The How-To of Domestic Agency Adoption for the LGBTQ+ Community

To mark National Adoption Month, Family Equality is spotlighting issues and stories related to adoption. Today’s story comes from Dawn Smith-Pliner, the founder and director of Friends in Adoption.

“Hi,” the nervous voice on the phone says. “I am hoping that you are able to help my partner and me in our quest to adopt a baby that needs a caring family.  We were a lesbian couple until a year ago when I transitioned.  We have been married for two years. We are eager to adopt and quite honestly, are feeling overwhelmed!”

This scenario and others like it play out every day, with some more successful than others. In the world of domestic agency adoption, unfortunately, some agencies may reject you simply because of who you are. Happily, there are many other agencies who will welcome you wholeheartedly.

It might seem like finding a needle in a haystack but stick with it. If you’ve hit a snag in your own search and aren’t sure where to turn next, let’s start with finding an agency that’s compatible with you and your partner’s needs:

  1. Grab your phone and navigate to the Human Rights Campaign  You will find a map and listing of Human Rights Campaign certified agencies. (It is a rigorous process for agencies to go through to become certified).  You may want to download a PDF of participating agencies.  
  2.  Write down a list of questions you want to ask the agencies such as:
    • How many LGBTQ+ families do you typically work with at any given time?  
    • What is the average cost to adopt from your agency? 
    • How long does the process take from start to placement of a child with a family?  
    • Do you offer an introductory session? 
    • Are your adoptions open or closed – and would we get to specify our preference? 
    • Does your agency provide post-adoption services?  

      You will probably have many more questions. These are just a few to get you started.  You are making a lifelong decision to become a family through adoption so it’s worth taking all the time you need to get your questions answered prior to committing to working with any given agency.
  3. Once you’ve identified a few agencies that feel like they might be a fit, check out “How to Assess the Reputation of Licensed, Private Adoption Agencies.”  While the article is a little outdated (2004), the majority of the suggestions remain relevant.  Many adoption agencies have closed their doors over the past three years so it’s worth the time to follow the recommended suggestions.
  4. Check out the agency’s financial health.  It may seem a little extreme, but remember again that you are making a lifelong decision that is rather costly, so it’s best to enter into your adventure with your eyes wide open! Check out the tax returns on the three top agencies you are considering working with. If none of those work out, move onto the next three.
  5. Know your adoption budget.  According to the Adoptive Families magazine’s report published in February 2018, the average cost for a U.S. newborn agency adoption placement is $43,239. So you don’t have $50,000 sitting in your savings account?  You are far from alone! No need to push the panic button – help is available. Start by accessing Family Equality’s Family Building Grants suggestions. You may also find additional suggestions for accessing grants and loans here. For other LGBTQ friendly folks with great suggestions, check out Help Us Adopt. They take first place in my book!
  6. Be sure to check out the Adoption Tax Credit – you may qualify! The adoption tax credit for adoptions finalized in 2018 is up to $13,810 per child. This is a non-refundable tax credit, which means that you must have federal tax liability in order to claim the credit. (If your modified adjusted gross income is greater than $247,140 in 2018, you cannot claim the Adoption Tax Credit.)
  7. Join a support group.  Navigating your adoption journey alone may be daunting.  In the company of others, you will be provided with shoulders to cry on and peace of mind to share with others when your child arrives home!  There are private Facebook groups for LGBTQ adoptive parents, as well as local LGBTQ Family Groups. Visit to find a group near you and attend one of my most favorite weeks of the year:  Family Week in Provincetown MA! LGBTQ+ families from around the world attend every year.  There are camps and activities for all ages – sign up early to be assured a space.
  8. Read! Abbie E. Goldberg is a good friend and many of our Friends in Adoption families have participated in her research.  While her book, Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children, is not adoption-specific, I would still encourage you to read it. Amazon writes:  This title provides a comprehensive overview of the research on same-sex parenthood, exploring ways in which lesbian and gay parents resist, accommodate, and transform fundamental notions of gender, parenting, and family. It integrates both qualitative and quantitative research. It highlights understudied aspects of same-sex parenting, such as termination of couple relationships. It offers practical recommendations in every chapter.

Now back to that couple from the beginning of this article. The couple made that fateful phone call to Friends in Adoption, my agency.  We welcomed them with open arms and hearts.  They wanted full transparency, as did we.  They were matched with an expectant individual who, when told of their background, stated that she loved them for who they were.  What could have been the elephant in the room turned out to be a gift given to all, in providing an honest and strong foundation for the child to flourish in. I wish you the same happy ending.

Dawn Smith-Pliner is the founding director of Friends in Adoption ( – a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) certified Innovator agency working throughout the country in the field of Compassionate Adoption since 1982. She loves being called Grandma Dawn by her ever-growing Friends in Adoption family. Dawn recently retired, but you can contacts Friends in Adoption at