Congressmembers Doug Lamborn (CO-05) and Annie Kuster (NH-02) introduced the In Good Standing Adoption Agencies Act of 2023 (H.R. 5540) in the House of Representatives last week, a bill that would require the federal government to publish a list of licensed, private, 501(c)(3) adoption agencies in each state.

While private adoption agencies can provide wonderful services for families frustrated by overwhelmed, slow-moving or unresponsive public systems, unethical agencies can manipulate birth parents, adoptees and adoptive parents for personal gain.

Private businesses — both for- and non-profit — need money to stay afloat. When successful adoptions are a company’s primary source of income, workers can become incentivized to force adoptions through.

These bad actors can sometimes call themselves contractors or consultants to get around state laws, or they might meet licensing requirements in only one or two states.

H.R. 5540 would require states to tell the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which private, non-profit adoption agencies are licensed in their jurisdiction, and which have been disciplined or sanctioned for not following the laws.

HHS would publish the national list every year so mothers could find reputable organizations that are licensed across multiple states and won’t milk them for money.

“Unlicensed, unethical adoption entities are currently taking advantage of vulnerable women, potential adoptive parents, and babies in need of safe homes,” Lamborn wrote in a statement about the bill. “The [act] will provide women facing a crisis pregnancy and potential adoptive parents with safe, ethical, and sound adoption options in their communities and states.”

Dr. Sharen Ford, Focus on the Family’s Director for Foster Care and Adoption and the retired Manager for Permanency Services for the Colorado Department of Human Services in the Division of Child Welfare Services, says the bill is necessary to protect birth families, adoptees and adoptive families — the adoption triad.

“Having a list of vetted, licensed adoption agencies by state will provide families access to credible information when they are making life changing decisions,” Ford explains.

Unethical for-and non-profit organizations can devastate families navigating the complicated adoption process.

Birth mothers in these situations commonly report feeling coerced or manipulated into giving their babies up for adoption. Some report being encouraged to move to states with no revocation period — a time for birth mothers to take back their child after placing them for adoption. Others say they were told they would have to repay any money they received for prenatal care and other essentials if they changed their minds. Still others remember being told their adoption agency would call Child Protective Services if they didn’t go through with the adoption.

Prospective adoptive parents are also vulnerable to the ravages of these agencies. Depending on their fee structure, companies can drop potential parents whose first adoption falls through because its no longer profitable to match them with birth families. Other times, companies can take money from more prospective parents than they have babies in need of adoption. When one non-profit failed in 2017, hundreds of paying adoptive couples discovered the company had accepted more prospective parents — and their $2,000 monthly payments — than children needing adoption for years.

Lamborn’s bill must pass in the House and the Senate before it can be implemented. Use this link to track the bill’s progress through Congress.

Additional Resources:

Tips for Choosing a Foster Care or Adoption Agency

Understanding the Differences Between State and Private Foster Care Agencies

Adoption Triad: What Is It and Why Should We Care?


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