Category Archives: Uncategorized

What I’m Reading #22

Holt’s post adoption services has a video series on the process of searching for birth parents.

A family shares their experience adopting a Deaf child on No Hands But Ours.

Elizabeth at Ordinary Time has a frank discussion on attachment.

Love Without Boundaries blogs about foster care in China and the trend back toward institutionalization which is occurring.

Liz Larson posts on how to build a loving bond with your child from Day 1.

Books For Littles has an adoptee written blog post discussing children’s books about and featuring adoption.

Sixth Tone has an article discussing the lives of orphans who age out of Chinese orphanages.

A review of the documentary One Child Nation.

NPR has an excellent article about how access to health care has changed over the past decade in China. This is directly relevant to China adoption as many children are abandoned because of the high cost of medical care.

CNN reports on a study which finds that many of China’s “missing girls” were actually unregistered.

Red Table Talk (Jada and Willow Smith with Gammy) features an interview a black transracial adoptee about her experience growing up in an all white family in an all white town.

CCAI Temporary Cessation of China Program

I received a notice today from the US State Department that CCAI’s has been ordered by IAAME, the accrediting entity, to have a temporary cessation of their China program. You can read the notice online here. The length of the cessation was not mentioned but typically temporary suspensions are for 10 days. I will update as more information becomes known.

Here are the substantiated claims found by IAAME.

Screen Shot 2019-10-09 at 8.01.54 AM

If you are currently in process with CCAI please be assured that you will be contacted by them with information on how this will effect your process. Most people will not be effected at all but some families will have a minor delay.

USCIS changes may effect children adopted by military families stationed overseas

On August 28th, USCIS issued a policy update which states that US military or government employees stationed overseas are no longer considered “residing in the US” for citizenship purposes. Almost immediately, articles were published with headlines stating military dependents born overseas will no longer be natural born US citizens. Because of the confusion, additional clarifications were made. Military families and expatriates do adopt internationally so this policy update has caused a lot of anxiety within the international adoption community.

I took the time to read through the actual document as well as news articles from a variety of sources. HOWEVER, I am not an immigration expert. Nor have I ever been in the military or resided overseas. This is simply my understanding of the changes.

First, some people were concerned that because internationally adopted children were born to non-US citizens, that makes them ineligible to become citizens. However, at the point of legal adoption, you become the child’s parents. They are not considered natural born US citizens, but their citizenship is derived from your citizenship. Adoption is specifically addressed in the document.

Screen Shot 2019-09-02 at 1.42.55 PM

So, as long at least one adoptive parent is a US citizen, your child is eligible to become a US citizen. But all of these conditions must be met. That means if you are not residing in the United States when the child is adopted, the residency requirement is not met. This is detailed in the footnotes for the above section.

Screen Shot 2019-09-02 at 1.46.10 PM

For US citizen parents residing in the United States, their child’s citizenship is processed upon landing at a US port of entry. Previously, expatriates who adopted still needed to make a trip back to the Unites States to “activate” their child’s US citizenship. Most would make a short trip back to the US after the adoption was finalized in country, have the paperwork processed, apply for a passport for their child, then return to their country of residence. My understanding of the above is that this process would now only establish the child as a Lawful Permanent Resident rather than a citizen if the parents reside outside of the US. The child would only become eligible for citizenship after returning to the US to live with their parents in an established residency unlike natural born children who would be eligible through birth.

If this is correct, military families would have to file for citizenship for their adopted children once they return to live in the United States and this would have to happen before the child turns 18. This will probably be more of a problem for the children of diplomats who are more likely to reside outside of the US on a more long term basis than military families. The family at the “Diplofam blog” has adopted three children from China but because they are career diplomats they did not have a permanent residence in the United States during any of that time. (I do know this family but am not publishing their name for security purposes.) The USCIS official who responded to press inquiries stressed that these changes would effect “very few families a year” but this will still be a very serious issue for those in that situation.

Please leave a comment if you think I am interpreting this wrongly. I will update the blog post if more information becomes available.

 

China renews orphan hosting programs

In July 2017, the CCCWA ended their orphan hosting programs at the same time they announced that partnership programs would be dissolved. Now, two years later, the CCCWA is bringing back orphan hosting programs. Currently there are several different agencies known to be participating.

Cradle of Hope is one of the earliest to have full details available. They are bringing children to the DC area for hosting. My understanding is that the children in their program are considered the most adoptable from a particular orphanage, not children who might need more advocacy. The youngest child available for hosting is 4. Gladney’s US based hosting program involves a camp like setting with structured activities. CCAI also has information available on their US based hosting program. They list 5 as the youngest age of child available for hosting.

Many families are enthusiastic about orphan hosting programs because they can be very effective at placing children. However, there are some serious drawbacks as well. For younger children or those with cognitive disabilities, traveling can be traumatic because they do not have sufficient understanding about what is happening. Children are often told by orphanage employees that they need to be on their best behavior so they can get a family. This places a huge burden on the kids who will feel that they are to blame if they do not find a family after being hosted. For a longer discussion of the pros and cons of orphan hosting programs, see this post I wrote previously.

Previously, the files of children who were participating in hosting programs were held by the agency hosting them. It is not yet known whether that will be the case for those in the current program. If a family who is not involved in hosting is interested in adopting a specific child chosen to participate, will the family be able to submit LOI? Will the child be removed from the hosting program? If the agencies will hold the files, how long will they have the files? There is a lot of information we do not yet have about how all of this will work.

A few agencies are having volunteers or parents from the US travel to China. This aspect has generated a lot of discussion because it seems as if a parents who are matched with a child can use the trip as an opportunity to meet the child. Here is some initial information from CHI:

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.02.30 PM

Gladney’s information page, which I linked to above, has the following:

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.42.58 PM

In many ways, this is similar to other country programs where international adoptions involve two trips so that the parents and child can get to know each other. This can certainly be beneficial to both of them in many ways. For those concerned about reducing adoption disruption, having parents be able to meet the child can help them to have a realistic understanding of their child’s special need and development.

However, this could bring some major downsides. How will the parents be presented to the child? If the parents decide not to proceed with the adoption after meeting the child, will the child know that they have been rejected? The information from some agencies has been open ended enough that this could turn into a program where you get to “child shop” by meeting lots of children in the orphanage and choosing the one you like best to adopt. In all of these cases families still have the danger of not understanding that it can take a long time to truly get to know a child’s personality and abilities, whether you host them in their home or meet them in their orphanage. If a child seems unresponsive because they are shy around strangers, there is the danger than not only could the prospective family decide not to adopt the child, but that future families would be scared off because this initial wrong first impression.

For either hosting program, it’s important to ask yourself if it is truly beneficial to the child. Hosting programs, including this opportunity to travel to meet a prospective child you will adopt, are most likely to benefit older children who have moderate or greater needs. But previous experience has shown that they will mostly involve younger children with moderate or less involved needs. My opinion is that you should tread carefully, ask a lot of questions before committing to a program, and don’t immediately assume that hosting programs are always beneficial to the children involved.

Shared list 2017 & 2018

In July 2017, the CCCWA announced an end to the partnership system. Any files which reached the provincial level of civil affairs by December 31, 2017 would still be designated to partner agencies. The general expectation is that the amount of new files posted the shared list would increase throughout 2018 as the partnership files came to an end. You can see on this chart at Red Thread Advocates that there was an initial jump in shared list numbers in July 2017 with a steady increase thereafter.

I was sent a summary of shared list releases from 2017 and 2018. Here is the information from 2017:

Screen Shot 2019-02-19 at 9.22.51 AM

There was no real increase in the amount of files released to the shared list by the end of 2017. However, by the end of 2018 the number of files released to the shared list had doubled.

Screen Shot 2019-02-19 at 12.48.03 PM

 

That’s a lot of data to take in, so here are a few quick points that can be drawn.

  • In 2018, file releases remained approximately monthly.
  • The amount of files released to the shared list in 2018 was double the number released in 2017.
  • Other than one abnormally large file release in 2017, the amount of files released was generally around 30. Beginning in March 2018, there were never fewer than 50 files released in a month.
  • However, this is still not as many as you would expect to see if all files were being added to the shared list. In 2017, a single large agency could receive 30 partnership files in a month.
  • In 2017 the number of LID girls per release ranged from 0-5, while in 2018 it was 0-12. Even with all new files going to the shared list, there were never more than 12 LID girl files released for all of the families waiting around the world.
  • There has been much speculation that the number of LID girl files is decreasing. There were more than twice as many LID girl files released in 2018 than in 2017. But again, this is not as many files as you would have expected to see if all of the partnership files were being released to the shared list. While we don’t have any way of knowing the total number of LID girl files prepared by the CCCWA previously, it seems safe to speculate that the overall number is down even though the amount posted to the shared list has increased.
  • The age range of LID files has remained consistent. In 2017, LID girls were as young as 11 months and as old as 8 years. In 2018, the youngest was 10 months and the oldest was 8 years.
  • There continues to be more boy files released, both special focus and LID. In addition, girls are designated LID at older ages than boys. In general, LID boys are under age 3, though they can be as old as 5 (with a single boy in the past two years being age 7).

 

It’s impossible to know what the future holds for the China program. I think it is still stable and a good choice for those families open to a moderate amount of needs, to children older than 3, and especially those open to adopting a boy. If you are a family that is only open to adopting a very young girl with minor needs, I would hesitate before signing with an agency. There were only 70 LID girl files released in 2018 and we know that some of them were for girls as old as 8. If you choose one of the most popular agencies, I can guarantee you that they have more than 70 families waiting in line ahead of you. There is no reason to think that the number of LID files of young girls will increase. In fact, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that fewer files are being prepared in general, particularly after the change in orphanage donation requirement.

If you are starting the process now, it’s important that you choose an agency which is financially stable, but also make sure you ask about their number of waiting families. In the end, your child profile will be the biggest factor in your wait time to be matched.

 

Book review: The War That Saved My Life

9780803740815

I recently read both The War That Saved My Life and the sequel The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Both books are about a girl named Ada who has a club foot, lives in a difficult family situation, and has her life changed for the better when she and her brother are evacuated from their London home during World War II. The War That Saved My Life is a Newbery Honor book which is read by middle grade students in many schools. If you have an older adoptee who will be reading it, you should be aware that it could trigger strong feelings in them but it could also be a wonderful platform for discussion.

While these books aren’t about adoption in a way that relates directly to the international adoption experience, I was really struck by how accurately Bradley portrayed trauma through Ada’s choices and reactions. When you are being educated about trauma as an adoptive parent, it’s all very abstract. It’s hard to visualize what this might look like in your life. While Susan, who becomes the caretaker for Ada and her brother, responds in an intuitively connected way that is rather unlikely for the time period, I think that she serves as a wonderful model.

As you read through the books you will find Ada:

  • Reacting instinctively out of fear
  • Displaying food anxiety
  • Disassociating as a coping mechanism
  • Struggling to assimilate into normal life after a deprived upbringing
  • Persisting in her role as primary caregiver to her younger brother
  • Pushing away Susan so she won’t be disappointed by her loss later
  • Experiencing nightmares
  • Being calmed by being wrapped tightly in a blanket
  • Sabotaging birthdays and holidays
  • Benefiting from hippotherapy (riding and caring for horses)
  • Being conflicted about her feelings toward her mother

If you want to learn more about connected parenting for children who have trauma,  I recommend the reading lists compiled by Elizabeth at Ordinary Time and Becky at Full Plate Mom. But after you’ve read the manuals, consider picking up these two as supplemental reading.

What makes an agency ethical?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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.

img_5594

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.