Tag Archives: China program updates

Miscellaneous China program updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A year of change in the China program

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

June 2017

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

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

July 2017

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

August 2017

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

December 2017

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

January 2018

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

February 2018

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

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

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

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

March 2018

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

April 2018

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

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

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

How does this all work now, anyway??

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

  1. Preliminary

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

2. Begin the home study process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frequently Asked Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

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.

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.

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.