I’m breaking my holiday hiatus a little early because panic has been spreading through the online China community. I’m seeing:
- No more waivers–ever!!
- China is denying LOA to families who already had PA!
- Agencies can’t visit partnership orphanages any more!
- The political situation between the US and China is causing all these changes!
- This is the beginning of the end of the China program. It will be closed in 5 years!!
I contacted three different agencies to discuss these issues: WACAP, Holt International, and Lifeline. All three of the representatives I spoke with have many years of experience in the China program. None of them were at all concerned. They all stressed that there are always minor changes in the program, as well as an ebb and flow of being strict with the rules or relaxing them.
What seems to have created this situation is the coincidental timing of some policy changes within the CCCWA paired with the implementation of the Chinese laws governing NGOs (non-governmental organizations) which will take effect on January 1st. And without getting political on you, all of this happened around a time that the US/China relationship seems strained because of the presidential transition. This seems like overwhelming change to people, and it is causing the sort of rumors and speculation that leads to the idea that the China program will close down at any moment. Let me try to sort these issues out individually for you. Hopefully this will ease your fears as well.
First, the new laws foreign charities operating in China. You can read about the new NGO laws here or here. Agencies have been aware of this law for some time and planning on how to handle the issues raised by it.
The CCCWA notified all agencies today that the new NGO law that goes into effect January 1, 2017 will have the current impact on adoption agencies:
1) The CCCWA will continue to assign children from CURRENT one to one partnerships to agencies. Agencies are currently asked to not travel to visit partnerships. No new partnership contracts may be added and expiring contracts will not be renewed at this time.
2) Advocacy Camps and hostings here in the USA will continue, but must be registered and approved under the new NGO law.
Does this mean that all partnerships will be ending? No one knows exactly how it will play out in practice. Presumably agencies with partnerships will register as an NGO, if that is possible for them. Holt International informed me that they are already registered as an NGO, while WACAP and Lifeline told me that they are seeking NGO status. No agency will be able to create a NEW partnership unless they have NGO status under the new law, but agencies which already have partnerships will continue to receive files from the partnerships until the contracts end, typically 1-2 years. Hopefully by that time everyone will be set up to be compliant with the new law or some new system will have come about. Remember that the partnership system is still fairly new in the China program.
What does this mean if you are in process? If you are already matched with a child in a partnership orphanage, you should expect to receive the file and complete the adoption. If you were expecting an update because your agency planned to visit the orphanage soon, that will probably be postponed. It is best to contact your agency directly to ask how they will be handling the situation. All of the agencies I contacted expected to be directed through the implementation by the CCCWA working with their in country agents.
The next issue that is the CCCWA recently notified agencies that they would no longer be granting waivers. First, we need to backtrack a little. China has changed the parent eligibility requirements over the years. At one point they stopped allowing single women to adopt but then they began allowing it again. In December 2014, China changed their eligibility guidelines in a way that formalized the waivers that they had been granting regularly. This included changing the upper age limit, family size, and allowing couples where one spouse has a serious medical condition to adopt if the other spouse is healthy. One of the biggest changes was to formally allow people to adopt if they are taking “a small dose of medication” for depression or anxiety. You can find the full text of these rules in the China Adoption Questions group on Facebook.
In the time after these rules, the CCCWA stopped granting waivers. Over time, they began granting waivers again. In some cases these waivers were to take into account special situations for particular couples. In other cases, it seems that because the changes moved the line to X point, that made it seem that now you could request waivers even further to Y or Z. If you think about it, someone in the CCCWA has to process the waivers. It got to be a lot of work, so they decided to change the rules to cut out most of the waiver requests. But the waivers kept coming. At this point, the CCCWA feels that the rules in place are sufficient and they will enforce them. China has very generous parent criteria compared to many countries. While it is disappointing to not qualify, this is one of those times where we need to remember that each country gets to decide their own program criteria. If the program history is any indicator, it is likely that they will begin granting waivers again at some point, but it seems clear that they want agencies to stick closely to the guidelines and reserve waivers for exceptional circumstances rather than routinely.
Pushing the envelope seems to be the catalyst for the situation regarding adopting three children at once. That happened a time or two, for particular families with particular circumstances. But once people found out that it was possible, they began asking if they could do it, too. Recently a few couples who had received PA for three children were told that they needed to let the CCCWA know which two they would like LOA for. If they wanted to adopt the third, they would have to start the process over and return to China. While I do not feel that adopting multiple unrelated children at once is generally in the child’s best interest, I know that this had to have been devastating for the families involved. It would have been better for China to have said no initially than to have changed the answer at the point of LOA. China has become increasingly concerned about the number of in country disruptions. It is possible that they found the situation sufficiently serious to warrant not granting LOA even though PA had been received. None of the agency representatives I contacted felt that this would begin happening in any other circumstances. They felt that at most, more information might be requested at the point of LOA for those who had requested a waiver prior to the tightening up on guidelines.
Finally, as regards the political tensions between China and the US currently, none of the agency representatives I contacted felt it was having any impact on the China program. Beth Smith of Holt International specifically said “I have worked with the China program for over 18 years, and, during this time there have been various major and minor political events and/or levels of tensions between our two countries. Political tensions or events historically have never had an impact on the China adoption process.” Her sentiments were echoed by the other two representatives I contacted who have been working in the China program for a similar length of time.
I hope this information has helped to reassure those who were concerned. The China program is still a good option for those who qualify.