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How to Adopt a Child | Part 3: Choose an Agency

If you haven’t already settled on an adoption agency by the time you choose between domestic and international adoption—and/or by the time you choose a country to adopt from—that’s the last big question to answer as you get started.

Table of contents:


Step 1: Domestic, Foster Care, or International

Step 2: Choose a Country to Adopt From

Step 3: Choose an Adoption Agency

Step 4: Adoption Fundraising Tips and Ideas

Step 5: A List of Adoption Grants

Like I said, there’s a lot of overlap between choosing a country and choosing an agency. But if you’ve settled on either domestic adoption or international and a country program, and are still on the fence about which agency to use, here are a few questions to ask and things to consider.


There’s a second tab in the spreadsheet to help keep track of some of this for you. Again, add columns for any other factors you want to compare. (Reminder: You’ll have to make a copy of the spreadsheet to your own Google Drive or Excel to make edits.)

  • How much is the application fee? We saw application fees between $250 and $350.
  • How much is the total estimate for your country program? Again, this seemed more important when we started than it does now. Prices will vary a little bit, but in our experience it’s fairly inconsequential.
  • Does the agency take care of travel arrangements? This may or may not be important to you, but it was to us. I’m normally not the kind of person to pay someone else to handle logistics, but when it comes to international travel to a country I’ve never been to for something as careful as this — I was happy to have someone with more experience set up as much as possible.
    As I type this, we are just beginning to make travel arrangements, and I am so glad we chose an agency that is helping with this. There is still plenty for me to do (visas and airfare and fundraising), but I am beyond exhausted when it comes to paperwork and research. I have a lot of other things to do and think about, and the last thing I need on my plate right now is the pressure of trying to book safe accommodations and in-country travel for my family, in a country on the other side of the world.
  • Does the agency do home studies in your state? Some agencies are set up with social services so they can do your home study. Others have close relationships with other agencies, and can recommend someone they frequently work with. Still others will leave it all up to you. It’s easier to work with an agency that does the home study too, because they have internal communication lines established.
  • What is the current, average wait time? This will depend a lot on your requests for adoption (if you’re open to more medical needs, for example, or you’re open to adopting a boy or an older child, the wait time is shorter), but you can outline some of your known preferences and get a general idea. Each agency works with a different number of families. A longer list may mean a longer wait time for you, coming in at the bottom.
  • What kind of results does their [country-of-choice] program produce? You can ask questions about how their internal process works, how long they’ve been working in the country you’ve chosen, how many children they placed in the previous year, etc.
  • What kind of post-adoption support is available? Different agencies offer different levels of support after you come home. It may not seem like a big deal, but it’s good to have as many options available as possible. So far, every offer or opportunity we’ve had for “support” has initially seemed unnecessary, but I’ve already drawn on—and been thankful for—them all.

Additionally, read through the website. Read the “About Us” page and learn how the agency came to be, and what their priorities are. Read or watch the testimonials from other families that have used them.

Then Google something negative about the agency you think you like: “AGENCY failed,” “don’t use AGENCY,” or “AGENCY is terrible.” See if anything comes up. Because the agency isn’t going to post bad experiences on their site, but you need to know if they’re out there. And if you find something you don’t like about an agency you were leaning toward, ask them about it. Send the representative you’ve been emailing a link and ask if anyone at the agency knows what that story is about. There are always two sides.

Finally, note how quickly they respond to emails and return calls. You’re going to have a lot of questions and you’re going to be working closely with these people for a long time. If they’re not responding quickly during the “sales” process (before you sign a contract), it probably won’t get better after you’re officially signed up.


There are lots. There are “the big ones” that will show up at the top of the list when you Google, and there are “small ones” that you might have to click over to page 2 or 3 for.

I was told, and you’d probably assume, that the “bigger” agencies would be less personal but maybe offer more services. You may also expect to pay a little more to a bigger organization that necessarily has more overhead. That was only partially our experience. One of the bigger agencies was pretty terrible about answering my emails … but then so was one of the smaller ones. And while we went with a bigger agency, expecting slightly less personal care and attention, we’ve been treated like royalty.

So hit up Google and crash international adoption groups on Facebook to ask parents for recommendations.

Here are the ones I talked to in the beginning, and some of my notes:

  • AWAA — Our faves (although I have no basis for comparison). I can only tell you that everyone I have talked to – from the first couple reps who helped us choose a program, to the social worker who did our home study, to our family coordinator who got us through the thick of the paperwork, and now our travel coordinator who is helping us make plans – has been very nice, very helpful, and very quick to communicate. If we do this again, we will use AWAA again.
  • All God’s Children — This group was a very close second for us. Again, everyone I talked to was awesome. In the end, it just came down to the level of assistance with travel arrangements.
  • Great Wall China Adoption — They only work in China. They look like a great group, but I never got a response to my first email.
  • Holt International — Definitely one of the biggest of the big organizations. I know families who have used Holt and had good experiences. They were helpful, but slower to respond to my emails, so I crossed them off my list before I really worked with them much.
  • Nightlight Christian Adoptions — This group was great too, super helpful and efficient. I explained our situation and the intake coordinator identified three countries that would be a good fit, and connected me right to their internal reps for each of the three.


And this is where your new friends at your adoption agency take over. They will send you huge emails and PDFs full of details—probably outlined one step at a time. You will still get confused and overwhelmed, and that’s when you email or call and ask for help. And they will help.

Your agency wants your adoption experience to be as awesome as possible. Partially because they are awesome people who love putting children into good families. Partially because—let’s be honest—your great experience is a sales and marketing tool for their organization.

The only other advise I can share is going to be about raising funds ’cause good golly you’re probably going to need all the help you can get.

It’s almost pointless to even think about grants until your home study is complete, because most of them want to see it. In the meantime, though, it’s never too early to start fundraising. So that’s what we’ll do next.

Step 4: Adoption Fundraising Tips and Ideas →