Adoption Advocate No. 36: Avoiding Adoption Scams
Published June 2011 by Hal Kaufman†
Elisa Rosman, Editor
Nicole M. Callahan, Editor
Chuck Johnson, Editor
NCFA is committed to protecting the best interests of and advocating for all members of the adoption triad: birthparents, adoptive parents, and children. While it is possible for birthparents to be defrauded, the author and NCFA agreed to focus this article specifically on prospective adoptive parents. Future Advocates will continue to focus on the protection and best interests of birthparents and children, as well.
Most adoptions go well. The adoptive family has good intentions and works with adoption professionals who help address everyone’s needs and legal rights. However, the fact remains that adoption fraud does indeed exist. Creating a legally binding family through adoption isn’t always easy, and the existence of adoption fraud can make the process even more challenging.
It is important to note that not all unfortunate circumstances are the result of fraud. A finalized adoption may not occur even if adoption professionals provide all of the services for which a prospective adoptive family pays. An expectant mother may intend to place her child with an adoptive family, then ultimately change her mind and decide to parent before the end of the legal risk period. These are difficult situations,but they are not necessarily the result of fraud.
When it comes to adoption fraud, the biggest factor working against prospective adoptive families is their strong, “I’ll do whatever it takes” desire to adopt. Even when adoptive parents realize that something is amiss in a particular situation, their deep desire to adopt can sometimes override their instincts and logic and allow them to emotionally rationalize what is happening.
To decrease their chances of becoming victims of fraud, prospective adoptive parents must educate themselves about adoption scams, the common early warning signs that something is not right, and the actions they can take to help ensure a safe adoption.
While adoption fraud can certainly exist in international adoption, this Adoption Advocate focuses on domestic adoptions and the ways in which potential adoptive parents can recognize and avoid fraud.
An adoption scam occurs when an adoption professional, potential birth family, or prospective adoptive parent intentionally deceives another party for personal gain. The personal gain may be financial, but it may also be related to getting attention or experiencing a sense of power.
Here are just a few examples of fraudulent behavior:
To avoid experiencing adoption fraud, prospective adoptive parents must pay close attention to the warning signs and practice due diligence when circumstances warrant.
While multiple types of adoption fraud unfortunately can and do occur, the remainder of this article focuses on fraud perpetrated against prospective adoptive parents.
According to NCFA president Chuck Johnson, who spent 17 years working with hundreds of birthparents and adoptive families as the director of an adoption agency, “Many adoptive families that experience fraud recognize the seriousness of the warning signs only in hindsight. These families later acknowledge that they just didn’t pay attention to the red flags or hoped that, by ignoring them, things would somehow work out. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get out of a bad situation or take steps to learn more if you cannot identify the red flags early on.”
It’s important to remember that a red flag or warning sign doesn’t mean that a fraud will occur. It should be a trigger for adoptive families, however, to “dig deeper,” further research the people with whom they are working, and proceed with caution.
Here are some of the more common warning signs of adoption professionals defrauding prospective adoptive parents:
There are also warning signs related to birthmothers who may be attempting to commit adoption fraud:
Adoption scams existed long before the Internet, but the Internet does make it easier for scammers to find and take advantage of prospective adoptive parents. However, the Internet works both ways; prospective adoptive families can leverage technology to research both potential adoption professionals and potential birthparents.
Digging deeper isn’t just about technology, however. Many low-tech methods may sound obvious when you read them here, yet some prospective adoptive parents spend thousands of dollars and make major life decisions without doing the proper due diligence.
Prospective adoptive families should interview the professionals with whom they are considering working and meet them in person. It’s important to explore their values when it comes to adoption, as well as their expertise and ability to provide the required support for everyone involved. The decision to work with a particular adoption professional is too important to make without completing this basic step.
Families should also ask for references from adoption professionals and then do what many people fail to do – call them! Although the professionals will only offer satisfied clients as references, families can still ask important open-ended questions that can help provide insight into how the professional works. Make sure the references are from clients that have used the professional’s services recently.
Families should also contact a state’s bar association to research an attorney and contact a state’s licensing specialist to research an agency. It’s important to know whether others have made formal complaints against a particular professional.
The Internet and technology in general can also play an important role in further researching potential adoption professionals and expectant parents. Here are just a few examples of what prospective adoptive families can do:
There are many ways to substantially reduce the chances of being defrauded. Here are three of the most important tips:
Finally, although it is important to be educated on this subject, prospective adoptive families should not lose sight of the fact that there are many more expectant parents genuinely exploring adoption as an option and many more ethical adoption professionals trying to help than there are people preying on hopeful adoptive parents. Be aware, but not paranoid.
1 For more information about what expenses potential adoptive parents can legally cover, please see information from the Child Welfare Information Gateway at: http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/expenses.cfm
For 33 years, NCFA has been the authoritative voice for adoption. Our research and education programs have led the way in promoting sound, ethical adoption policies and practices that have enabled children to find nurturing, permanent families through adoption.
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