Which comes first, the child or the agency?

IMG_0061_2As you can tell, we have had a great experience with our adoption.  I participate in several different online groups or forums and find that I really like talking to people who are starting off in the process.  I have already written a few posts that are intended to help people who are beginning an adoption from China.  Now I am going to start a new series which is about choosing an agency.  Isn’t it rough that the most important decision you will make in the entire process happens right up front when you don’t really even know what questions you should be asking?  I will link these posts to my Adoption Resources tab as I write them and currently I am drafting four posts in the series–after this one will be Comparing Agencies, All About the Money, and Special Adoption Situations.

If you ask any sort of “How do I start off?” question in a China adoption group, there will be many responses which say “We found our child first and just used the agency he/she was listed with.”  To understand how this is an option you need to first have an understanding of the different designations of files in China for special needs adoption.

LID only files– To adopt a child from China, parents must first compile a dossier which proves that they are qualified to adopt.  The dossier is sent to China where it is given a Log In Date when it is logged into the Chinese computer system.  Children who are designated LID only are reserved for those who already have a dossier logged into China’s system.

Every time I see a file I’m interested in, it’s LID only. Why is that?  Don’t they want these kids to find families?!

Most of the people who adopt from China will want to adopt a child who is very young and with minor needs.  At a certain point, someone in China realized that the young children with minor needs were not going to have any trouble finding homes.  In fact, most agencies have a waiting list of parents who are waiting to adopt them.  People would “lock” these files before their dossier was ready, hit a snag with their homestudy or immigration approval and the child was still sitting around in the orphanage, getting older.  By reserving these files for people who already have a dossier logged in, it moves the children through the system faster, getting them out of orphanages and into homes.

What types of files are LID only?  What exactly does “young with minor needs mean?”IMG_0548

China decides whether a file will be LID only or not.  Usually it is children under the age of 3 with minor needs.  But because people overwhelmingly prefer to adopt girls, they will accept a girl who is older and with more involved needs rather than adopt a boy.  As a result, girls are often labeled LID only up to through age 5-7, or with more significant medical needs.  However, there are no established guidelines for this and it sometimes seems pretty random which files get the LID only designation–I once saw a 6 year old boy with four different special needs listed as LID only.

If you know that you would like to adopt a young child with minor needs, and especially if you want to adopt a girl, LID only is probably the route for you.  You should find your agency first and I suggest one with multiple orphanage partnerships.  Skip down below for more information on partnerships.

What if no one is interested in the file?  Will it always be LID only?

If no one has sent a letter of intent to adopt a child after three months the LID only file can be switched to special focus.  This opens a wider pool of prospective adoptive families for the child, and hopefully will enable them to find a family.  I do not know if this switch of label happens automatically, or if an agency needs to request it.

Special Focus Files- Special Focus files are files which are open to a wider pool of adoptive families.  China has some pretty strict criteria for adoptive parents including marriage/divorce, BMI, health, and financial guidelines.  You can request a waiver if you don’t meet some of the criteria, and sometimes with a waiver comes the requirement that you adopt from the pool of special focus files.  Because these kids need a little more help finding a family, China will allow single moms, those with a history of depression, or other special circumstances to adopt them.

Special focus files may be matched to a family who has not yet completed a dossier.  So when people say that they find their child first, they are referring to special focus children.

What is the profile of a special focus child?

Special focus files have a huge variety of ages and needs.  Young boys with minor needs are often designated special focus simply because fewer people want to adopt boys.  I have seen boys as young as 6 months with minor needs designated special focus (see previous comments about the designations being somewhat random).  Usually the young girls will have more complex medical needs.  Needs such as blindness, Down Syndrome, or children who need wheelchairs are almost always special focus regardless of age or gender.  Older children are more likely to have minor or repaired needs and are special focus because of their age.

IMG_0536So if I find a special focus child I’d like to adopt then I can be matched with this child before I ever start the process?  Is there a downside that I’m missing here?

Many people prefer to adopt from China by finding their child first, but there are a few downsides.  The first is that you do not get to choose the agency.  Maybe your child is with a great agency.  But maybe the child is with the most expensive agency or maybe you start reading online and hear only negative comments about this agency.  Good or bad, you are stuck with the agency who has the file that you want.  You might want to consider reading through the rest of the blog posts in this series to narrow down your agencies choices and then look at their waiting child lists to find your child.  At the very least, I would figure out which agencies to avoid.  Read through the Comparing Agencies post to see which questions to ask, particularly the section on asking how an agency will determine which family will be matched with a waiting child from a photolisting if more than one family is interested.

The other downside is that the process will seem longer for you this way.  Usually you would at least be through the homestudy process before you are matched and often your dossier would already be in China.  We were matched very early in the process and were absolutely in love with our son.  Then our social worker took six weeks after the last homestudy visit to write the homestudy.  She took a 2 week vacation!  Then we hit an immigration snag.  Our immigration officer said our file was on her desk and said we would be approved by the end of the week.  Instead, she went on vacation too!  It was so difficult to have seen our son’s face and know that he was just sitting in the orphanage getting older as one thing after another happened to delay our process.  Now in the end, our process was one of the fastest with him coming home in under a year, but everyone will hit snags.  Before you start viewing all the photolistings be sure to consider how you will feel about this aspect of being matched early.

You mentioned knowing which agencies to avoid, what sort of things should I look for that are red flags?

Many people, when still in the thinking about it stage of adoption, will view waiting child photolistings.  Agencies know this is a good way to get new clients.  Many of the established well-respected agencies will only list special focus children that they can’t place with families already committed to their agencies.  Other agencies who are smaller, or perhaps not quite so ethically minded, will manipulate their photolistings.  They use some variation of these bait-and-switch tactics:

  • Posting children they know they will place with other families.  They will post a girl with IMG_0179minor needs and when you inquire they will say that they have another family already committed to her but they would be happy to work with you to find another child for your family.
  • They selectively list a child’s needs so that she seems more minor needs than she is.  Many of the children now have multiple needs so they might only mention a heart condition and not cerebral palsy.
  • They keep old files up on their website to make it appear that they receive more files than they do.  I know that one agency in particular will keep children up listed as “matched” who have been home with families for over a year.  Remember that the amount of children you see on an agency photolisting does not in any way indicate the amount of files an agency receives.
  • Look at what they promise on their website.  Be very wary of any agency that still characterizes adoption from China as being young girls, or states that most children have needs that are minor, correctable, or already repaired.
  • The non-special needs (or “healthy” child) program with China is effectively no more.  If you find an agency who is still still accepting applications for this program even though the wait is currently more than 8 years for a referral, I would be concerned.
  • Check for the cost sheet.  I will talk about cost related issues in the next post but be aware that the most ethical and reputable agencies will post not only all of their charges for an adoption through their China program, but will also have a link somewhere to their total operating budget.  Some agencies may choose not to post this info because they don’t want to scare off potential clients because of the cost of adoption, but they should make it easy to obtain a full accounting of their China program.
  • You should not have to pay an agency to view waiting child profiles.  Many agencies will require at least an e-mail address and often have you fill out a prospective parent questionnaire.  Some agencies will require you to pay to view a file, or have a paid application with them to view a file, and while this isn’t necessarily a red flag be aware that many agencies will not charge at all for viewing a file so if you are in the “just looking” phase you can look at files with other agencies without any cost.
  • Watch out for pressure tactics.  Some agencies that fish heavily for clients through photolistings will let multiple families view a file at the same time and then place the file with the first family to decide to move forward.  While this method of placing a child is not unusual, some agencies can turn it into “Hurry and act now if you want this child!”  This is a big decision and if an agency is pressuring you to quickly commit then walk away.  It indicates the agency is more concerned about closing the deal than finding the best placement for a child.

To check any individual agency, do a google search for “agencyname + scam or ethics.”  You can also join the Rate Your Chinese Adoption Agency Facebook group and search for feedback there. Just keep in mind that no agency is going to please 100% of their clients. If an agency has a waiting child that you are very interested in, don’t be scared off by a bad review or two. Just screen for persistent serious problems. There are many great agencies out there!

I like the idea of finding a child first and I think we are pretty open as far as gender, age, and special need are concerned.  Where can I find waiting children to see if we can find our child?

There are a couple of different options for you. You can check different agencies’ waiting child pages.  If you are on Facebook you can join Find My China Child where you post what sort of child you are looking for and people post waiting children who meet that profile.

There is China Waiting Child Advocacy which is a Facebook group where advocates post children who have not yet been matched. It is a great resource to get more info on the various needs because when someone posts a child often in the comments someone will say “I’ve never heard of that. What would that special need involve?” and there will be a good discussion.

The Advocate for WC yahoo group actually has files which include snapshots of the shared list and folders which are arranged by need. So, for example, you could see all of the children waiting who have albinism.  Rainbow Kids also lets you search by special need.

There are also many different advocacy blogs.  Two of my favorites are Twenty Less and Coleman Bunk Beds.

Most of the kids you will find on advocacy groups are with agencies, but some agencies will release files if they do not have any interested clients.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been looking at special focus children I’m really overwhelmed by the needs that I’m seeing!  We have to adopt a special focus child because of <whatever reason> and I’m afraid we won’t be able to find a child that fits our family!

The children who you see on photolistings and through advocacy avenues are the children who are more difficult to place.  Agencies have access to a larger pool of children, and they will place those with minor or moderate needs first with people who are already clients of their agency.  If you sign with any agency then they will be looking for a child that meets the profile you submitted when you completed the medical needs form, and as a waiting client you will be considered when they receive new partnership files or they will be on the lookout for new additions to the shared list.

Partnership files– Under the partnership system, agencies cultivate a relationship with an orphanage.  The orphanage receives needed resources such as material aid, medical or teaching consultation.  Agencies can take more time to match the children with the right family who is waiting and the family has more time to review a file.  Agencies can travel to the orphanage and get more information on a child, to interact with them and get video to add to the file.  For older children or those with harder to place needs, the agency can advocate for them through newsletters, blog posts, etc knowing that they will have the file and not fear that after they find a family the file will have disappeared off the shared list.

I think the partnership system, while not perfect, is an improvement.  Once a month files are added to the shared list and it used to be that on that day there was basically a feeding frenzy while the agencies rushed to match families with files the instant they appeared.  Families had two days to make a decision, which wasn’t always enough time to get a thorough review from a doctor.  Files are still added to the shared list, but since many orphanages are now participants of the partnership system, there are fewer orphanages whose files are added directly to the list.

At any given time there are about 2000 children waiting on the shared list for families.  Of that number, about 300 will be girls and the remaining 1700 will be boys.  Many of these harder to place children will be passed from agency to agency for a time so that the agency can advocate for them specifically and hopefully after being highlighted at one of these agencies they will find a family.  I know people have concerns that the partnership system is preventing kids from getting families but files most are interested in (the young minor needs girls) are not going to languish at an agency, and even the boys will be placed within 3-6 months.  I think it is more likely that kids get lost on the shared list as their file stagnates without an agency publicizing it and maybe requesting an update.

Most agencies have at least one partnership now and larger agencies will have over a dozen.  The more partnerships an agency has, the more files they will have access to so you will be matched faster.  However, more partnerships mean a greater financial commitment from the agency so this will raise the operating costs of the agency and usually therefore, the fees you pay to the agency.  More on this in the money post.

 I’ve seen some files on agency lists that I’m interested in but they won’t transfer them!  It’s all about IMG_0653the money!

When people are searching online for potential children, they often become frustrated that an agency won’t release the file to the agency they are working with.  The potential parent has already made a financial commitment to their agency and it is understandable that they would not want to lose money by switching agencies.  At the same time, adoptive parents need to realize that agencies do need to make enough money to stay in business.  International adoption numbers have plummeted the past decade and there is now a lot of competition for the few families who are adopting.  Agencies especially rely on the files of young girls to make enough money to stay in the black.  Several smaller agencies have closed within the past two years, so this is reality for the agencies.

So when will agencies transfer files?  It depends on the agency and for some the answer is never.  Other agencies will transfer if they have no families who have shown interest in the file.  It is most likely that an agency will transfer a file if it is not a young girl, or if it is almost to the end of the time that the file is designed to them.  Typically agencies have LID only files for one month and special focus files for three months.  Agencies are least likely to transfer a partnership file because when they enter into the partnership agreement they commit to placing 80% of the files that they receive from the partner orphanage.  China will end a partnership if the agency does not live up to this part of the bargain.

One last thing to keep in mind is that while you might feel very sure this child is the child for you, agencies have experienced times when file transfers have not worked out.  A couple has assured them that they are committed to this child, they transfer the file, and a week or two later the child shows up on the other agency’s wait child photolisting because the couple changed their mind.  After agencies experience this a few times, they become less likely to transfer because they know that they will lose the chance to find the child a family if the couple they transfer the child for changed their mind.  So while you may be frustrated, keep in mind there is more involved than the agency not caring if the child gets a family.  With that being said, some agencies are better about transferring files than others, and it would be wonderful if all agencies would transfer the files of aging out children and those who have serious medical conditions. If you find an agency that won’t transfer the file you are interested in, ask when their designation for the file will end and if they will contact you or your agency if they still haven’t placed the child by the end of that time period.

Other posts in this series:

Comparing Agencies

All About The Money

Special Adoption Situations

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