Author Archives: minefam

What makes an agency ethical?

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When choosing an agency, no one ever says “I’ll use an unethical agency.” The problem is that agency ethics is a little harder to quantify than agency costs, wait times, or travel plans. I frequently see people recommending the agency they used by saying “Use Agency X! They’re very ethical. We had no problems with our adoption.” Having a good experience with an agency is completely separate from whether or not an agency is ethical. You can have a good experience without realized you were scammed out of money. You can have a good experience adopting a child who was trafficked. You can have a good experience after paying a bribe. In fact, I think the point of paying a bribe is to prevent you from having a bad experience.

If you want to make sure you choose an agency which will give you a good experience but ALSO be acting an in ethical manner, how can you figure out which are truly ethical? Let’s look at some of the aspects which fall under ethics.

Finances

One of the first things people think of when it comes to ethics is whether an agency is going to charge more money than is necessary. This is an aspect that I have written quite a bit about but agencies make it very difficult to get the information you need. When I surveyed agency websites only a third posted a detailed cost sheet and only two or three posted their IRS 990, operating budget, or had a third party audit conducted. Uncovering excessive travel charges in advance is virtually impossible. The most important things you can do to try to find a financially ethical agency are:

  • Look for the agency cost sheet and go over it in detail.
  • If you have to pay post placement costs up front, make sure they are held in escrow and will be refundable if the agency closes or you move.
  • Ask about their post placement requirements. Some agencies require a one month visit even though China does not to try to head off problems early. This is more understandable to me than agencies which require a social worker conduct the final visits which China will let you self-report.
  • Get agency refund policies in writing. No one expects to lose a job or have a major health issue but if these things happen very early in the adoption process you will want to be with an agency that will refund at least a portion of fees you have paid.
  • Try to avoid wishful thinking. Remember “Buyer Beware.”

There have been multiple times where someone asked for my opinion on an agency. When I point out that it is not a good idea financially to pay thousands in agency fees before you ever begin your home study the response is usually “But I talked to them for an hour on the phone and they are so nice! They said we would definitely pass the home study. They said they couldn’t help us start the process until all of these fees are paid.” I’m sorry to break it to you but unethical people can be very nice. No one would give them money if they weren’t. They can lie to tell you there will be no problems and later appear convincingly surprised that a problem popped up. Having the tools you need to make a good decision will not help if you don’t use them.

Following laws

img_1105This seems basic, but an ethical agency should follow all laws and policies governing adoption including state law, US law, and relevant international law. It doesn’t matter if you think the policy is stupid. It doesn’t matter if the agency thinks they have a really good reason for going around (BREAKING) the law. Ethical agencies might advocate for changes, but they follow the law until the day those changes are implemented.

The first thing you should do is check to see if an agency has substantiated claims from the accrediting bureau. This means the accrediting entity has investigated client complaints and found them to be valid. The document containing these complaints is substantial so I have culled the ones relevant to agencies with a China program in this post.

However, not everything makes it to this list. You should also take the time to google the name of the agency with keywords like “ethics” “fraud” “scam” or “lawsuit.” Join the Rate Your China Adoption Agency group on Facebook. Use the search feature to look up former conversations about the agency. I would not be concerned about one or two people having a bad experience with an agency. What you are looking for is a consistent pattern of client complaints.

Christian agencies

Many Christian families who adopt prefer to use a Christian agency. Typically this means an agency which requires families to sign a Statement of Faith stating that they share the same (protestant Christian) theological beliefs as the agency. If you are a Christian family, I want to caution you to be diligent about investigating potential agencies. It is a very sad fact that many “Christian” agencies are the worst ethics offenders. There are two reasons for this. One is that Christians put a lot of trust into other Christians and unscrupulous people take advantage of that. Here is a story which is a good example. The Ethiopian international adoption program was closed because of the widespread child trafficking with two of the biggest offenders being “Christian” agencies.

The other reason is Christian agencies have their own separate agenda, so to speak. For many, international adoption is important because it places non-Christian children into Christian homes. A typical sentiment is “We want the children we serve to have forever families, but more than that, we want them to know the truth of the Gospel.” If that is the primary goal, agencies can sometimes go down the “the end justifies the means” path. Many of the substantiated claims found against Christian agencies are either not making sure their in-country workers are conducting legal adoptions (obtaining children who are not legal orphans falls under this category) or not making sure families are sufficiently qualified or prepared to adopt.

I understand and appreciate that many families want to use an agency which shares their beliefs and who can pray alongside them in the process. But please take the time to make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of by an agency that is Christian in name only.

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Running a business

The final category is the most fuzzy. International adoption is a business. If an agency doesn’t place enough children, they will not be able to stay financially solvent. It can be difficult for agencies to strike a balance between placing the best interests of the children first and keeping their business successful. A successful business will satisfy clients. However, policies that keep clients happy are not always policies that place the well-being of the child first. This is the difference between finding children for clients (we’ve already discussed how this can lead to trafficking) versus finding families for children. One reason the partnership system was stopped by China is the potential for pressure to be placed, intentionally or not, on orphanages to produce a certain number of the most adoptable children (young with minor needs) for their partner agency because the orphanage is receiving financial support. Is the agency receiving enough of the kind of files they want to make the financial commitment of the partnership worth it?

One of the things that many people in an agency is if they let families decide what they can handle–meaning they don’t have agency rules about adopting out of birth order, pregnancy while adopting, or adopting more than one child at once back when this was permitted by China. One could certainly argue that it would be in the best interest of the children to at least consider these policies on a case-by-case basis instead of “whatever you want, we can make happen.” I have a close friend who was surprised that their agency sent an email letting them know they could adopt two at once when they had never expressed interest. Was this trying to “sell” more adoptions?

Another popular agency policy is how strictly an agency keeps to application/MCC date for referrals. Parents feel that first come, first served is a fair principle. However, when a child with a serious medical condition is referred to a family who hasn’t started their home study rather than a family already LID simply because of the MCC date, is it in the child’s best interest to wait months longer if they aren’t approved for a medical expedite? The policies that are most disliked by parents such as deciding matching by committee are ones which are trying to put the needs of the child over the needs of the client. I know people argue passionately on both sides of these issues, but I think this is at the heart of why some people might view an agency as being business centered rather than child centered. The more children you place, the more money you make. The happier you keep your clients, the more business you will get.

None of these practices are exactly unethical. However, it’s important to remember that what makes an agency popular is giving clients what they want. Try to look for signs that an agency views the children they place as a product.

  • Does the agency advocate for children who are older or who have more intensive needs?
  • Do featured client family photos show families with older children or visible needs or do all of the family photos seem to have very cute young children?
  • Does the website have information to educate families about older child adoption and the different kinds of medical needs or does it seem focused on telling you that you can be matched with a young child with minor needs relatively quickly?

Regardless of the child profile you are wanting to adopt, looking for these things is a good way to discern whether an agency is truly trying to find homes for children or whether they are trying to pull in as many clients as possible. Choosing to give your business to a reputable child-centered agency is the best way to close down unethical agencies.

What I’m Reading #21

I know it has been a while since I updated the blog. First, we’re past most of the big changes so there hasn’t been a lot to report. Secondly, one of my sons has had a big surgery and has been in and out of the hospital so I’ve been busy with his care. However, I didn’t want National Adoption Month to pass by entirely without a blog post so here are all of the articles I’ve saved over the past few months.

The biggest news is that about a week ago the CCCWA released instructions regarding foreign adoptive parents traveling back to visit orphanages on heritage tours. Orphanages can no longer charge for these visits, they must let families tour the orphanage, view the child’s file, and be generally welcoming. You can read the initial China News Net release here using Google Translate.

The Atlantic recently ran a feature about Second Chance Adoptions called When Families Un-Adopt a Child.

Korean-American adoptee Nicole Chung recently wrote a memoir titled All You Could Ever Know which has been well received in adoption circles. The Fraught Language of Adoption is an interview with her which explores her feelings about adoption.

The National Council for Adoption has an interesting breakdown of the financial aspects of international adoption agencies in their post Where Does All the Money Go?

From China File, a look at how China’s NGO law has effected international adoption.

Chuck Johnson, of the National Council for Adoption, penned an opinion piece for USA Today accusing the US State Department of being anti-adoption and blaming their policies for the steep decline in intercountry adoption over the past 15 years. I feel the decline is because the population of children available to be adopted internationally has changed from healthy infants to older children and those with special needs. However, many in the adoption community share Johnson’s opinion.

On WACAP’s blog read the heartwarming We Could Have Missed This: Adopting a son.

The Global Times ran an article looking at the factors involved in China’s increasing birth defect rates.

Elizabeth Curry responds to the ever popular question of why anyone should consider adopting internationally when there are children in the US needing homes.

Holt’s blog has a post on considering alcohol exposure as a need for your child. This is typically seen in Korean adoptions rather than China because there is no birth parent information in Chinese files. However, it is still good information to keep in mind.

From WACAP’s blog, a summary of the changes they’ve seen in the China program and why they still feel it’s an excellent choice for families.

Adoptee Ashley Westerman reports on international adoption for NPR’s Morning Edition. You can find links for both parts here.

Kristin writes a poignant post for NHBO on her feelings about not being able to move forward with adopting a specific child after China’s eligibility changes last year right after they had sent in LOI.

MLJ Adoptions has a good post on protecting your child’s privacy while fundraising for adoption costs.

Greg Eubanks writes how his perspective has changed over the years about their decision to change their son’s name at adoption.

Miscellaneous China program updates

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Almost all of my posts from the past few months have been about the many program changes of the last year. I don’t really have enough to post an update on a specific topic, but I wanted to share a few pieces of information about how the changes are playing out as they have been in place for a longer time period.

Child Updates – Now that the CCCWA is requiring all updates to go through them, the wait time to receive an update has increased significantly. I am hearing that two months is the average amount of time it takes to receive a child update. If you are requesting information on a child you are considering adopting, you should expect to make a decision about whether or not to move forward with only the information in the file.

Some agencies are charging for updates. I was told by my agency contacts that when the CCCWA started requiring all updates come through them, they stopped charging an update fee. Updates are now free for your agency. If your agency is requiring you to pay you are at their mercy if you want the update.

Third party update services like Ladybugs ‘n Love or Ann at Red Thread are still able to get updates from some orphanages, but many orphanages no longer work with them because of the new guideline.

Transferring files– There are still many families who are finding children on photo listings which they would like to adopt. The new US Department of State guidelines require agencies to transfer files if they do not have any interested families. The implementation of this policy has been mixed. Some agencies are transferring files as required while others are reportedly having an interested family magically appear at their agency just in time to prevent them from having to transfer the file. You can report agencies which you feel are not complying to IAAME, but it is unlikely that anything will be done in time for you to receive the file you think they are hoarding.

Submitting LOI– I have heard accounts that some agencies are allowing families to submit LOI without an approved home study. They will keep the child on their agency photo listing until the home study is complete to meet the US State Dept requirement that the child not be locked to a family without a home study. In theory, if another family stepped forward with a complete home study, the first family would have to rescind their LOI so that the second family could submit LOI. Time will tell whether this practice will be accepted by the DoS and IAAME.

Orphanage donation– Payment of the now optional orphanage donation continues to be a hot topic among families in the China program. Some orphanages have stated that they will not be continuing to prepare files because donations have fallen off so much that it’s simply not worth their while to do so.

A few orphanages have decided to “encourage” people to donate the full amount by offering different passport processing times for those who donate the full amount. If you make the full donation, you will spend the normal 5 days in province. If you do not donate the full amount, you will spend 2 weeks in province waiting for your child’s passport to be processed. I have to admire the creativity of this approach. Families tend to not spare money on expenses which make travel more comfortable for themselves such as economy plus airfare or executive benefits at the hotel. If you now have to pay for an extra week of hotel and guide service, you might as well put that amount of money as the orphanage donation and shave a week off your travel time, right? If orphanages are having to reduce staffing because of the decrease in donations, I’m sure they feel expending precious employee time preparing paperwork for families that don’t donate is a low priority.

Parents who are effected by this are angrily making claiming this constitutes bribery, which is a fair accusation. Even for those in other areas, people want to know what sort of reaction they should expect from officials in their area if they do not donate the full amount. I would like to remind people that the CCCWA implemented this policy without consulting the orphanages involved, or even giving them advance warning in order to try to cope with a steep decline in their operating budget. I think it’s asking a bit much to expect orphanage officials to smile and be happy as you offer them an insultingly low amount, a box of used clothing, or nothing at all. Many people have the view that they are doing the orphanage a favor by “taking these kids off their hands.” Please keep in mind that adopting these children in a privilege that China allows us. They can stop international adoption at any time. Orphanages ARE deciding that they will not do us the favor of preparing files. How much to donate is a very personal decision, but I encourage everyone to donate the full customary amount if at all possible. I address many of the concerns people have about the donation in this post.

IMG_0554Agency involvement in the donationThe CCCWA has made it clear that they do not want agencies involved in the orphanage donation in any way at avoid influencing the amount that families donate. Some agencies are distributing a kind of FAQ about the donation to families similar to my blog post to help clear up misconceptions that families might have about the donation. This is presumably to encourage them to donate but is merely giving information to help them decide how much to donate.

A few agencies are requiring that the families pay the full donation amount to the agency before travel. Families are free to choose the donation amount and what is not donated will be refunded once the family returns from China. This is kind of skirting the line of inducing families to donate. However, these agencies are refusing to release the Travel Authorization for families that do not hand over the full amount to the agency. As much as I encourage people to donate the full amount, this is unethical. As far as I am aware, the contract you sign with an agency notifies you that they will halt your adoption if your fees are not paid at the time of travel. These agencies are ones which have included the orphanage donation with their China program fees, so you may not have any legal recourse. However, I suggest that you report the agency to USCIS, IAAME, the CCCWA, and mention it to the US consulate in Guangzhou because these agencies will have to change this practice if they are told they have to by government entities.

Matching times– We are now at the point where there should be very few partnership designated files remaining. Most newly prepared files should be released directly to the shared list. Here is the breakdown of recent file releases:

August- 66 files: 52 special focus, 14 LID (7 LID girls)

July- 46 files: 36 special focus, 10 LID (3 LID girls)

June- 61 files (two release dates): 55 special focus, 6 LID (2 LID girls)

May- 74 files: 62 special focus, 12 LID (6 LID girls)

To date, there have been 388 files released to the shared list this year. In 2017, there were 314 total files released to the shared list. This shows that the amount of files released to the shared list has increased as the partnership system is being phased out. However, the amount of files released monthly is still less than one would expect if all the files received from partnerships were put directly on the shared list. There are a few theories people have for this:

  • Orphanages typically prepare files in batches once or twice a year. If many orphanages pushed to prepare as many files as possible by the end of last year, they might only now be beginning to prepare another batch. If this is the case, the number of files should only increase through the next year.
  • Fewer orphanages are preparing files or choosing to prepare fewer files because of the decrease in orphanage donations from parents.
  • The CCCWA has made a conscious decision to significantly decrease the amount of young children with minor needs available for international adoption, much like the sudden decrease in files of healthy infants available which occurred in 2006.

Any or all of these might be a factor. As you can see, there were only 18 LID designated girl files in the past four months. Some of them were older girls, not toddlers but there were also special focus designated girl files that had needs which many people consider minor. Either way, there are not many files available of the most popular “minor needs girl under 2” profile. Given the number of waiting families with agencies around the world, you will need to be prepared for a significant wait time to match unless you are open to changing your child profile.

 

Taking the bus to Hong Kong

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Although American families end their adoption trip in Guangzhou, China, many will travel to Hong Kong to fly home. There are a few reasons for this. First, the Guangzhou airport has a reputation for having major flight delays. Secondly, Hong Kong was a port city to the West for many years. For this reason there are more direct flight options available. Fares are often significantly cheaper departing from Hong Kong, enough to make it worth the trouble of traveling there and getting an airport hotel for the night. Most families travel to Hong Kong by either private van or train (tickets are around $25/adult plus taxi fare to the station). However, taking a bus is a lesser known option. This is a guest post from adoptive parent Kaylin who recently returned from China. She has helpfully provided photos as well.

34132891_10109209027467165_312276424868233216_nWe are flying out of Hong Kong in the morning and came to HK by bus this afternoon. I wanted to provide some additional information as my research indicated this is an underutilized resource. A $400 private van or challenging (yet more economical) train ride are not your only options for getting from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. I made notes as we used the CTS Bus this afternoon and am including as much detail as possible so that hopefully others will benefit from this information. The bus station is literally steps away from the entrance to the China Hotel. When you exit the China hotel (where we stayed), you immediately turn left and walk down the sidewalk. You basically will run into the bus station. Have your guide help you purchase tickets the day before you plan to use the bus… there are tickets that are direct to the airport and others that aren’t. Our guide was able to help ensure we got on a direct bus. The bus runs about every 30 minutes from 5:30am to 9:00pm.
33987311_10109209037077905_4086098307636527104_nThe bus is an approximately 50-passenger air-conditioned Greyhound-style bus. It costs 210RMB ($32.81 USD) per ticket; Free for kids under three. We bought two tickets for 1:00 pm today since our daughter is 2. At 12:50 we arrived to the bus station and an English-speaking CTS staff looked at our ticket and told us which bus to get on. We loaded our own suitcases onto the luggage area beneath the bus. The bus left China hotel promptly at 1:00pm. It made no additional stops but other passengers were on the bus who had already been picked up. The bus was a little over half full.

 

34016200_10109209041024995_8570710649095585792_nAt 2:52pm, we arrived at HK customs/immigration station where everyone got off the bus. As soon as we got off the bus, CTS staff (in shirts indicating they worked for CTS) identified us, confirmed where we were going, and told us to grab our luggage. They directed us to a minivan going to the airport. Before we got in the minivan, we were handed short immigration forms to fill out. We were directed by CTS staff to the appropriate minivan going nonstop to HK airport. The times with just an airplane beneath them are direct to the airport.

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At 3:05 pm, after we got into the minivan, we gave the completed forms and our passports to the driver. One other passenger was in the minivan going to HK airport. The first stop the van made was to China immigration inspection. The driver simply handed the agent the form we filled out and passports. The other passenger was asked to show his boarding pass (he handed them his phone with that info pulled up), but we weren’t asked to show a boarding pass. We stayed in the van. The driver then drove forward to the customs declaration kiosk-an agent came to van and took our temperature with an infrared thermometer — again, we stayed in the van whole time.

By 3:11pm, we were heading to the airport. No additional stops were made.

At 3:46pm, we arrived at the HK airport. The other passenger in the minivan with us got out and then we asked the driver if he would take us to our hotel (Marriott Skycity) which we could see from the airport drop off spot. He graciously complied. If he hadn’t, we would’ve found the shuttle to the Marriott Skycity that runs every 20 minutes.

At 3:51pm we arrived at Marriott Skycity. The whole process took just under three hours. If we had planned to take the bus from china hotel to HK airport tomorrow morning to make our 2:30 pm flight, our guide was suggesting that we leave at 5-6am due to the possibility of traffic in GZ and HK. We did not run into traffic at the hours we traveled today.  That would’ve made for a very long travel day so we opted to come to Hong Kong a day early. The bus also stops at the garden hotel.

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A year of change in the China program

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It has been quite a year in the China program. I decided to mark the occasion by putting up a timeline summary to help families see how changes were implemented on both the China and US side.

June 2017

The CCCWA announced revised parent eligibility criteria. The new guidelines are overall more restrictive, although a few areas are more lenient than they were previously. The changes which have effected the most people are the family size limit, age of youngest child in the home, and that you must wait a year after an adoption before adopting again.

These guidelines eliminated being able to adopt two unrelated children at once and effectively ended the dossier reuse option.

July 2017

The CCCWA issued a statement that ended hosting programs and agency partnerships. While the parent eligibility guidelines were in effect immediately, the partnership system would be phased out over the course of a year.

August 2017

The US State Department announces the International Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME) as an accrediting entity. IAAME will take over as the accreditation entity for agencies from the Council on Accreditation. While this does not directly effect the China program, all US agencies with a China program must abide by their guidelines or they could have their accreditation revoked. This change will bring other big changes in the coming months, but we did get a bit of a break until the end of the year.

December 2017

The CCCWA stated that the customary orphanage donation is now completely optional. Parents can decide the amount to donate, designate how it is used, and the form of donation (material goods rather than cash). Agencies are prohibited from coercing parents into donating. While some families have taken advantage of this opportunity to save money by not donating at all, there are good reasons to continue to donate the customary amount.

January 2018

Any files which were not received at Civil Affairs before January 1st will now be placed on the shared list once they are ready.

February 2018

February was an especially eventful month. On February 1st, IAAME released their fee schedule. Because IAAME will have paid employees who travel to countries to inspect the in country operations of accredited agencies, they will need a much larger operating budget than the COA which mostly used volunteers. Each family will now pay a $500 maintenance and oversight fee (per child adopted) to their agency. They will likely see an increase in agency fees as well, although the fee structure varies by agency size and scope.

At a meeting between the US Office of Children’s Issues and a delegation from the CCCWA, the CCCWA states that all updates must now go directly through the CCCWA. An agency cannot use an in country agent or their (former) partnership connections to get the requested update on a child.

The CCCWA stated at the meeting that as of January 2018, no waivers would be granted for families who do not meet the eligibility guidelines. However, no waivers had been granted for at least a year prior to that so it was more like reiterating that this policy is here to stay.

Later in the month, the US State Department indicated through a footnote in a FAQ about IAAME that parents would no longer be able to be matched with a child unless they have a completed home study. This practice, called “soft matching” by the State Department, is common in the China program because China grants families provisional approval for a match even if they do not have a completed home study for children whose files are designated special focus.

March 2018

The US State Department issues an extended clarification on the requirement that parents have an approved home study before they can be matched with a child. In addition, they state that agencies must transfer a file for a family with an approved home study if they cannot match the child with a family at their own agency.

April 2018

IAAME officially takes over monitoring and oversight responsibilities from the COA. In the months leading up to the transition there were several 10 day agency accreditation suspensions generally credited to the COA clearing out their cases.

April is also the month when several large agencies received the last of their partnership files. At this time matching has almost completely transitioned to the shared list.

Hopefully, we have all of the big changes behind us and can settle down into the new normal. If you are wondering what the adoption process would look like if you started now, I explain how it all works now in this post.

How does this all work now, anyway??

Those who are new to adoption are always a little confused by the process but lately confusion about the China program process is by no means limited to newbies. Maybe you adopted from China a really long time ago, like back in the ancient of times of late 2016, and now that you’re ready to start the process again you find yourself bewildered by all of the changes. My goal with this post is to give a short summary of the current process, as well as answer common questions. I will try to make it clear when I’m giving verified information as opposed to giving my own speculation as to how some things will be effected by the changes. Let’s start with the process.

  1. Preliminary

Make sure you qualify to adopt under China’s current eligibility guidelines. The June 2017 eligibility requirements are more restrictive than those issued in December 2014. The CCCWA reiterated in January 2018 that they will not be granting waivers for families who do not meet the requirements. However, I always suggest families contact a reputable agency about the requirements before ruling out the China program, particularly if the issue is the health or financial requirements. There is a lot of complexity to the guidelines so often people assume they are not eligible when they in fact are eligible.

2. Begin the home study process

The new US guidelines require a family have a completed home study before they can be matched with a child. Everyone should start on their home study as soon as possible because you cannot be matched without it. The home study process will take several weeks, so you can choose your placing agency during that time.

If you previously preferred to find your child and sign with the agency which held the file before beginning a home study, that is not an option any longer. It’s my understanding that you could get your home study to the point where it needs a placing agency to finalize, then sit in a holding pattern until you have found a child you wish to pursue. The placing agency which holds the file can work quickly to finalize your home study so that you can be matched with the child.

For those families who only need a home study update, you could choose to look for your child before beginning the update. However, you cannot submit LOI until the update is complete so you would need to understand there is the possibility that someone else could lock the file during that time.

3. Have a finalized home study and be signed with a placing agency

Congratulations! Now you can be matched with any special focus file.

4. Have your dossier logged into the CCCWA’s system

Congratulations! Now you can be matched with any file, whether it is designated LID or special focus. In addition, if you would like to pursue a child whose file is designated to another agency, they are required to transfer the file to your agency. If you would like to understand how the shared list matching process works or how to minimize your wait for a match, read this blog post.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are these changes going to effect wait times to be matched?

It is difficult to predict wait times at the moment because partnership files are only now tapering off. We don’t have a lot of shared list matching data to know what the average is going to look like. In my opinion:

  • If you are open to older children or those with moderate-greater special needs, you will still be able to be matched almost immediately. There are thousands of children who have a completed file who are waiting for a family right now. Close to half of them have either Down syndrome or cerebral palsy as their diagnosis. About one-third are over ten years of age.
  • For small agencies which couldn’t afford to have dozens of partnerships, the wait time to match will probably decrease because they will have access to more files under an all shared list program.
  • For agencies with a long list of waiting families who used to have a guaranteed supply of files through their dozens of partnerships, the wait times will probably increase.

I anticipate that wait times to match will vary greatly among agencies, as they did under the partnership system. However, I would not suggest choosing an agency based solely on their promises of a quick match time. Read through the various blog posts I have written on how to choose an agency that is a good fit for your family to make sure you are choosing a reputable agency.

Does the wait time at an agency really matter since agencies have to transfer files now?

I think it does. The partnership system was really a disadvantage for children whose files fell into the middle ground of parent preferences. Suppose an agency received a partnership file for an 18 month old girl with dwarfism. If none of the 40 families in process at their agency were open to dwarfism as a special need, she would be placed on their photolisting to hopefully recruit a family. Dwarfism is not a need that a large number of families are open to, but it’s not a completely rare need for families to accept either. Today, when her file gets placed on the shared list it is certain that several of the thousands of families waiting around the world would be happy to lock the file. A file with that profile will be matched more quickly under the shared list program than it would be tied to a particular agency for 3 months.

Under the partnership system, it was easy to find the files of young boys with minor needs or girls under the age of five with moderate special needs on photolistings simply because there were no families at that particular agency which could be matched with them. I believe that with all files going to the shared list, we will be seeing a shift to older children or those with more involved needs on photolistings which were designated to the agency by the CCCWA for advocacy only after the file had been on the shared list for some time without being matched. If you are signing with an agency that has a long list of families to match, I don’t think you should count on being able to easily find a file that meets your criteria at another agency to transfer to your agency.

You said if I find a file at another agency, they’re required to transfer it if we’re LID, but I thought the rule was that they had to transfer it to any family with an approved home study?

It depends on which rule and what method of transfer. The US Department of State says that files should be transferred for a family with a completed home study. However, they are writing generally for any type of adoption program. China’s policy is that LID families are to be given preference. If an agency has no family to match with a file, the CCCWA will transfer the file to another agency for a LID family. In this case, the CCCWA policy will be the one that matters because they are the ones who can move files.

However, there are two types of file transfers. One involves appealing to the CCCWA and having them move the file. The other option is a coordinated file release. This is when Agency A and Agency B work together to move a file. Agency A informs Agency B that they will release the file at 2 pm EST on a particular day. Agency B is waiting to lock the file at that moment. There is a slight chance another agency will lock it instead, being unaware that a coordinated file release is taking place. However, most of the time the file is moved this way without incident. If you have an approved home study, an agency could chose to transfer a file to your agency in this way if they are feeling cooperative. If they are not feeling cooperative, they say the CCCWA won’t transfer the file unless the family is LID as a way to keep the file longer.

When I adopted before, I was matched with a partnership file. My agency was able to request an update so we had current medical and developmental information available to decide whether we wanted to adopt the child or not. How does that work now?

Agencies could use their partnership designation to allow parents a longer time to make a decision. In addition, they were often able to get updates quickly using their partnership connection. Shared list files can only be locked for 72 hours. Adding to the challenges, the CCCWA has said that agencies may not have direct contact with orphanages. All updates must now go through the CCCWA, so it will be impossible to receive an update before deciding to submit a Letter of Intent to adopt. You will have very little time to make a decision and it will need to be made based on the information you have in the file. It is best to have an International Adoption Clinic lined up for file review to make the most of the information in the file. I think that there will be more families who withdraw LOI later in the process once updated information is finally received as a result of this change.

I heard that we don’t have to pay the orphanage donation anymore. Is that true? It would be awesome to be able to save that money!

It is true that as of December 2017 the orphanage donation is no longer required. However, I suggest you plan to donate the customary amount. Please give careful consideration to this important issue before deciding to reduce the amount or not donate at all.

 

I hope this has made it easier to understand the process when you adopt through the China program. If you still have questions, please leave a comment or send me a message!

Five ways to shorten your wait for a match

I realize this is the closest I’ve come to a click-bait title. I do apologize, but “Five ways, which are not quick and easy, to maybe or maybe not shorten your wait for a match” was too long to fit in the title space.

Now that we are getting into May, we are starting to see more of a shift to matching by shared list rather than partnership files. The (generally) monthly release of new files to the shared list is becoming important to people waiting for a match. Everyone is anxious to be matched as soon as possible but wait times are unpredictable. Here are some things you can do to minimize your wait.

1. Make sure you understand what kind of wait you have before you

Assuming you are not able to be matched with a waiting child, your agency will match families in order of either MCC date or LID date. You are essentially in line at your agency to be matched. When a new file is released to the shared list, if your agency has a family open to that child’s profile, they can lock the file for that particular family. All agencies have access to the shared list, so while multiple agencies might have a family they want to match the file with only one agency will be able to lock the file. If the family reviews the file and decides that child isn’t a good match for them, it will return to the shared list. The agency which locked the file cannot lock it again for a week, so they can’t simply pass the file to the next family on their list.

Many families begin eagerly awaiting a referral call as soon as their dossier is logged in, but it could be months before your agency has matched enough waiting families that you are close to the top of the list. Here are a few questions to get a better idea of whether you should be expecting to be matched within the next 2-3 months or if you should settle in for a long wait (see #5).

  • How many families do you have waiting to be matched right now?
  • Where does our family fall in the list of waiting families?
  • How many families did you match from the shared list last month?
  • Would you say our MCC is very open, average, or restricted compared to other waiting families?

If you are very early in the process (have not yet sent your dossier to China) and find you should expect a long wait with your agency, you can consider switching agencies. Wait times are unpredictable at the moment, but it is undeniable that some agencies have a long list of families to match while other agencies are advertising that they have only a handful of families with dossiers in China. If agencies match, say, 3 families per month with new files from the shared list, you will be matched faster at an agency with 6 waiting families than one with 60 waiting families. I would not suggesting switching agencies without careful consideration, but some families might feel this is the right decision for them. I have several blog posts to help you evaluate potential agencies to make sure you are choosing an ethical agency that is right for your family. This post is a good starting place.

2. Re-evaluate age 

Your agency will ask you to give an age range for the child you wish to adopt. The age range is the upper limit, so if you write down that you want a child under two and your agency has the file of a child who is 26 months old, you will probably not be considered for that child. Because the majority of families will request a child under two, opening your age range will allow your agency to consider more files for you. However, age range preferences vary by gender so moving up to age three might not make much difference on your wait time if you are requesting a girl. More families are open to girl through age five, while the number of people open to boys steeply declines once a boy reaches age three. Here are numbers taken from the shared list in February 2018 to illustrate file availability by age:

  • Children under the age of 1: 0 girls, 1 boy
  • Age 1: 2 girls, 17 boys
  • Age 2: 17 girls, 78 boys
  • Age 3: 74 girls, 185 boys
  • Age 4: 82 girls, 200 boys
  • Age 5: 98 girls, 223 boys

Besides wanting to keep birth order, the factor which holds many people back from considering older children is the concern that older children will have more problems attaching. This could certainly be the case for some older children, but there is no major difference in attachment between a one year old and a three year old. It is also possible for children under the age of two to have attachment difficulties. So much of attachment will depend on what sort of care your child received, trauma your child might have experienced, how many placements they have had, and their own personality. There is really no magical formula for guaranteeing attachment. Take some time to consider whether a 3, 4, or 5 year old might be a wonderful addition to your family.

3. Re-evaluate special needs

When you are unsure of the idea of adopting a child with medical needs in the first place, it’s especially hard to know what to sign up for. It can be daunting to sift through the medical conditions list when it ranges from familiar scary medical diagnoses like spina bifida and HIV+ to unfamiliar yet still scary sounding medical conditions like thalassemia or Tetralogy of Fallot. If your medical conditions list only contains the “popular” needs like minor heart conditions, club feet, and cleft lip/cleft palate it will take longer for you to be matched than someone who is open to other less popular needs.

You absolutely should not mark needs you are not comfortable with simply to be matched sooner. However, while you are waiting to be matched is a great time to continue educating yourself about the needs available. As you learn more about a particular need, you may find it is one which would be manageable for your family. Here are two posts from my blog to get you started:

Which Special Needs

More considerations when choosing special needs

4. Re-evaluate gender 

Whether you look at domestic infant, foster, or international adoption, adoptive parents overwhelming prefer to adopt girls. Some people choose the China program specifically because you can choose the gender of your child. People have individual reasons for this choice. However, for many who are starting their first adoption from China the gender preference is not something they’ve thought deeply about. You thought you could only adopt girls from China, you’ve spent all this time visualizing your daughter from China, and the idea of adopting a boy just sounds strange.

If that’s the case for you, give some thought to becoming open to either gender. There is really nothing to lose by telling your agency that you will accept either a boy or a girl. When they send you a file, give it a look. If you don’t feel the child is right for you, you can decline the referral. However, by limiting your criteria to only a girl you might miss out on a wonderful opportunity.

For a longer discussion of the adoptive parent preference for girls, please read this blog post.

5. Accept the wait

If you are confident that you are with the right agency, and the age, special needs, and gender you have marked are really what you feel comfortable with, then accept that. It is worth it to you, despite the wait. Adopting a child is a lifelong decision–there are no shortcuts to finding that child. Your agency will let you know when they have found a file that they think is a good match.

My advice is to take a step back if you know you will have a long wait. Haunting the adoption groups and photolistings will only cause you to feel frustrated that it is taking so long to see your child’s face. Leave the groups until you have a match. Spend your time occupying yourself with projects that have nothing to do with adoption. Creating A Family has a list of 42 ways to survive the adoption wait that will give you plenty of ideas. Hopefully, you will get that phone call from your agency sooner than you think.