As you consider adoption you may be overwhelmed by the options available and have no idea how to choose. The most basic question is: should you work with an agency or an adoption attorney and how should you decide? Although I run an adoption agency, I do not think that agencies are superior to attorneys. I think each is a good choice, but for different families.
Adoption agencies are highly regulated. They must apply for a license from the states and counties where they operate. The state oversees their operations and agencies must comply with state regulations. There are annual licensing visits to ensure compliance with the regulations. Depending on the state, they may examine staffing levels to ensure adequate staffing, as well as case files, and the financial stability of the nonprofit organization.
Adoption attorneys usually specialize in adoption, and are frequently members of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. These attorneys specialize in adoption and have special skills and training in family law. They must follow the adoption law proscribed in the family code for their state.
Agencies can do every part of the adoption through the court report. An attorney usually files for finalization, but a paralegal or the adoptive family can also do this paperwork. Attorneys usually refer their clients to agencies for home studies, as most states require someone with a Masters in Social Work to complete the home study. As you can see, agencies and attorneys must cooperate with one another on an adoption, but you will need to decide who you will hire as the primary support through this process.
Agencies tend to focus on counseling. Social workers primarily staff adoption agencies, but sometimes law firms also hire social workers to help with counseling concerns that come up in adoptions. Adoption agencies are nonprofit while most adoption attorneys run for-profit businesses.
In general, I recommend that families talk to both agencies and adoption attorneys. Once they have established that an agency is licensed and that the adoption attorney is reputable, they can choose whom to work with based on whom they feel most comfortable with.