Sunday, January 16, 2011

Agency Options and the Financial Aspect

With regards to an agency, we're still undecided.

We had a very good conference call with the firm in California, and we have another call scheduled later this week, but we're not sure at this point if we'll retain them. Though we personally know two families who have grown with their assistance, and though they have a number of excellent reviews, they also have some very bad reviews. We've read everything we can find on them with open hearts and minds, knowing that these processes are emotionally-charged and some of the negative comments about them can come from hearts still reeling from the pain of infertility and/or loss. Still, the points that were made drum up legitimate concerns for us that could make or break the whole deal. When we spoke to our case worker, we brought up these issues, and while she responded to them, her responses were generic (as they had to be) and didn't necessarily leave us feeling at ease.

For the sake of the privacy of friends who have or who are still working with them, I've tried to figure out how to address some of our concerns here without divulging too much of the financial information, but I can't figure out how to do that and make any kind of sense. Still, I'm going to do my best. E-mail me if you feel you need specifics.

First of all, let me say that adoption is expensive. Unless you're taking advantage of a foster-to-adopt program through a state agency, you're going to spend thousands to grow your family through adoption. Right now (2011), the government allows a tax credit of $13,170 to reimburse adoptive families for some of their expenses. Additionally, the military and some employers provide adoption reimbursement programs as part of an employer benefits package. James' employer provides a sizable adoption benefit, and the combination of these two things will go a long way towards covering our personal adoption expenses. In many cases, the two combined will cover our expenses in full.

The agency in California is essentially an adoption facilitation agency. That means they facilitate the relationship between a birth family and adoptive family, sort of like a recruiter or matchmaker. This group actively pursues birth parents through advertising and through relationships at maternity homes, clinics, etc. They invest a great deal of money both in advertising and in screening potential birth moms, eliminating those who are just thinking about adoption, and only taking on parents who are committed to the process. Because they financially invest in developing this pool of birth parents, they have a proven history of matching families very quickly, often in as little as four months, but because the process is so thorough, the birth families are so well-screened, and the process has the potential to be so short, the initial financial investment for the adoptive family is pretty substantial.

What we'd be expected to invest with this group alone would completely consume both our tax credit and our employer benefit. Birth mom expenses, finalization expenses, legal fees, and various other charges would pass through to us, and we could conservatively be expected to spend an additional $5,000-15,000 above the fees for facilitation. If circumstances were special, that number could jump even higher. All of the funds aren't due in advance -- a large sum is due with the contract and initiates the process, and the balance for facilitation is due when a birth mom is interested in matching with the adoptive family. Fees for documentation, legal fees, and other expenses are paid later to different groups or individuals. In total, the cost of working with this group to secure a domestic adoption arrangement costs about as much as adopting internationally.

While the money is not the issue, one of the issues we had did relate to the money. As most agencies do, this agency promises to rematch families if the originally matched birth mom backs out of the agreement. A complaint we read before our consultation was related to this promise. Every family signing a contract spends virtually the same amount, but the second amount -- the match fee -- is not due until a match is made. The family who complained said that this group did indeed connect them with a birth mom within a short amount of time, but she backed out soon after the match, and they'd been waiting over two years for a rematch. They accused the group of only presenting families who would still be required to pay the match fee, ignoring those who would owe no more money. When we asked our consultant about this complaint, she reminded us of a number of things that could delay a match -- preference in sex or race, preferences about birth parent behavior, etc. She said it was likely that particular family's specifications that delayed their match, and while she's very probably right, we still felt concerned.

Part of the reason we're pursuing adoption right now is because we know the process takes time, often years. We would like to grow our family sooner rather than later, but right now, waiting does not concern us. The opportunity for those twins -- presented privately and due so soon after matching -- was an exception, not the rule. We're working on this now, anticipating a somewhat lengthy waiting period. Still, waiting more than two years after such a substantial financial investment? No thanks. I imagine we'd be free to go with another agency at that point, but we'd just be out the initial $XX,XXX, and without a placement, we couldn't file to get that money back from anyone.

The little agency we planned on working with before discovering we'd conceived Brystol had only ever had one family wait longer than two years for a placement, and even that family felt comfortable waiting that long. (I got the impression that they'd declined matches, although I cannot confirm that.) We recently had another call with that agency, and while they only had eight placements last year, they only have five waiting families right now with another baby due tomorrow. If all goes as planned, they'll have four active families by the weekend. Four additional families are in the process of completing their homestudies and will begin being presented soon.

When we met with the staff of this agency in person, we really liked them and we trusted them. We felt secure giving them our money -- though the don't require any until a match is made. We're already a couple of steps ahead with this group -- we participated in the pre-application seminar a couple of years ago, and we've been invited to a refresher meeting at no additional cost. We're a few steps into the process of our homestudy, so that agency would complete it with us and could begin presenting us to birth moms as early as the end of February. Match through finalization with this agency is about 25% of the cost of the group in California because birth parent services, including counseling, are paid for by charitable contributions from the community. This little group really strives to minister to both families, adoptive and birth, and they work hard to keep total adoption expenses below the federal tax credit. If we chose to go with this agency, we could very likely designate the entire benefit provided by James' employer to cover the medical and/or living expenses of the birth mom, which would, I think, put us at a significant advantage. What is not advantageous aboutb this little agency is the very small number of matches per year, and the fact that this group does no advertising.

I've been reading about an agency in Georgia that seems to me to be a happy medium. While they aren't as aggressive about advertising as the California group, they do advertise. They advertise both to promote adoption as a general option and to promote specific families, and they advertise both in print and electronically. Also, I'm not sure yet how they do it, but somehow they have the ability to keep costs low in Texas. I don't know if they have a local agency office, but they quote low travel costs and low finalization fees, and they promote no need for Out-of-State agency (ICPC) fees. The overall listed expenses fall in between the two other options we've most closely considered. This group is a more expensive option than the little local agency, but they still fall well below the facilitation fees of the first agency (and that's not even considering the additional expenses due to people outside of the California group). Additionally, there's still room in our reimbursable funds for some unexpected charges before we'd be required to personally absorb expenses.

We feel a little guilty so carefully considering the financial aspect of this process, but the reality of our situation is that we already have children to care for and support. While it's true that we have access to a good bit of adoption assistance, it's all in the form of reimbursements and won't be returned to us for some time after placement -- maybe even a year or more. There are grants available for adoption, but the majority seem to be need-based (for which we don't qualify) or they're for international adoptions (an option we're not pursuing). There are also interest-free loans available for adoption, but at this point, we don't feel comfortable financing this process. Since we'll be paying for all of this in advance and entirely out-of-pocket, we anticipate some sacrifice to see this through, but we don't want to spend so much on a child that we might not have for a long while that we have to say "no" to many of the normal, everyday expenditures for the children we have already.

5 comments:

  • Jenny

    I feel so educated now! I seriously never knew all the things to consider when choosing an agency. I think it's so wise to be so thorough in your investigation. It's obvious you want to be good stewards of your money and very intentional with your decision. I'll be praying that you and James get a clear sense of direction.

  • Holly, Ben, and Reid

    Great post, Amanda! There are many different options to consider when growing your family...we will continue to pray for you as you make these decisions!

  • Anonymous

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  • Cassie

    what a great post! I too had no idea how many things were involved in the adoption process! You continue to be in my prayers as you walk through all the decisions you have to make on this journey.

  • Randi

    Wow. I don't think you should feel at all guilty for considering the cost ... in planned pregnancy circumstances, families also consider the cost of adding a child to the family. What a huge decision - I'll be praying for wisdom and discernment.

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