Once we decided that we wanted to pursue adoption, our first step was to choose an agency. There are several of them, most at least an hour drive from here, so we just started doing some research online. We looked around on their websites, read all the reviews we could find, and requested information packets from the ones we liked.
We started with Bethany Christian Services, attending their informational meeting in March. They were by far the biggest organization that we looked in to, and had the most requirements (which we didn’t necessarily mind, but it was worth noting). Next we checked out a small agency in Detroit called Morningstar Adoption Center. We liked that they were smaller and locally based, and had some wonderful reviews. The last agency (and the one we ultimately chose) was Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw. After speaking with the staff at CSS, we decided almost right away that they were the best fit for us but wanted to make sure we covered all the bases.
We requested references from each of the three agencies and met with a total of 7 or 8 couples who have adopted recently. We heard so many amazing stories and we were surprised by how different every single situation was. Although every couple loved their chosen agency (of course; that’s why they were given to us as references!), we loved that all three couples from CSS just raved about Elly, the adoption case worker whom we had already met with and loved, as well. She was very straight-forward and honest about the process, and she could give an example for nearly every question we had.
Some of the other things we considered and asked the agencies were:
- The average waiting time for adoptive parents
- How many children were placed each year, on average
- The number of failed placements each year (when a birth mother decided to parent after being matched)
- The type of counseling and assistance offered to the birth mother and whether pass-through expenses were allowed (money sent directly from the adoptive parents to the birth mother)
- The total cost (which was surprisingly different at each agency)
- The agency’s philosophy on the relationship between us and the birth family
- The details of the home study
Some of the major deciding factors:
- The expense. We know adoption is always expensive, and we are willing to do what it takes, but we didn’t find anything about Bethany that was better than CSS to make it worth paying double (seriously…we’re talking $12,000 vs. $25,000!). After all, paying more for the services doesn’t mean we get a better baby! Morningstar was pretty similar to CSS on a base level, but there were a lot of extra costs that could come up, and we weren’t comfortable with that. Both Bethany and Morningstar also allow pass-through expenses, which are funds given directly to the birth mother to help support her during her pregnancy. CSS does not normally allow this because it can cause more issues. Most of the assistance the birth mother needs can come from programs such as Medicaid. CSS works to make sure she is taken care of throughout her pregnancy without putting the extra burden and risk on the adoptive parents.
- The Home Study. The home study process through Bethany is pretty intense; including 30 hours of training, several home visits, multiple interviews, both individual and together and a reference from our pastor along with individual statements of faith. Again, it’s not that we mind any of this; it’s just that the home study is lengthy and invasive no matter what and Bethany’s seemed to be more so than the others. The process at Morningstar felt like the opposite. They didn’t offer any actual training or classes, with the exception of some recommended reading (if requested) and they even give the option of a “rush” home study if you pay the extra fee. Thanks but.. no thanks. We love the idea of being parents sooner rather than later, but we didn’t feel this was something we, or anyone for that matter, should rush through. CSS was right in the middle at a level we feel comfortable with, where we can feel well prepared but not entirely overwhelmed.
- The drive. Bethany and Morningstar are both about an hour and a half from us, but in opposite directions. The drive to Kalamazoo isn’t terrible, but considering how much we would be required to go back and forth, those miles would add up fast. The drive to Morningstar…was awful. I could happily live out the rest of my life without ever seeing those highway interchanges again. Seriously. So stressful. The plus side there was that we would hardly ever have to actually go to the agency. CSS is located in Ypsilanti, still about an hour drive, but closer than the others, easy to get to and in an area that we are both familiar with.
- The philosophy. One thing we truly love about CSS is that they are committed to doing what is absolutely best for the child. The general philosophy of the agency is that children should be raised within their birth families. Adoption is an option only when the birth parent feels her family is not a resource. CSS offers pregnancy counseling to all birth mothers and birth fathers, helping them explore all their options so that they are able to make the decision whether or not to parent. Though it doesn’t make her decision any easier, if she does decide to make an adoption plan it prepares her for what to expect when the baby arrives and she is less likely to change her mind when the time comes. The scariest part of the process as the adoptive parents is the chance you take. You can be matched, wait for months and even bring the baby home, but the birth mother has the right to change her mind (for a short period after birth). They say the decision is always made twice, once during counseling and again after the child is born. We will support the decision of the birth mother either way, as I cannot even imagine how difficult it must be for her. At the same time, it would be heartbreaking to have to return a child you thought would be yours. That’s what counseling is for; to help everyone involved to ease the pain of loss.
As for the other agencies, Bethany seemed to have a good counseling program, though they didn’t go into many details at the informational meeting. Morningstar was the most disappointing on this aspect. It may be that we just didn’t hear much about it, but it didn’t seem like they had much in the way of counseling for the birth family. We felt that their main focus was on the adoptive parents, and that is not what we are looking for. They do offer some counseling to help her make her decision, but they help her to explore all options which include parenting the child, making an adoption plan or aborting the pregnancy. We decided that we are not willing to work with an agency that would counsel a mother to abort her child. We also felt like their philosophy on birth-fathers was too stand-offish. The process may be easier without him involved, but he is 50% of the child’s identity and heritage. It is important for us and mostly, for our child to know who he is. Morningstar seemed to have the attitude that, if she doesn’t know, all the better. CSS works diligently to identify, locate and involve the birth father. Not only does this give him the opportunity to terminate his rights by choice, removing any possibility of legal action from him after the child is placed, but it gives us information on his family and medical history that we can share with our child.
Aside from those things, there were several other aspects that went into our choice in agency; Elly even mentioned that we had already done more research than anyone else she’s worked with recently…ha. Apparently most people don’t ask for references… Imagine that! That was our favorite part of the agency search.. We loved, loved, loved meeting with those couples! They had so much insight and advice to offer that was invaluable to someone just beginning the process.
So (in case you were still wondering) the agency we are working with is Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County!