List of Red Flags in International Adoption

By on 9-28-2012 in International Adoption, Red Flags

List of Red Flags in International Adoption

One year ago, we posted a list of Red Flags in international adoption. Now we have modified some language, added examples and added four seven new red flags [This document is very alive!]. We have numbered each one as we intend on referencing these red flags in future posts.

Here is the list again:


We have started a list of that prospective adoptive parents need to consider during their adoption process. Not all will result in a bad ending, but it is one more way to assess the risks involved in international adoption. The more red flags, the more risks of unethical behavior, trafficking and possible failed adoption. We have listed them in alphabetical order. Please let us know if you have additions as we plan on this being a living document.

We also direct you to PEAR’s PAP Bill of Rights and PEAR’s AP Bill of Rights . If agencies followed these parameters, many of these red flags would disappear.

Adoption finalized before you meet child.

Age of child clearly different from paperwork.( ex. Child seems older when you meet for the first time than stated on paperwork or child is obviously younger than the facilitator/agency/orphanage claims. This could mean that child’s identity is being laundered.)

Agency asks for psych assessment of you if you question procedure.

Agency claims that all older children want to be internationally adopted.

Agency claims that there are plenty of available post-adoption care and resources available.

Agency claims the orphanage/foster home that is paid for /run by them is much better than locally-run homes.

Agency communication drops precipitously after initial payment.

Agency downplays complaint against agency or COA action – complaint due to disgruntled PAP or bureaucracy.

Agency downplays media articles on trafficking in the country.

Agency downplays special need.


Agency gives no receipt for cash payments.

Agency has threatened, harassed, or sued PAPs or APs who speak out.

Agency has trolls on agency-assessment websites or Yahoo groups.


Agency hiding behind religious beliefs/dogma to excuse unethical behavior.


Agency hiring facilitators known to have a checkered past.


Agency insists that their pilot program country is most/more ethical than country in same region.


Agency kicks you out of their internal message board for asking question.


Agency lying that child “really wants to be adopted.”


Agency previously Hague-denied.


Agency refusing to accept/acknowledge responsibility for unethical behavior.


Agency set up program very fast/no history in the country.


Agency stating that all children who grow up in orphanages are doomed to a terrible future.


Agency tries to convince you to change parameters of child after you have contracted with them (this may indicate that a bait and switchon type of child is occurring.)


Alternate process than what you contracted for when you get to the country.


Cash payments are handed off to facilitators/middlemen.


Country prefers PAP to be a certain religion or ethnicity but your agency says they can get you a referral anyway/downplays conversion to another religion (examples: Morocco, Pakistan, Armenia.)


Directly paying judge or other official when that is not part of stated country process (Judges never should be paid.) Other government entities may receive payments legitimately in the process but it should be stated in the laws and DOS


Discounting Hague regulations by your agency (Agency assuring you that even though the Hague regulations say one thing, it is ok to proceed another way.)


Disruptions from certain agency programs or country are being published in increasing quantity.


DOS gives a warning on proceeding to adopt from country.


Gag clause in contract.


Get Referral before you sign on to agency.


Get Referral before your homestudy.


Gushing praise of child to mask serious special needs.


Media articles of issues in country (current articles and check Schuster Institute, PEAR, PoundPupLegacy and REFORM Talk.)


Media stories about trafficking from orphanages still placing kids internationally.


Other PAPs being issued NOIDS in your country. (This will be very hard information to find. Support groups and sometimes the media discuss them. Lobbying efforts to publicize NOIDS need to be made.)


Pay fee, then learn country not really open and agency sways you to another country (bait and switch on country program. Recent Example:many Haiti programs post-earthquake.)


Pressure from referral agency or organization to adopt multiples, multiple unrelated or multiple SN children simultaneously (Example: Reece’s Rainbow.)


Process that agency tells you does not match DOS website.


Referral information same as every other family that is with the agency or coming from the same orphanage.


Referral photo of child different from actual child.


Region(s) start to shut down in the country or new regions that never placed children quickly open and start placing (young or female) children fast.


Size of fee varies for age of child (ex. Agency charges higher amount for young, easier-to-place child.)


Size of fee elevated for child with disability compared to healthier child or other agency’s fees from same country.

Size of fee varies for race of child (ex. Agency charges higher amount for white children).

Umbrella-ing agency. If an agency cannot become licensed in the placing country, you should ask why.


You are one of a long list of waiting PAPs and have already had to pay many fees. If an agency can only place x number of kids per year but you are multiple times x on the waiting list, then there is a problem. Either the placement won’t occur or there are not enough kids that need placement or will be able to be placed. Agency and program longevity need questioning.

Child about to “age out’ (become ineligible for US adoption visa) is claimed by agency to be “desperate” for a foreign family.
Homestudy or placing agency has no issue with relying on kindness of strangers to fund adoption costs.(Adoption should not be seen as a layaway plan.)
Hard-to-place children’s fees become deeply discounted or waived as agency’s “hold” on a child’s file will soon end. (Agency’s primary concern is for obtaining some fees from client and to continue in-country business relationships, not for child’s best placement. Children should never be “held” for agencies.)
Child placements are a Quid Pro Quo for adoption agency financing of orphanage or orphanage employees. (Child exchange/purchase for monetary gain of locals.)
Agency asks clients to post glowing reviews on websites or support groups on their behalf.
Agency asks clients to lie to DOS/US Embassy.
Local placement not considered or allowed. (ex. Foster family or extended family not allowed to adopt child; reunification with biological parent not attempted; underlying causes for seasonal placement in orphanage not addressed. Causes for seasonal placement include lacking heat in winter and migratory work.)



REFORM Puzzle Piece
There should be NO red flags EVER in adoption!


  1. Yes, yes, yes!! This should be printed out, laminated, and mailed to every single PAP.

  2. Is #5 necessarily a red flag? What if the agency in fact DOES offer appropriate post-placement support? (I understand that most don’t, but it is the LACK of resources that is the problem, not the representation of availability in and of itself.)

    • I questioned this one too. Our agency has a post placement department. They really are available. I have called years after our adoption and they were very happy to spend time with me to help me find resources and even followed up a week later to see how we were doing.

      • @Erin Martin,

        Your comment shows how important post placement support is! And yes, the lack of such SHOULD be a red flag.

        • Agreed! But the article states that if the agency claims to have plenty of support for post placement it is a red flag. I don’t understand that unless I am reading it incorrectly.

          • Oh, you mean # 5? I interpreted that to mean that the agency was telling PAPs that there were plenty of free/low cost GOVERNMENT SERVICES available to APs who adopted internationally and then had behavioral issues with their adoptees. There aren’t.

          • No, I did not mean *government* services but the *availability* of services. In many places around the country there are not the availability of services

          • Who was your agency? In many places, there are not *available* post-adoption care and resources.I should probably re-write that.