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What You Should Know About Adoption Photolistings

By Dawn Davenport, Adoption Expert and Author of The Complete Guide to International Adoption

Adoption photolistings can be great tools to help you find your child, if you don't let your heart rule your intelligence. Follow this practical advice and advance warning signs for adoption photolistings.

An adoption photolist is adoptionese for a collection of pictures, usually posted on the Internet, of children supposedly available for adoption. Limited information on the child is available, and an agency is listed for you to contact for more information.

Absolutely nothing is wrong with finding a picture and information about a child, falling in love, and then adopted. So long as it is allowed by the country of birth (and not all do), it makes sense in many ways. After all, the child is the most important piece to this whole adoption business. Right? It isn't very different from the standard way of receiving a referral (apply to an agency, then receive a picture and medical information on the child).

The reason adoption photolists are used is that they work. They follow the basic principle of advertising - pictures sell; or to put it more poetically, "A picture is worth a thousand words." When it is used to find homes for children with special needs (older, sibling groups, medical issues), the hope is that potential parents will see the child first and the special needs second. In fact, this approach has been used for years by state foster-care systems in the United States.

But it is true that adoption photolistings have a bad reputation. They are effective because potential parents fall in love, but they are potentially dangerous for the same reason. After seeing the picture of a child, prospective parents start thinking of him or her as their child, and the way to get their child is to sign on with the agency that is listed. All thoughts of researching the agency are replaced by thoughts of getting/rescuing this child as soon as possible. A sense of urgency is created. "My child is ____ (waiting, getting older without us, needs me)." These thoughts can wipe out all common sense, or at least business sense, and people who are eager to become parents are particularly vulnerable.

Adoption photolisings have been used by less-than-scrupulous adoption agencies to lure parent into the agency. Once in the door and money has changed hands, that particular child may not be available either because she was never available for adoption or because she was offered to numerous parents at the same time and other parents were ready to adopt sooner than you. Once you are on board, another child will be offered as a substitute. This may be fine with you, but either way, the agency used the pictures of the first child to get you in the door and paying money.

Be extremely cautious of an agency that offer to "hold" a child for you unless you have completed your home study and have all your paperwork ready. If you think about it, it's not fair to the child to wait for you to get ready when he could be adopted sooner by another family. If you feel hurried or pushed to act quickly, run the other way. Perhaps the biggest warning sign of all is if the agency is not requiring you to become educated about potential issues with international adoption.

If you decide to throw caution to the wind, at the very least don't check your brain at the door (or, more accurately, "at the homepage").

Make a commitment to hold off emotionally attaching to the child before you have thoroughly investigated the agency. This is much easier said than done.

Be very cautious about when money is due and realize that getting a complete or even partial refund if things go south may be impossible.

Keep in mind that very real possibility that the child you fell in love with will not be the child that is ultimately available for you to adopt.

Get all the medical information that is available to thoroughly assess the child, and ask for more if needed. Have this medical information reviewed by an international adoption medical specialist.

Read books like my Complete Guide to International Adoption, as well as other recommended adoption books, to get a better understanding of some of the challenges of adoption.

Dawn Davenport, adoptive parent, researcher, author, attorney, and adoption expert, is the author of The Complete Book of International Adoption. This well researched book is an exceptional guide to anyone interested in adopting internationally. This indepth article on adoption photolistings is copyright protected and reprinted with her permission.
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