Journal Issue: Adoption Volume 3 Number 1 Spring 1993
Agency and Independent Adoption
As stated in the article by McDermott, there are, from the legal point of view, only two types of adoption: agency (public or licensed, private) and independent (nonagency) adoption. Although both aim to find permanent homes for children whose parents cannot or will not care for them and both seek to assure the competence and commitment of the adoptive families, the two differ substantially in what has become their primary focus and in their policies, procedures, and philosophies.
Today the agencies are primarily focused on finding homes for the growing number of children with special needs who are in substitute care. The independent adoption intermediaries—awyers, physicians, and a multitude of nonagency adoption services which can be found in the yellow pages of any telephone book—are committed to helping prospective adoptive couples find healthy, usually same-race infants, preferably newborns.
A major difference is that agencies are primarily involved with older or special needs children, who have been abused or neglected, while the great majority of voluntarily relinquished healthy infants are adopted through private placements. Moreover, estimates indicate that two-thirds of newborn adoptions are handled independently.16 The agencies accuse independent adoption of being structured primarily to finding children for parents, while they, the agencies, seek to find parents for children. They claim, furthermore, that in independent adoption, there is a lack of objective counseling of the birthparents, adequate professional assessment of prospective adoptive parents, preplacement home study, and postplacement and postlegal services. In short, Emery states that the position of the Child Welfare League of America is "that there should be no independent (nonagency) adoptions."
McDermott states that the main difference between agency and independent adoption is that in the latter the birthparents select the adoptive parents and give their consent directly to them. He states that this is the reason birthparents choose independent adoption over agency adoption and that it is they who "make independent adoption exist." Additionally, birthparents are anxious to avail themselves of open adoption, which is virtually universal in independent adoption. Prospective adoptive parents have turned to independent adoption because some believe that they may not meet standards set by the agencies (often considered arbitrary), because there are waiting periods of five to eight years, and because they have no assurance of ever receiving a child. Many prospective adoptive parents believe that the very assessment procedures which are so valued by agencies are intrusive and have no demonstrable relevance to their ability to be good parents.
Independent adoption practitioners state that all of the counseling services to birthparents and adoptive parents are provided in an independent adoption. It seems clear, however, that some are only "available" and that not all are systematically utilized. In essence, most of those who wish to adopt choose independent adoption for one main reason, because the chance of finding an adoptable infant is far more likely in independent, nonagency adoption.
It should be emphasized that legalization of all adoptions necessitates a court procedure which requires that the adoptive parents will have undergone a home study. However, concerns have been expressed about the lack of preplacement home studies in independent adoptions in many states. Hollinger reports in her article that the 1992 draft of the proposed Uniform Adoption Act requires that all persons who seek to adopt must have a favorable assessment of their suitability as adoptive parents before a child may be placed in their home. We favor this requirement. In addition, at least ten states now require preplacement certification for direct private as well as agency adoptions, a procedure which we also support.
Both camps accuse each other of being fee driven, and while it is true that independent adoption is reserved for those adoptive parents who can afford it, it must be recognized that agency fees, too, are quite significant and have risen substantially in recent years. Agency fees have been recognized to be a significant barrier to special needs and same-race placement of minority children, and their elimination in these adoptions has been recommended. (See the article by McKenzie.)