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Adopting children is a process that's being transformed by the Internet. It's changing the way birth mothers and prospective parents find one another. But a new report says it also raises ethical concerns. Here's NPR's Jennifer Ludden.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: When Eric James and his partner decided to adopt last year, they signed on with a reputable adoption agency close to their home in Maryland. They've attended seminars at Adoptions Together, met other waiting parents, and feel a personal bond with staff. There's just one problem.

ERIC JAMES: When we entered the pool we were looking at generally a two- to three-year wait. And about six months in they reached out to us and let us know that the wait actually would be probably much longer than that.

LUDDEN: Why? Because pregnant women are bypassing the agency, seeking prospective parents across the country through the Internet. To speed things up, the agency advised James and his partner to get online.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPING)

JAMES: So here's our website. And it starts with a little carousel of photos of us.

LUDDEN: There are photos with friends and family, a letter to the birth parent, even bios of their two French poodle mixes.

JAMES: Essentially we're just putting together this marketing campaign to sell ourselves to a birth parent.

SHAWN KANE: Pregnant mothers have the ability through searching functions on various websites to customize the search.

LUDDEN: Shawn Kane heads American Adoptions, a fully licensed agency which also uses the Internet to reach out to pregnant women across the country.

KANE: For some women it's very important to have a family that is not around them. She doesn't want to have that chance of running into the child or the family later down the road. So it allows her to customize her search by location, by religion, by race, whatever she's looking for.

LUDDEN: What about all the counseling agencies provide? Many consider it crucial, to help a pregnant woman in crisis decide whether or not to give up her child. Sure, Kane says, some need that face-to-face meeting.

KANE: But there's just as many people wanting to get to know their options over the phone, because maybe they work odd jobs. They don't have the ability to come into an office. Or transportation's hard.

LUDDEN: While that may be fine for some, a new report out today finds a risk with the rise of Internet-based adoption providers.

ADAM PERTMAN: Anybody can hang up a shingle on the Internet. You just need to know how to build a website.

LUDDEN: Adam Pertman heads the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. He says a number of online facilitators have no legal license and no state oversight. Yet like a Wal-Mart crowding out mom-and-pops, many have huge advertising budgets that place them at the top of an online search. And their ads make promises no traditional adoption agency can.

PERTMAN: Adopt your healthy baby in six to nine months on average. Wow. I got to ask, what are they doing that they can promise babies in six to nine months?

LUDDEN: Shawn Kane of American Adoptions says it's simply the power of a national presence. But Pertman's report suggests some providers are reaching out aggressively to pregnant women, pushing the idea of adoption. Janice Goldwater heads Adoptions Together, the brick-and-mortar agency in Maryland that's lost business to online providers.

JANICE GOLDWATER: Because you'll often notice when you do a search, the first things that jump up is: We can pay for your college. We can get you an apartment with a swimming pool. That's a red flag, in my opinion, when somebody is being induced by things.

LUDDEN: Some states allow such payments. But not Maryland, which puts Goldwater's clients at a competitive disadvantage. And, she says, while some online providers are perfectly ethical, her agency's encountered others who are not.

GOLDWATER: We do have a number of adoptive parents who have told us horror stories where they've spent thousands of dollars connecting with people on the Internet that have not yielded a successful adoption.

LUDDEN: Her advice: If you do use an online adoption provider, make sure it's licensed, so any match it makes will be legally sound. Meantime, her client, prospective parent Eric James, is expanding his online search. Next up: a video on his website and ads on Google, aimed at catching the eye of just the right woman.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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