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What I’m reading #18

The big news in the China adoption community is that the CCCWA has announced that the orphanage “donation” is now a true voluntary donation. Parents may donate as much or little as they like. You can read the text of the announcement on CCAI’s blog here. As usual, no reason has been given for this change. Some speculate that it is connected to China’s crackdown on corruption. Others think that it will be replaced with a fee to the CCCWA which will be distributed more evenly.

I have been saddened that the general consensus from parents is rejoicing at the savings. Many have been vocal that their child did not benefit from the donation, that there were orphanage directors who pocketed the money, etc. While it’s true that corruption exists and there are still some orphanages with poor conditions in China, most now how toys for the children, better caregiver to child ratios, provide some medical care and therapies. In any orphanage relatively few children will have a file prepared for adoption. Most will live there until they become an adult, or even throughout their lives depending on their medical condition. I am very concerned about the impact the loss of this donation (since apparently few will care to donate more than a token amount) will have on the children. I think it’s possible fewer files will be prepared if the orphanage has no incentive to do so, but we will have to wait to see how it plays out.

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Another big conversation generator this past week was the release of a 30 minute BBC documentary which follows an adult adoptee being reunited with her family in China. The twist in this case is that Katie’s parents in China had left a note with her, asking to meet them on a famous bridge after 10 or 20 years. The parents began waiting every year there for her. They were on tv in China several times. When Katie was around 10, her adoptive parents sent someone to the bridge. They found her parents and had some contact with them. However, they did not share this information with Katie until she was 20. A print article which contains more information than the rather rosy documentary indicates that this has caused some hard feelings between Katie and her adoptive parents.

This is a story which pulls together many of the hard aspects of adoption. Katie seems to be a mature young woman who recognizes the difficult situation her birth parents were in because of the laws in China. Her adoptive parents have been strongly criticized for their decision. I think it’s important to keep in mind that adoptive parents are human, too. Many people choose China specifically because an open adoption is not possible. Perhaps when they found out that Katie had parents in China who loved her and deeply desired contact they became scared of losing her so that is why they shut down contact. On the other hand, there is a vocal minority which says that the decision to search for birth parents should always be initiated by the adoptee. It is not the job of the adoptive parents to make that decision for the adoptee. Because adoptees feel so strongly about either option–to share information or to wait until the adoptee initiates–Katie’s parents could have made the wrong decision either way. They can only know in hindsight that they have harmed their relationship with their daughter by not being more open with the information they had.

In the documentary Katie says that they told her they would have mentioned it if she had asked. She says “but we never talked about adoption.” That’s one reason to listen to adult adoptees as you are raising your children. So many adult adoptees say that adoption and racism were never discussed which caused them to feel they could not confide in their parents. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking your child is too young for a topic, so you will talk about it later. Katie’s mom said Katie was too young, then puberty is a difficult time, then as a teenager you are finding your identity, and the next thing you know she’s 20. It’s so easy to fall into that trap, especially if the topic is one that you aren’t really very comfortable talking about.

My children from China are 6 and 4, so I am far from an expert here. However, because of listening to adult adoptees and experienced adoptive parents, we try to find times to mention adoption or our sons’ first families in China. They don’t have a good understanding yet of what it all means, but it opens the door to future conversations. I think the impulse to tiptoe around these topics must be universal. The other day when I mentioned a son’s first mom in China, my 8 year old said “Shh! Don’t tell him that, it will make him sad!” Maybe Katie’s adoptive parents were trying to spare her feelings or maybe they were trying to spare their own. Either way, please watch the short documentary as a jumping off point for discussions in your family.

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Those two could have been blog posts on their own, but I do have a few more links for you.

For those considering older child adoption, a new book has been released which seems like it will be a great resource. It focuses on the experiences of families who have adopted older children internationally. You can read more about it here.

Holt International has a blog post discussing characteristics that make a family a good fit for older child adoption.

This time of year people often ask about Chinese or Asian nativities. Someone posted this resource in a group. It’s a Chinese screen painting that is available as a laminated or wood mounted print. There are four choices and all are lovely.

In Christianity Today– International adoptions drop as evangelical funding spikes

MLJ Adoptions has a post about the W.I.S.E. Up Powerbook, a resource I highly recommend as well for helping your child to know how to respond to questions.

On NHBO, Stacie writes about life with VACTERL. “VACTERL stands for vertebral defects, anal atresia, cardiac defects, tracheo-esophageal fistula, renal anomalies, and limb abnormalities. People diagnosed with VACTERL association typically have at least three of these characteristic features.” While this sounds scary, Stacie explains how their family has made adjustments and what sounded difficult has become routine.

 

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Dream4Adoption home study grant

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I recently had the opportunity to talk to Kimberly Ashbrook, the program manager at Dream4Adoption. Dream4Adoption is a new grant for families for any type of adoption. The unique thing about this grant is that while adoption grants require an approved home study to apply, this one is intended to help families have the funds they need to start a home study.

Please tell me a little about your family and how you became interested in adoption.

Our family was the standard American family for many years. A few years ago, we had a great surprise with the miracle of our little guy. What makes our story different, is this ever long dream to adopt a child.

From the very beginning of our marriage, there was a discussion about having our own children or adopting. Twenty-one years and two almost grown children later, the discussion came up again. This time it was because of a difficult pregnancy with the news that we should not try for any more children. Although it would be great to raise a child without a sibling near his age, we felt that we could fill our dream and adopt. With only boys in the house, we have optioned to adopt a girl.

What made you decide to start the Dream4Adoption grant?

The birth of Dream4Adoption was born out of two specific thoughts. First, it was based on our inability to commit to the cost of adoption along with that inability to research like we can today. Lastly, during our current adoption process, we found many grants that we did not qualify for. It was very heartbreaking to know that only certain people can get grants. It was frustrating and unfair in our opinion for some of these organizations to limit funds based on anything other than the parent(s) ability to raise a child. Understandably, there are criteria reasons to consider, like criminal history and certain health issues.

The Dream4Adoption grant came to light from our stopping point twenty-one years ago; the fear of the cost upfront. If Dream4Adoption could help fund the home study phase, how many more candidates would take the next step instead of waiting like we did?

Grants usually require a completed home study to apply. Since your grant is to be used for a home study, what is your process to make sure only serious applicants receive the funds?

Dream4Adoption has put together a pretty good application, guidelines and financial worksheets that will help in making sure serious candidates have applied. As a secondary layer, Dream4Adoption will only make the initial funds payable to the agency, lawyer, home study provider or other qualified third party. We also have a small application fee of $35 to apply, 3 references with letters and a personal essay to be included in the package.

Can individuals or families apply if they have already started or completed their home study?

The initial grant process for this cycle will allow those in the process of adoption to apply. The client must have an agency or other provider approve them. With a grant approval, Dream4Adoption will reach out to those parties identified on the application to verify approval. The client must also have their application in prior to bringing the child home. Therefore, we have left the cycle open to a larger audience to help us learn and help as many in the adoption process as we can during this cycle. We will assess what we learned and may change criteria. We are also hoping to add other programs next year to help other families, but the home study grant will be our staple.

I notice that part of your grant funding is a $500 “Welcome Home” grant. Can you tell me more about that?

Our “Welcome Home” portion of the grant is a type of bonus for making it through the process. We have thought deeply about how the grant will work and how we can make it one step better for returning families. Many families use every bit of money they have to finance the adoption process. By giving them a “Welcome Home” grant at the end, the family can take a look at the needs that have in front of them and they will have $500.00 to help. From medical costs to repayment on loans, there is always something that the family will need when they bring the child home.

Is there anything else you would like to share about Dream4Adoption?

While in the process of adoption ourselves, we decided to move forward with the charity. Even though we cannot help ourselves through the charity, it is a way to stay focused during our wait to be matched. The adoption community is pretty close and are very passionate about family.  That easily help us to pursue the charity prior to our adoption being completed.

Our goal at Dream4Adoption is to fund adoptions in any way we can. We are looking for funding around every corner we can find. We have began developing two more grants that we are contacting sources of funding for their support. To be the premier organization for funding is something that we take seriously and our board is focused on growing rapidly to help people get that Dream4Adoption. There are way too many orphans out there that need a forever family.

As our website states, we want to be an organization that is “Connecting the World, One Child at a Time”.

 

For more information or to apply, visit https://dream4adoption.org. You can find the current Dream4Adoption fundraiser Email From Santa on their homepage.

Considering Developmental Delays as a Special Need

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“Developmental delays” is a special need commonly found in files from China. This is not a special need which has a specific diagnosis like HIV+ or albinism. Parents often have a lot of questions about what this label means. Is it a minor or more involved special need? Are these delays the sort of thing that can be overcome with the loving attention of a family and specialized therapies?

First, it’s important to note that in the early decades of international adoption, adoptive parents were often surprised to find that the babies they adopted were not meeting the normal developmental milestones. There was not a good understanding that children raised in institutions, who lack as much attention, nutrition, and stimulation as biological children, will not develop at the same rate. It was not until the late 1980’s that researchers began looking at the development of children raised in institutions. Most families beginning the process now will be probably be educated enough to know that they should expect a child raised in an institution to lose one month of development for every three months in an institution, as a very general guideline. This might look like rolling over at 6 months, sitting unassisted at 9 months, crawling at a year, and walking sometime between 18-24 months.

It is because of this that some parents have the mistaken idea that developmental delays in a file is an easy need because these are simply “orphanage delays” that the child will overcome during the first months or years home. Developmental delay in a file means the child is more delayed in development than their (already delayed) orphanage peers. I cannot stress enough that this is not a standard label slapped on to every child’s file.

Parents who are expecting minor delays which will be quickly overcome are often caught off guard when presented with a child who has delays which are much greater than anticipated. Jen writes “I had heard stories of institutionalized kids coming home to their forever family and overcoming so many of their delays. I was optimistic and ready to welcome my son into my heart and our family forever . . . Those first two weeks with him in China were confusing, stressful and scary.  Honestly, I thought my life was over. I cried every night to sleep. I even had thoughts of not bringing him home.”

Much of the information parents will encounter in process like shared family stories, or even information from agencies such as this recent blog post on an agency blog, gives the impression that this is the case for most children, maybe throwing in a short line at the end about how sometimes the delays are permanent. It is important for families to consider the full range of possibilities when deciding whether or not to adopt a child with developmental delays. 

What does it mean when China uses the “developmental delays” label? There are several possibilities.

  • The child could have the developmental delay label because they have a medical diagnosis which causes those delays. Children with serious heart conditions or children with unrepaired cleft palate who are not receiving adequate nutrition are two examples of special needs where developmental delays can be an additional label in the file.
  • The child could have an undiagnosed need which causes the delays. Cerebral palsy is one condition which is sometimes diagnosed once home in children with the developmental delay label. Genetic syndromes are not commonly diagnosed in files from China, but with chromosomal testing becoming more standard, it is not unusual for children with general developmental delays to be diagnosed with a specific chromosomal deletion or duplication once home.
  • Some children really do need more individual love and care than they get in an institution to develop, even in the “best” orphanages. They have the equivalent to ‘failure to thrive.’ These children do often overcome their delays once they are placed in a family and after receiving targeted therapies.
  • Finally, some children may have lifelong developmental delays but never receive a specific diagnosis once home, even after chromosomal testing.

488047_10151353375486943_180755832_nDevelopmental delays is such a catch-all label that you cannot generalize about an outcome. Without knowing the reason a child is nonverbal, you can’t speculate whether he or she will learn to talk after speech therapy. Even children with the same diagnosis can have different outcomes. For example, about 25% of people with cerebral palsy are nonverbal. If you are open to developmental delays as a special need, you need be open to the entire range of outcomes, including the possibility that your child will need lifelong care. It is essential to have a flexible attitude and the ability to cheer on your child’s successes without comparing him or her to their peers of the same age.

Shecki from Greatly Blessed shared how her idea of what developmental delays meant versus the reality with her son:

“When considering any special need, you should think of the worst case scenario, and determine whether your family could handle that or not.

When I considered “delays,” tacked on to the end of Luke’s primary special need (which, ironically, aside from one specialist appointment has been a non issue), I thought “worst case scenario” would be that he’d still be a little behind when he was school age, and would need an IEP to help him get through school with his peers.  Never in my wildest imaginings did I think that “delays” meant he would not walk, speak, or toilet train, and that he would not be in a regular classroom at all.

The long and the short of it is, we took a risk, never really believing, or even suspecting, things would turn out as they have.”

If you are considering developmental delays as a special need, you should ask yourself some of the same general questions you would ask about any need:

  • Can we meet the medical needs of this child?
  • What are the resources in our area for physical, occupational, speech, and/or feeding therapy?
  • What is our insurance coverage for those therapies?
  • How much time do we available for medical appointments, therapies, and working with our child at home?

On an almost daily basis, someone will ask in a forum “We are reviewing the file of a 3/4/5 year old who isn’t walking/talking. Has anyone adopted a child with similar delays who overcame them?” I have to tell you that you are asking the wrong question. It does not matter how many other children overcame their delays. It only matters if this specific child will and no one in the world can tell you that. The question you to ask yourself is if you would love and cherish this child as a part of your family as they are right now, as presented in the file, or if you really only comfortable with the potentially improved child.

 

Five Reasons to (Still) Adopt from China

Last November for National Adoption Month, I gave five reasons to choose China to adopt from. Since then, two of those reasons are no longer part of the China program. I thought I should update it this year to let you know that despite recent program changes, the China program is *still* a great option.
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November is National Adoption Month! I thought I would kick off the celebration by giving some reasons why China’s adoption program might be a good fit for your family.

1. The process is streamlined and predictable. Unlike adopting from foster care, domestic infant adoption, or programs from some (but not all) other countries, the China program has a clearly defined timeline of steps. Most families will bring home a child 10-15 months after they begin the process. Many people switch to the China program after a failed attempt at adopting through another program, so the stability is appealing.

2. You have the ability to choose your child’s age, gender, and the special needs you are comfortable with. You will not be assigned a child, nor will you be penalized for declining a file which you do not feel is a good fit for your family.

3.Travel is a single two week trip and only one parent is required to travel. Some countries require multiple trips or a lengthy stay in country to complete the adoption. While this gradual approach is undoubtedly better for the child or children being adopted, the fact is that many families could not adopt if that were a requirement. China’s travel requirement is one which most families can meet.

4. The China program still has generous eligibility guidelines. While the guidelines are now more restrictive than previously, the upper age limit is 5-10 years higher than many programs. Allowing five children in the home is more than other programs such as Thailand, South Korea, or India. China’s criteria for single parents or couples with a single divorce in their marital history are more generous than the former guidelines.

5. The China program is well established and stable. Some people have been concerned that the recent changes might indicate an upcoming closure of the program. On the contrary, China has regularly made updates to their program every 3-5 years. This is one of the aspects of the program which has helped it to continue going strong for more than 20 years. Nearly 80,000 children have been adopted to the US from China, far more than any other placing country. Of the other four top placing countries, only the Korean program remains open to American parents now that Russia, Guatemala, and Ethiopia have closed.

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.

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.

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.