You’ve finally made the decision to adopt. Congratulations! Making the decision is just one step in a sometimes frustrating (but worth it) process. Now is the time to begin researching adoption agencies. You may find that there are a wide variety of agencies to choose from, and you may notice that some are licensed while others are licensed and accredited.
What is the difference between accreditation and licensing? Here are a few things to consider:
1) Child welfare agencies or ones that are considered a “child-placing agency” have to abide by state and federal laws and statutes in order to provide services to children and families. Each state has its own set of standards that agencies must prove in order to be licensed. It is non-voluntary. If the state requires licensing in order to perform the service, then agencies must obtain licensure. From number of staff per program to education levels and how items are documented, a licensed agency must continue to uphold the requirements asked of them.
2) Accreditation is an extra step that some agencies voluntarily take. Think “best practice.” For example, a licensed agency might need to show that staff are required to obtain 15 hours per year of ongoing professional training while an accredited one may need to show that staff obtain 25 hours per year of ongoing training. In essence, accreditation standards are higher than the ones required for licensure.
3) While working with an accredited agency is useful and beneficial, it may not necessarily be required. A licensed child welfare agency should be able to assist you in the adoption process. However, it is important to research what is required in your home state and the country you desire to adopt from (if choosing international) in terms of facilitating the type of adoption that you are interested in.
4) Typically, a license lasts for a term of a few years. The same goes with accreditation. Agencies are expected to provide substantial documentation that they are upholding both the licensing standards and the accreditation standards. Often, visits by the licensing or accreditation entity will occur on site at the agency, along with a survey of staff, clients, and records.
5) Licensing is state-by-state, meaning that each state has its own set of standards. Accreditation is not state-by-state. It is a governing system that applies to each agency undergoing accreditation regardless of what state the agency is in.
Making the decision to adopt children is one of the most important ones you will ever make in your life. It is vital that you research your options, speak with other adoptive parents, and make a query with various adoption agencies. Asking if an agency is accredited is not an offense to the agency. You are beginning a wonderful journey into adoptive parenting, don’t be afraid to ask!