Thursday, February 22, 2007

What do our agencies owe us?

I've been thinking a lot about this question lately. Really, what do they OWE us? Some things are a given. Here are a few things I think we should expect from our adoption agencies without exception:
  • A completely ethical adoption (not paying off one single person at any point in the line)
  • Professionalism (no talking to other families about you, no personal vendettas)
  • Honesty (telling families about the true nature of each adoption program rather than providing an overly optimistic outlook of it--telling families what IS, rather than what the agency wants the program to be)

But what about communication? How much communication do our agencies owe us? How timely should it be? Should we expect a response each time we call or email? Should I get the same exact information about MY case as another family should get about their case? Should we expect to hear all of the little details or are we only entitled to the big news? These are the questions that have been on my mind lately.

I've said before, there is a possibility I could begin to work in adoption again in the next several months. So I see these questions from both points of view and they are of particular importance to me right now as I consider my own future. I've been in both sets of shoes (so to speak). When I last worked in adoption I think that in some ways I may have been TOO open with my families. I wanted to share every tiny (I mean really tiny) detail with them because I know what it's like to be waiting for any little tidbit of information. I also made myself too available--to the point that I expected OF MYSELF to make phone calls at 2am if that's when referrals came (didn't want the families to wait one extra second). In return families expected me to be available to them constantly. And they became overly stressed and involved with the small details of their case. Eventually it was more than I could take...families calling at all hours...families cursing me out...families assuming that because their adoptions were taking longer that we must be doing something wrong (rather than seeing that things were going slower than some agencies because we weren't paying people off)! that's one side of the communication issue.

On the other hand we have agencies/personnel that give too little information, or don't communicate regularly...agencies that don't respond to some emails/calls but do others. Or personnel who are so inconsistent with their communication that families never really get a good idea of what their expectations should be regarding communication. Sometimes one family gets one piece of information and another gets another piece, but nobody is getting EVERY piece (so families bond together and share notes privately). This can't be ideal, right?

I've had a rash of people write to me privately recently asking "Is X normal?" "Is this how it always is?" "Am I expecting too much?" "How long should I wait for a reply before I call/email again?" It's very hard to answer those questions since every agency (and staff members within agencies) seem to have different standards.

What I want to say is this:

  1. I do NOT believe it is normal to have emails/phone calls go unanswered from your agency. I believe that agencies OWE us responses to our inquiries--no matter how many, no matter how often. It doesn't take long to send an email that said, "Don't know yet, but I promise I'll write/call as soon as I do." That's all we need, right? Just to know we're not being ignored. Feeling ignored creates resentment which causes us to wonder if we should really be trusting our agency with this most precious task (facilitating the adoption of our child). If your agency isn't responding to your inquiries within a few days (unless they've told you they will be unavailable) I think you have every right to be upset and tell them you expect more.
  2. I think that agencies OWE it to us to let us know when they will be unavailable. We are paying clients and deserve to know when X personnel will be out of the country, or when Y holiday will close the office. Doesn't take long to send a mass email to the agency list or to all of your clients to let them know you'll be away. I used to email my families even if I would only be away in the next state over the weekend!
  3. I think agencies OWE it to their clients to share information to the same degree with every family the information pertains to. One family shouldn't be given more or less detail than another--ever. Every family deserves the same amount of information on their case, and in a timely manner.

I could probably write about this subject all night long because it is so dear to me as an adoptive parent. It doesn't seem like brain science to me. I've worked with 4 agencies in the last six years (as an adoptive parent). I'll cut out the one I worked for and adopted from (too much bias there) but of the remaining 3 I only have glowing* recommendations for one: Adoption Advocates International.

We were only AAI clients for about a month, but in that month I saw so much much "doing it the right way"...the perfect mix of professionalism and personal touch. Every email I sent was replied to within the same business day...every call returned within hours...every tough questions answered with honesty ..,some of my emails being responded to by the very busy director, Merrily Rippley.

While on the AAI email list I saw how consistent the flow of information is from the agency to their families--even letting families know when they would be out of the office "for the afternoon." This is what we should all expect from our agencies. AAI isn't a small agency. Some larger agencies say that only small agencies can give that kind of communication. Not true--AAI proves them wrong. Some smaller agencies say that only larger agencies have the resources to provide such timely and detailed information (more staff). Not true either--I worked for a very small agency as was able to provide very detailed and timely communication (if I don't say so myself).

So...what do our agencies owe us? I think the number one answer here is RESPECT.


*I want to make sure that I was clear. I only have a *glowing* recommendation for AAI. Of course we didn't complete an adoption through them so how reliable is that recommendation?? One of the other two agencies we have used I absolutely would NOT recommend (A New Arrival) and the other we are still adopting through. Our current adoption has been bumpy and while I have been very happy with some things (ethical adoptions are at the top of that list) I have been less than pleased with other things.


Julz 10:55 PM  

couldn't agree with you more Anita ~ i was thinking the same thing today!!!!

Jen 2:59 PM  

I've struggled with that same question. I pride myself on customer service, which I think is a lost art in this country these days. I realize that agencies vary in their resources but, like you, I think there is a set level of things that should always be there. Everyone needs to be aware of how things will work. I think some standards and expectations should be shared with all clients upfront so there's no guessing. And there would be some type of service level that we can come to expect. That's what I'd do if I ran an agency. That's the hardest part for us clients. Now, if only we could all get the agencies to do just that.