If you would like to adopt from China, you need to fit three sets of criteria: China’s, your placing agency’s, and your social worker’s. Some of these you can work around and some you can’t. Often choosing your placing agency carefully can help you with these issues.
China really has only one unbreakable rule for their special needs adoption program and that is that both parents must be 30 years old. You never knew you’d be looking forward to your 30th birthday so much! Some agencies will not let you even begin your homestudy until both parents are 30, but others will let you begin at around 29.5 so that you can mail your dossier to China on your 30th birthday. This will shave a good six months off your wait time, so be sure to ask prospective agencies what their policy on this is.
All of China’s other rules are more like guidelines. They are generous in granting waivers, but some agencies are more willing to ask for waivers than others. It is important to get opinions from multiple agencies before giving up!
Age- In Asia there is a long tradition of grandparents raising their grandchildren while the parents work. For this reason, while China is strict on the lower age limit they will allow older parents to adopt even into their early 60’s. It greatly depends on the parents’ health, ages, and the age of the child. Older parents are more likely to be approved for older children. Jean shares her experience adopting as an older parent here.
Health- Mental health issues are a big red flag for China. Depending on the individual situation, some agencies can obtain a waiver so you can still adopt. Cancer waivers can also be obtained.
Income and family size- China is very generous with these waivers and you are more likely to run into an agency who has a problem with these. Which brings us to . . .
Marriage and social issues– It is possible to get a waiver from China if the couple has more than the allowable amount of divorces in their history but placing or homestudy agencies may have different criteria. If you are an unmarried female cohabitating with a partner, some agencies may decline to work with you because they feel it is important for children to be placed in families with parents who are married. A few agencies will require a statement of faith, meaning you sign that you share their protestant Christian views. If you are not Christian or a non-mainstream Christian (Jehovah’s Witness, LDS, etc.) you will more than likely be turned down by these placing agencies.
Family size– There are plenty of large adoptive families but there are also many social workers, agencies, and even states who want to establish a cap beyond which no family may adopt. If you have a choice of homestudy agencies, try to preview social workers to see if they are prejudiced against large families. Placing agencies vary, so shop around.
Pregnancy– Some agencies will require that you put your adoption on hold if you become pregnant during the process. This means that if you have already been matched with a child, you will no longer be able to adopt that child. Other agencies may be flexible or not care at all.
You might assume that if China allows a practice, such as adopting two unrelated children at once, then your agency will allow you to do so. This is not the case. All placing agencies determine their own guidelines for adoptive families. Sometimes even when a placing agency will allow something, the social worker who writes your homestudy might not approve your family for that situation. For example, a placing agency might not have a problem with you adopting an aging out child who is older than your oldest child but your social worker opposes disrupting birth order and she refuses to approve you for a teenager in your homestudy.
You mean agencies think their rules are more important than finding these kids a family!? I’m going to choose an agency that understands that each family knows what is best and what they can handle!
Before I discuss these situations, we need to understand the reason behind these rules. Generally, the older the agency the more likely they are to stick with what are called “best social work practices.” These are things such as only adopting one unrelated child at a time, keeping birth order, avoiding “artificial twinning” (ending up with two children of the same age), etc. In most other countries these practices are not allowed but our American independent streak rebels at those sort of absolute guidelines. Many agencies now are allowing these practices, at least in some situations. Why would other agencies not allow these things? Because agencies which have been around for decades have seen a lot of failed adoptions. I spoke with a representative of an agency often characterized as being “conservative” and “having a lot of rules.” I was told that their top priority was finding the right family for a child. They wanted to make sure that the adoption was successful and they didn’t want to risk the child’s placement by matching them with a family with the potential for disruption.
People in the adoption community love the happily ever after ending. People who aren’t in the adoption community love it too, just look at the movie Annie. We all want to believe that every adoption ends with a child being united with their “forever family.” (If there is anyone left on earth who hasn’t read Jen Hatmaker’s After The Airport post then now’s the time.) And most adoptions are successful. However, we need to acknowledge that there are times when adoptions fail. People who have had a failed adoption usually do not stay within the adoption community so you rarely encounter their experiences in your online groups. You will only read about the happy endings. When you are trying to decide if you should pursue an adoption you might ask in an online forum “Has anyone else done this?” Keep in mind that the responses are already pre-selected to be favorable. When it works out for people they are happy and want to encourage others. When the outcome was not good, they do not want to be condemned by the adoption community and so they leave. Even though I have been in the adoption community a fairly short amount of time, I have already encountered two different families who complained about how their social worker was making them “jump through hoops” before approving the match they wanted, and then a year later when the child/children were home, they were writing on their blogs that their adoption was failing. My intention in writing about this is not to scare anyone off from adopting an older child, out of birth order, or adopting two unrelated children at once. I only want to stress the importance of making an educated decision and having realistic expectations about the difficulties involved in making such adoptions successful.
An adoption disruption is when the adoption is not completed, such as when a couple travels to China but decides not to complete the adoption once they have met the child. An adoption dissolution is when a legal adoption is dissolved, although this is commonly referred to as disruption as well. Try to imagine for a moment an older child, who has grown up in an orphanage in China. One day an American couples arrives–the Mama and Baba they have always dreamed of! But a few months or years later and things aren’t going well. There could be any number of reasons why. Will the child go back to the familiar orphanage in China where he or she has spent most of his/her life? No. Now an American citizen, this child will stay in this strange land, where they may or may not speak the language. What happens to this child now?
- They might end up in the US foster care system. Often this is a last resort for parents because they fear they might lose other children in their home or that it would rule out the possibility of their adopting again.
- They end up re-homed. Sometimes this is done informally through online networks or another official adoption may be facilitated through an agency.
- They have a tragic ending.
When things like this happen people inevitably say “Why did the agency let that happen? Why weren’t these parents prepared? We need more education, better screening!” It’s the complete opposite of “Each family knows what is best and what they can handle.” Hopefully now you have a better understanding of why some agencies have this criteria, because not every family does know what they can handle until they get there. We need to acknowledge that people on both sides of this issue are working for what they see as the best for the adoptive child. One side says “They need a family, disruptions are rare and it’s better to take the chance to get them a family” while the other says “Disruptions are real and we need to wait for the best family for a child rather than chance putting them through the trauma and upheaval of a disruption.”
Creating A Family has a radio show discussing adoption disruption and dissolutions.
Let’s look at the three most common issues where parents clash with agencies.
The first is adopting out of birth order. Best social work practice would say that you should adopt a child who is at least 9 months younger than your youngest child on the theory that this would be the closest naturally occurring spacing between siblings. Someone who adopted at the same time as I did spent several months convincing her agency that it would be acceptable for their family to adopt a child who was a mere 8.5 months younger than their youngest so some agencies hold very strictly to these guidelines.
If this is something you want to do, you will need to discuss it with your social worker and placing agency. They will probably want you to consider your family dynamics. How would you handle it if you had an extended period of conflict between the adopted child and the child who was upset from their place in the family? Also, a child who was more recently adopted into a family will not necessarily be as set in his place as a child who has been the oldest for his entire life. Much of the success will be determined by the personalities of the children involved but unfortunately you won’t know your new child’s personality when you are making the decision.
Resources on adopting out of birth order:
- Top Ten Rules For Adopting Out of Birth Order
- Creating A Family podcast on Adopting Out of Birth Order
- Negative experience- Disruption: A failed mom’s look back
- Positive experience- Googling “adopting out of birth order” will bring you to many blogs where parents share that they adopted out of birth order and it worked out great in their family.
The second issue is adopting two unrelated children at once. Adoption involves a huge amount of stress and upheaval for a child. When you adopt two at once, the theory is that you cannot give each child the amount of attention that they need to bond with your family. Because China’s adoption program involves special needs, then you need to consider that you will also be dealing with double the amount of doctor’s visits. I am sometimes concerned that there can be a subtle form of peer pressure to adopt two at once on adoption forums with many people asking “Are you going to go for two?!” Deciding to adopt two unrelated children at once should involve careful consideration.
- How much parenting experience do you have? How much adoptive experience?
- Do you have a plan for the medical care the two children will need? What if they have unexpected medical needs, for example both end up needing surgery at the same time?
- How much of a local support network do you have?
- Can you afford to double the fees? Most likely spend three weeks in China instead of two?
- Have you thought through the worst case scenario? What if one or both have unexpectedly worse medical issues? What if they are both having attachment issues?
- Be aware that you might be tempted to favor one child over the other. Children react so differently to the adoption experience. If you have one who is seamlessly attaching to your family while the other is acting out and constantly causing stress in your family it can be very easy to unconsciously favor the “easy” child. As much as you know that you shouldn’t compare the two children, it is almost unavoidable especially if they close in age.
- Are you doing this because you think it will be cheaper or make your life easier? I have seen multiple people actually say “I’m not going to go through all of this trouble twice. I’m just going to get two at once and get it over with all at the same time.” You need to consider the impact this will have on the children involved and not your convenience.
Many people do adopt two successfully and find it works great for their family. Here are some additional resources and experiences for you if you are considering this option. I’m including three blog experiences, each from families who were experienced parents and had adopted prior to adopting two children at once.
- Pros and Cons of Adopting More than One Child at Once
- Creating A Family radio show on Adopting Two Unrelated Children at the Same Time
- LWB Wisdom Wednesdays: Adopting Two At Once
- Characteristics of families who have successfully adopted two at once
- Jean at There’s No Place Like Home is a very experienced adoptive parent having adopted over a dozen times! (See, I told you large family waivers were easy to get!) They have almost always adopted two at once except for the time they adopted three at once. She has had a positive experience. “For us, bringing home two at a time has been awesome!“
- Liz at Learning Patience and her husband had a mixed experience, finding it difficult but not insurmountable. They decided not to adopt two at once the next time they adopted. “What I hope is that what I say will make you pause and think about how you and your family will be impacted by this huge decision.“
- Finally, Shecki at Greatly Blessed had a negative experience when her son turned out to have greater needs than they expected. “it’s becoming very apparent that we did not think this through.”
The third issue is older child adoption. The definition of an “older child” can vary, but I am going to focus on the age range of 10-13, the time period where a child is close to “aging out” in China. At the age of ten, the child must also consent to the adoption and sometimes they say no thanks, I’d rather stay here. China does not allow children to be adopted past their 14th birthday. There are no exceptions to this rule, even if a parent is in the process of adopting a child. For this reason you will often see advocates publicizing children who are close to aging out. URGENT! This is the child’s LAST CHANCE for a family!! This tugs at your heart, is this something that your family should consider? Here are some things to consider when making this decision.
Are you considering this because you want to save the child? I have seen many instances where people have been told that an orphanage kicks a child out onto the street on their 14th birthday. As far as I am aware, this is not the case. When we visited our son’s orphanage I asked the director what happened to children who aged out. She said that those who could live independently would be given some education or vocational training and they would try to find them a job. They continue to live at the SWI until age 18. Those who cannot live independently will live there for life. While children who have aged out will face many challenges in their life, it is not necessarily so dire as being kicked out onto the street. Organizations such as Love Without Boundaries are working to give these children more educational opportunities and at least one agency has a similar program as well. Yes, adoption will give these children more opportunities, and most importantly a lifelong family. But as I have said before, it is important to understand the challenges before you take this step and not rush in to “save” someone expecting that happy ending.
Why China rather than the US foster system? Since I adopted from China and I wrote an entire post defending people who adopt internationally rather than from foster care, you might wonder why I ask the question. I support both adoption systems and I think that you need to find the best fit for your family. But if you are considering adopting in the 10-13 year old range, this is an age where there are many children available here in the US. Sometimes people have the mistaken idea that a 13 year old from China won’t have any baggage, unlike a teenager in the US foster system. If you are feeling called to adopting an older child from China you need to make sure you understand that there will be challenges including additional challenges specific to international adoption.
- Care varies widely in China. Older children have lived over a decade with their family, with a foster family, in an orphanage, or any combination thereof. They could come to you having experienced malnutrition, a lack of necessary medical care, neglect, and physical or sexual abuse.
- They may have years worth of ingrained orphanage behaviors.
- Related to orphanage behaviors, you should expect your child to be immature for their age and act several years younger than their age.
- The information in their files might be incorrect, and not just medical information. You might your child is older or younger (but usually it’s older) than you thought. Or they might have siblings you didn’t know about until you got to China.
- It is much more difficult to learn a new language after puberty, even if you are immersed in it.
- Your child may have received little or no formal education. Mixed with the language issue, this means that they may not ever achieve reading fluency. Adopting older children will bring many educational challenges.
- They may have unrealistic expectations of their own. Children are often told that everyone in America is rich and they will be given anything they want.
- They may not even understand what adoption is. Love Without Boundaries interviewed older children in orphanages and they struggled to come up with answers to questions about what adoption is, why a foreign couple would want to adopt a Chinese child, or what they think life would be like after adoption. Watch the video.
Financial considerations– No one wants a child to lose their chance for a family because of finances. For this reason you will find that there are many generous grants available for children who are reaching the end of their opportunity for adoption. Sometimes a particular child will be offered a large grant by a private donor which is independent of an agency. Some agencies will reduce their agency fee by a significant amount in addition to offering a grant. Finally, many of the orphanages in China will reduce or waive the required orphanage donation in an effort to help these kids find a family. While no one should consider adopting an aging out child because it is cheaper, if you are interested in adopting a child who is close to aging out you should be aware of all of these available resources.
Time– Because the adoption must be completed by the child’s 14th birthday, time is often a major concern. Be sure to ask if your agency has experience with expediting the adoption of an aging out child. There are many things which can be done to make sure the adoption is complete in time. I have known people who adopted an aging out child in under 3 months from start to finish, barely making it across the finish line by finalizing the adoption in China before the Travel Authorization had been issued. Most agencies will transfer the files of aging out children so if an agency is skeptical that they could complete the adoption in time then you could see if they would transfer the file to another agency which is more experienced with the expedite procedures. If the agency is unwilling to transfer, or is offering a generous grant which you need then join the Facebook China WARP Speed Expedited Adoption group for support to walk your agency through the process.
- Creating A Family’s resources on Older Child Adoption
- Podcast on Parenting the Adopted Adolescent with Dr. Gregory Keck. I highly recommend his book Parenting the Hurt Child.
- Podcast on Preparing Yourself and Your Children To Adopt An Older Child
- Facebook group Considering Older Child Adoption From China
- Revisit Jean at There’s No Place Like Home to read her blog post Myths And Truths of Older Child Adoption
- Vickie at Just a MINute Mom has a must read post called You Shouldn’t Adopt A Teen. Really, I can’t say enough good things about it, just go read it.
- You can see several children who are close to aging out on the Twenty Less blog.
Finally, if you are considering adopting an older child from China it important to know that this is an area where child trafficking occurs. Unfortunately, some people bring home older children only to find that they have families back in China. There are many older kids in China who need homes, and you want to make sure that you make one of them a part of your family rather than someone who has been coerced into coming to America with you. While most of these false orphans come from one particular orphanage, the problem isn’t limited only to that orphanage. There are often red flags that will help you spot these kids. Allow me to break out the bullet points one more time.
- Abandoned at an older age under fishy circumstances. Found wandering the streets at 10 or 12 but can’t remember their name, parents names, or address.
- Came into state care at an older age because their entire family was tragically wiped out. Often comes with fake death certificates to aid the story.
- Looks older than 12 or 13. Many of these kids are closer to 17, so if your son has a 5 o’clock shadow in his pictures, beware.
- Not only are completely healthy, but excel academically. Often are accomplished at playing a sport or instrument.
- For more information google “China aging out fraud.”
I don’t want to leave you on that negative note, especially since this post has been focused on the negative more than usual. I have already linked to the Seriously Blessed blog in this post but I wanted to highlight the story of Jasmine. The Lisa and her husband decided rather last minute to adopt Jasmine even though they had previously discussed older child adoption and said it was something they would never consider. When they arrived in China to adopt Jasmine, they realized she had muscular dystrophy rather than spina bifida, meaning her special need was a much worse diagnosis than they had been prepared for. Despite this they completed the adoption. As Jasmine grew comfortable enough to begin sharing her story they learned that she had been mistreated by both her father and her orphanage nannies. She was abandoned by her grandmother, the only relative who had treated her with kindness. She hadn’t received any education in her orphanage, and had been told that the American couple coming for her would surely mistreat her or abandon her in America. This sounds like everything I’ve been warning you about, right? But Jasmine is thriving in a loving family. She is so appreciative of “simple” things like hot showers and receiving an education. This is why some families will educate themselves about all of the negative aspects of older child adoption and decide to go ahead anyway. Because it’s worth it, and it makes all the difference in the world to kids like Jasmine.
Other posts in this series:
Part 2: Comparing agencies
Part 3: All about the money