What Is the Difference Between Private Adoption and Agency Adoption?

Domestic Adoption

Whether you’re only just beginning to consider adopting, or you’ve already decided it’s the route you want to take to grow your family, you probably have questions about different types of adoptions. One of these likely concerns the differences between private adoptions and agency adoptions. Here’s a quick summary rundown of the differences in these domestic adoption types.

Adoptions through an Agency

Agency adoptions can occur either through a private adoption agency, or a public one. A private agency operates using private funds and should hold a license in the state where it conducts business. Public adoption agencies are branches of their state’s social services program. While private agencies handle international and domestic adoption processes, public agencies generally handle adoptions for children with special needs, older children, and sibling groups. Public agencies specialize in domestic adoption, and do not offer international options. This means that you’ll have to decide what type of adoption you want to pursue before choosing the right agency for your needs. In a private agency adoption, the birth parent(s) consent to the agency having guardianship of the child and the agency places the child with the adoptive family. In a public agency adoption the child is usually removed from the birth parent due to an allegation of abuse or neglect and their parental rights are terminated by the agency prior to placing the child for adoption.

Choosing an Agency for Adoption

Local adoption agencies can be found through adoption support groups, recommended by other adoptive parents, or through listings on government websites. Private agencies charge fees that range between $15,000 - $25,000 not including other expenses of the adoption in some cases. Public agencies generally do not charge fees, as they are supported by taxes and other government funding. Adoptive parents who choose a public agency adoption may not have to pay any (or at least, very modest) fees related to the adoption; in many cases, they are expected to pay the court costs of the adoption process. To ensure that you’re not caught off guard by the cost, inquire as to the fees and schedule for paying them before you begin working with an agency.

Private Adoptions

Also called “independent adoptions,” private adoptions are those that are arranged by a private party or that the adoptive family found through their own efforts such as advertising or networking, and not through an agency. In general, contact is made between a pregnant woman and the prospective adoptive parents, either personally or through a third party like a friend, program, lawyer or other entity authorized to perform those services. If you choose to pursue a private adoption, it’s important that you engage an adoption attorney to help you understand the laws and processes surrounding adoption prior to beginning the process. Legal in all but a very few states, private adoptions are very popular for families who wish to adopt an infant.

Choosing a Private Adoption

Private adoptions are generally initiated by locating a birth mother who is seeking to place her child for adoption. This can be accomplished through advertising in the classified section of local publications, through contact with an intermediary, or by sending your profile to crisis pregnancy centers or local obstetricians; you might even consider posting an advertisement on the internet. Some of these methods are not legal in all states, so it’s important to retain an attorney to ensure you don’t run afoul of the law when seeking a child to adopt.

Expenses for private adoption, whether a domestic adoption or an international one, can vary greatly. As with an agency adoption, it’s important to discuss the costs before agreeing to work with an attorney or other adoption facilitator.

Growing Your Family

Regardless of the type of adoption you choose, the process can be complex. Working with an experienced adoption attorney can mean the difference between a successful, smooth process, and one that’s fraught with disappointment and stress. When you’re ready to move forward with growing your family, contact Jennifer Fairfax, Family Formation Law Offices. With years of experience in all types of domestic adoption, adoption by same sex couples, and much more, Jennifer and Catelyn are eager to help you.


“I believe in working with each of my clients—in support of their family dynamic—to make the dreams of parenthood a reality. Whether you are single or married; or gay; a step-parent, a surrogate or intended parent or a child of adoption, it is my mission to serve as your advocate. With a dedication to the ethical and sensitive nature of each situation, I will help you understand the laws within Maryland or Washington, DC for adoption or surrogacy, and pledge to be your partner throughout the journey.” - Jennifer Fairfax