In December 2017, the CCCWA issued an official statement regarding the customary orphanage donation. It stated that the donation should be voluntary, that parents can designate how it is used, they could “come to an agreement” with the orphanage on the donation, and that agencies should not interfere or influence parents regarding the donation. You can read the statement here.
Although I have been meaning to put up a specific post on the donation that could be shared, I didn’t immediately do so. One reason is that it’s always important to see how these things play out rather than to jump to conclusions. I was hoping that it would be followed up by the CCCWA instating a standard fee for orphanage support that would be paid to a centralized entity to distribute. Another reason is that I have strong feelings on the subject but I strive to write as neutrally as possible so I wanted to give myself time to reflect a bit.
However, yesterday an agency notified families that the Tianjin SWI has informed them that they will no longer prepare files for international adoption because so many families have not made any donation when adopting. This has set off widespread online discussion which revealed a lot of misunderstandings about the orphanage donation. I want this post to try to answer as many questions as possible so that people will feel confident they are doing the right thing by continuing to donate the customary amount.
If China said we don’t have to pay the donation anymore, why would they be mad if we chose not to pay it?
The CCCWA is the central authority governing adoption in China. However, orphanages are individually run. It is a similar set up to how the US Department of Education oversees all of education but your local school is run by your state by tax dollars you pay in your city or county. Orphanages in large cities typically are better off than those in impoverished rural areas. It is the CCCWA which made this decision without consulting the local orphanages, or even giving them advance notice of it. Orphanages plan on having a set amount being donated per adoption. That rug was suddenly pulled out from under them.
But why would orphanages stop preparing files even if people don’t donate. We’re saving them money by taking these kids off their hands!
Meredith Toering, who runs Morning Star, a charitable organization which works with orphanages in China, gave a wonderful response to this question. She explains exactly what is involved in file preparation. I have received her permission to post her words on my blog. I spelled out a few words she abbreviated for clarity.
I run Morning Star, a foster home in Beijing, and this topic has been devastating me. I was at this specific SWI [orphanage] last week checking on a child, and have been in the middle of discussions with several SWIs that I currently have children in my home from right now. I have been asking them to please start to prepare the paperwork for these kids, because I realized the orphanages had stopped reaching out to ME about paperwork needed to complete files for most of the kids.
In at least 3 specific cases with separate orphanages that I have spoken to, they have told me that they no longer want to prepare files for international adoption because “the cost and the time is no longer worth it”. There are hundreds, if not thousands of babies in orphanages. The government pays a stipend depending on how many children are in the orphanage at any given time. Quite simply: many orphanages are struggling for funds, and financially — they need that stipend for EVERY child. They lose money when they lose a child to adoption. It’s a broken scenario, but that’s the deal.
Second: it costs a substantial amount for a child’s file to be created. It is so much more than just the little check off box. There are notary fees and document shipping fees and authentication fees, and on and on and on. NOT TO MENTION ANYTHING MEDICAL. Every echocardiogram, every test, every CT or MRI or scrap of medical info that we are all so desperately looking for in those files? That all comes out of pocket from the SWI paying hospitals for those tests for the kids. Things are cheaper in China, yes. But that can easily be hundreds of dollars.
Third: it is a ridiculous, genuine hassle for orphanages to prepare this paperwork. I know because I/we have to do just a small part of it when the orphanages ask us for information and paperwork for the children we are fostering to include in their files. There is schlepping all over town to get the pictures that you need… the right documents… finding the right person who can give the right signature at the right time. Scheduling all the appointments and taking the time to fill out all those forms. It is an entire job… and they are trying to do it for child after child after child, and now seeing that the result is NOT worth all their effort.
Maybe your child didn’t receive the best care in the orphanage… maybe you think the director is going to misuse and mishandle the money. Maybe so. As with any charitable donation, once the funds are out of your hands — given — it is technically out of your control. What I have seen, more times than not, is that the orphanages are trying the very best they can with the resources that they have.
Many times, people have donated here on the other side to fund OUR adoptions, and they don’t get to specify where the money goes, how it will be used… whether or not you choose to upgrade to economy plus or tack on a trip to HK Disney or eat the nice Western meal while in China or whatever it may be. Those choices aren’t questioned and we aren’t called out by the adoption community to give a detailed account of how each and every dollar that was donated to us was spent because of the gift of the benefit of the doubt, trusting that we hold the best interest of bringing our child home at heart 💛.
That same child is the most important thing we bring home from this trip, and thanking their first home for the care they were given (whatever that standard of care may have been) by means of financial donation is, quite honestly, the most important donation you will make throughout this entire process.
Could we not extend that same grace and gift we so easily give to adoptive families working to bring their children home… to these SWIs in China, most of whom are doing the absolute BEST they can with the very little that they have… and trust that regardless of how our donation issued dollar for dollar, we are continuing to pave the road for families to come behind us… as those who came before us did for us? Sorry for the novel. Just my two cents from someone on this side of the ocean working closely in this space.
But my child is in foster care/a charity-run foster home so the orphanage hasn’t spent any money on them. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for me to pay that money to the organization that provided care for my child?
People have this question a lot. It’s wonderful that so many children are benefitting from foster care or given the additional specialized care they need for their condition. But please keep in mind that the orphanage paid to have your child’s file created. The orphanage gave permission for him or her to be moved to a medical foster care home or be included in a foster care program. Your child has *greatly* benefited from the orphanage because of that. Orphanages move children to medical foster homes because they need more care than the orphanage can provide. The fewer donations the orphanage receives, the harder it will be for them to pay for the additional staff they need to give children better care. From my view, the point of the donation isn’t to pay back some of what the orphanage spent on my specific child. It is to pay it forward so that all of the children who will never have a file prepared will get better care. When we visited our son’s orphanage, most of the children we saw there did not and would not have a file prepared. Those who have a file prepared and find an adoptive family are truly the fortunate few. Paying the full customary amount of the orphanage donation is about showing your gratitude for the opportunity your child has been given, to make sure other children are given that opportunity, and to care for those who will never be given that opportunity.
Another thing I think people forget is that you can make a donation to the charity which cared for your child at any time, not just at the time of adoption. Scrounge up to pay the full donation, then next year when you have a little more money make a donation or sponsor a child through the specific charity which cared for your child.
Has anyone not donated the full amount recently? How did that go? I’m worried if we don’t give the full amount they’ll try to guilt us into paying more. I think these kids are just money to them!
I think if you choose not to donate the full amount you should be prepared to face negative reactions to that decision. As I said, orphanages had no involvement in this decision and they are suddenly faced in a significant drop of funds they had depended on. Tammy Wombles, who works in a Chinese orphanage, has written an excellent post discussing cultural differences between the Chinese and Americans as regards the orphanage donation.
When the director of an orphanage makes a plea on behalf of the needs of the children in her care, she is doing so out of concern for those children. If the official “asks the guide to ask you for more money,” this is not the time to treat the officials in a condescending way by ignoring those requests and immediately going into a spiel about, for example, how generous your family plans to be in donating to other (wealthy) Americans who are adopting. At that point in the conversation, the orphanage officials aren’t interested in your charitable donations to others, and your talking about it is only adding fuel to the fire. If you don’t want to give more, then simply don’t give more. But be polite. And, maybe…just stop talking.
And remember, just because a family considers an amount to be “a substantial donation,” orphanage officials might actually feel quite the opposite and construe that donation as a slap in the face.
(This is a perfect time to bring up ‘face’ in Chinese culture. Things can go south pretty quickly if you cause an orphanage official (or anyone in China) to lose face. Everyone coming to China should research Chinese culture and have a general knowledge of how important ‘face’ is and how you can avoid causing someone to ‘lose face.’)
If this money is so important, why didn’t China just change it from a “donation” to a “fee”? Problem solved.
That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I wonder the same thing. However, we can’t control how China decides to handle the situation, only our response to that situation.
Look, we’d love to pay the full donation. We had planned to make the full donation. But now we’re traveling in a month but the money just isn’t there.
Here are options that our family would choose before donating less to the orphanage:
- Have only the two parents travel, no siblings.
- Choose to take zero tours, no stops at Hong Kong Disney, no “economy plus” airfare, no “executive benefits” at the hotel.
- Have only one parent travel. That pays for the donation right there. That would be a big sacrifice, but one we would happily make rather than to donate less.
- Put all of the travel expenses on a credit card so we have funds on hand to pay the donation. We can pay the travel expenses off over time, but we need to pay the donation now.
- As a very last resort, ask my agency if there is a way they could wire an additional donation on our behalf after we return home so that we could eventually pay the full amount.
Most of the time orphanage officials just pocket that donation so it’s not even going to the kids. I’m not going to encourage corruption by lining their pockets now that I don’t have to!
It is true that there will always be some corruption in the system. Both of my sons were well cared for, so I am perhaps overly optimistic in hoping that corruption is the exception rather than the rule. But the reality is that you are already participating in this system by adopting through the China program. If you are right that the particular orphanage you would have donated to is corrupt, they will likely cease to make children available for international adoption once the revenue dries up. If the orphanage is not corrupt, they now have even less money to spend on food, clothing, staff, and medical care for the children they care for. Either way, it’s the children who suffer from your decision not to donate rather than the officials.
I have no control over that money once I hand it over, but I know that I’ve done what I can to care for the children left behind. I encourage you all to continue to make the full customary orphanage donation when you adopt.