on your list!
  5. The agency requires parents to pay higher-than-usual service fees with no real evidence to back up their claims that they can “{fill in the blank}.” An unethical agency will not be able to clearly demonstrate (with actual data and evidence) its genuine intent or ability to actually place a child with a family. Many such agencies have been shut down, but new ones pop up, so be watchful. Do your research. Find out what the typical service fees are for adoption agencies offering services similar to those you seek from the agency in question. If a particular agency’s fees are substantially higher than average, pay attention to your raised eyebrows and increased heart rate—and walk away.
  6. You cannot access any reviews of the adoption agency by parents who have used that agency to form their families. Similarly, another iffy scenario might come to light when you ask the adoption agency for references—and they are unable to provide them (or they keep delaying). Chances are, if you are refused (directly or indirectly) or can’t find any reviews—or, alternatively, any good reviews—that’s a huge red flag that is screaming, “Move on.” You should always be able to fairly easily find a way to talk to families who have used the agency in the past. This is a typical and straightforward step in the adoption process—one that the agency should actually expect you to inquire about! (Although, keep in mind that they’ll probably pass along only the good references!) 
  7. An unethical adoption agency urges you to act more quickly than you’re comfortable with because of impending fee increases. This is very suspicious behavior; treat it as such. If an agency informs you that their fees “are going up very soon” and that you should “act now” to initiate the adoption process with them, it’s definitely a sign that something icky is going on. In the case of one agency that suddenly closed its doors in 2016, one couple was “told prices were going up the following month by $20,000 or more, giving impetus to their decision to sign up immediately at the lower rate. They signed a contract with the agency at the end of October and paid an initial $2,450, then made monthly payments of $1,820 in November, December, and January. The final payment was credited back to their bank account, so all told the couple is out more than $6,000.”
  8. An agency that is already not satisfying your adoption needs tries to pitch additional add-ons to you—at a cost, of course. One mother who was the victim of the 2016 adoption scam told CBS News that she and her husband “resisted a pitch by [the agency] in early January to sign up for a personalized online advertising program—at an additional cost of $2,400—to better market themselves to prospective birth mothers.”

In Sum, Do Your Research

What can these red flags teach you? For one, do your homework. Research every agency carefully. Put each one through your own personal vetting process. No question is too dumb; no level of detail is too specific. Know the red flags. Consult the Better Business Bureau, look at reviews online, check discussion boards, such as the ones on Adoption.com, to see what experience other families have had with the agency you are considering. Ask detailed questions about the number of adoptions that they completed in recent years. If it’s an international adoption agency, inquire about the agency’s relationships with their approved countries. You can stay away from an unethical adoption agency if you do your research.

Do your research. Pay attention to the red flags. They’re red for a reason.