Working with an Adoption Service Provider

Selecting an Adoption Service Provider

Finding an adoption service provider to assist you through the complexities of adopting abroad is the first critical step to complete an intercountry adoption.  Finding a provider that you feel comfortable with, that shares your values, and that has a work style that suits you can make the process less burdensome.

Prospective adoptive parents pursuing an adoption from a Hague Convention country generally must work with an accredited or approved adoption service provider.

In addition, starting July 14, 2014, under the Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (“UAA”), prospective adoptive parents pursuing an intercountry adoption, regardless of the child’s country of origin, generally must work with an accredited or approved adoption service provider, unless, before July 13, 2013, the prospective adoptive parents:

  • filed a Form I-600 petition or a Form I-600A application, or
  • initiated the adoption with the foreign competent authority, as determined by the Department of State. (See information on Hague Transition Cases.)

Please see our FAQs:  Guidance on Whether a Primary Provider is Required in Every Convention Case and on The Universal Accreditation Act of 2012.

Not every adoption service provider has an adoption program in every country of origin.  Until July 14, 2014, where you plan to adopt will have an impact on whether an adoption service provider is accredited or approved. Intercountry adoptions are divided into two distinct processes under U.S. law “the Convention process” and “the orphan process”.

Important: An unaccredited or unapproved provider or facilitator is prohibited from providing adoption services to prospective adoptive parents in connection with a intercountry adoption unless the service provider is supervised by an accredited or approved adoption service provider or is acting as an exempted provider.  Section 404 of the Intercountry Adoption Act (IAA) imposes criminal penalties on adoption service providers who willfully and knowingly provide any of the six adoption services (enumerated below) in a Convention adoption case without being accredited, approved, supervised, or exempted.  Agencies or persons that continue to provide adoption services without accreditation, supervision, or exemption, are subject to the civil and criminal penalties in the IAA.  Civil penalties include fines up to $100,000 and criminal penalties include fines up to $250,000 or imprisonment up to 5 years or both.

As you consider specific adoption service providers, you can obtain information about the provider from public sources.  Every adoption service provider must be licensed by a state authority.  You can check with the state licensing authority to see if there is a history of complaints against the agency and, if so, whether any complaints remain unresolved.  Your local Better Business Bureau is another source of information about the adoption service provider’s reputation for conducting business ethically.  The Better Business Bureau can also tell you if there are unresolved complaints against a specific adoption service provider.  Checking sources like the state licensing authority and the Better Business Bureau is part of doing your “due diligence” before selecting a provider and will contribute to your peace of mind and confidence in the provider.  If the adoption service provider is accredited to provide adoption services in Hague Adoption Convention countries, you may also wish to check the accrediting entity’s public list of substantiated complaints and adverse actions applied to adoption service providers.

Some prospective adoptive parents find it helpful to talk to other families that adopted abroad about which adoption service provider they selected and why.  Questions to keep in mind include:

  • How well did the adoption service provider communicate with the family about their case?
  • Was the provider helpful, knowledgeable, and willing to share information?
  • Did the adoption service provider provide enough pre-adoption training and preparation so that the family knew what to expect and how to deal with the adoption proceeding abroad and with caring for the child after adoption?

Agency Operations

As you get closer to selecting an adoption service provider, the agency or professional should be willing to disclose specific information about its operations and procedures in writing.  Under the accreditation regulations, in Convention cases and cases subject to the UAA, accredited and approved providers disclose in writing to the general public upon request and to prospective clients upon initial contact, the following:

  • Adoption service policies and practices, including general eligibility criteria and fees;
  • The supervised providers with whom the prospective client(s) can expect to work in the United States and in the child's country origin and the usual costs associated with their services; and
  • A sample written adoption services contract substantially like the one that the prospective client(s) will be expected to sign should they proceed.

In addition, in Convention cases and cases subject to the UAA, accredited or approved adoption service providers disclose to client(s) and prospective client(s) that the following information is available upon request and make such information available when requested:

  • The number of its adoption placements per year for the prior three calendar years, and the number and percentage of those placements that remain intact, were disrupted, or were dissolved at the time the information is provided;
  • The number of parents who apply to adopt on a yearly basis, based on data for the prior three calendar years; and
  • The number of children eligible for adoption and awaiting an adoptive placement referral via the agency or person.

You may also consider asking for a list of families who have adopted through the provider and who have agreed to act as references for the adoption service provider.

Adoption Services

We refer to the core elements of an intercountry adoption as the “adoption services.”  In every Convention case, there must be an accredited or approved primary provider to ensure that each of the six named adoption services is provided in accordance with the Convention, the Intercountry Adoption Act, the Universal Accreditation Act, and their implementing regulations.  Your adoption service provider may be the primary provider in the case, or, if a supervised provider, your provider would act under the supervision of the primary provider in your case.

Beginning in July 14, 2014, every intercountry adoption case, including orphan cases, will need an accredited or approved primary provider to ensure the adoption services are delivered appropriately.

The six adoption services are:

  • Identifying a child for adoption and arranging an adoption;
  • Securing the necessary consent for termination of parental rights and to adoption;
  • Performing a home study and reporting on prospective adoptive parents or a background study and report on a child;
  • Making non-judicial determinations of a child's best interests and of the appropriateness of an adoptive placement;
  • Monitoring a case after a child has been placed with prospective adoptive parents until final adoption; and
  • Assuming custody of a child and providing childcare or any other social service, when necessary, because of a disruption pending alternative placement.

Fee Disclosure

Before providing any adoption service to prospective adoptive parent(s), the agency or person provides information about the total fees and estimated expenses and an explanation of the conditions under which such may be charged, waived, reduced or refunded, and how they must be paid.  In addition, in Convention cases and cases subject to the UAA, accredited or approved providers itemize and disclose in writing the following information for each separate category of fees and estimated expenses that the prospective adoptive parent(s) will be charged:

  1. Home study
    • The expected total fees and estimated expenses for home study preparation and approval;
    • Whether the home study is prepared directly by adoption provider itself, or prepared by a supervised provider, exempted provider, or approved person and subsequently approved by the accredited provider;
  2. Adoption expenses in the United States
    • The expected total fee and estimated expenses for all adoption services other than the home study that will be provided in the United States, including personnel costs, administrative, overhead, operational costs, training and education, communications and publications costs, and any other costs related to providing adoption services in the United States;
  3. Foreign country program expenses
    • The expected total fees and estimated expenses for all adoption services that will be provided in the child's Convention country.  This category includes costs for personnel, administrative overhead, training, education, legal services, and communications, and any other costs related to providing adoption services in the child's Convention country;
  4. Care of the child
    • The expected total fees and estimated expenses charged to prospective adoptive parent(s) for the care of the child in the country of origin prior to adoption, including costs for food, clothing, shelter, and medical care; foster care services; orphanage care; and any other services provided directly to the child;
  5. Translation and document expenses
    • The expected total fees and estimated expenses relating to costs for obtaining, translating, or copying records or documents required to complete the adoption, costs for the child's  court documents, passport, adoption certificate, and other documents related to the adoption, and costs for notarizations and certifications;
    • Whether the prospective adoptive parents will be expected to pay such costs directly or to third parties in the United States or in the child’s Convention country, or through the agency or person;
  6. Contributions
    • Any fixed contribution amount or percentage that the prospective adoptive parent(s) will be expected or required to make to child protection or child welfare service programs in the child's Convention country or in the United States, along with an explanation of the intended use of the contribution and the manner in which the transaction will be recorded and accounted for; and
  7. Post-placement and post-adoption reports
    • The expected total fees and estimated expenses for any post-placement of post-adoption reports that the adoption service provider or parent(s) must prepare in light of any requirements of the expected country of origin.
  8. Third party fees
    • The expected total fees and estimated expenses for services directly paid to a third party, which include, but are not limited to, fees to competent authorities for services rendered or Central Authority processing fees; and
  9. Travel and accommodation expenses
    • The expected total fees and estimated expenses for any travel, transportation, and accommodation services arranged by the adoption service provider for the prospective adoptive parent(s).

The provider specifies in the adoption services contract when and how funds advanced to cover fees or expenses will be refunded if adoption services are not provided.  Also, when the provider uses part of the fees to provide special services, such as cultural programs for adoptee(s), scholarships, or other services, it discloses this policy to the prospective adoptive parent(s) before providing any adoption services and gives the prospective adoptive parent(s) a general description of the programs supported by such funds.

Independent Adoptions

Some families seek to save adoption services costs by completing an "independent adoption" in which they attempt to complete all of the adoption services in the case by themselves or with the help of an unaccredited facilitator.  Independent adoptions are not possible in Convention cases and will no longer be possible in “orphan” cases subject to the UAA beginning July 14, 2014.  The accreditation regulations require the use of an accredited or approved primary provider in each Convention case and case subject to the UAA.

Also, keep in mind that some U.S. states and some countries prohibit independent adoptions.


If you are working with an accredited or approved adoption service provider and think your provider’s conduct may violate Convention principles, or that the provider is not otherwise in substantial compliance with the accreditation standards, you may file the complaint through the Department of State’s internet-based Hague Complaint Registry.  Depending upon the type of complaint, the Council on Accreditation (COA) may require you to first submit the complaint in writing directly to your accredited adoption service provider for resolution.

The Hague Complaint Registry pertains directly to accredited and approved adoption service providers.  Both the U.S. Department of State and the accrediting entity responsible for the ongoing monitoring and oversight of accredited/approved adoption service providers have access to complaints submitted to the Hague Complaint Registry.

If you are working with an adoption service provider that is not accredited or approved in a non-Convention case before July 14, 2014, or if your complaint is about something other than a violation of Convention principles or standards, you may also submit a complaint to our office at the email address  In addition, we recommend contacting the state licensing authority of the state in which your adoption service provider is licensed and the local Better Business Bureau.  Contact information for state licensing authorities is available from Child Welfare Information Gateway.

The U.S. Department of State encourages prospective adoptive parent(s) to report to the Department any adoption service provider that offers adoption in a Convention adoption – or beginning July 14, 2014 in any intercountry adoption case subject to the Universal Accreditation Act – without being accredited or approved, supervised or exempt.  Please refer to the Hague Complaint Registry to report the misconduct.

Help Prevent Adoption Fraud

How to minimize the risk of experiencing an adoption scam:  Use only reputable agencies, attorneys, and facilitators in your adoption case.  As your case progresses and you ask questions of your provider, be wary if the answers to your questions appear to be contradictory, vague, or unrealistic. The Consular Section in the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you plan to adopt can provide information concerning local adoption processes.  See Country Information.