Monthly Archives: October 2017

Updated: Evaluating agency fee schedules

I posted a version of this blog post earlier in the year. Since that time I have continued to research agency fee schedules. Since this is a very important topic, I have revised the post to include more agency information.

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Although I have already written about evaluating the amount of fees a potential agency charges, I have recently run into a few situations that made me think I should take a closer look at the aspect of *when* the fees are charged. Here some situations I have discussed with people within the past few weeks:

  • A family which had paid all of the agency fees before their homestudy was completed. The agency was barred from international adoptions and the family has lost the money they paid.
  • A family which applied to a particular agency because the agency was going to receive the file of a child they wanted to adopt. The agency was upfront about the fact that the family was not guaranteed to receive the child’s file. Another family ended up with that child’s referral, but because the first family had already paid several thousand dollars in fees, they ended up staying with the agency.
  • A family which applied to an agency but decided to change to another after reading some negative reviews. Although they knew they would lose the non-refundable application fee, they were shocked to be informed that because their application had been approved they owed a $2000 “service fee” even though absolutely nothing had been done by the agency.
  • A family found a child profile they were interested in on the “shared list” section of an agency advocacy site. The agency informed them that if they applied to the agency, they would help them find the file. The file was with another agency which refused to transfer, but now that the family had committed to the first agency by paying fees they didn’t have the freedom to switch to the agency which actually held the file.
  • I am aware of two different families who applied to an agency (they used different agencies) and started a home study but through different circumstances became ineligible to adopt before the home study was completed. Both families had paid an initial agency fee of around $5000 but both agencies refused to give even a partial refund.

We all know that adoption is expensive. Families are prepared to pay the cost of the adoption, but they usually don’t have the funds to lose $3000-$6000 if they start over with another agency. The timing of WHEN you pay the fees can give you flexibility if the first agency you work with does not turn out to be the best fit for whatever reason. I looked up the fee schedules (or tried to) for over 30 different adoption agencies with China programs. Let’s look at what I learned so you can make an informed decision when choosing an agency.

IMG_0179Fee Schedules– When I gave agency red flags, not posting a fee schedule on the agency website was one of the items I listed. A full third of agencies did not have the fee schedule available on their website or required I give personal information to receive it. Many of these agencies are the ones who do not have a good reputation. Some agencies only gave a general estimate for the costs of the China program without listing individual fees or gave fees without a timeline. The good news is that 20 agencies had at least a general breakdown of fees and when to expect to pay them. I’m sticking with my suggestion that if you don’t find a fee schedule on an agency website, don’t use them. There are plenty of agencies that give you the information you need to make an informed decision.

Application fees– Application fees ranged from $200 to $800. Application fees are not refundable. If you are considering an agency because of a waiting child, very few agencies will require an application fee to view a file. Most agencies can and will locate specific files for you free of charge because they hope to gain you as a client.

Home study– It came as a surprise to me to find that some agencies are expecting fee payment before the home study is complete. Remember that the purpose of a home study is to determine that you are eligible to adopt. Certainly most families pass the home study, but I would be hesitant to work with an agency which expects payment before you have been determined eligible to adopt.

Application approval/Contract signing– Of the agencies which had a payment that could be due before the home study was approved, most had the first payment tied to when the application was accepted or when the agency contract was signed. This fee was around $3000 with most of the agencies.  If this is the case with the agency you want to work with, consider not formally applying or signing the contract until after your home study is complete. The agency can review the home study and make changes once they have accepted you into the program. This is probably not going to work if the placing agency is also doing your home study, but it would give you the freedom to switch if you find a child at a different agency during the home study process.

Number of agency fees– It is most common for agencies to have three fees. These were typically tied to home study acceptance, referral or dossier submission, and a travel and/or post placement fee after the dossier is submitted but before travel. Here is my full tally:

  • Agencies with no fee posted: 10
  • Agencies with 1 comprehensive fee: 2
  • Agencies with 2 fees: 6
  • Agencies with 3 fees: 12
  • Agencies with 4 fees: 3
  • Agencies which required fee payment before the home study is finalized: 5

If you are not looking at an agency because you are pursuing a particular waiting child, it is beneficial to look closely at the fee schedule of potential agencies. Especially if you are anticipating submitting your dossier first to be matched with a LID child, choosing an agency which has multiple fees spaced out throughout the process will give you maximum flexibility if you end up switching agencies later. It is very common for families to begin the process intending to adopt a LID child but to find a waiting child through an advocacy group or site during the process. You might feel sure you will stay with an agency, but giving yourself flexibility is still a good idea.

Conclusion– My suggestions if you are choosing an agency:

  • Look for a detailed fee schedule to be easily available on the agency’s website.
  • Do not pay more than the application fee before your home study is approved.
  • Ask potential agencies if you can make payments on the fees or if it must be paid in full at the time it is due.
  • Ask for your agency’s refund policy. Does it vary if you voluntarily leave the agency versus if you are no longer eligible to adopt? Get the answer in writing.

If you are just beginning your adoption journey and found this post helpful, you might consider buying my book which has all of this information and more, including several chapters on travel.

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10 Pieces of advice for older child adoption

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Debbie is the mother of two children adopted at an older age. She posted the following in a group for those considering older child adoption. She has allowed me to share on my blog as a resource.

In light of current events in my life, I’ve engaged in a great deal of soul-searching about our older child adoptions, and the effect on our family and marriage. I thought, what would I want to share, what things do I feel we did “right” vs “wrong”, what would we have done different knowing what we know now? What did we learn (or being quite frank, mostly me through these groups, reading, research, etc) from these last five years? So here goes…

1. Adopting an older child means bringing a person into your home whose personality is SET. One must be willing to take them as they ARE, not how you hope they will be.

2. Understand with older kids, healthy physically does mean healthy emotionally.

3. Don’t make your current children or yourself “act better” than usual to make things “easier” for the new child; be natural from the start.

4. Files are meant to promote the child, so they will often embellish or even eliminate the truth. Read between the lines. Be skeptical, yet hopeful.

5. The more information you can gather, the more people who’ve met the child, the more pictures and video you can obtain, the better.

6. Before you travel, discuss and write down a plan if x, y, or z happens. Decide you are a parenting TEAM. If you have different parenting styles, discuss it, hash it out. A teen will test you, figure out if you can be “played” against one another. Older kids come from a place of survival in a harsh system, no matter how “good” the orphanage is. Think about whether your marriage can take it…or not.

7. Support each other, especially if the child prefers one over the other. Listen. Don’t “check out” of parenting.

8. Understand this may be the hardest thing you might have ever done. There will be days you are on your knees in either prayer or thankfulness, often in the same day or even hour.

9. Your other kids still need you too. They are adjusting as well to the new dynamic.

10. Have some basic rules in place from Day 1, especially in regards to electronics, the internet, and QQ (a Chinese app kind of like Facebook). Monitor communication if you can until you can be sure it is healthy communication.

I can look back now and see all the moments we could have handled better but I can also see how hard we tried as well. Our efforts were mostly rejected by our son adopted at age 13, but we and he survived (he lives on his own now and we communicate), and went on to apply all that we learned with our new daughter (adopted at age 9), who is amazing by the way! We chose not to adopt a teen again, having learned where our personal strengths and weaknesses lie.

I hope these words are helpful in some small way; I just wanted to share my thoughts.

What I’m Reading #17

China’s rule changes have prompted many online discussions about best social work practices and their impact or lack thereof on adoption disruption. Child Welfare.gov has a short handout which discusses known risk factors for adoption disruption or dissolution.

The CCCWA has invited families or Chinese adoptees “who are interested in obtaining additional information about their child’s or their own pre-adoption background.” Some feel this is in response to the increasing popularity of families hiring private agents to find the birth family of Chinese adoptees. You can find the statement and contact info here.

Research-China is keeping a list of birth parents who are trying to find their child. The list is organized by city and orphanage. Matches are verified via 23andme.

Great post with considerations on adopting out of birth order or virtual twinning.

The Atlantic has a photo essay entitles The Chinese Art of the Crowd with visually interesting photos which are unique to the Chinese population.

The New York Times ran a photo essay with previously unseen photos of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

InterCountry Adoptee Voices has an essay from a male Chinese adoptee from the 1990’s discussing his experience being a boy at a time when almost all Chinese adoptees were female.

Someone unearthed this article from Architect Magazine which discusses the US Consulate in Guangzhou as an award winning design.

An article in The Economist discussing the decline of adoption in America.

Instapots are very popular now. If you have one, check out this collection of pressure cooker Chinese recipes.

Liz Larson, an adoptive mom and counselor with a specialty in trauma, gives tips on how to build a loving bond with your child from day one.

Amy Eldridge of LWB writes this essay on the importance of permanence for orphaned children.

No Hands But Ours ran an excellent article discussing the practical side of adopting a child who is HIV positive.

From the WACAP blog, one mother shares her experience adopting a 7 year old boy.

For those of you considering adoption from China, the Stauffer family has been documenting their entire process on their YouTube channel. They are currently in China so it’s a great time to follow their journey. Some of the videos are on Myka Stauffer’s personal channel, such as one on what they packed for the trip.