People who are considering or starting out in the China program right now are beginning at a time when the program is in transition. At the beginning of 2017, China stopped granting waivers, which had allowed families who did not quite meet all of China’s criteria to adopt. China made changes to their parent eligibility guidelines over the summer, as well as announced that the partnership system would be ending as of January 1st, 2018. I hope this post will help to explain these changes to those who aren’t sure what they mean.
Does this mean the China program is ending?
No. China’s international adoption program has been active for over 20 years. During that time they have made changes in parent eligibility as well as how the files are designated and distributed. The partnership program was a relatively new innovation in China’s program. Families will still be able to adopt from China without the partnership program.
What was the partnership program and why would they end it?
The One-to-One program, more commonly known as “partnerships” involved adoption agencies signing a contract with a specific orphanage in China. In return for providing material, medical, and/or educational support for the orphanage, all files prepared by that orphanage would be designated to that agency first for a period of time. Larger agencies might have 15-20 partnerships while small agencies might only have one or two. China’s ending of the partnership program, is likely a side effect of the law governing Non- Governmental Agencies (NGO) which went into effect January 1, 2017. You can learn more about the NGO law in this post.
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. Agencies will continue to receive files from their active partnerships through the end of the year, but on January 1st, 2018 all newly created files will presumably be added to the shared list. Files which reach Civil Affairs by the last day of December will still be sent to partner agencies when they are finalized, so partnership files will continue to trickle in for the first few months of 2018.
I don’t want to wait a long time to be matched. How do I know which agency will be able to match me fastest after January?
That’s a question no one can answer. Agencies are still giving match time estimates, but we really don’t know how things are going to go. Some agencies are experienced at matching off of the shared list while others relied almost exclusively on their partnerships for matching. Theoretically an agency with a long list of waiting families with you at the bottom of the list would take longer to match you than an agency with few waiting families, but until we’ve been on the system long enough for agencies to know what their average number of matches per month are, we won’t know for certain.
Will files still be designated LID only or Special Focus?
I would assume that these designations will remain. Losing the LID designation would only slow down the process for young children with minor needs because 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 only done in America. 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. If you don’t know what LID and Special Focus files are, read this post.
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 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.
A good aspect of the partnership program was that 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. It’s possible that 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.
I know that any changes in the China program cause people to feel uneasy. We like consistency and predictability. Be assured that families were matched through the shared list for many years. People like myself continued to be matched from the shared list even when most agencies had partnerships. While there were many advantages from the partnership system for families, the China program will continue to be a wonderful program for families even without agency partnerships.