I want to start this post by saying that our adoption experience has been so easy and smooth compared to many I’ve heard. In the grand scheme of things, everything that mattered went very, very well. We hit it off with Miles’ birthmother and immediately felt a great connection to her, and she was resolute in her decision that we were the best parents for Miles.
We bonded immediately with Miles–we felt right away that he was our son. And he came home with us. So, really, that is all that matters and we know how incredibly fortunate we are. Every day I thank the universe for bringing such joy into our lives. I love this little boy more than I ever dreamed possible.
But the process side of it was not all unicorns and rainbows–we had some issues with the Texas agency we were assigned. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that it all happened very quickly. We were chosen, matched, and then Miles was born two days later. It was a whirlwind and it happened over a weekend and I know there wasn’t a lot of time for the adoption center we had been working with all along to educate us on what was happening. But at times we really felt like we were flying blind.
I think if we had time to research adoption law in Texas, things would have been easier. If I had time to research agencies, read reviews, and talk to other people who have adopted from Texas, we could have made an informed choice on agencies. But we didn’t have time for any of that.
Because the adoption center that we had been working with for the past 7 months (that we researched and felt very comfortable working with) is not licensed to work in Texas, they had to hand us over to an in-state agency. They did not tell us the name of the agency just that “good news–the Texas agency can handle the case.” We didn’t understand this, or really even the basics of how adoption works in Texas, when the match happened. We had been visualizing a certain type of experience and being able to work with our chosen agency throughout the entire process, through finalization. That’s what we signed up for. But in Texas, you cannot do it that way and placement must be handled through an in-state adoption agency that acts as “managing conservator.”
So when the case worker from the Texas agency showed up to administer the relinquishment papers, on day three of us being in the hospital, we were told we had to pay a rather large sum of money to her right then and there. This was not something we had been advised of before this very moment, and it took us by surprise. We had a plan for what we could pay and when and suddenly we had this additional large bill. On the list of services the fee covered were things that we had already paid for through our initial agency–creating our profile, advertising, matching us with a birthmother–big expenses that we had already paid for through another agency. We asked them why we had to pay for things that we did not need. We obviously didn’t need them to create our profile or match us with a birthmother. But they just said that was their flat fee and that they couldn’t just charge us for the services we were actually using.
This was the first thing that put a bad taste in our mouths. We really had no choice, because we were sitting there holding Miles and needed this caseworker to make the placement so we could leave the hospital with him. So we paid the fee, and it’s just money after all, but, honestly, it felt a little like we were being taken advantage of because of the situation. We would have done whatever she said–and she knew that.
We are still working with them–we have absolutely no choice in the matter–so I’m not really sure how much I should put out there about our experience for now. As we learned, in Texas, the adoption agencies are “the adoption police” with no one really policing them. They are in charge. You pay them (not a small amount of money) to help facilitate the adoption process (to manage conservatorship or the placement of your child until finalization) but they are not beholden to you and do not have to provide you any particular level of service. I think the law was written this way with good intentions, to protect the welfare of the child, but it puts all of the power in the hands of the agencies who can charge and do whatever they want.
So, to all of those waiting for your match–if it happens out of state, do your research. If you’re in Texas or another state with similar laws and have to use an in-state agency, read reviews on them, talk to other people who have experience with them, and interview them if you have time. Get educated on ICPC, what is needed, etc. so that you don’t have to do it all on the fly like we did. We were able to push our ICPC through probably a month earlier by being proactive.
If we had relied on the Texas agency alone to figure out the one hiccup we had with ICPC (a possible Native American heritage issue that turned out to be a false alarm) we would probably still be in Texas. They weren’t knowledgable at all on the issue (which was kind of mind blowing seeing that we were in Texas and all) so we consulted our own attorney. If we had gone on the agency’s advice and “legal guidance” alone we would have jumped through unnecessary hoops and spent MUCH more money in legal fees (to their lawyer of course) than was actually needed. Moral of the story I guess: If your ICPC turns out to be complicated at all and you are working with an agency you don’t know, don’t be afraid to consult a lawyer of your own who can give you unbiased advice.
There were other things that happened with this agency: our caseworker called me on day two of being in the hospital with Miles and told me–in a frantic voice–that she had gotten a call from Child Protective Services and that Miles was being discharged to his birthmother. She said to me, “What’s going on there? Did something happen? Did she change her mind?” You can imagine my shock and surprise and sadness as I was holding Miles and had just been having a great heart-to-heart talk with his birthmother. I had no idea what this caseworker was talking about, but of course I feared that our adoption was falling apart. Our baby wouldn’t be coming home with us, after all.
The caseworker asked me to go ask Miles’ birthmother what was happening. It didn’t feel like my place to do this, but I went in (very uncomfortably) and asked Miles’s birthmother if everything was OK. This was really difficult to do, because though I would have been completely heartbroken, I would have understood if she changed her mind and I really didn’t want her to feel like I was pressuring her. She said yes, of course, everything is fine. She was confused and then got upset, worried that something was wrong that she was unaware of. It was very stressful for both of us. After about 30 minutes, the caseworker called back to say that oops, she had gotten her cases confused and that call had been about another adoption she was working at the same time. You would think you want to make sure you had the right person before making a call like that. Super unprofessional.
This agency was also untruthful about a few things that seemed so trivial–they lied to us about court being closed on Good Friday (court was not closed; our caseworker just wanted the day off) and told us that they could not send our ICPC documents via email, only snail mail which would add days to our stay in Texas (ICPC later told me they absolutely could email them).
But the biggest lie they told us was that we should never, ever contact ICPC directly or it would delay our going home because ICPC would “put our file at the bottom of the pile.” But, after getting very frustrated with our agency and their excuses for not doing things (several times they told me their “email was down” and whenever we called, the people we needed to talk to were conveniently never there) I called ICPC in both Texas and Virginia to ask a couple questions and they were more than happy to speak with me and inform me of the status of our file.
They said they understood how tough it was to be out of state in a hotel with a newborn. The very nice woman at ICPC did not put us at the bottom of the pile–in fact, she kept our file on her desk and called me back to tell me she had received our paperwork and that we could go home. I wouldn’t recommend blowing up the phone lines at ICPC but if it’s been a couple weeks and you feel like you’re getting the runaround, it’s OK to call and check on the status of your case. They post contact numbers online for all ICPC personnel.
So, in summary:
– Learn as much as you can about the laws of the state you are matched in as soon as you are matched. Get informed and do it before you are at the hospital. Find out who will be supporting you, and to what extent. Find out what role the agency you have been working with will play going forward (if any). And find out what your costs will be so you don’t end up with a fun surprise like we did.
– Learn about how ICPC works and what documents are needed, especially if you have a complication such as possible Native American heritage. Don’t just rely on what the agency tells you. Here’s a link to the ICPC state pages with contact information. Call them if you aren’t getting answers from your agency or if you feel things are being held up.
– Don’t be afraid to contact a lawyer of your own for advice or guidance if you question the agency or the agency’s legal advice.
– Be proactive if you feel something is not right or things are taking longer than they should or that you were told. It’s quite possible that things just haven’t been filed that should have been.
Like I said, these things are so small in the grand scheme of things and they feel so petty now that Miles is here. But they did cause us some stress during what should have been a stress-free time (or at least free from stress like this). Just sharing in the hopes that some of you will be able to learn from our experience.