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One of the most difficult decisions is choosing an agency for your adoption

The UK has only the IAC who has linking services for a handful of countries. If you are going to adopt from any of the countries that they do not offer you will have to engage the services of an overseas agent to help you bring your child home. This could be an agency, a lawyer or a facilitator .

The UK does not have any foreign adoption agency working in this country, due to the very strict guidelines that they have in place about children. Thus to complete your adoption you will need to engage an agency, lawyer or facilitator from another country if you are adopting from one of the countries where IAC does not have a programme. They work with India, South Africa, Kazakstan.

Choosing an agency to work with is one of the most difficult choices that you need to make on your adoption journey. The agency is the organisation that will arrange and organise your adoption in country as well as being the one to find and match you with your child. Adoption Agencies each have their own personality as well as ability and you need to choose one that you are happy and comfortable with. You will be working with them in very difficult circumstances for quite a while, and in some cases if you adopt from countries that require post placement reports, for years.


The first thing you must establish is if  your agency is allowed to operate in the country you are adopting from. This is a bit obvious but you will be surprised how often people engage agencies or lawyers that do not have official permission to operate in the country. International adoption is on slippery ground most of the time and the nay sayers are always looking for an excuse to bring it to a halt - so please check that they are officially allowed to operate in the area. Child trafficking is a serious offence and many countries are tightening up the controls with international adoption and you do not want to be caught 6 months and thousands of pounds down the road when the government of the country where you are adopting stops adoptions from non accredited personnel.

* You must research, research, research your agency. Try to speak to as many people as you can about working with a particular agency.  Ensure that they are scrupulous, above-board and have an unblemished record. There have been too many stories of agencies/lawyers who have acted unethically in adoption, which is unfortunate, as it gives the whole process a poor reputation.

* Make sure you have the most up to date information about your agency. It is no good talking to someone who used them to do their adoption 5 years ago, because that information may not be pertinent today.  Adoption works on relationships. Relationships that the agency has with 'the people on the ground', and the people in the government.  Relationships go sour. This essentially is the rub - an agency who was doing really well 3 years ago may have fallen out with a key person on the ground and now they no longer have the clout they used to. Thus you need to establish the most current information that you can.

*There is such a thing as the 'Agency Cycle'.  What we have noticed is that a new agency opens to work in the country from which you want to adopt, in the initial stages they do extremely well, referring beautiful healthy children in a very good time frame.  Their reputation grows and so more and more people start going to them.  However, they are ill-equipped for handling the bigger work load and their standard begins to drop and problems begin to appear.

* Read the Agency small print. You must be sure of what your agency/lawyer/facilitator is offering and what they are charging.  There are many hidden costs in adoption and you need to make sure that you are not going to be 'stung'.

Someone who adopted from Russia, with a well established agency, was horrified to discover that one of the 'conditions' was that they employ (on a daily rate), the services of an interpreter and a driver for their entire duration in Russia.  The fee $250/day.  It was winter, in Siberia, and they were fortunate to have their child with them for the 10 day wait after the court. But, they weren't going anywhere - bonding and warmth were priorities, and  each day they stayed in the hotel, their 'service' bill was piling up, for nothing.

Another family was quoted 19000 Euros and two days before the family left to meet their child, they were told 'No it is not Euros, it is Pounds' and that was in the days when there were almost two Euros to the Pound - a hefty difference.

* Find your contact person at the Agency and ask if you can liaise with them for the whole of your adoption. One of the most difficult things about an international adoption is no knowing where you stand.  In some respects, you hand over your 'life' to someone on the other side of the world with the trust that they will do he best for you, and then you wait, wait and wait. I have heard so many stories of people who ring their agencies and leave messages, write endless e-mails to get no response.  I think that this is poor service. It increases anxiety and is frustrating.

So, when you engage an agency ask who is your contact/link person and arrange with them a system that makes you both happy e.g. You call at 11.30 on every second Thursday. This arrangement should work well for the agency as well. I can imagine that it could get a little out of hand if they have concerned potential parents calling up all the time to find out what is happening, when there is nothing to report.  At a pre-arranged time you will know that they will be there and you will be able to find out what you need to - even if it is that nothing is happening. If you agency does not agree to a prearranged contact system, then perhaps you should consider looking for another agency. Believe me, you need to know where you stand - even if they tell you there is nothing to report, at least you know and are not left guessing.


Agencies are expensive - very expensive.  They are notorious for quoting a price like $40 thousand, 30 thousand Euros, £20 000 and they done break it down. You are within you right to ask for a breakdown. Many people feel that they do not want to cause any ripples as so much is depending on the relationship with the agency.  But it is a business and it is a lot of money and you need to know what is included and what is not.

When I was doing research for my adoption I spoke at length with a facilitator who quoted me a certain rate for her services 'that included translations' - I was impressed as I know the costs of translations can add up. Then she paused and stated "Oh actually as you are from the UK it is $800 more as your Home Study is over 30 pages long." The red flags started wagging as I knew for a fact that this was not true - my Home Study was only 19 pages long. She was betting on the fact that like most UK adopters I was not privy to my own Home Study and wanted to exploit that to her advantage.  (In the end I got all my translations done for 440 Euros).

Additional Costs

Taking the translation example above make sure that if they are charging to have all your documents 'ready' that includes notarisation as well. Also it is prudent to do a Google search to see the going rates of notarisation in the country you are adopting from. When I did my adoption in 2005 a Russian notary charged $2.50 per document so if you are quoted $20 a document you know that things are amiss. 

People on the Ground

Agencies work in various ways but their role is to locate your child. They may have relationships with the orphanages, hospitals, local social services or governments departments. It is through these relationships that they have access to children in need and children who are available for adoption. (Bear in mind that not all children without parental care are available for adoption or in fact for international adoption.)  Success or failure depends on the people on the ground.  Find out who they are and how long they have been working with the agency. There is a lot of secrecy around how an agency/lawyer/facilitator operates so it is important for you to find out as much information as you can.

Things can go wrong

As I have said before international adoption works on relationships. In an ideal world nothing would go wrong with your choice and selection of an agency. Sometimes through they change personnel, they don't deliver on services, they lose referrals, they put up their charges, they loose relationships on the ground, they think they have more secure relations then they do, they are not prepared, they are over stretched, they tell non truths in effect things can and do go wrong - hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.  What to do if things go wrong on the ground.

See 50 things that can go wrong with an adoption.  So like a prenuptial agreement you have to discuss the exit strategy if you no longer want to work with this agency.  If they are reluctant to offer an agreement that suits both, then I'd think about walking away.

Peter and Jo are not alone in walking away from an agency unsatisfied and leaving tens of thousands of dollars behind.  The agency was not forth coming in a referral and they kept on making excuses. They were not available to speak to, and the couple were getting red flags regarding the success of their adoption. When they decided to challenge the service and the money that they had already paid, they came across stick - the agency was having none of it.  They decided then, that the best course of action was to cut their losses and move on - a very expensive decision. 

Do not let this happen to you. Ask them what happens if you become dissatisfied with the service, or if for what ever reason you want to get out of the contract. Safeguard yourself.  This may be the most productive way for your to save money and heart ache on your adoption journey.

The contract


Many people are too frightened to confront the agency because of the power they have over your future. It is a very tricky situation but remember despite their role in your life they are still a business and therefore have to operate according to trade laws.  The US government recommend that ou only choose an agency that is registered with The Business Association.  You are perfectly within your rights to demand a better service, or connect any gripe that you have.

Do not believe everything that the agency tells you.  Sometimes the agency wants to get out of a situation and say something that they feel you cannot verify, like 'it is the law' - but this may not necessarily be correct.

Pat and Sheila were told that they were not allowed to visit their child in the orphanage despite the fact that they had already gone to court and the child was legally theirs.  They didn't want to challenge the agency and so were in the country 2 miles away from their child for over 4 days, distraught because they were now official parents - but where was their child? I cannot fathom why they would be told this untruth, especially when the child was legally Pat and Sheila's and  at such a crucial time for the baby and the parents and a time when some important bonding could have taken place. My only reasoning is that the agency did not want to be inconvenienced - deplorable service.

I have also been told on more than a couple of occasions that potential parents have to make the decision to accept or reject a referral within an HOUR of meeting the child. This was in Russia and completely untrue. You have 28 days to make your decision and if you are still undecided then you can ask for another 28 day extension to that time, and the application for extensions is unlimited.  It is in the best interests of the child, the country and your family that  you are 100% happy with your referral.  It is nobody's interest to adopt a child that you do not feel you can love or bring up. So if an agency says something ask them to verify it.

International Adoption Guide works with an intecountry adoption lawyer based in Italy who faciltates adoptions for UK and other families from various countries. She is able to manage all your adoption requirements in country. Please contact me for more details.  

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