LGBTQ adoption is gaining steam. The number of adopted children with gay and lesbian parents tripled over the last 15 years. Today, all 50 states allow LGBTQ prospective adoptive parents to adopt. That’s a major change in our country’s moral position, but adopting can still be a challenge for LGBTQ people.

Variations in state law matter

Some states have recently ratified this discrimination in statute, allowing even government-funded agencies to turn LGBTQ people away. Choosing the best adoption agency for your family can be hard. It’s not right, but LGBTQ couples and singles looking to adopt usually have to do more thorough research than straight people. As many as 30% of adoption agencies are “faith-based.” Most are bound by the misguided principle that children “do best” when raised by a married heterosexual couple. Not all of these faith-based agencies engage in discriminatory practices, but a lot do.

Prejudices can also be reflected on an individual level. In the end, a child’s biological parents will have to choose you to parent their child. Some expectant parents have a narrow perspective on who should be parents, which can make wait-times longer for LGBTQ people.

Find an inclusive adoption agency

In this hostile environment, the first task is to find an adoption agency that truly respects and supports your decision to adopt.

Adoption agencies are well aware of the fact that LGBTQ experience significant discrimination, so truly inclusive agencies will advertise themselves as such. Take a look at an agency’s website. Do they feature a prominent non-discrimination guarantee? Are LGBTQ couples represented in their “Waiting Families” section? Do they have a blog that addresses LGBTQ issues?

Next, check out the Human Rights Campaigns’ All Children – All Families initiative, which recognizes adoption agencies that lead the pack in supporting and serving LGBTQ families. Also reach out to friends and family to learn about their own experiences. Once you’ve developed a list of local agencies that seem welcoming, start scheduling face-to-face appointments. That’s the best way to evaluate the agency’s values.

LGBTQ Adoption is Gaining Steam
LGBTQ Adoption is Gaining Steam

Be careful with independent adoption

At Adoptions From The Heart, we usually discourage prospective adoptive parents from working through adoption facilitators or adoption attorneys. In some states, so-called “independent adoptions” aren’t even legal. Even so, the benefits of working with a licensed adoption agency are clear. Unlike facilitators and most attorneys, adoption agencies provide comprehensive emotional counseling, a service from which many parents and children benefit immensely.

While some prospective adoptive parents think working with a facilitator or lawyer will be “simpler,” the truth is that independent adoption just multiplies the number of people involved. Facilitators and attorneys are extremely limited in their services. Facilitators, for example, can’t really do much on their own. They still have to hire an adoption agency to perform a home study and an attorney for all the paperwork. Lawyers, for their part, need to get home studies done by a licensed adoption agency. And families who work solely with an attorney will have to do all their own advertising in order to find an expectant parent interested in placing their child for adoption.

The simple truth is that only licensed adoption agencies are legally-allowed to perform all of the services that make up a successful adoption. Moreover, most licensed agencies provide a range of services that, while not strictly necessary, can be quite beneficial.

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Maxine Chalker, MSW / LSW, is the founder and executive director of Adoptions From The Heart, a private non-profit adoption agency that The Human Rights Campaign recognizes as a leader in serving LGBTQ families.