As the name implies independent adoption is something that you do most of the work by yourself but it is not totally independent.
If you go with the full fledge adoption agency, they pretty much do all the work for you and they charge you for that. But in independent adoption, you still need an adoption agency to send your papers to CARA (this is why I say it is not totally independent) when you do all the paper work.
This is as far as the paper work is concerned.
Now coming to talk about choosing a child, full fledge agencies work with few agencies in India and they do the matching but in independent adoption, they will not do the matching nor search for you but you have to do the search by yourself from any agency of your choice. You'll be in direct contact with the agencies.
It appears that you save a ton of money in doing the work by yourself but you also have to factor in the hard work that you have to put in to it. Your time, phone calls, travel to visit the agencies in India, and above all taking a chance to commit a mistake. It appears that there are quite a few families that you have gone on this route quite successfully.
If I may add here, the new CARA draft guidelines. They say that the families will be completely prohibited from being in direct contact with the agencies and I personally asked this question to the CARA Chairman during the CARA conference in October and he said that Independent adoptions will not be allowed once the new draft guidelines go into effect. They were supposed to have gone into effect from January 1st of 2008 but they didn’t I do not know when they will go into effect but I would suggest to use lot of caution to take this route because of this uncertainty.
Last but the not the least, why do we need to send the papers only through an agency then? Well....CARA needs an agency to care for the child if in case of adoption fell through and need to rescue the child. CARA has some control on the enlisted foreign adoption agencies and as I understand it, that's the reason.