When it comes to finding a match through open adoption, agencies play an important role.

In fact, they could be the game-changer. A good agency not only brings together waiting adoptive parents and birth parents. It can guide them through every step of the process.

If you’ve looked online, you’ve probably noticed there are hundreds of agencies out there to choose from. And all of them promise more or less the same things: a successful adoption. So how do you know which one is right for you?

Finding the right agency is almost as as big a challenge as finding the right match. For waiting adoptive parents, here are some things you’ll need to consider:

  • Fees
  • Wait times
  • Record of success
  • Number of clients
  • Range of services
  • Geographic reach
  • Education and counselling

For their part, here are some important considerations for prospective birth mothers:

  • Pre- and post-placement counselling services
  • Professional and experienced workers
  • Level of accessibility and transparency
  • Number of waiting parents they work with
  • Geographic reach

No matter whether you’re a prospective adoptive parent or birthparents, choosing the right agencies usually boils down to asking a few key questions.

What’s your philosophy? Open adoption means different things to different agencies. What does it mean to the one you’re considering? What’s their approach, and do their actions match their words? Always look for an agency where the child’s interests — rather than the parents — come first.

Do I feel comfortable with them? Adoption is anything but simple. Because of that, and the fact that you’ll be working closely with your adoption professionals, it’s important to find an agency that makes you feel good — that’s not pushy or adds extra pressure. Chemistry is key.

How accessible are they? Because adoption is complicated, chances are you’ll have a whole bunch of questions. How easy is it to get answers?  When you contact an agency, how quickly do they get to you? What are their hours? Is someone available around the clock? Adoption isn’t a 9-5 job. Be sure you can reach their workers when you need them.

How established are they? Adoption is about trust. And it’s a lot easier to trust an agency that’s been around for years, especially if it has with a solid track record. But that will only tell you part of the story. For the other part, be sure to speak to recent clients to see what they have to say about the services.

How experienced are their workers? Being comfortable with your adoption workers is one thing. Having confidence in them is another. Find out what their credentials are, how long they’ve worked in the field, and how many situations they’ve been involved with. So much of adoption isn’t black and white. When you get into a grey area, it helps to have an experienced hand to steer you in the right direction.

What  services they offer? Not all adoption agencies are equal. Some offer lots of services; others offer just a few.  For adoptive parents, it’s good to choose an agency that offers a wide range of services. That way you don’t have to worry about restarting the process, with different professionals, at every stage. In the long run, it will cost you less as well. For birth parents, education and counselling is the key to having a successful adoption. For that reason, it’s important to find an agency that offers post-placement counselling as well as pre-placement help. Even if you don’t think you need it, it’s a nice thing to have in your back pocket just in case you change your mind.

What are their credentials? Make sure that the agency you choose is licensed and in good standing. One way to do that is to run their name through your local Better Business Bureau. Check discussion boards, adoption lists or blogs for information, referrals and recommendations. Or just contact your state department of social services for a directory. If things sound too good to be true, they probably are.

How much do they cost? This doesn’t pertain to prospective birthparents because the process is free for you. For waiting parents, on the other hand, it’s important to get a clear picture of what the agencies costs are. Get a copy of their fee schedule so that you know exactly what’s expected and when. Some agencies will give you a break for a failed adoption. Does the one you’re looking at have a refund policy, and if so, how does it work?

How big a net do they cast? Adoptions don’t happen overnight. So if you’re an adoptive parents who are looking for ways to cut down your wait time and perhaps save money at the same time, you may want to go with an agency that has offices across the country. More offices means more chances of being shown and more chances of being shown means more chances of finding a match. The other benefit, especially for people who don’t want to live in the same town or city as their child’s other set of parents, is that it puts distance between the two parties.

Whatever situation you’re in, don’t settle for the first agency you come across. Find the facts. Speaking to their works. Interview their clients. Finding the right agency could be the difference between an adoption that’s successful and one that’s not.