Lori Barer Ingber knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, but upon finishing up her Ph.D. in public health, she was still waiting for inspiration to strike.
“I knew I wanted to do something to really make my skills useful,” she said, “and I quite frankly wasn’t exactly sure what that was.”
She soon found her answer in a dramatic way.
Ingber’s sister and brother-in-law had been waiting for months to adopt a child, but the agency in their home state of Connecticut had yet to find a match. They expanded their search by signing with a second agency, in Florida, but to no avail.
One day Ingber, who adopted two of her four children from Korea, was surfing adoption-related sites on the Internet and came across something that didn’t make sense.
“I found out about a baby in Alabama who didn’t have parents,” she said. “The adoption agency had this baby and they had no available adoptive parents. We certainly didn’t believe that.”
Ingber passed the message to her sister, who called the agency and confirmed the story.
“She flew down to Alabama and picked up my niece the next day,” Ingber said.
Six weeks later, the Alabama agency called Ingber’s sister a second time, saying they had another child in need of a home. Ingber’s sister soon had a son, too.
“That was my a-ha moment,” Ingber said. “I knew right then and right there that this can be done differently.”
Ingber called up a patent attorney and spent the next two years working with a Web developer to create Parent Match, an online platform to connect adoption agencies and attorneys. Ingber said the goal is to improve inter-agency communication, thereby improving the speed and efficiency with which those agencies are able to match children with adoptive homes.
“Nobody can believe this doesn’t happen, especially people who aren’t in the adoption world,” Ingber said. “They don’t believe people aren’t talking, but they weren’t. Not until we came along.”
Subscribers pay a fee of $299 per month for access to the site. Ingber said when a new family or expectant mother signs up with an agency, the agency can enter about five minutes’ worth of information, then let Parent Match search for matches based on a set of basic criteria. All matches are done confidentially.
Marni Denenberg, director of domestic adoption programs at Alliance for Children Inc., in Summit, said Parent Match is one of many tools her agency now uses to make adoption matches. “It’s not an everyday thing that I’m finding matches on Parent Match,” she said. “It’s just one way we can outreach to further this goal (of placing children in adoptive families).”
Denenberg said her agency already had relationships with some outside agencies, but Parent Match enabled them to quickly connect with dozens of new agencies. For the most part, that’s a good thing, though Denenberg said it can be something of a mixed bag because other agencies might not have the same standards, such as pre-adoption counseling for adoptive families or birth mothers.
Though parents can’t become members — only licensed adoption professionals may sign up — they can use the site to find agencies that use the service.
“It’s not only provided an opportunity for us to work inter-agency, but it’s also served as a way for families within our state to find us,” Denenberg said.
At least one lawyer cautioned that a website like Parent Match, while useful, is no substitute for doing due diligence before adopting. “It cannot be a substitute for independent verification of the adoption professionals that you get from the website,” said Jennifer Weisberg Millner, a partner in the family law department at Fox Rothschild LLP, in Princeton.
Millner has not used the site, but lauded its mission, saying it could serve as a valuable tool.
Parent Match now has 10 employees, spread out across the United States. Most meetings are held via phone or Web conference, Ingber said.
“We really practice what we preach — we are a technology-based company, and that’s how we operate,” she said.
Ingber said the patent for Parent Match is strong enough that she doesn’t expect competition. Instead, the challenge is gaining a critical mass so that the service becomes ubiquitous for adoption agencies.
“When that happens, the process of domestic adoption will change incredibly,” she said. “It will become more confidential, it will become more private, it will be more streamlined — and hopefully, it will cost less for everybody.”
Parent Match had 40 subscribers last month, though it just became available to adoption attorneys in February. The company advertises on social media and at industry conferences. It also hosts chats and webinars designed to engage the adoption community. Ingber hopes parents will be their best salespeople.
“The reality is, every parent wants (agencies) to do this,” she said. “This is private. This is confidential. This doesn’t cost parents anything, and there’s really no reason not to.”