The Price of the Orphanage “Donation”

In December 2017, the CCCWA issued an official statement regarding the customary orphanage donation. It stated that the donation should be voluntary, that parents can designate how it is used, they could “come to an agreement” with the orphanage on the donation, and that agencies should not interfere or influence parents regarding the donation. You can read the statement here.

Although I have been meaning to put up a specific post on the donation that could be shared, I didn’t immediately do so. One reason is that it’s always important to see how these things play out rather than to jump to conclusions. I was hoping that it would be followed up by the CCCWA instating a standard fee for orphanage support that would be paid to a centralized entity to distribute. Another reason is that I have strong feelings on the subject but I strive to write as neutrally as possible so I wanted to give myself time to reflect a bit.

However, yesterday an agency notified families that the Tianjin SWI has informed them that they will no longer prepare files for international adoption because so many families have not made any donation when adopting. This has set off widespread online discussion which revealed a lot of misunderstandings about the orphanage donation. I want this post to try to answer as many questions as possible so that people will feel confident they are doing the right thing by continuing to donate the customary amount.

 

If China said we don’t have to pay the donation anymore, why would they be mad if we chose not to pay it?

The CCCWA is the central authority governing adoption in China. However, orphanages are individually run. It is a similar set up to how the US Department of Education oversees all of education but your local school is run by your state by tax dollars you pay in your city or county. Orphanages in large cities typically are better off than those in impoverished rural areas. It is the CCCWA which made this decision without consulting the local orphanages, or even giving them advance notice of it. Orphanages plan on having a set amount being donated per adoption. That rug was suddenly pulled out from under them.

 

But why would orphanages stop preparing files even if people don’t donate. We’re saving them money by taking these kids off their hands!

Meredith Toering, who runs Morning Star, a charitable organization which works with orphanages in China, gave a wonderful response to this question. She explains exactly what is involved in file preparation. I have received her permission to post her words on my blog. I spelled out a few words she abbreviated for clarity.

I run Morning Star, a foster home in Beijing, and this topic has been devastating me. I was at this specific SWI [orphanage] last week checking on a child, and have been in the middle of discussions with several SWIs that I currently have children in my home from right now. I have been asking them to please start to prepare the paperwork for these kids, because I realized the orphanages had stopped reaching out to ME about paperwork needed to complete files for most of the kids.

In at least 3 specific cases with separate orphanages that I have spoken to, they have told me that they no longer want to prepare files for international adoption because “the cost and the time is no longer worth it”. There are hundreds, if not thousands of babies in orphanages. The government pays a stipend depending on how many children are in the orphanage at any given time. Quite simply: many orphanages are struggling for funds, and financially — they need that stipend for EVERY child. They lose money when they lose a child to adoption. It’s a broken scenario, but that’s the deal.

Second: it costs a substantial amount for a child’s file to be created. It is so much more than just the little check off box. There are notary fees and document shipping fees and authentication fees, and on and on and on. NOT TO MENTION ANYTHING MEDICAL. Every echocardiogram, every test, every CT or MRI or scrap of medical info that we are all so desperately looking for in those files? That all comes out of pocket from the SWI paying hospitals for those tests for the kids. Things are cheaper in China, yes. But that can easily be hundreds of dollars.

Third: it is a ridiculous, genuine hassle for orphanages to prepare this paperwork. I know because I/we have to do just a small part of it when the orphanages ask us for information and paperwork for the children we are fostering to include in their files. There is schlepping all over town to get the pictures that you need… the right documents… finding the right person who can give the right signature at the right time. Scheduling all the appointments and taking the time to fill out all those forms. It is an entire job… and they are trying to do it for child after child after child, and now seeing that the result is NOT worth all their effort.

Maybe your child didn’t receive the best care in the orphanage… maybe you think the director is going to misuse and mishandle the money. Maybe so. As with any charitable donation, once the funds are out of your hands — given — it is technically out of your control. What I have seen, more times than not, is that the orphanages are trying the very best they can with the resources that they have.

Many times, people have donated here on the other side to fund OUR adoptions, and they don’t get to specify where the money goes, how it will be used… whether or not you choose to upgrade to economy plus or tack on a trip to HK Disney or eat the nice Western meal while in China or whatever it may be. Those choices aren’t questioned and we aren’t called out by the adoption community to give a detailed account of how each and every dollar that was donated to us was spent because of the gift of the benefit of the doubt, trusting that we hold the best interest of bringing our child home at heart 💛.

That same child is the most important thing we bring home from this trip, and thanking their first home for the care they were given (whatever that standard of care may have been) by means of financial donation is, quite honestly, the most important donation you will make throughout this entire process.

Could we not extend that same grace and gift we so easily give to adoptive families working to bring their children home… to these SWIs in China, most of whom are doing the absolute BEST they can with the very little that they have… and trust that regardless of how our donation issued dollar for dollar, we are continuing to pave the road for families to come behind us… as those who came before us did for us? Sorry for the novel. Just my two cents from someone on this side of the ocean working closely in this space.

 

But my child is in foster care/a charity-run foster home so the orphanage hasn’t spent any money on them. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for me to pay that money to the organization that provided care for my child?

People have this question a lot. It’s wonderful that so many children are benefitting from foster care or given the additional specialized care they need for their condition. But please keep in mind that the orphanage paid to have your child’s file created. The orphanage gave permission for him or her to be moved to a medical foster care home or be included in a foster care program. Your child has *greatly* benefited from the orphanage because of that. Orphanages move children to medical foster homes because they need more care than the orphanage can provide. The fewer donations the orphanage receives, the harder it will be for them to pay for the additional staff they need to give children better care. From my view, the point of the donation isn’t to pay back some of what the orphanage spent on my specific child. It is to pay it forward so that all of the children who will never have a file prepared will get better care. When we visited our son’s orphanage, most of the children we saw there did not and would not have a file prepared. Those who have a file prepared and find an adoptive family are truly the fortunate few. Paying the full customary amount of the orphanage donation is about showing your gratitude for the opportunity your child has been given, to make sure other children are given that opportunity, and to care for those who will never be given that opportunity.

Another thing I think people forget is that you can make a donation to the charity which cared for your child at any time, not just at the time of adoption. Scrounge up to pay the full donation, then next year when you have a little more money make a donation or sponsor a child through the specific charity which cared for your child.

 

Has anyone not donated the full amount recently? How did that go? I’m worried if we don’t give the full amount they’ll try to guilt us into paying more. I think these kids are just money to them!

I think if you choose not to donate the full amount you should be prepared to face negative reactions to that decision. As I said, orphanages had no involvement in this decision and they are suddenly faced in a significant drop of funds they had depended on. Tammy Wombles, who works in a Chinese orphanage, has written an excellent post discussing cultural differences between the Chinese and Americans as regards the orphanage donation.

When the director of an orphanage makes a plea on behalf of the needs of the children in her care, she is doing so out of concern for those children. If the official “asks the guide to ask you for more money,” this is not the time to treat the officials in a condescending way by ignoring those requests and immediately going into a spiel about, for example, how generous your family plans to be in donating to other (wealthy) Americans who are adopting. At that point in the conversation, the orphanage officials aren’t interested in your charitable donations to others, and your talking about it is only adding fuel to the fire. If you don’t want to give more, then simply don’t give more. But be polite. And, maybe…just stop talking.

And remember, just because a family considers an amount to be “a substantial donation,” orphanage officials might actually feel quite the opposite and construe that donation as a slap in the face.

(This is a perfect time to bring up ‘face’ in Chinese culture. Things can go south pretty quickly if you cause an orphanage official (or anyone in China) to lose face. Everyone coming to China should research Chinese culture and have a general knowledge of how important ‘face’ is and how you can avoid causing someone to ‘lose face.’)

You can read her full post here.

 

If this money is so important, why didn’t China just change it from a “donation” to a “fee”? Problem solved. 

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I wonder the same thing. However, we can’t control how China decides to handle the situation, only our response to that situation.

 

Look, we’d love to pay the full donation. We had planned to make the full donation. But now we’re traveling in a month but the money just isn’t there.

Here are options that our family would choose before donating less to the orphanage:

  • Have only the two parents travel, no siblings.
  • Choose to take zero tours, no stops at Hong Kong Disney, no “economy plus” airfare, no “executive benefits” at the hotel.
  • Have only one parent travel. That pays for the donation right there. That would be a big sacrifice, but one we would happily make rather than to donate less.
  • Put all of the travel expenses on a credit card so we have funds on hand to pay the donation. We can pay the travel expenses off over time, but we need to pay the donation now.
  • As a very last resort, ask my agency if there is a way they could wire an additional donation on our behalf after we return home so that we could eventually pay the full amount.

 

Most of the time orphanage officials just pocket that donation so it’s not even going to the kids. I’m not going to encourage corruption by lining their pockets now that I don’t have to!

It is true that there will always be some corruption in the system. Both of my sons were well cared for, so I am perhaps overly optimistic in hoping that corruption is the exception rather than the rule. But the reality is that you are already participating in this system by adopting through the China program. If you are right that the particular orphanage you would have donated to is corrupt, they will likely cease to make children available for international adoption once the revenue dries up. If the orphanage is not corrupt, they now have even less money to spend on food, clothing, staff, and medical care for the children they care for. Either way, it’s the children who suffer from your decision not to donate rather than the officials.

I have no control over that money once I hand it over, but I know that I’ve done what I can to care for the children left behind. I encourage you all to continue to make the full customary orphanage donation when you adopt.

What I’m Reading #20

As school winds down for the year, it’s a good time to give teachers the resources to plan inclusive assignments for their students. This excellent pamphlet from Adoption Policy gives inclusive assignment alternatives to teachers, as well as succinctly explain why it is important to consider students who were adopted or have other alternative home situations when planning lessons.

Time magazine’s The Realities of Raising a Kid of a Different Race is very well written article on the complexities of racial identity for cross-culturally adopted children.

I was contacted by Daniel Cassiel, an adoptive father, who has developed a Mandarin translation app for adoptive parents. It is available for both Apple and Android phones. You can read more about it here.

WACAP has a blog post offering tips on how to foster attachment to both parents when a child prefers one. This is a very common occurrence that can cause one parent to feel rejected and the other overwhelmed.

Because most adoptions today involve children with special needs, Lifeline’s blog post Nine Things Parents Need to Know About Occupational Therapy will be helpful to many families.

Caroline Wang’s A Letter to Asian Girls is a difficult but necessary read for parents raising Asian girls. Contains profanity in the context of things men have said to Wang.

WACAP staff suggests 18 movies related to adoption or foster care.

On the One Daring Adventure blog, see their 3 week China itinerary for a family trip with their large-ish family. Many families want to make a return visit to China with their children at some point, so consider this inspiration for you.

Updated COA Substantiated Claims List

As the US accrediting entity changes from the COA to IAAME, COA has suspended several agencies recently. This is an updated list as of April 3, 2018. Claims have been added for BAAS, CCAI, Cradle of Hope, and Faith International.

If you see the name of your agency or one that you are considering, the COA reminds people that “It’s not uncommon for programs to have an occasional state licensing or Hague Accreditation/Approval regulatory violation. However, serious or regular on-going violations are reasons for concern.” You might still consider using an agency that is on this list. You can see that some complaints are more concerning than others. I also noted the year so you can see how long ago the claims were. Remember that an agency not being on this list doesn’t guarantee that they have no unethical practices. It’s simply one more tool you can use to evaluate your options.

ATWA– Agency failed to demonstrate that it was financially stable throughout fiscal year 2013 and completed voluntary corrective action.

Adoption Associates (MI)- In 2010, the agency had multiple violations for charging additional fees and expenses beyond those disclosed in the contract.

America World Adoptions– In 2012, the agency failed to report a complaint filed with licensing. In 2016, the agency did not provide sufficient individualized counseling and preparation for the adoptive family in light of the particular child’s special needs.

Bay Area Adoption Services– In 2014, the agency did not follow state licensing which required a court report be immediately submitted when there is a serious question concerning the suitability of a petition or the care to the child. They did not follow regulatory requirements regarding the finalization of an adoption by not notifying appropriate entities of the circumstances of the case. BAAS did not sufficiently monitor or supervise the child’s placement in the post placement phase.

In 2017, the agency failed to take appropriate steps to assess the child’s safety and ensure the proper process was follow after learning of a plan for an unauthorized custody transfer (the adoptive parents were dissolving the adoption and another family adopting the child). They also failed to submit the dissolution of adoption self-report within 30 days of the occurrence and instead filed it with COA 9 months late.

Bethany Christian Services– In 2010, the agency failed to include information about an additional adult household member in a home study and RFE response.

Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI)- In November 2017, CCAI was found to have failed to provide post adoption services as outlined in their contract, as well as failing to report a serious injury to a child within 48 hours of learning of the occurrence.

In December 2017, CCAI had the information to know that information was missing from a child’s referral and medical records. While they made an attempt to obtain the missing information, they did not continue to use reasonable efforts to secure that information.

These findings are vaguely worded in order to preserve family privacy and as a result make the claims seem minor. According to the family involved in this case, CCAI knew that several adolescent boys from a particular SWI were living outside the orphanage being used for prostitution because they had been informed of this by families who had previously adopted boys from this orphanage. CCAI allegedly did not inform the family of this likelihood or make a strong effort to verify whether the boy they were adopting was actually living in the orphanage. He was in fact being trafficked outside of the orphanage for prostitution and after the adoption raped another son in their home. This is the “serious injury” referenced in the report. You may choose to believe or not believe this information, but I wanted to provide the background so that people may make an informed decision.

Cradle of Hope Adoption Center– In October 2017, the agency failed to thoroughly evaluate a family’s motivation for adopting at both the application and home study stage, and later when specific concerns regarding the family’s intentions surfaced. Cradle of Hope failed to submit the dissolution of adoption self-report within 30 days of the occurrence, instead filing it 9 months late. Finally, the agency did not verify the adoptive parents eligibility and suitability to adopt nor did it disclose to the home study agency critical information which would have been pertinent in assessing the parents eligibility and suitability to adopt.

This claim involves an unusual and rather bizarre situation. When potential adoptive parents inquired about a waiting child, they were informed they were too young to adopt from China. The parents of this couple were eligible, however, and decided to adopt the child for them. Both couples posted publicly on Facebook as if the younger couple were adopting the child, causing several individuals in the adoption community to report the situation to Cradle of Hope. When the agency did not intervene, the situation was reported to the US consulate in Guangzhou where the family was denied a visa because of fraud when the couples involved confessed after questioning (both couples traveled). The adoption was subsequently dissolved. 

European Adoption Consultants– In April 2016, the COA found a substantiated violation in requiring families take the foreign program fee in cash to China. In December 2016, this agency was disbarred for three years causing them to close permanently.

Faith International Adoptions– In 2015, the agency was found to have failed to investigate serious allegations that their contact in India was fraudulently facilitating adoptions in their agency’s name. Faith then provided false and conflicting information to COA during the investigation. They also failed to inform COA that an individual in a senior management position had two felony convictions for acts involving financial irregularities. Faith’s COA accreditation was suspended for a time as a result.

On April 2, 2018 Faith’s accreditation renewal was refused by the COA because their accreditation expired while their renewal application was still pending. It was reinstated in December 2018. This lapse in accreditation was due to the change from COA to IAAME as an accrediting entity and was not due to any fault of Faith International.

Great Wall– In 2012, Great Wall allowed someone to apply and pay fees to adopt from Rwanda despite adoptions from Rwanda being closed. There was also a memo which gave the appearance that Great Wall would buy their accreditation in Rwanda.

Heartsent Adoptions– In 2010, The agency did not report safety concerns to the appropriate authorities in a timely manner.

Lifeline– In 2014, the agency did not provide sufficient individualized counseling and preparation to meet the needs of prospective adoptive parents in light of the particular child’s special needs.

Living Hope– In 2013, The agency’s orientation training did not comply with standards.

WACAP– In 2011, The agency did not provide a copy of its complaint policies and procedures at the time the adoption services contract was signed.

Wasatch International Adoptions– In 2012, The agency failed to properly oversee their contractor’s work. The CCCWA’s procedures were violated and the placing order of children was disrupted. They referred a special focus child to a family who did not complete a home study or dossier causing the child to have a prolonged time where the child was not available to be adopted.

In a different complaint in 2012, Wasatch failed to follow-up on parents concerns about a child whose eligibility for international adoption was in question.

In 2013, they failed to provide sufficient individualized counseling and preparation to meet the needs of prospective adoptive parents in light of the particular child’s special needs.

Wide Horizons For Children– In 2012, the agency’s grievance procedures were misleading.

State Department policy on “soft referrals”

At the end of the day on Friday, the US Department of State (DoS) posted their clarification regarding practices related to “soft referrals.” You can read the entire message here. I am going to summarize the main points of the document as I read it. It might not be entirely correct. We will see how agency practices change over the next week to see what the effects will be.

What is a soft referral?

The DoS begins by defining a soft referral as matching a family with a child before either the child is legally eligible to be adopted or the family is legally eligible to adopt. Or sometimes both, in the instance where an agency matches a family who hasn’t started their home study yet with a “pre-file” they anticipate receiving from a partnership orphanage.

Why does the child need to be eligible if you know they’re going to end up being eligible?

The DoS explains that this is prohibited by the Hague convention for several good reasons. The biggest is that you want to make sure parents are not coerced into relinquishing their rights if they do not want their child to be adopted. It also protects the potential family from heartbreak if the child turns out not to be eligible. In the China program the most common instance of this would be if the child was adopted domestically before the international file was completed.

Why do the parents have to have a completed home study to be matched? Agencies pre-screen to make sure the family will be eligible.

The DoS gives a couple of reasons for this being problematic. The first is because it prevents other families from being considered for the child. If a child is matched with a family who hasn’t started on their home study they will wait longer to come home than if they were matched with a family who has a completed home study or even a dossier already in China. It is especially detrimental to the child to be tied up with a family if it turns out they will not be eligible to adopt. The child has lost time that they would have been available for consideration for other families.

The other reason is because if a family is matched with a child before their home study has been completed, the placing agency could put pressure on the home study agency to approve the family. The DoS says home study agencies have reported being pressured to approve families, but even if this didn’t happen a social worker might feel an unconscious pressure to approve the family so that the child is able to be adopted.

Remember that you can still be matched with a special focus file after your home study but before your dossier is logged in at the CCCWA.

Well, what’s the difference in holding a child’s file for a specific family and an agency holding a specific file because it was designated to them?

The DoS says there’s not a difference. They want files to be available to families with any agency in a centralized system like the shared list. The DoS says they asked China about this, and the CCCWA said that if a family is interested in a designated file with a different agency, they can request the file be transferred so the match can take place. The DoS says an agency cannot reserve a file for their only clients if a suitable family with another agency is ready to move forward. They say families absolutely should not be required to switch agencies for a file. 

But if China allows special focus children to be matched with families before a home study is completed how can the State Department say it isn’t allowed? How would they even know?

The DoS effectively says ‘China can make their own rules, but US agencies have to abide by our guidelines.’ They say that the accrediting agency can and will check agency records for evidence of soft matching. They could be suspended or lose their accreditation for doing so.

Are photolistings going to be prohibited now?

There was a lot of buzz before this clarification was issued that photolistings were going to be banned altogether. I was doubtful that would be the case because photolistings are used for children in the US system as long as the parental rights have been terminated so the child is eligible for adoption. At least one agency said that families without an approved home study would no longer be able to view a child’s complete file.

What the DoS actually says is that agencies must abide by the sending country’s regulations for photolistings. In China’s case, that means they are allowed for special focus children. The DoS mentions that in the US domestic system, only home study ready families can have complete access to a child’s information but does not make it a requirement by my reading of it. It says that some countries may allow “additional information” to be shared with prospective families who do not have a completed home study. They do underscore that agencies cannot manipulate a photolisting to limit eligible families from seeing available children such as by designating a child as “on hold.”

In summary, the best news out of this clarification is that file transfers should be much less of an issue than they have been. However, I somehow think agencies will still find ways to circumvent this. It is also good news that photolistings will not be prohibited.

The biggest change is that a completed home study will now be required before matching. This is the norm in domestic adoption and in other countries. But many people did not consider adoption at all or considering adopting again until they saw a specific child that motivated them to start the home study process. Without a way to hold a child, will families be willing to pay for a home study and compile all the paperwork? This will definitely have an impact on how many waiting children are able to find families at a time when international adoption rates are plummeting.

One important thing to keep in mind is that the DoS is making these changes because they feel it will keep international adoption as an option for US citizens. In the 2016 report on intercountry adoption (released May 15, 2017), it is reported that representatives traveled to 30 countries and hosted delegations from 26 countries to discuss barriers to intercountry adoption. These countries reported serious concerns with the actions of US placing agencies and lack of oversight of the conduct of placing agencies. Presumably matching children with families who haven’t yet been found qualified to adopt is a practice that countries reported finding problematic. I know that when I have encountered families from other countries who have adopted from China, they have expressed that they think Americans should have to play by the same rules as everyone else. While this is a big change, we have to move forward and be grateful that intercountry adoption is still an option.

Mine In China 2018 revision available

When I published Mine In China in April 2016, I thought once I’d hit the publish button I’d move on to other things. I thought I’d revise it again in a couple of years as things changed a little. I certainly didn’t expect to find myself publishing the third version in under two years. Last year, I published the revision in May, China announced changes to parent eligibility criteria in June, and an end to the partnership program in July. It was painful for me to read a Facebook comment from someone saying “I have Mine In China, but it’s out of date now” not even eight weeks after the new version was published!

Accurate information is a top priority for me. However, I couldn’t immediately begin to revise the book because it takes several months to see how the program changes would play out. How strictly will China enforce things like one year between adoptions or the ages of children in the home? Would they once again start granting waivers since the criteria is more restrictive? Will agency NGO status have any importance without the partnership system? Even now, we don’t have a clear idea of what matching times will look like on an all shared list system because agencies are still receiving partnerships files that were in the process of being prepared before the end of the year. And in a turn of events that I could only laugh at so I wouldn’t cry, the day I printed up a proof copy of the 2018 version was the day we all began to hear that the US State Department will require families have a completed home study before they can be matched with a child.

I will rein in the whining to say that the Mine In China 2018 revision is now available. This version has had substantial changes.

  • The new parent eligibility criteria is included.
  • Sections on partnership files, adopting two at one, and hosting program have been reduced to give context for what used to be options. I included links to my blog posts on these topics in the Additional Resources section in case any of these become an option in the future.
  • I added a section explaining how matching from the shared list works.
  • I added numbers from the shared list to give families an idea of how many boys and girls under 5 are waiting to help decide what age range to be open to.
  • Because most people will now be choosing an agency first rather than looking for a waiting child and going with the agency that holds their file, I have expanded the chapter on how to choose an agency. There is now information on things to consider when looking at an agency’s website, evaluating agency fee schedules, how to find if an agency has a substantiated claim against them, and how to find their IRS 990 form online.
  • The chart showing USCIS approval times has been updated to show 2013-2014 and 2016-2017 rather than 2011-2014.
  • I added a section covering post placement reports including both schedules.
  • Because of increasing interest, I added a section discussing birth parent searches and giving resources.
  • Checked the website links to correct or replace broken ones and add new relevant links such as a link to the new Chinese visa photo requirements.
  • I corrected small errors in the text and made some changes to improve readability.
  • Mine In China continues to be right at 400 pages.

If you have been holding off on buying a copy because you wanted the updated version, it’s now available in both ebook and paper format.

If you previously purchased the ebook, you can simply download the updated version.

If you previously purchased a paper book, sadly there is no free way to get an updated copy. If you are starting the adoption process again, you can find information on the changes by using the “China program updates” tag on my blog. If you purchased your paper book through Amazon, you should have the option to buy a discounted copy of the ebook.

Not sure what paper copy you own? Look at the copyright information located on the back of the title page. The newest version says March 2018 revision.

Potential upcoming changes on the US side

One big occurrence which I haven’t written much about yet is that the US entity overseeing intercountry adoption is changing from the Council on Accreditation to a newly formed organization called Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME). The US State Department has posted FAQs about this change on their website. Until now, adoptive parents and adoption advocacy groups have focused on the new fee structure. The Save Adoptions group is warning that new fees will shut down intercountry adoption altogether while adoption ethics advocates sensibly point out that having a paid team of employees who travel to sending countries to inspect agency offices is going to cost more than four volunteers who who monitor from stateside.

Earlier this week, new controversy broke out when an agency representative announced that IAAME will begin requiring all families to be home study approved before they are allowed to view files or be matched with children. We’ve all been trying to backtrack to figure out where this came from since other agencies said it was news to them. Apparently, it began with this footnote on the IAAME FAQ posted on the State Dept website:

An ASP is “adoption service provider.” Adverse action means any adoption agency who does this could lose their accreditation. This was the clarification given:

While the law referenced hasn’t changed, IAAME is apparently interpreting it differently than was the previous practice. This will have a significant impact on the China program, because China allows children with special focus designated files to be matched with families who have not even begun the home study process. This was allowed previously because there was technically no referral given until the LOA/LSC. The Letter Seeking Confirmation says, in effect, this is the child we have matched you with. Do you accept the referral?” All of the “matching” prior to that was more like “We have a family that is interested in this child. Could you hold the file and IF the family is qualified and IF you think they’d be a good match, THEN you could officially refer that specific child to this specific family?” Adoption agencies, China, and the potential family knew that it was a matter of being able to jump through hoops, but it wasn’t an official referral.

A significant amount of families choose the China program because they can choose a child first. It is no exaggeration to say that hundreds of families had no thought at all of adopting until they saw their child’s face. The concern of agencies and adoption advocates is that many people will simply decide not to adopt at all if they don’t have the motivation of a specific child’s face. The Save Adoptions perspective is that anything which puts up a barrier to children being adopted is bad. The top priority is to get these kids home to families, which a laudable goal.

However, the point of the Hague treaty and changes in regulations is to make sure adoptions are handled in an ethical manner. Lots of babies came home to families in the 80’s and 90’s that turned out to be children which were bought or stolen. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. We also need to preserve the rights of the children. One of those rights is the right to privacy. Many countries prohibit photolistings altogether. Here in the US, you will only find children whose parental rights have been terminated on photolistings, not children in foster care who are not yet available for adoption. One of the concerns about the partnership system in China is that agencies could pressure orphanage officials to prepare files for children who might be able to be placed domestically, or even to unethically obtain young children with minor needs to fulfill a quota.

What we are talking about is a requirement that agencies make sure potential families are actually qualified to adopt before they start matching them with children. Is that really an extreme requirement to have? Before now most of the requirements have focused on the sending country side. However, the US has always been outside the norm in the way we do things. Other countries require families be approved to adopt and have a dossier sent before they are matched with a child. Of course, other countries also adopt only a handful of children a year compared to the US.

There are some valid concerns when you “soft match” a child with a family who has not been home study approved. One of them is that you tie of the child from consideration of other families. Children have been soft matched to a family for months, sometimes close to two years in a few cases, only to have the family not complete the process in the end. Having a home study already completed shows a level of commitment.

Another serious concern is that if a family is already soft matched to a child, the social worker is going to be under pressure to approve the family. Yes, most families will pass a home study. However, would the social worker have normally approved them for an older child or a child with serious medical needs if they hadn’t already been matched? It is not unusual for people to be motivated to adopt an aging out child when they had previously never considered adopting an older child. If a family is already matched, will they give real consideration to the challenges that adopting an older child will bring? Older children are at high risk of disruption or dissolution for this reason. When I pointed this out in an online discussion, someone said essentially that if we ruled out the people who decided to adopt an older child on the spur of the moment because of an advocacy post, no older child would be adopted. How many people start out by saying “I’d like to adopt a teenager”? Very few. And very few set out to adopt children with major medical needs.

While no one is sure at this time how this will play out, I hope that we will all remember that both sides want vulnerable children to find families. We all want to make sure that the adoptions which take place are ethical adoptions leading to a secure family bond rather than disruption or dissolution. It is very difficult to balance setting regulations to ensure ethical adoptions while not completely eliminating practices which are effective at finding families for children.

What I’m Reading #19

The US State Department has announced the fee structure for the new entity of IAAME, which will replace the COA as adoption oversight entity. You can read the announcement, fee structure, and FAQ here.

However, agencies are objecting to this fee structure is being likely to increase adoption costs for parents and possibly shutting down small adoption providers. They say that the above statement is written specifically to present the fee changes in the best possible light. The National Council For Adoption, along with many adoption providers, are asking concerned families to contact their member of Congress on February 7th and 8th to voice their opposition to it. You can read more about this here.

I’m still seeing a lot of questions about the move to an all shared list China program. I have a general post here which explains the changes if you are unfamiliar with them. I cannot give any information as to changes in referral time because many agencies are still receiving partnership files at this time. It is possible that many LID files will still be designated to agencies for matching even after the partnership files have officially ceased. I know this change is causing a lot of uncertainty for people, but unfortunately we simply have through 2018 to see how these changes play out.

The CCCWA’s change to not requiring an orphanage donation is still causing controversy and hard feelings among adoptive parents who have or are traveling recently. The CCCWA apparently released the notice without consulting or notifying the provinces. Many orphanages were completely caught off guard by donations ceasing because, very unfortunately, many families have taken the opportunity to donate little or nothing in order to save on adoption costs. Please families, take the time to read this post from Tammy Wombles, who works at an orphanage in China so is on the ground observing the changes, before you decide to skip the donation.

Don’t forget to catch 28 Days of Hearts 2018, where you can read the story of a child who was adopted with CHD every day in the month of February.

Echo Parenting & Education has a great concise summary of the impact on trauma which would be good to share with educators or family members.

From A Musing Maralee blog, read My Kids Are Not Your Sales Pitch which discusses how adoptive parents should consider their child’s privacy when deciding how much personal information to share. The Lifeline blog has an article on the same topic here.

The lunar new year will be here next week. The Living Out His Love blog has many great suggestions for celebrating including decorations, books, and recipes.

ABC News has an article discussing how bestsellers”Blue Nights” and “Steve Jobs,” expose an unspoken truth in the adoption world: Fear of abandonment is universal.

MLJ Adoptions has great post giving tips on how to help your child adjust to their fear of your family dog.

For a pick me up, check out this video from The Archibald Project focusing on Bethel China.