Upcoming changes to the China program

This week three different agencies have stated that they were informed the CCCWA will soon be announcing that the partnership program will be ending, as well as other possible changes to the program. This is causing a lot of questions and anxiety for those in the China adoption community. Since there have been several program changes within the past few months, I created a “China program updates” tag for blog posts. While we have more speculation than information at the moment, I’ll try to answer the questions people are asking right now. I tried to make it clear what is certain and what is my opinion.

Does this mean the China program is ending?

No. The partnership program involves agencies agreeing to provide aid to specific orphanages in exchange for being the first to receive files from that orphanage. It is a relatively new innovation in China’s program, which is over twenty years old. Families will still be able to adopt from China without the partnership program.

Why would they end the partnership program?

If China ends the partnership program, it is likely a side effect of the law governing Non- Governmental Agencies (NGO) which went into effect January 1, 2017. I wrote about the law and it’s implications about six months ago.

Is this really new information? I thought most partnerships were ending when the contracts expired anyway.

Most families in process get their information directly from their agencies. Not all agencies have informed their families about the NGO law and how it affects partnerships, presumably because they hoped they could get NGO classification without any disruption to services for their families. Some are speculating that the information this week is merely agencies finally coming clean to their families. In that case, China would continue to honor the partnership agreements until the contract date comes to an end. For most agencies that would be within the next year. Some agencies have already had their contracts expire and are now matching solely from the shared list.

However, I don’t think that is the case. Agencies have been really struggling with the NGO law, as much as they would like to meet the requirements. It was not written intentionally to affect adoption agencies. It is very difficult for some to meet the requirements. I think that China has been trying to find a way to make it work for six months but has concluded that the partnership program is not going to be sustainable under the new law.

What about the agencies that are already certified NGOs? Will they be able to continue their partnerships?

That’s the big question, isn’t it?  There are currently only two agencies who have NGO status. Will China let them continue their partnerships or would that be seen as unfair to the other agencies? We will have to wait and see there.

What if we are waiting for a pre-release file from our agency? Will we still receive it?

A pre-release file is one that the agency has been notified by their partner orphanage is in process of being prepared. Some agencies “pre match” these potential files with families in process with their agency so that the child can be officially matched the moment the file is available. Some agencies don’t begin the matching process until the file is close to being finalized while others match quite early in the file production process.

Because these are not official files yet, there is no guarantee that they will go to the agency if partnerships are ended. We do not yet have a possible date for the ending of partnerships. One agency said by the end of 2017 while another indicated they expected them to all end as soon as next month. China does have the ability to designate files to a specific agency so it is possible they could do that if the agency indicates they already have a family. If you are not yet matched, it would be best to decline any pre-release files until this issue is settled.

If there are no partnerships, how will agencies get files?

Prior to the partnership program, all new files were added to the shared list once a month.

Will files still be designated LID only or Special Focus?

We have no way of knowing that. I would assume that the LID designation will remain because it would only slow down the process for young children with minor needs if they could be locked by families without a dossier in China. Similarly, the Special Focus designation allows a greater amount of potential families to commit to a child that might be more difficult to place. Being able to lock a file without a dossier in China is a relatively new option, and it is not available in many countries. However, some families respond much better to an actual child that they have seen in a photo so this is a very effective way to place children. Hopefully this aspect of the program will remain unchanged.

Does this mean there won’t be any more agency photolisting so I can find my child first?

Possibly, but I doubt it. China has always had the ability to designate files to a particular agency for a period of time. I think it is likely that children who have been unmatched on the shared list for a few weeks or months will be designated to a specific agency so that the agency can advocate for the child. The “former shared list” program shows that China understands this is an effective way of helping overlooked files to be seen.

Isn’t it a bad thing if partnerships end?

There were certainly positive aspects to the partnership program. Agencies were able to improve orphanage conditions by providing material aid and training to their partner orphanages. CCAI and Holt, as the two agencies with NGO recognition, might be uniquely placed to continue to provide aid to particular orphanages or meet children in the orphanages. Holt announced this week that they have received consultative status on the Economic and Social Council at the United Nations. While CCAI does not have quite the same international presence for humanitarian aid, both agencies have a high reputation with the CCCWA and been involved in child welfare in China for a long time. We can hope that they continue their work in China alongside NGOs such as Love Without Boundaries or OneSky, in addition to the many China based organizations which exist.

Often agency personnel would advocate for files to be created for particular children they met, so children got the opportunity to be adopted who had been considered unadoptable by the orphanage director. Moving to the partnership ended the “feeding frenzy” for the most desired files because agencies knew that they would be receiving files from their partner orphanages to match.

Agencies might feel a certain amount of reluctance to invest advocacy resources into files which could disappear from the shared list at any moment. However, if designated file continue as I speculated above, that would help with this negative aspect.

The partnership system also gave families more time to have a file evaluated and come to a decision with less pressure. Shared list files can only be locked for 72 hours. It can be difficult to get a file review in that amount of time, particularly over weekends or holidays. Sending questions for a file update would presumably be out of the question.

Can you give me any good side to moving back to an all shared list system?

The partnership program was not without its downsides. Partnerships were an almost exclusively American phenomenon. Most other countries could not enter into a partnership contract because of their governing laws or interpretation of the Hague agreement. This made it very difficult for families in other countries to be matched with a child, particularly those in countries with restrictions on the age or special needs of the child to be adopted. The partnership system always carried the risk of encouraging corruption. Would orphanages feel pressure, implied or actual, to provide a certain amount of files for young children with minor needs to justify the agency’s “investment” at their orphanage. Moving back to an all shared list system will level the playing field in that case. Regardless of country or size of agency, all will have the same access to new files.

It will also make it easier for people who have identified a particular file to use their preferred agency to lock the file and complete the adoption. However, since people often identified files through the advocacy efforts of agencies who had the file designation, this might happen less often.

What about new regulations?

This is all speculation, but new regulations could be making official things which we have been seeing the past few months. That was the case in December 2014, which the CCCWA formalized practices which had been unofficial for quite some time.

Some things we are seeing right now is a family size limit of no more than 10 children under the age of 18 in the home and a limitation on adopting two at once or several adoptions within a shorter time frame. If a family adopts two at once, they can no longer turn around and complete another adoption within a year. At times, an agency has been informed that a family who just completed a single adoption should wait until the six month post placement visit before submitting LOI to begin another adoption.

Try to keep in mind that the current China requirements are really about as generous as they have ever been. There was a time that the China program was closed to single moms, and the previous family size limit was five children in the home so the new limit of ten is a big change for the better. Adopting two unrelated children at once is a pretty recent option. I know this is discouraging for families who have been hoping that China would begin allowing waivers again soon. It is especially hard for those who adopted from China previously but no longer qualify, or those who have been denied provisional approval for a child who might not get a family at all because they are close to aging out or have a need like Down syndrome.

Note: The new family eligibility guidelines are now available.

I hope this blog post has helped to ease fears and better understand the possibilities of upcoming changes. I will update as soon as anything official is released.

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