Monthly Archives: August 2016

Finding Your Agency

If you find this post helpful, you might want to read the expanded version in my book which includes even more information on this and all aspects of the China adoption process.


Now that you have an idea of what you are looking for in an agency, how do you go about finding an agency which matches that criteria? Rainbow Kids has 36 agencies listed with a China program, and there could be more who have not chosen to list themselves there. Trying to narrow down that many choices is daunting!

Get Recommendations

Most people will start by getting recommendations. If you know anyone in real life who has adopted from China, that is a good place to start. Where they happy with their agency? If so, what did they like about it? If you don’t know anyone, you can contact me at or send me a private message via Facebook (I don’t accept most friend requests but do check my message requests daily) and I will be happy to recommend a couple of  good agencies.

If you have an agency in your town or general area, that is certainly an agency to consider. It’s convenient to be able to attend classes there or to drop off papers directly. However, it is not necessary for your placing agency to be in your area. Many people use placing agencies in a completely different part of the country where they live. Don’t feel an obligation to use an agency simply because they’re close.

Your next stop should be the Rate Your China Adoption Agency group on Facebook. You will get more feedback than you could ever want from parents who have used the agencies. No agency employees or volunteer advocates are allowed to join.

IMG_5308However, I do feel you need to keep some points in mind when soliciting opinions:

  • Ask specific questions. If your priority is matching time, post a question like “We are looking for a reputable agency with a shorter matching time for young girls with minor needs. Can people who have adopted recently give me your recommendations?”
  • Be aware of the timeline. As you might have noticed above, I strongly recommend being prepared to ask “When did you adopt with them?” a lot. Agencies and policies change frequently, sometimes for the better and sometimes for worse. You don’t want to miss out on a great agency because of outdated information.
  • Make sure you have the same priorities. Many people in the Rate Your Agency group will say you should NEVER use ______ agency because the agency uses a committee to decide a match if multiple families are interested in a child. If you don’t have a problem with committee decisions, or not being able to adopt two at once, or whatever issue, then you can freely disregard those negative reviews.
  • Go directly to the source. It’s always best to contact agencies directly with questions about their policies.
  • Be aware that there is no perfect agency. Every single agency that I can think of has made a mistake at one point or another. If my agency made a mistake that caused a mess in my adoption, I probably wouldn’t recommend them either. When you are listening to reviews, what you want to look for is persistent negative reviews. Don’t give too much weight to one person’s bad experience because, while regrettable, mistakes are going to happen.

Evaluating Contenders

When you have a shorter list of five or six potential agencies, go look at their websites. Is it IMG_5598clear and easy to read? Look over their information on program fees. Request the password for their waiting child photolisting to see what sort of files they have available and how they present the information. I have some potential red flags listed in this post.

Do a google search for the agency name along with the keyword “ethics” or “fraud.” Check the Council on Accreditation’s list of substantiated complaints.

Now it’s time to contact any agencies that you haven’t crossed off the list. I would suggest that you give them each a call. Ask a few questions and listen to the contact person chat about their program. How did you like the contact person? Many people will “click” with one agency more than others. Next, send a follow up email with an additional question or two. See how quickly you get a response. If an agency doesn’t make a potential client a priority then be skeptical that you will get any better service as a paying client. You can formulate your own questions based on your priorities, or if you need inspiration I have questions sprinkled throughout the blog series I linked to at the top of the post and a full list in the appendix of my book.

Finally, choose to go with the agency that is the best fit for the priorities you have, taking into consideration the feedback you have received and your personal experiences when you contacted agencies. Best wishes on your adoption journey!

Finding Your Agency Priorities

If you find this post helpful, you might want to read the expanded version in my book which includes even more information on this and all aspects of the China adoption process.



I often tell people that there is no perfect agency out there, but there are a lot of great ones. You can get recommendations from people, but the agency that they loved might not be the right agency for you. Every family has different priorities to consider when choosing an agency. If you read the previous post and decided that you wanted to find an agency first, this post will help you to know what to look for while the last post will help you to find the agency which is the best fit for what you want in an agency. If you would prefer to find your child first, you can use this post to decide if there are any agencies you do not want to use.

Agency policies– The most common reason to rule out an agency is because of their policies which place additional restrictions on families which go above and beyond China’s requirements. These might include:

  • Requiring you sign a Statement of Faith, which usually limits services to protestant Christians and rules out Catholics or those of non-mainstream denominations such as LDS or Jehovah’s Witness.
  • Not allowing families to adopt out of birth order, or continue an adoption during pregnancy. There can be good reasons for these policies, but there is no point in considering an agency which doesn’t allow a practice which you know is right for your family.
  • Using travel groups. While a few agencies which use travel groups can get you into the next group without a delay, most people who use an agency with group travel will not be able to travel immediately–a big priority for some families.

Individual family situations– Some agencies are better than others at requesting waivers from China, working with single parents, expatriates, or military families.

Time to be matched with a child– This is probably THE ONE biggest priority for most families.IMG_5399 Some families will wait two years to be matched with a girl with minor needs under age two while others will be matched six months after their dossier is logged in. Why? Different agencies. Your wait time will depend on how open you are to age, gender, and special needs, but also how many files your agency receives and how many waiting families they have. An agency should be able to give you a general time frame for matching based on what your child preferences.

Support during the process– Many first time adoptive families would like an agency which provides a lot of hand-holding while experienced families might be comfortable filling out paperwork without much direction. Some agencies include authenticating documents as part of their service, some will do so for an additional fee, and some don’t offer this service at all.

Travel arrangements– Many people prefer to avoid travel groups while some have no preference. Agencies will often have a hotel preference, at least in Guangzhou. This might be important if you want to be able to use hotel points to stay for free. Want to book all of your own arrangements? Scared to death of traveling in China so you feel easier knowing your agency will handle everything? A more detailed look at some of the differences between agencies, including travel, can be found in this post.

Ethical concerns– For some people, it is important to choose an agency which provides aid in the country which they work. Some agencies are a strong humanitarian presence in many counties. A few even do family preservation work in addition to adoption. Families which have come to the China program after adopting through another country program will often look for an agency with the highest ethical standards because they have experienced how often unethical agencies will overlook child trafficking in order to make a buck. You can read about agencies which have been found to have a substantiated claim by the Council on Accreditation here.

IMG_5391Finances– Cost is an important factor for almost everyone who adopts internationally. Looking over an agency’s cost sheet is important. Some agencies offer grants to children who are harder to place. Many parter with an organization such as Brittany’s Hope to provide matching grants for families. Some offer financial planning services for their families. While many families focus on the agency costs, I did a detailed analysis of why it can be difficult to determine which agency is the cheapest. Even travel arrangements can play into agency cost if you had planned to save on travel through frequent flier miles or hotel points but later discover you cannot use them because of your agency travel regulations.

Pulling it together

Take some time to consider these different aspects. Which are most important to you? Do you feel it’s fine to wait a year to be matched because that gives you longer to save up for expenses? Do you feel that hotel arrangements are pretty trivial compared to finding an agency with high ethical standards? You know you can deal with filling out your own paperwork or put up with travel groups as long as you find the agency with the lowest costs?

There is no right or wrong answer here. But you will find that when you are looking for agency recommendations, it is easier to get targeted answers if you are more specific than “What is a good agency to use?” In the final post in this series, I will give you some tips for finding the right agency for your family now that you know what your ideal agency looks like.

Understanding China’s File Designations

If you find this post helpful, you might want to read the expanded version in my book which includes even more information on this and all aspects of the China adoption process.


This post was updated in April 2018 to reflect changes in the China program.

File Designations

When you choose to adopt from China, you can either choose an agency to match you with a child or you can choose a waiting child and sign with the agency who has their file. There are pros and cons to either of these matching methods. Let’s begin by discussing the different types of files.

Shared List – The shared list is a listing of files available to any agency. For many countries outside of the US, it is the only source of files. The shared list can only be viewed by agency personnel and is composed of both LID and Special Focus files. At any given time, the shared list is about 75% boys and 25% girls. There are usually very few LID files on the shared list because they get locked almost instantly by agencies. With the partnership program ending, China will be moving to an all shared list system for file distribution.

LID Files – Your LID is the Log In Date for your dossier. LID files are reserved for families who already have a dossier logged into China’s system. LID files tend to be younger children with minor needs. Because adoptive parents overwhelmingly prefer to adopt girls, girls will often be designated LID to an older age or with more moderate needs. Fewer boys are labeled LID, and boys are more likely to be designated as special focus even if they are young and with minor needs. LID files are designated to an agency for only 3 weeks, and they may be switched to Special Focus if they remain unmatched after about 3 months. It is unlikely that LID files will continue to be designated to agencies once all partnership files have been completed.

Special Focus Files – Special Focus files are files which China feels will need a little more help to place. For that reason, they may be matched to a family who does not yet have a dossier in China. Special Focus files are often for children who are a little older, or have moderate or greater special needs. However, as LID files can be changed to Special Focus simply for not being matched quickly, it is very possible to find young children with minor needs who are designated Special Focus, particularly boys. If you fall for a child who is labeled Special Focus, don’t worry that you are missing something. The only thing you are missing is a wonderful opportunity to add a child to your family!

This post has some examples to give you an idea of Special Focus versus LID files.

Designated Files – Designated files are any files not on the shared list, but designated to a particular agency. Previously, this could be through a partnership, a program such as Journey of Hope, hosting program, or simply because the agency requested the file be designated to them. Moving forward, designated files are likely to be those which have not been matched after a period of time on the shared list. Designating files to a specific agency for advocacy makes it more likely for the child to find a family.

Partnership Files – Previously, agencies would partner with specific orphanages. In exchange for providing aid to the orphanages, any files prepared from that orphanage would be designated to the partner agency first for a period of time. The partnership program was ended in 2017.

Finding Your Child First

IMG_0086Many people prefer to find their child first and use the agency which has the file. Because of new regulations from the US Department of State you will need to have a completed home study before you can be matched with a child. Finding your child first will involve adopting a child designated Special Focus, so you will need to be open to at least a moderate amount of needs. Flexibility in gender and age is also helpful. People who prefer to find their child first often like the idea of adopting a waiting child or like to have more control over the matching process. If you find your child first, you will have a longer wait from the time you identify a child until you travel, so consider how you would feel about that when deciding if finding your child first is best for your family.

Besides agency photolistings, here are some ways to view waiting children, most agency designated:

While some people are fine with using any agency which has their child’s file, others prefer to rule out a few agencies that they absolutely would not use. It can be useful to ask a few questions to make sure you are comfortable with an agency before viewing their files.There are three different methods that agencies use to decide which set of potential parents will end up with a child on a photolisting. I know this information makes the post a little long, but it is important to ask the agency how they will match photolisting files with families, because you might not be the only one who is interested in the child.

The most common is First Come, First Served. The first person to ask for the file gets to review it, and other people who want to review the file are added to a list. The first couple has a certain amount of time to review the file and decide–maybe a few days, maybe a week or two. (While files which are pulled from the shared list are only locked for 72 hours, agencies have a greater latitude in their designated files.) If they decline the file then it is passed to the next family on the list, and so on until someone is ready to submit a Letter of Intent (LOI).

Pros: Only one family views a file at a time, which does not put pressure on the family to rush into a decision. First come, first served is a principle which seems fair to Americans (further on into the process you will realize this is not an Asian view), so it is not as disappointing to not get matched with a child you love. You know it’s not personal, you just weren’t first in line.

Cons: This can really drag out the process for the other families and the child involved. If there is a child who is seriously cute but with a serious medical condition, the file could be viewed numerous times before someone is ready to write a LOI. One parent told me their child’s file was turned down 50 times before they accepted it! For children with time sensitive medical needs or who are close to aging out, this method can waste valuable time.

Let’s call the second method of matching Race To The Finish! Agencies who use this methodOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA will allow all interested families to view the file at the same time. The first family who is ready to write a LOI gets the child.

Pros: This more efficient methods cuts down on the wasted time of First Come, First Served.

Cons: This method can really pressure families to make a decision before they’re ready. Maybe they’re still waiting to hear back from a doctor who reviewed the file but they don’t want to chance losing the child. Unethical agencies can pressure families to act quickly by saying they think another family is really interested when really, they just want to close to deal and get you to sign.

The third method is Committee Decides. Multiple families are allowed to view a file at the same time and if multiple families are ready to move forward then an agency committee chooses from among the potential families.

Pros: Committee Decides is the least popular method and it is easy to find people who are angry about it online. From my perspective, I’m not sure how “I saw her first!” is any more fair? Committee Decides is a child-centered method to find the best family for a child. While most of the young children with minor needs would thrive in any loving family, there are often instances where some families would be a better fit than others. If a child has a time-sensitive special need such as Thalassemia, isn’t better that they be matched with a family who is already DTC so that they can come home six months sooner than if the family who saw the child first was only starting on their home study? Wouldn’t a better family for a child who is deaf be a family who is already fluent in sign language and a part of the deaf community? How about older children? Wouldn’t the best family for an older child be a family who is experienced with the challenges of older child adoption and who has parented past the age of the child rather than a family with only younger children and just beginning their first adoption? So I will take the unpopular stance and say that I think this method is better for the children who are being placed.

Cons: I will also acknowledge the serious flip side to this method, which is that it is harder on the potential families. It is very common for people to feel emotionally connected to a child from the first moment they see the picture. I can understand how devastating it must be to feel deep in your heart that this is your child, and now a committee is telling you that there is another family better for the child than yours. Not only is it a loss, but it comes as a veiled insult. If you feel you can’t handle the heartbreak of a committee deciding that you aren’t the best family for a child then it is important to know which agencies use this method and avoid their photolistings.

Next week we will look at more general agency considerations for those families which prefer to choose an agency first.

What I’m Reading #12

I’ve done a couple of book reviews over the summer, but I haven’t done an article collection since May, so I’ve got a lot to share with you.

Priceonomics has a long articled called Why Did International Adoption Sudden End? which looks at a variety of factors for why international adoption has dropped by 75% in the past 10 years. I feel it is due to the fact that most country programs are now for older children or children with special needs. The article does mention the reasons why the young healthy infants are no longer available.

From Sixth Tone, an article looking at how the city of Chengde could serve as a model for the problems resulting from plummeting birth rates facing China in the future.

The Atlantic published a similar article called China’s Twilight Years.

From Creating A Family, a summary of research on the mental health of adoptees.

That’s magazine has an interesting infographic on the many different languages and dialects spoken within China.

Somewhat related, the LA Times ran a feature on why it is really hard to learn Mandarin. It includes information on standardization of the language and why even native Chinese are forgetting how to write some characters because of technology.

Financial Times author Patti Waldmeir moved to China with her two daughters adopted from China. She pens a nice essay sharing some memories of their time there together.

Foreign Affairs publishes a look at the hard toll the one child policy took on Chinese mothers.

An article from last year, but still extremely good if you are unfamiliar with Chinese government, the New York Times published an in depth look at how the Cultural Revolution shaped Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Telegraph has a lovely photoessay showing outfits children were wearing when they were adopted from China.

The Daily Mail features a photoessay on a family in New York’s Chinatown showing their life over a decade in a tiny 350 square foot apartment.

The Guardian shows pictures comparing various cities in the Pearl River delta area of China (like Guangzhou) before and after development.

Becky, at Full Plate Mom, looks at adoption ethics in light of her 15 years of adopting.

A great book list at NHBO giving books to help teach your child in a variety of different areas.


Former Shared List Files


Updated to include the official information from Rainbow Kids and agencies involved which was released after my original post:

Here is the formal announcement from the CCCWA posted by them on August 29th:

Dear Adoption agencies:
At present, there are a batch of files posted on CCCWA’s Child Placement Information System for Inter-country Adoption (CPIS) for a long time without being locked, files of children who are special focus with severe conditions or older children. In order to facilitate the placement of children who still have a chance to find a home, CCCWA decides to use the strong advocacy skills of “Rainbow Children” Website, which has close connections with adoptive families and a safe platform for posting child information, to make the most of resources to find homes for these special focus children. Considering the workload and the according working cost, CCCWA decides to temporarily entrust four agencies, i.e. Gladney Center for Adoption, Chinese Children Adoption International, Holt International Children’s Services, Inc., and Lifeline Children’s Services, to post unlocked special needs children files which have been posted on CCCWA system for long time via “Rainbow Children” Website. Relevant information are as follows:
1. Child files which can be posted on “Rainbow Children” Website should be special focus child files posted on the shared list of CPIS for over 1 year.
2. Prospective adoptive parents who intend to adopt children posted on “Rainbow Children” Website, can apply from the above mentioned four agencies or through other adoption agencies. In order to protect the privacy of children, child files can only be shared within CCCWA’s cooperative agencies, instead of being sent to adoptive parents directly.
3. For applications submitted by adoptive parents from adoption agencies other than the above four agencies, CCCWA will post child files to the agency’s individual list after receiving application from the agency. The time limit is 3 weeks.
4. After a child has been locked and pre-approved, CCCWA will notify relevant adoption agency to withdraw his/her file from the “Rainbow Children” website.

IMG_5410If you are in the online China adoption community, there was a lot of discussion last weekend about the shared list. Red Thread Advocates periodically posts a breakdown of the shared list files and someone noticed that as of last Wednesday, there were only 874 files on it. Generally, there are between 2000-2200 files on the shared list. Where did they all go? It was one of those moments where you wish there was still a Rumor Queen to turn to. Some people who keep an eye on the list said that files had been disappearing for a few weeks now, and they seem to be disappearing by province as China worked their way methodically through the files. People were initially concerned and there were a lot of rumors. Was the shared list going away? What about people in other countries who can only be matched through the shared list?

At this point, questions have mostly been answered. Although China is constantly tinkering with the program, a constant theme is their willingness to try new programs in order to place more children. From the shared list to designated files to partnerships to hosting programs, people have many options to find their child. Over time, many files have accumulated on the shared list like sediment settling to the bottom of a stream, the children with hard to place needs whose files grow out of date with the passing of time. While new files are continuing to be added to the shared list which anyone, including the European countries, can be matched with, the older files have been removed for a new means of advocacy.

People who are new to the China program will ask “How can I see the shared list?” The shared list is only able to be viewed by agencies. China has apparently decided to try a method for letting people see about half of those files. The missing files, which number between 1500-2000, have been divided up between four agencies: Gladney, Holt, Lifeline, and CCAI. They are all large agencies which place a lot of children in the China program. They are supposed to obtain updates on the children and post their profiles to the Rainbow Kids website. The agencies will have the files designated for 6 months, a reasonable amount of time if you consider how long it could take to update and list all of the files. No one has any idea what will happen to the files after the 6 month designation. One agency representative told me that she felt the CCCWA was trying this out, and what happens in the future will probably depend on how effective it is.

Province List–

Gladney: Shanghai, Tianjin, Hebei, Anhui, Gansu, Fujian, Guizhou, Hunan and Jiangxi

Holt: Beijing, Guangxi, Hubei, Neimenggu, Shandong, and Shanxi

Lifeline: Jiangsu, Guangdong, Yunnan, Chongqing, Ningxia and Qinghai

CCAI: Henan, Jilin, Sichuan, Heilongjiang, Xinjiang, Liaoning, Zhejiang, and Shaanxi

It is not exactly clear as to why only four agencies for a significant number of files or why those particular agencies. WACAP and Madison are favorite agencies among people who prefer to adopt a waiting child from the shared list because they offer a grant to shared list children, in most cases. You could give tell your agency you were interested in finding a child between 6 and 10 who uses a wheelchair and the shared list would provide a variety of options. Those files are now divvied up between the four designated agencies according to province. As three of these agencies do not generally allow people to adopt two unrelated children at the same time and one requires clients sign a protestant Christian statement of faith, some people are wondering if files will be able to be transferred. That is not clear at the moment, but as the files are mostly harder to place children, one hopes that the agencies involved would transfer. Advocates are compiling a list of the provinces which each agency was designated to make it easier to find files which people might be searching for.

What do the files look like? It seems that most of the children closest to aging out were left on the shared list. They are generally older but not all. Many have moderate or greater special needs such as blindness or severe cerebral palsy but some who are older have more minor needs. Most have been on the shared list for a long time, but some have been on under a year. How can you see them? Well, as this happened very recently, they are only beginning to be added to Rainbow Kids. I’ve been hearing people say that they find the new RK site to be confusing, so I’ve got some directions for you.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 9.21.20 PM


First, create an account if you don’t already have one. Then, click on the Waiting Children tab.



When you use the search function, choose the More Options tab. A new option which says “Search for children who were formerly part of China’s Shared List Program” has been added to the bottom.


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When you see your search results, the “Previously on China Shared listing” will show up as one of the search criteria. Remember that you should also check Asia to limit the files, and children are no longer eligible to be adopted at age 14, so you can also limit the search returns by keeping your search to below age 14.

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Currently, there are not a lot of former shared list files available to view. However, new files are being added every day. As the agencies have more time to get the updated information, this could prove to be a great way to help some overlooked children to find families. Rainbow Kids has now added a direct link to the former shared list files to make it easier for you to find them.