An adoption agency facilitates adoption by individuals and couples. The services offered by an individual adoption agency vary according to its mission, philosophy, and specialization. In general, adoption agencies match adoptive parents with babies and children who are available for adoption, evaluate prospective parents, and handle some of the legal issues involved in adoption. In addition, many agencies also provide counseling services to birth parents, also known as first parents or original parents, as well as to adopted children and adults. An agency may also be required by law to assist adopted people and birth parents in reuniting after a closed adoption.
In many cases, an adoption agency is responsible for entirely facilitating an adoption, including the process of matching a child or a pregnant woman to an individual or couple who wants to adopt. The adoption agency may provide counseling to the parties involved and will typically complete a home study, which is an evaluation process that determines whether prospective adoptive parents are fit to raise a child. The agency may also handle the process of getting legal paperwork signed, though parties to an adoption may also need to hire their own attorneys to represent their interests in court. In some cases, however, clients may only use specific services provided by an adoption agency. For example, if a pregnant woman wants a family member to adopt her child, she and the family member may approach the agency for assistance in completing a home study and filling out legal paperwork or may request counseling and mediation services regarding an open adoption agreement.
Laws governing the activities of adoption services vary considerably by jurisdiction. An adoption agency may be public in that it is supported by tax dollars and under the control of a government agency, or it may be operated as either a private charity or even as a business. In the United States, a private adoption agency must typically be licensed by the state in which it operates, though licensing standards can vary considerably. Some adoption services focus on a particular types of adoption, such as international adoption, in which children are adopted from foreign countries. Others specialize in domestic adoption, in which adoptive parents adopt a child born in their own country. In addition, many adoption agencies offer adoption services in accordance with a particular philosophy of adoption, such as open adoption, in which birth and adoptive families know each other and remain in contact after the adoption, and closed adoption, in which the families do not exchange identifying information and do not stay in touch with each other.