When I posted my little rant about adoptive parents doing a fantastic ostrich imitation when it comes to ethics, someone posted a question in the comments about how, exactly, to do due diligence and research ethical agencies. I have done a little research myself and I'll share what I've found, though don't take this for the only way to research. And if I've forgotten something, please chime in and share what you have found to be effective.
First, let me describe how we went about research 8 or 9 years ago when we were first starting this journey. In some ways, even though our dependence on the internet was a bit less back then, I think it was a little easier to do research. I knew what agencies we were interested in and set about to investigate them. At that time, each country had a couple of pages run by other adoptive parents that were a sort of gathering place. People who had adopted from that country would list their names and what agency they had used and whether they were interested in being contacted. I went down the list and sent many, many emails to people asking about the agencies we were thinking of using. (While the agencies gave a list of references, I assumed that they would only choose people who were happy with them. I wanted a more unbiased review.) The emails I received back were illuminating. As a result of some people's experiences, there were agencies that I crossed off my list and was happy to not be involved with them. Because it was a private email, the respondents were much more likely to be free in sharing their stories. Sad to say, it was not unknown for an agency to slap a lawsuit for slander on a person if they publicly shared a negative review of an agency. You can see why people might be hesitant to share their stories.
Today things work a bit differently. While we have so much more information at our fingertips, I'm not sure it is really all that useful. Larger entities have become even better at protecting their online presence and probably much of what we see about any corporation or organization is heavily filtered. So what to do?
Here are the places I would look. First off, I would join the Yahoo group, Adoption Agency Research. I know these groups are going the way of the dinosaur and I'm not sure how much longer this one will be around. But if it still exists, join it and take advantage of the huge archives. People have been pretty free with their stories on this list because it is heavily moderated and there is some pretty eye-opening stuff that has been written. I think it will be a real loss when the list closes.
Next, I would go to the Council on Accreditation Monitoring and Oversight list and scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the list of 'Substantiated Complaints and Adverse Actions'. This lists nearly every agency (both for home studies and for placements) in the country. If there has been a problem with the agency, it will listed. Some agencies have had none, others have long lists of issues. Now, to use the list is a bit awkward. It looks as though you should just be able to click the agency name and it will immediately scroll down to that agency's listing. I couldn't get it to do that, so ended up having to manually scroll down to the agencies I wanted to look at. This is a good starting point.
Another great place to look through is PEAR's blog. This acronym stands for Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform and it's blog has a wealth of information. At least one of the founders of the group has been working towards ethical adoptions for a long time, starting with her experiences in Vietnam. The site is worth looking at.
Of course, there are always stories out there that are important to hear, but that don't always get reported for various reasons. To do good research, you need to be open to hearing and not dismiss out of hand the hard stories. The biggest criticism leveled against the two sites I'll share next is that they are too negative, the writer's don't like adoption, the stories cannot possibly be true. The only reason people say this is because they don't want them to be true. They want to preserve the rainbows and happy trees narrative and turn a blind eye to anything less than pleasant. But we need to hear the ugly stories as well. We need to know what we are walking into and not unknowingly contribute to a problem. We cannot fight against injustice if we don't know the injustice exists. You may not want to read them for long stretches of time, but you should take a look at Pound Pup Legacy and Research-China.Org.
Now the last recommendation I have for you is to use some common sense. For instance, learn the laws and regulations of the country you wish to adopt from. If an agency is breaking those laws, don't use them. I'll give you an example. When Vietnam reopened to adoption, one of the requirements was that each agency working in the country be licensed in the country. It was not considered legal for one agency to use another agency's license, yet it happened all the time. And parents defended these agencies because they often had fast timelines and thus 'more children could be rescued'. I never quite understood how parent could justify their agency breaking a law so blatantly, but they did. So, rule one, be sure your agency is following the laws of both countries. Even if you don't like the laws.
Second, look at your contract carefully. Some agencies were notorious for including a gag order that nothing negative was allowed to be broadcast publicly. Hmm... makes me think that agency has something to hide. A contract with an adoption agency is still a contract and can be negotiated. If you have a question or concern about something in the contract, ASK. Don't just sign it 'because of the child'.
Next, as one other commentor mentioned, if you are working with a country that has yet to sign the Hague, you should still work with an agency that is Hague accredited. It just makes sense. Nearly every agency in the country has now received their Hague accreditation and an agency that doesn't makes me wonder why. Yes, it is always a pain to fill out more paperwork, but if the agency is trying to tell you that by not getting accredited it is saving you time and money, I would wonder what they have to hide and why they don't think the accreditation would be issued.
Finally, when you receive a referral, if something looks fishy, it just might be fishy. For example, the older children who were adopted out of China who turned out to have living parents and were told this was a great way to get a US education... in all their files it said they were abandoned at an older age, yet not a single one of them could remember anything at all about their family. It strikes one as odd, doesn't it. Or an example a little further back. Once an orphanage director in Vietnam claimed to have been walking home one night through a cemetery and discovered 6 or 7 infants all laying on the ground together. You think? Or if there is information in a file that is blatantly contradictory... why is that? Now I will be the first to say that much of what is in our children's files (especially depending on country) needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But if you have significant concerns about something, don't just plow ahead.
Be aware of the game before you jump in. Know what the problems are. Actually, just being aware that there are problems puts you ahead of the vast majority of adoptive parents. Do not unwittingly hand over money to an agency which cares more about its bottom line than the lives of the parents and children involved. Be wise.