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.

Utilizing Chinese search engines

Adoptive mom Jaime Butler has helped many families find additional information on their child through her instructions on how to search using Chinese search engines. This information could be pictures from an event at their orphanage or a news article about their finding. Jaime has allowed me to post her instructions here. I have added screenshots to help you through the process.

If you don’t have Google Chrome, download it. It is easier to use Google Chrome, because it has an option to translate everything for you, to English.

  1. Open Google Chrome
  2. Open a tab on Chrome with Google Translate in it.
  3. Open another tab
  4. Search for either Baidu or Soso (now merged with Sogou). Both are Chinese search engines. There are a few other search engines that you can use too, but those are the two that I have had the best luck with.
  5. After searching for Baidu or Sogou, click on it, to open it in that tab.

 

Now the fun begins!

In Google translate, type what you want to search for and translate it to Chinese characters.

Copy and paste these characters into the search bar in the Chinese search engine.

At the top of the screen, it will most likely ask if you want the page translated, and it will also sometimes ask if you want to always translate.

Once you have searched using Chinese characters, it will look similar to a google search, and you can choose to look at images, news articles, etc. I often will click on images or pictures. I then will scroll through the pictures and click on ones that look like they may be related. You can also scroll through the news or web or other options. The two I have had the best luck with are Images, and news.

Usually I will start out by right clicking on about 10 articles at a time and opening them in a new tab, so that they can load while I start looking at some of them, and so I don’t “lose” my search that I just did, and I can go back to it after I look at those 10, and open 10 more.

With baidu, you will then have to click on the picture again, to be brought to the new story. With soso, you have to click again, but I don’t remember where you click.

Again, if you haven’t set it up to auto-translate, you will have to click on translate at the top of the page.

 

 

There is usually a date at the top of the article, so you can tell right away if it is even close to the range that you are looking for. Then if it is, you can look for key things like where the article is from, etc.

Some tips for searching:

  • Things that I usually will translate and search for are: Gender, age at finding, birthday, finding day, specific finding spot, name in Chinese characters, city, province, SWI, and any other facts that would make your child stand out compared to another.
  • I will often only put one or two facts into the translator at once, and then combine them in the search bar. I also will often only search for one or two facts about my child at once. For example, Nanchang baby cleft.
  • I don’t include words that aren’t necessary when searching. So I don’t search for something like “A baby was found with cleft in Nanchang, on…” Instead I would search for “Nanchang baby cleft”
  • I try many different combinations of the facts that I have.
  • I also try the words in different orders. For example: Baby with cleft Nanchang
  • Try both being very specific and not very specific
  • When using Google translate you can hover over the Chinese translation, and it will let you see the translation of each character or group of characters. You can then choose other ones. Try them all.
  • Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find something right away. It took me two months of searching before I finally found anything about my son.

Here are some key words that I use in my searches: newborn, baby, child, specific city that the child is from, province the child is from, cleft or other special need, abandoned, found, left, foundling, orphanage, social welfare institute, near, boy, girl, and again anything different that would make your child’s situation stand out.

 

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 includes 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.

 

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.