Nonprofit Private Adoption Agencies
A nonprofit adoption agency is usually very similar in terms of services to a for-profit adoption agency.4 The cost will be vary, (sometimes even more than for-profit agencies), the end goal will be the same for adopting parents, and the services provided to adoptive families will be similar. The difference lies in where the profits go when all is completed.
Nonprofit agencies qualify for 501(c)(3) tax exemption status with the IRS. This means they are eligible as a charitable organization, and their profits must go toward something outside the shareholder and company owner’s personal finances1. Some common causes a nonprofit adoption agency might support include furthering adoption education, aiding birth families through the process, hosting support groups and retreats, and supporting vulnerable families and children in and out of their agency’s scope. This said, it is also not uncommon for nonprofit adoption agencies to be vague in where exactly their profits go, so a little extra digging may be required to fully understand the organization in total.
Many of these agencies utilize their websites to highlight the nonprofit work they do, and some of them simply highlight their 501(c)(3) status as a major reason to go through them. Many of these agencies have religious/church affiliations. Children’s Home Society of Minnesota (Children’s Home) and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) is an adoption services agency whose mission states: “To express the love of Christ for all people through service that inspires hope, changes lives and builds community.”3 Despite qualifying as private agencies, many of them include programs that work with certain state foster systems to help match adopters with children and help adoptive families navigate fostering to adopt. Children’s Home Society of Minnesota (Children’s Home) and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) are examples, but there are many.
For-Profit Private Adoption Agencies
There are fewer for-profit adoption agencies. This may be due to the growing concern among prospective adopters about the ethics of the situation potentially leading to for-profit adoption agencies simply not being profitable enough or some other reason; however, the majority of information gathered to date about choosing the “right” adoption agency discusses checking if the agency is a nonprofit. Even some private adoption agencies, such as Bethany Christian Services5, still qualify as 501(c)(3) organizations. As stated above, the function of and services provided by for-profit and nonprofit adoption agencies are functionally the same. For the most part, the difference lies in where the profits legally are allowed to land.
National Adoption Agencies
National adoption agencies work with prospective adopters to find and place a child from any state in the US to any other state in the US. They must maintain licensure to complete adoptions in all 50 states. Due to the nature of the work requiring such a far-reach and large staff, there are significantly fewer national agencies than there are local agencies. This said, national adoption agencies reportedly have shorter wait times for placement and more options for placements. One downside to national agencies is the inability to meet with agency representatives in person, outside of potential long-distance traveling or online conferences/calls. Some of the most well-known national adoption agencies include Gladney Center for Adoption, Bethany Christian Services, American Adoptions, and Lifetime Adoption.6
Local Adoption Agencies
Local or regional adoption agencies are similar to national adoption agencies in that they match adoptive families with infants. The most significant difference is, where national adoption agencies work across state lines, local adoption agencies only operate within a specific region, usually a single state. This limits the scope of the agency’s search for a match and can take longer with fewer options, but local agencies allow prospective adoptive and birth families to meet with representatives in person and have assurance in the agency’s expertise surrounding their state laws on adoption.7
Public Adoption Agencies/Foster Care Adoption
Public adoption agencies are adoption agencies funded by the government. Utilizing a public adoption agency is oftentimes referred to as “Foster Care Adoption”. The requirements for prospective parents and the resources that can be expected from the government vary significantly from state to state.8 This is consistently the cheapest option. It also has the most transparency regarding what to expect. Infant adoption is more rare from the foster system than it is from private adoption.8 There are also unique issues the adoptable children within the foster system face leading to high levels of trauma among children within the system.
Adoption Through an Attorney
Adoption attorneys are utilized in most adoptions and are necessary entities in the process to navigate legal requirements, process documents, and work with the court system to finalize the adoption. Some people may choose to pursue working with an adoption attorney before working with an agency. Adoption attorneys are more likely to accept prospective adopters that have been previously turned away by private agencies due to things like age or marital status. They provide a greater ability to pick and choose the exact professionals an adoptive family wants to work with as well.
Prospective adopters are often required to find a social worker or otherwise qualified person to facilitate a home study. Attorneys also do not usually aid in advertisement and outreach, so, assuming the parents do not have a specific child in mind, they may have to hire someone else for that as well.9 Essentially, adopting through an attorney can significantly limit the resources an adoptive family has access to, but if a family feels they do not need a one-stop shop for their adoption, adoption attorneys can successfully facilitate a legal adoption and some are highly satisfied with this route.
Specific Agencies and Information Sources:
Gladney Center for Adoption
One of the nonprofit, national adoption agencies mentioned above is Gladney Center for Adoption.10 Gladney has been in operation for over 135 years, making it one of the oldest agencies in the US. One of the most expensive private domestic adoption agencies in the US, Gladney charges $55,000 per family; however, it is also incredibly transparent regarding the costs.17 Part of the cost prospective adoptive parents pay to work with Gladney is used to support Gladney’s nonprofit efforts. Gladney, among other things, focuses heavily on information outreach and dissemination.
One project created and funded by Gladney is called AdopteED, which focuses on providing high school teachers a “curriculum” outlining what adoption is, why it exists, and how it works. According to the AdoptED website, this “is designed to address the issues of teen pregnancy and school dropout rates, while offering factual information about adoption as one option to an unplanned pregnancy.”11 Overall, the content AdoptED offers is incredibly polished, complete with podcast episodes interviewing experts, short animated videos, and an interactive module (“Walking in Her Shoes”) created for and by AdoptED among articles and suggested lesson plans. Gladney as an agency and AdoptED as a teaching resource both receive high reviews across the board from Google reviews.12 This said, while the reviews are excellent and the course work is well-cited, the fact that this resource touts adoption as an all but wholly positive option without discussing the downsides and is linked directly to an adoption agency that stays in business in part through birth parents putting their children up for adoption is a conflict of interest at best and a coercive tactic at worst. AdoptED’s “I’m Pregnant” tab on its website is a hyperlink that goes directly to Gladney’s “Contact” page.
Affiliated Websites and Organizations include:
- AdoptED ←Clearly Advertised on Gladney’s website
- Gladney University ← podcasts and trainings for parents and people who work with children
- Adoption.com ← Gladney’s 2021 Audit shows that they spent $1,676, 673 on “community and outreach” alone, the second largest expenditure next to all expenses toward their “domestic infant adoption program” ($3,984,885) (41).
LDS Family Services
LDS Family Services is owned and operated by the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Culturally the Mormon church has been and continues to be against abortion, against having a child out of wedlock, and a strong proponent of maintaining large families. The official website for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says this about adoption: “Loving, eternal families can be created through adoption. Whether children come to a family through adoption or birth, they are an equally precious blessing. Children who are sealed in the temple to their adopted parents can receive every blessing of being part of their eternal family.”13 The First Presidency’s most recent instruction to the church regarding adoption and unwed mothers, dated 15 June 1998, states, “Every effort should be made in helping those who conceive out of wedlock to establish an eternal family relationship. When the probability of a successful marriage is unlikely, unwed parents should be encouraged to place the child for adoption, preferably through LDS [Family] Services”14.
Founded in 1919 as the “Relief Society Social Service Department”, the original intentions for the agency were to essentially act as social services agency meant to “eliminate the causes of poverty and dependence” for Mormon Church members.15 Over the years the Relief Society founded programs like the Indian Student Placement Program in 1954, a Youth Guidance Program for troubled teens in 1956, and an official private, nonprofit adoption agency in 1970. All of these programs are steeped in controversy. In 1969, the Relief Society, previously run almost entirely by women, was taken over by Mormon Church leaders. In 1973, The Relief Society was renamed “LDS Social Services” and separated from the Mormon church to exist as its own entity for legal purposes.15 The name was once again changed in 1995 to “LDS Family Services” and again in 2019 to simply “Family Services”, which is the name it officially remains under now.
Since it emerged as an adoption agency in 1970, LDS Family Services has facilitated the adoption of hundreds of children every single year until 2014 when it stopped providing those services. According to the official website for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “LDSFS has provided counseling services for between 800 and 2,000 single expectant parents per year and has placed between 300 and 600 children per year since the agency was organized”16. Compared to Gladney’s 57 domestic infant adoptions in 2022, these numbers are staggering.17 LDS Family Services was also significantly cheaper than any other private adoption agencies, charging a minimum of $4,000 and a maximum of $10,000 to church members.18 In 2014, LDS family services stopped acting as a full-service adoption agency and cited unwed mothers no longer putting their children up for adoption like they once did: “LDS Family Services, however, was set up on a different model, she said. “It was designed toward the 16-year-old who got in trouble and went to her [Mormon] bishop,” Pope said. “That doesn’t happen anymore. They don’t place. They parent.”’18. Now, LDS family services still exists, it just no longer acts as an official adoption agency. Instead, it provides counseling and referrals to both birth mothers and adoptive families19.
Adopting.com and Adoption Connect Technology
Adopting.com is a popular website/information resource for information on adoption. The website hosts blog posts, articles, and podcasts for all people involved in the adoption process. It also hosts registries for hopeful adoptive families to advertise as well as one for adoption professionals. The articles, once clicked on, clarify that this is a blog. The posts range from “how to” guides to personal stories to “inspiration” ideas and stories. The information is less expert-driven and more provided by people with lived experience or freelance writers.
This organization itself is for-profit and owned by a parent company, Adoption Connect Technology, another for-profit business. While Adopting.com’s services/articles are mostly free, Adoption Connect Technology’s other businesses seem to offer more paid options. Adopting.com also tends to directly link to these other businesses on their site when applicable.
Businesses run by Adoption Connect Technology include:
- Adoptimist.com: This website is essentially a large-scale adoption advertisement resource. It allows adoptive families to “boost” their profile to appear on social media, google ad banners and promoted across the website. Aside from advertising to adopters, Adoptimist.com advertises to birth mothers as well.
- BeFamily app: This app is advertised as a “Next-Gen Social App For Adoptive & Expectant Parents”. It currently has 0 reviews on the Apple app store, but the earliest version is from a year ago, making this app fairly new. It seems to function similarly to Adoptimist.com in that it attempts to match birth parents with adoptive parents. A 1-month membership costs $39.99, and there are other optional purchases outside of this.
Self-described as the “largest adoption site” with “1 million+ pages of content”20, adoption.com is (in the very, very fine print) a subsidiary of Gladney.
Similarly to adopting.com, adoption.com hosts blog posts, articles, podcasts, adoptive parent advertising, and adoptive services advertising. Unlike its counterpart above, adoption.com directly hosts incredibly extensive public forums on the subject of adoption21. Some of the topics of these forums include “Adoptive Parent Support”, “Foster Parenting”, “Adopting from Asia”, “General Parenting”, “Birth Parent Issues”, “Resources for Adoption Professionals”, “Search and Reunion”, and many more. The site also hosts its own reunion registry where birth families and adoptees can search for each other. Articles are significantly cited and sourced, but also advertise heavily across the site to pregnant people (at times by linking directly to Gladney’s site).
Adoptive Families: The How-To-Adopt and Adoption Parenting Network
This is a for-profit online publication first founded as a newsletter in 1968. Adoptive Families describes itself as “an award-winning resource for parents-to-be navigating the adoption process and for parents raising children through adoption.”25 The site provides over 40 years of first-person accounts, op-eds, informative articles, an advice column (“Ask AF”), resource directories, and survey data from their readers showcasing adoption costs. The 2016-2017 survey data remains the most relevant and comprehensive data on adoption costs. Many of the various publications are well-sourced, and the more informative ones are usually written by experts on the topic (i.e. the “Adoption Medicine” section is mostly authored by MDs or PhDs). This paired with the fact that the site seems to make its money off of subscriptions and advertisements instead of making money directly from new adoptions taking place lends more credibility or at least less bias to Adoptive Families than some of the other resources located to date. The website says it has over 45,000 subscribers weekly.26
Adoption Knowledge Affiliates
Founded in 1992, Adoption Knowledge Affiliates (AKA) is a nonprofit organization focused on “connection, education, and support”.27 The organization recognizes the complexity of adoption “Since 1992, AKA has offered essential knowledge and lifelong support recognizing adoption as a complex, ongoing and intergenerational process.”28 AKA hosts an extensive blog, an annual adoption conference, peer support groups and large group meetings, biological family search assistance, an adoption “lending library” with rare and out-of-print books, and a comprehensive resource guide on adoption.29 Overall, this source is not as comprehensive as Adoptive Families in terms of being a one-stop shop for most information, but it is the best site I’ve come across so far in terms of how they present the interpersonal aspect. Their blog posts tell stories and their support groups and conferences are clearly a large part of their mission.
North American Council on Adoptable Children
North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) is a US foster care-specific nonprofit that focuses heavily on the advocacy aspects of adoption and child welfare legislation.29 They also host webinars and educational events and implement training programs for foster/adoptive parents of children with more needs, among other initiatives.