Adoption is brokenness. And our adoption community is broken.
My heart has been heavy all week. More scandal alleged in the adoption community, and this time by a consulting company I had heard mostly positive feedback about until the past year. A company I considered to be a formidable “competitor“ even before I was even a blip in this industry, but one I had originally wanted to emulate. I don’t pretend to know the details or all sides of this story, or the ins and outs of how this company operates. I don’t know what’s true or what’s biased, and I haven’t seen the evidence. But even though I am relatively new to this industry, I do know our community is broken. I know it is broken because I’ve seen it, felt it, and haven’t found a way to avoid it entirely or fix it.
Please excuse the length, emotion and possible incoherence in this post. I am running on empty, particularly today when one of my favorite Purl families experienced a disrupted adoption after caring for a baby for a week, in very unique and unexpected circumstances. I have had more Coke Zeros today than any person should consume in a week, haven’t really worked out in more than a week (my version of counseling) and I still haven’t done any of the holiday shopping I vowed to actually start today. I’m having an endometriosis flare up, and my four year old daughter is waking every night with newfound nightmares. And I’m too old to get no sleep, parenting two toddlers is a young woman’s sport and no matter what I tell myself, 42 is not young…
I started this business two and a half years ago, after seeing the brokenness in the adoption world from the perspective of a hopeful adoptive parent. We hired a consulting company for our adoption (not the one at the center of these allegations), but another popular faith-based company. Our consultant was very helpful in our journey, and I was glad that we had made the decision to hire her. I received more guidance than I would have from the agencies I signed up with alone, and I saw many more cases. Our consultant offered us a list of resources, but didn’t spend much time helping us prepare for adoption or helping us figure out the right professionals on their list for our journey. I was very naïve and ignorant at the outset of our adoption. I’m embarrassed about the things I thought when I was hoping to adopt, and about the preferences I had. I did so many things wrong. My home study agency provided little guidance, but got us approved to adopt in almost record time. I didn’t get any guidance on what the expectant mom might be feeling on the other side of these adoptions, except a short birth mom panel that I found on my own that brought me to almost uncontrollable tears. It wasn’t until well after I had adopted before I found the incredible adoption community online, and really became educated about adoption, either because it wasn’t as apparent/available or because most of the adoption professionals I encountered thought their way was best and didn’t seek out or share others.
When my husband and I matched on our first presentation, I quickly felt like something was wrong and I didn’t like some of the things I saw happening. Probably because I’m an attorney myself, I sought out counsel from an experienced AAAA adoption attorney shortly after we matched. This counsel was needed, notwithstanding that I had paid an exorbitant amount to our agency for many of the services this agency should have been providing. Even though I saw things that were wrong, I continued with this agency, because I was desperate to be a mom and I didn’t know of a better way. Through that experience, I learned of the brokenness in adoption and the deficiencies I seemed to find in almost every way to adopt, either through an attorney or agency. I saw what I thought were conflicts of interest abound that I was not used to coming from the corporate legal world where everyone had their own counsel and advocate. I learned a lot by being a client of a consulting company, even as a client I would consider satisfied. But It made me feel like I could do better.
Starting this business, I wanted to be different than other consultants out there. I didn’t want to just send adoption opportunities to hopeful adoptive parents with relatively little direction and insight. I didn’t want people just paying for a list of adoption professionals. I wanted to really help people, to educate them on what it means to be a hopeful adoptive parent and a parent through adoption, to keep the adoptee and their perspective at the center, and I wanted to guide people through this difficult process every step of the way. I knew that my perspective would be unique, because I was an experienced attorney, understood choice of law and how the legal process works, even if I hadn’t practiced in this area. But I wanted to spend real time with people, preparing them for the tough stuff, the “sitting in the hospital, getting no sleep and wondering if you were ever going to be a parent” stuff. The “leaving the hospital with an empty blue car seat” stuff. Teaching my families that no matter how many IVF cycles, miscarriages or difficulties they experienced becoming a parent, the grief may not be comparable to what that expectant parent is feeling as she holds her baby and considers whether she can go through with her adoption plan. I wanted to find agencies and attorneys that also cared about these things, and that cared well for the expectant moms and the adoptive families.
But it was harder than I expected to find really “great” agencies and attorneys. I intentionally started differently than my competitors, seeking out different adoption professionals than the ones the other consultants worked with. I sought out AAAA attorneys that were making matches at lower costs, providing separate counsel for expectant mothers, but still supplementing their legal expertise with quality case workers and counselors. I was surprised to find that many I connected with hadn’t ever heard of consultants, and confused this work with a facilitator, requiring more of my time on education. I sought out smaller agencies that were supporting expectant families and adoptive families, had lower costs, were handling the legal issues appropriately and in a timely manner, offering separate legal counsel for expectant mothers, but weren’t completely short staffed. I found a lot of really good ones, but there always seemed to be a “but”… I found good agencies, but then the cost was really, really high or cost was reasonable but they only served families in a particular state. I found agencies that seemed to have excellent care for all, but didn’t offer separate counsel for the birth family. I found agencies that seemed to offer everything I wanted to see in terms of support, but adoptive parents lost so much money in the event of a disruption that I couldn’t get families to consider their cases. I found agencies that limited the family’s losses in the event of a disrupted adoption, but were so short staffed that they wouldn’t even call their hopeful adoptive families back until I called them repeatedly. I found experienced adoption attorneys doing things well, supplementing their legal work with quality social workers and counselors for expectant parents, but who saw very few cases per year. I heard professionals criticize how others were doing it, without a solution or guidance on who to go to instead. Because of what I encountered in this search, I found myself giving agencies and attorneys a pass on areas they were deficient because of how hard it seemed to be to find the GREAT ones, ones without the “but…”. I tried to make up for the things that were lacking in others’ care by filling it with my time, my support, even though I was basically killing myself with all the time I was putting into helping my clients, and spending less time with my own family than I wanted. I was constantly staying up way past my bedtime (like tonight) to find time to read countless Facebook boards, online reviews and constantly talking to different perspectives in the community, but there seemed to be no consensus across the board on quality and ethics. But, overall I tried to do did what I sought out to do. I do believe I am different, and I do believe I offer more support for hopeful adoptive parents in their adoption journeys than what they might find elsewhere. I truly believe I give them a better way to adopt. It is just much, much harder to do than I expected, and I’m definitely not perfect and have made mistakes.
On Instagram and other social media platforms, @kindredand.co, @bigtoughgirl and @fromanothamotha have together come up with a list of thoughtful questions you should ask a consultant or advisor before hiring them. I think they can definitely help every hopeful adoptive parent find the right guide for their adoption journey. Some people have added other great questions to that list. To help you answer these questions, here’s what I think on these topics:
All of my families get a list of all the agencies and attorneys I work with, and extensive time with me discussing my experience with how each professional operates. I tell them the facts and help them determine if they are the right professional for them. I try and provide all the information I can for them to make an informed decision. I then speak with my families about each of the cases they see and are interested in, and help them understand the circumstances that would exist in that adoption if they were chosen.
My clients choose what professionals they want to work with, and, except in rare circumstances with certain agencies, what situations they want to present to. It is mindboggling to me that families are presenting to cases where they don’t know the professional they will be working with, and I’m so frustrated that “consultants” are popping up this way. I do not see these professionals as similar to me at all. Instead, I see these professionals tack on their “match fee” to the same situations I get from professionals, and then not even sharing the respective professionals until after an expectant parent chooses them. I can’t see how that doesn’t lead to more disruptions and heartache to the expectant families, and I do believe it violates the law in many states around facilitation. I support my families no matter the source of their match, even if they have self-matched or matched through an attorney or agency not listed through me. I make sure they are hiring experienced counsel and involving agencies, counseling and case management, as needed.
I vet those that I work with by speaking with them, visiting with them, and listening to all sides of the triad about this professional on all different forums. I attend conferences and seek out feedback rather than only waiting for it to find me. I don’t just vet on an annual basis because I am ALWAYS seeking out different perspectives on adoption professionals in our community. I follow up with my Purl families that have used them for their personal feedback, and factor that into whether that professional remains on my list. Since I don’t have direct contact with expectant families in my practice (otherwise I could be considered a facilitator), I can’t know exactly what these professionals do as they sit knee to knee with an expectant mom, but I do listen in any way that I can.
For attorneys, I prefer to work with Fellows in the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys, or (rarely) attorneys that have focused primarily on adoption for a substantial period of time. For agencies, I seek out professionals that have low up front fees, low costs, transparency in their numbers and in their practices, and care and counseling for their expectant moms. But I don’t stop there with either attorneys or agencies, I seek out reviews from clients, former clients and public reviews from birth moms or former expectant moms who have worked with them. I seek out feedback from the adoption professionals I trust and work with regularly. I search Facebook Adoption Groups, and, where possible, talk to families that have worked with them. As I mentioned above, I provide my Purl families with all of the facts I gather about these professionals, the pros and cons they might experience if they were to match or adopt through them.
I do not have a non-disclosure agreement in my Purl Client Agreement. People are free to say whatever they’d like about my services and my heart, and luckily have thus far received positive feedback. I do protect my work product (Attorney/Agency Lists and Adoptive Parent Guide) through a confidentiality provision in my contract, but only to protect what has taken me countless hours to compile but is always a work in progress.
I do not receive any fees or kickbacks from the attorneys and agencies I refer families to, and I believe doing so could even be a violation of my ethical obligations since I’m an active licensed attorney. On that note, I am “regulated” unlike all of the other consultants/advisors that are out there operating, and lack of regulation is commonly raised as a negative about consultants. If you have an issue with me and my practices, you can take it up with the State Bar of Arizona. Even though I am not acting as legal counsel for my families, I still have to operate ethically under the Rules of Professional Responsibility in non-legal matters. Now, that hasn’t stopped many licensed attorneys or agencies from acting unethically, but at least there is a forum to raise those complaints.
I require my families to communicate with me about any cases they see from any source so that they aren’t double presenting to expectant families, or are only doing so in exceptional circumstances that are approved by both professionals involved, with full disclosure to the expectant families considering them.
Given the amount of time I spend with my clients, my fees are very reasonable and typically less than my competitors, even though I used to charge $400/hr for my services as an attorney. I’m not sure I would even want to know what I am really charging on an hourly basis now. I make myself available for my families at all hours in any pressing situation. Thus far, I have put almost all the money I have made back in this business, so that I can provide better support for hopeful adoptive parents (soon I am going to have to stop doing that or my husband is going to notice… ) My decision to start this business resulted in a huge income loss to our family, but resulted in much more satisfaction in where I spend my time and energy, and helping others avoid at least some of the heartache and misdirection I felt in my own adoption.
I am a Christian, but I do not require all my clients to be Christian, nor do I push cases they aren’t comfortable with saying it was “God’s plan” that they adopt this child outside of their preferences. I do not know for a fact that this is happening with faith-based consultants (it didn’t happen specifically with our consultant), but I have heard rumblings of that. I know that many of the families I work with are Christians, and in those cases I will talk about my faith and how it played a role in my own adoption journey, However, I believe good parents come from all walks of life and all religions and I will help families whether they are Christian or have some other or no faith. I know that expectant families feel the same and will often seek families who are not Christian. I work with a few professionals who operate as Christian organizations, but most do not, and my families are fully informed of those facts upon review of my list.
I am often contacted by hopeful adoptive parents that just want to “get on my list”, to see adoption situations without the support and education I offer. I make clear to those clients that is not how I operate and if that’s all they are seeking, I’m not the right guide or advisor for them. I want my families to be educated and prepared for adoption, and that doesn’t happen by just sending cases, documents or a list of resources.
I have made mistakes, I am in no way perfect. I have included agencies and attorneys on my list that I later “un-recommended”. I forwarded cases on to my clients with lots of caution and warning, sometimes specifically noting that I lacked information to recommend them or specifically saying that I had concerns about their practices. I did that at times because I hadn’t seen ones from the “good” ones in awhile or because a family had just encountered a difficult disruption. I did this because I knew my hopeful adoptive families still wanted to see volume Ike the other consultants had, even though they could only be lower because we were trying to do things differently, and even though I had specifically warned them of that during our initial consultation. Those are the things that kept me up at night, and sometimes still do. I’m learning and I’m hopefully getting better.
Luckily, I have pushed through and developed more relationships within this community. I see enough volume from the good and great agencies and attorneys for my families to match and adopt within a reasonable length of time. My Purl families may not have matched as fast as my “competitors”, but I believe they felt more supported in the process and were generally happy with my practices and their adoption experiences, and I hope the birth families they are connected with also feel the same way. I take pride that my families are more educated, have more empathy and love for their children’s birth families, and more knowledge on how to parent a child through adoption, due at least in part because of my guidance and the resources I provided. I will continue trying to be different, and better, at all costs.