Parents replacing adoption agencies with the Internet - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Family

Parents using social media to adopt

For moms and dads who are trying to adopt, the wait for a child can take months or even years. It can also cost tens of thousands of dollars depending on whether they use an adoption agency, private attorneys or church groups. 

A growing number of families are turning to the internet and social media instead of using more familiar ways.

When Josh and Mandi Ohlinger tell their little girl the story of her adoption, it will start with an email.  

For other families, the story begins by pressing 'play' on YouTube, because that's where many prospective parents are going - online where the birth mothers are.

Mandi Ohlinger was surprised that a mass email she sent to her entire contacts list worked better than expected.

"I hit 'send' and, two weeks later, we are talking to Emma's birth mother," Ohlinger recalls.

Another couple, known only by their first names, Holly and Craig, are hoping for the same success. They're relying on a Facebook page and family website showing who they are and where they live.

Holly and Craig are hoping a birth mom will find their video among the parent profiles available on YouTube, complete with videos of family photos, pet pictures, home tours, even lists of their favorite foods!

All of this is geared toward what they think an expecting mom would like to see.

"You just don't know what's going to attract someone to you," Holly and Craig said during a Skype interview with America Now

For some families, these non-conventional methods work, but adoption experts warn about attracting the wrong kind of person.

Helene Nathanson, founder of Nathanson Adoption Services, says while social media expands a search, it largely eliminates your privacy.

"You're putting personal information out there and people can use it or abuse it," Nathanson warns.

The FBI has investigated numerous cases involving birth moms who tricked multiple families into paying expenses with no intention of actually handing over the baby in exchange. 

The Internet can make these scams easier.

So, if you go this route and find a match online, Nathanson says you should get an attorney immediately.

"There's a lot that you don't know about how to deal with them -- how to confirm information. How to verify information. Things you would typically hire an agency for," Nathanson warns.

Even without an agency's involvement, an adoption cannot be completed without filing papers in court with an attorney.

Nathanson recommends couples consult with an American Academy of Adoption Attorney.

They know the scams and they should also know the adoption laws in your state as well as the state where the birth mother lives. They will also be familiar with regulations over expenses and even advertising for a child.

The Ohlingers saved money on placement, but they still had stacks of paperwork and needed three attorneys for Emma's out-of-state adoption.

In the end, they learned that using their contact list instead of an agency's was a lot more work with a lot less support.

"You have no idea what the next step [is]," Josh Ohlinger says.

They recommend finding an attorney first and saving up for several of them. 

"You need to have thousands of dollars on hand -- thousands," Mandi Ohlinger adds.

Both families say the openness of searching online actually brought them closer to their friends and families.

"It's like everyone's in it with us, trying to help us along," Craig and Holly add.

For the Ohlingers, social media is now a way to stay connected to Emma's birth mother by sharing pictures and stories as their child grows up.

"In many cases, this is a wonderful thing for the child. Of course, as the parent, you monitor it," Nathanson says. 

As the Ohlingers look to find a second addition, they intend to start again at their inbox.

They're hoping that hundreds of 'forwards,' 'likes,' and 'shares' will help them to build that future family.

The families we met warned that using the web may be difficult if you're hoping for a closed adoption.

Once those communication lines have been opened on social media, your personal information and a way to contact you is out there forever. 

Experts say you should consider the relationship you and the birth mother may want in the future before prospective parents head online.

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information:  

Helene Nathanson is the founder of Nathanson Adoption Services. She recommends using an American Academy of Adoption Attorney (www.adoptionattorneys.org). Nathanson says that beyond the administrative and placement roll, agencies offer support and act as a buffer between birth mothers and families.

Mandi and Josh Ohlinger had eight IUI procedures before deciding to look into adoption. Josh was initially concerned about opening up their personal life on email because he was worried they would be answering 'Why?' from dozens of reply emails. When a birth mother was located, they had to quickly find an attorney in their state, an attorney representing them in the birth mother's state, and provide an attorney for the birth mother.

Holly and Craig successfully adopted their son, Matteo, with help from an agency. When looking to try again, they decided to expand their reach and search online. Here is a link to their adoption Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/craigandhollyadopt. Here is a link to their adoption website: http://craigandhollyadopt.com/. Here is a link to their adoption YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_Zy2tUmBNAs

 The following information is from a CNN report about adoptions via Internet searches (Source: <http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/03/10/adoption.internet.advertise/index.html).

  • With high demand for domestic infants, the wait for a baby can be months or years.
  • Going online to search for a child is cheaper, faster and reaches a wider audience than print or word of mouth.
  • Some parents are using YouTube videos featuring photos, home tours and interviews.
  • Some parents are writing on blogs and web sites while others are using Twitter, MySpace, Craigslist and Facebook.
  • Private adoption agencies have started encouraging parents to create a YouTube video.
  • There are an estimated 15,000 private domestic infant adoptions completed in a year.
  • Driving traffic to a site can be touch and blogs, videos and profiles must stand out to be effective.
  • There are no regulations and scams can happen.

The following information is from an article discussing Facebook as an adoption aid (Source: http://adage.com/article/digital/facebook-makes-adoption-easier-prospective-parents/140111/).

  • Domestic newborn adoptions can cost between $10,000 and $25,000. International between $30,000 and $40,000 because of legal work.
  • Adoption agencies are helping clients build profiles geared towards expecting moms.
  • An adoption agency known as The Cradle recommends parents use their own words, find a 'hook' to stand out (like a personal anecdote), consider your desired audience, be open about your status (marriage or single parent), and communicate your excitement.

The following are suggestions about how advertising laws play into interstate adoptions (Source: <http://family-law.lawyers.com/adoptions/Advertising-an-Unborn-Baby-for-Adoption.html).

  • Private adoptions (birth mother and adoptive parents control most aspects without assistance of state agencies) are legal in many states while other states make it illegal for anyone to advertise a child for adoption.
  • In many states its legal for adoptive parents to pay some of the birth mother's expenses (like medical bills) but illegal to pay for living expenses (like rent).
  • In most states, adoptive parents must be approved by a state agency or state-licensed adoption agency before they can advertise for a child.
  • Be aware of the laws in your state AND the state that the birth mother (or parents) live in, before going online or to the newspapers.
  • Adoption attorneys and agencies can advise.
  • Ask if you can advertise in your state and nationally.
  • If the birth mother changes her mind, ask about the state laws that deal with getting reimbursed for medical expenses.

The following article offers information to protect you from adoption scams (Source: <http://www.cnbc.com/id/46398186/Thinking_of_Adopting_Watch_for_Scams).

  • Do not hesitate to ask for a breakdown of expenses.
  • "Emotional scammers" contact adoptive parents claiming to be pregnant when they're not, just to get attention.
  • Have a third party verify the person's pregnancy before sending money, flying somewhere or getting emotionally involved.

 The following information is from the FBI regarding adoption scams (Source: <http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2006/august/adoptscams_082806).

  • Fake pregnancies, phoney agencies/facilitators are some of the adoption scams the FBI has identified.
  • Make sure you work with state-licensed agencies and facilitators.
  • Don't rely solely on the Internet, meet your facilitator or agency in person and ask for documentation and references.
  • Hire your own social worker to interview the birth mother.

The following adoption tips are from a CBS News report (Source: <http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500172_162-1128218.html).

  • Research the birth mother. If she does not want to meet the adoptive parents, make sure a lawyer or social worker is able to interview her and ask the questions.
  • Be careful with your money. Every state has laws about how much can be spent on legal fees, medical expenses and sometimes living expenses.
  • Look for red flags like money issues or over-eagerness. Make sure you have contact information, at least for her lawyer.
  • It's a business relationship, you're not making a friend.