Tag Archives: Choosing an Agency Simplified

What makes an agency ethical?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

When choosing an agency, no one ever says “I’ll use an unethical agency.” The problem is that agency ethics is a little harder to quantify than agency costs, wait times, or travel plans. I frequently see people recommending the agency they used by saying “Use Agency X! They’re very ethical. We had no problems with our adoption.” Having a good experience with an agency is completely separate from whether or not an agency is ethical. You can have a good experience without realized you were scammed out of money. You can have a good experience adopting a child who was trafficked. You can have a good experience after paying a bribe. In fact, I think the point of paying a bribe is to prevent you from having a bad experience.

If you want to make sure you choose an agency which will give you a good experience but ALSO be acting an in ethical manner, how can you figure out which are truly ethical? Let’s look at some of the aspects which fall under ethics.

Finances

One of the first things people think of when it comes to ethics is whether an agency is going to charge more money than is necessary. This is an aspect that I have written quite a bit about but agencies make it very difficult to get the information you need. When I surveyed agency websites only a third posted a detailed cost sheet and only two or three posted their IRS 990, operating budget, or had a third party audit conducted. Uncovering excessive travel charges in advance is virtually impossible. The most important things you can do to try to find a financially ethical agency are:

  • Look for the agency cost sheet and go over it in detail.
  • If you have to pay post placement costs up front, make sure they are held in escrow and will be refundable if the agency closes or you move.
  • Ask about their post placement requirements. Some agencies require a one month visit even though China does not to try to head off problems early. This is more understandable to me than agencies which require a social worker conduct the final visits which China will let you self-report.
  • Get agency refund policies in writing. No one expects to lose a job or have a major health issue but if these things happen very early in the adoption process you will want to be with an agency that will refund at least a portion of fees you have paid.
  • Try to avoid wishful thinking. Remember “Buyer Beware.”

There have been multiple times where someone asked for my opinion on an agency. When I point out that it is not a good idea financially to pay thousands in agency fees before you ever begin your home study the response is usually “But I talked to them for an hour on the phone and they are so nice! They said we would definitely pass the home study. They said they couldn’t help us start the process until all of these fees are paid.” I’m sorry to break it to you but unethical people can be very nice. No one would give them money if they weren’t. They can lie to tell you there will be no problems and later appear convincingly surprised that a problem popped up. Having the tools you need to make a good decision will not help if you don’t use them.

Following laws

img_1105This seems basic, but an ethical agency should follow all laws and policies governing adoption including state law, US law, and relevant international law. It doesn’t matter if you think the policy is stupid. It doesn’t matter if the agency thinks they have a really good reason for going around (BREAKING) the law. Ethical agencies might advocate for changes, but they follow the law until the day those changes are implemented.

The first thing you should do is check to see if an agency has substantiated claims from the accrediting bureau. This means the accrediting entity has investigated client complaints and found them to be valid. The document containing these complaints is substantial so I have culled the ones relevant to agencies with a China program in this post.

However, not everything makes it to this list. You should also take the time to google the name of the agency with keywords like “ethics” “fraud” “scam” or “lawsuit.” Join the Rate Your China Adoption Agency group on Facebook. Use the search feature to look up former conversations about the agency. I would not be concerned about one or two people having a bad experience with an agency. What you are looking for is a consistent pattern of client complaints.

Christian agencies

Many Christian families who adopt prefer to use a Christian agency. Typically this means an agency which requires families to sign a Statement of Faith stating that they share the same (protestant Christian) theological beliefs as the agency. If you are a Christian family, I want to caution you to be diligent about investigating potential agencies. It is a very sad fact that many “Christian” agencies are the worst ethics offenders. There are two reasons for this. One is that Christians put a lot of trust into other Christians and unscrupulous people take advantage of that. Here is a story which is a good example. The Ethiopian international adoption program was closed because of the widespread child trafficking with two of the biggest offenders being “Christian” agencies.

The other reason is Christian agencies have their own separate agenda, so to speak. For many, international adoption is important because it places non-Christian children into Christian homes. A typical sentiment is “We want the children we serve to have forever families, but more than that, we want them to know the truth of the Gospel.” If that is the primary goal, agencies can sometimes go down the “the end justifies the means” path. Many of the substantiated claims found against Christian agencies are either not making sure their in-country workers are conducting legal adoptions (obtaining children who are not legal orphans falls under this category) or not making sure families are sufficiently qualified or prepared to adopt.

I understand and appreciate that many families want to use an agency which shares their beliefs and who can pray alongside them in the process. But please take the time to make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of by an agency that is Christian in name only.

img_5594

Running a business

The final category is the most fuzzy. International adoption is a business. If an agency doesn’t place enough children, they will not be able to stay financially solvent. It can be difficult for agencies to strike a balance between placing the best interests of the children first and keeping their business successful. A successful business will satisfy clients. However, policies that keep clients happy are not always policies that place the well-being of the child first. This is the difference between finding children for clients (we’ve already discussed how this can lead to trafficking) versus finding families for children. One reason the partnership system was stopped by China is the potential for pressure to be placed, intentionally or not, on orphanages to produce a certain number of the most adoptable children (young with minor needs) for their partner agency because the orphanage is receiving financial support. Is the agency receiving enough of the kind of files they want to make the financial commitment of the partnership worth it?

One of the things that many people in an agency is if they let families decide what they can handle–meaning they don’t have agency rules about adopting out of birth order, pregnancy while adopting, or adopting more than one child at once back when this was permitted by China. One could certainly argue that it would be in the best interest of the children to at least consider these policies on a case-by-case basis instead of “whatever you want, we can make happen.” I have a close friend who was surprised that their agency sent an email letting them know they could adopt two at once when they had never expressed interest. Was this trying to “sell” more adoptions?

Another popular agency policy is how strictly an agency keeps to application/MCC date for referrals. Parents feel that first come, first served is a fair principle. However, when a child with a serious medical condition is referred to a family who hasn’t started their home study rather than a family already LID simply because of the MCC date, is it in the child’s best interest to wait months longer if they aren’t approved for a medical expedite? The policies that are most disliked by parents such as deciding matching by committee are ones which are trying to put the needs of the child over the needs of the client. I know people argue passionately on both sides of these issues, but I think this is at the heart of why some people might view an agency as being business centered rather than child centered. The more children you place, the more money you make. The happier you keep your clients, the more business you will get.

None of these practices are exactly unethical. However, it’s important to remember that what makes an agency popular is giving clients what they want. Try to look for signs that an agency views the children they place as a product.

  • Does the agency advocate for children who are older or who have more intensive needs?
  • Do featured client family photos show families with older children or visible needs or do all of the family photos seem to have very cute young children?
  • Does the website have information to educate families about older child adoption and the different kinds of medical needs or does it seem focused on telling you that you can be matched with a young child with minor needs relatively quickly?

Regardless of the child profile you are wanting to adopt, looking for these things is a good way to discern whether an agency is truly trying to find homes for children or whether they are trying to pull in as many clients as possible. Choosing to give your business to a reputable child-centered agency is the best way to close down unethical agencies.

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!

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.

Updated: Evaluating agency fee schedules

I posted a version of this blog post earlier in the year. Since that time I have continued to research agency fee schedules. Since this is a very important topic, I have revised the post to include more agency information.

IMG_1372

Although I have already written about evaluating the amount of fees a potential agency charges, I have recently run into a few situations that made me think I should take a closer look at the aspect of *when* the fees are charged. Here some situations I have discussed with people within the past few weeks:

  • A family which had paid all of the agency fees before their homestudy was completed. The agency was barred from international adoptions and the family has lost the money they paid.
  • A family which applied to a particular agency because the agency was going to receive the file of a child they wanted to adopt. The agency was upfront about the fact that the family was not guaranteed to receive the child’s file. Another family ended up with that child’s referral, but because the first family had already paid several thousand dollars in fees, they ended up staying with the agency.
  • A family which applied to an agency but decided to change to another after reading some negative reviews. Although they knew they would lose the non-refundable application fee, they were shocked to be informed that because their application had been approved they owed a $2000 “service fee” even though absolutely nothing had been done by the agency.
  • A family found a child profile they were interested in on the “shared list” section of an agency advocacy site. The agency informed them that if they applied to the agency, they would help them find the file. The file was with another agency which refused to transfer, but now that the family had committed to the first agency by paying fees they didn’t have the freedom to switch to the agency which actually held the file.
  • I am aware of two different families who applied to an agency (they used different agencies) and started a home study but through different circumstances became ineligible to adopt before the home study was completed. Both families had paid an initial agency fee of around $5000 but both agencies refused to give even a partial refund.

We all know that adoption is expensive. Families are prepared to pay the cost of the adoption, but they usually don’t have the funds to lose $3000-$6000 if they start over with another agency. The timing of WHEN you pay the fees can give you flexibility if the first agency you work with does not turn out to be the best fit for whatever reason. I looked up the fee schedules (or tried to) for over 30 different adoption agencies with China programs. Let’s look at what I learned so you can make an informed decision when choosing an agency.

IMG_0179Fee Schedules– When I gave agency red flags, not posting a fee schedule on the agency website was one of the items I listed. A full third of agencies did not have the fee schedule available on their website or required I give personal information to receive it. Many of these agencies are the ones who do not have a good reputation. Some agencies only gave a general estimate for the costs of the China program without listing individual fees or gave fees without a timeline. The good news is that 20 agencies had at least a general breakdown of fees and when to expect to pay them. I’m sticking with my suggestion that if you don’t find a fee schedule on an agency website, don’t use them. There are plenty of agencies that give you the information you need to make an informed decision.

Application fees– Application fees ranged from $200 to $800. Application fees are not refundable. If you are considering an agency because of a waiting child, very few agencies will require an application fee to view a file. Most agencies can and will locate specific files for you free of charge because they hope to gain you as a client.

Home study– It came as a surprise to me to find that some agencies are expecting fee payment before the home study is complete. Remember that the purpose of a home study is to determine that you are eligible to adopt. Certainly most families pass the home study, but I would be hesitant to work with an agency which expects payment before you have been determined eligible to adopt.

Application approval/Contract signing– Of the agencies which had a payment that could be due before the home study was approved, most had the first payment tied to when the application was accepted or when the agency contract was signed. This fee was around $3000 with most of the agencies.  If this is the case with the agency you want to work with, consider not formally applying or signing the contract until after your home study is complete. The agency can review the home study and make changes once they have accepted you into the program. This is probably not going to work if the placing agency is also doing your home study, but it would give you the freedom to switch if you find a child at a different agency during the home study process.

Number of agency fees– It is most common for agencies to have three fees. These were typically tied to home study acceptance, referral or dossier submission, and a travel and/or post placement fee after the dossier is submitted but before travel. Here is my full tally:

  • Agencies with no fee posted: 10
  • Agencies with 1 comprehensive fee: 2
  • Agencies with 2 fees: 6
  • Agencies with 3 fees: 12
  • Agencies with 4 fees: 3
  • Agencies which required fee payment before the home study is finalized: 5

If you are not looking at an agency because you are pursuing a particular waiting child, it is beneficial to look closely at the fee schedule of potential agencies. Especially if you are anticipating submitting your dossier first to be matched with a LID child, choosing an agency which has multiple fees spaced out throughout the process will give you maximum flexibility if you end up switching agencies later. It is very common for families to begin the process intending to adopt a LID child but to find a waiting child through an advocacy group or site during the process. You might feel sure you will stay with an agency, but giving yourself flexibility is still a good idea.

Conclusion– My suggestions if you are choosing an agency:

  • Look for a detailed fee schedule to be easily available on the agency’s website.
  • Do not pay more than the application fee before your home study is approved.
  • Ask potential agencies if you can make payments on the fees or if it must be paid in full at the time it is due.
  • Ask for your agency’s refund policy. Does it vary if you voluntarily leave the agency versus if you are no longer eligible to adopt? Get the answer in writing.

If you are just beginning your adoption journey and found this post helpful, you might consider buying my book which has all of this information and more, including several chapters on travel.

Finding Your Agency

If you find this post helpful, you might want to read the expanded version in my book which includes even more information on this and all aspects of the China adoption process.

IMG_5309

Now that you have an idea of what you are looking for in an agency, how do you go about finding an agency which matches that criteria? Rainbow Kids has 36 agencies listed with a China program, and there could be more who have not chosen to list themselves there. Trying to narrow down that many choices is daunting!

Get Recommendations

Most people will start by getting recommendations. If you know anyone in real life who has adopted from China, that is a good place to start. Where they happy with their agency? If so, what did they like about it? If you don’t know anyone, you can contact me at mineinchina@zoho.com or send me a private message via Facebook (I don’t accept most friend requests but do check my message requests daily) and I will be happy to recommend a couple of  good agencies.

If you have an agency in your town or general area, that is certainly an agency to consider. It’s convenient to be able to attend classes there or to drop off papers directly. However, it is not necessary for your placing agency to be in your area. Many people use placing agencies in a completely different part of the country where they live. Don’t feel an obligation to use an agency simply because they’re close.

Your next stop should be the Rate Your China Adoption Agency group on Facebook. You will get more feedback than you could ever want from parents who have used the agencies. No agency employees or volunteer advocates are allowed to join.

IMG_5308However, I do feel you need to keep some points in mind when soliciting opinions:

  • Ask specific questions. If your priority is matching time, post a question like “We are looking for a reputable agency with a shorter matching time for young girls with minor needs. Can people who have adopted recently give me your recommendations?”
  • Be aware of the timeline. As you might have noticed above, I strongly recommend being prepared to ask “When did you adopt with them?” a lot. Agencies and policies change frequently, sometimes for the better and sometimes for worse. You don’t want to miss out on a great agency because of outdated information.
  • Make sure you have the same priorities. Many people in the Rate Your Agency group will say you should NEVER use ______ agency because the agency uses a committee to decide a match if multiple families are interested in a child. If you don’t have a problem with committee decisions, or not being able to adopt two at once, or whatever issue, then you can freely disregard those negative reviews.
  • Go directly to the source. It’s always best to contact agencies directly with questions about their policies.
  • Be aware that there is no perfect agency. Every single agency that I can think of has made a mistake at one point or another. If my agency made a mistake that caused a mess in my adoption, I probably wouldn’t recommend them either. When you are listening to reviews, what you want to look for is persistent negative reviews. Don’t give too much weight to one person’s bad experience because, while regrettable, mistakes are going to happen.

Evaluating Contenders

When you have a shorter list of five or six potential agencies, go look at their websites. Is it IMG_5598clear and easy to read? Look over their information on program fees. Request the password for their waiting child photolisting to see what sort of files they have available and how they present the information. I have some potential red flags listed in this post.

Do a google search for the agency name along with the keyword “ethics” or “fraud.” Check the Council on Accreditation’s list of substantiated complaints.

Now it’s time to contact any agencies that you haven’t crossed off the list. I would suggest that you give them each a call. Ask a few questions and listen to the contact person chat about their program. How did you like the contact person? Many people will “click” with one agency more than others. Next, send a follow up email with an additional question or two. See how quickly you get a response. If an agency doesn’t make a potential client a priority then be skeptical that you will get any better service as a paying client. You can formulate your own questions based on your priorities, or if you need inspiration I have questions sprinkled throughout the blog series I linked to at the top of the post and a full list in the appendix of my book.

Finally, choose to go with the agency that is the best fit for the priorities you have, taking into consideration the feedback you have received and your personal experiences when you contacted agencies. Best wishes on your adoption journey!

Finding Your Agency Priorities

If you find this post helpful, you might want to read the expanded version in my book which includes even more information on this and all aspects of the China adoption process.

 

IMG_5290

I often tell people that there is no perfect agency out there, but there are a lot of great ones. You can get recommendations from people, but the agency that they loved might not be the right agency for you. Every family has different priorities to consider when choosing an agency. If you read the previous post and decided that you wanted to find an agency first, this post will help you to know what to look for while the last post will help you to find the agency which is the best fit for what you want in an agency. If you would prefer to find your child first, you can use this post to decide if there are any agencies you do not want to use.

Agency policies– The most common reason to rule out an agency is because of their policies which place additional restrictions on families which go above and beyond China’s requirements. These might include:

  • Requiring you sign a Statement of Faith, which usually limits services to protestant Christians and rules out Catholics or those of non-mainstream denominations such as LDS or Jehovah’s Witness.
  • Not allowing families to adopt out of birth order, or continue an adoption during pregnancy. There can be good reasons for these policies, but there is no point in considering an agency which doesn’t allow a practice which you know is right for your family.
  • Using travel groups. While a few agencies which use travel groups can get you into the next group without a delay, most people who use an agency with group travel will not be able to travel immediately–a big priority for some families.

Individual family situations– Some agencies are better than others at requesting waivers from China, working with single parents, expatriates, or military families.

Time to be matched with a child– This is probably THE ONE biggest priority for most families.IMG_5399 Some families will wait two years to be matched with a girl with minor needs under age two while others will be matched six months after their dossier is logged in. Why? Different agencies. Your wait time will depend on how open you are to age, gender, and special needs, but also how many files your agency receives and how many waiting families they have. An agency should be able to give you a general time frame for matching based on what your child preferences.

Support during the process– Many first time adoptive families would like an agency which provides a lot of hand-holding while experienced families might be comfortable filling out paperwork without much direction. Some agencies include authenticating documents as part of their service, some will do so for an additional fee, and some don’t offer this service at all.

Travel arrangements– Many people prefer to avoid travel groups while some have no preference. Agencies will often have a hotel preference, at least in Guangzhou. This might be important if you want to be able to use hotel points to stay for free. Want to book all of your own arrangements? Scared to death of traveling in China so you feel easier knowing your agency will handle everything? A more detailed look at some of the differences between agencies, including travel, can be found in this post.

Ethical concerns– For some people, it is important to choose an agency which provides aid in the country which they work. Some agencies are a strong humanitarian presence in many counties. A few even do family preservation work in addition to adoption. Families which have come to the China program after adopting through another country program will often look for an agency with the highest ethical standards because they have experienced how often unethical agencies will overlook child trafficking in order to make a buck. You can read about agencies which have been found to have a substantiated claim by the Council on Accreditation here.

IMG_5391Finances– Cost is an important factor for almost everyone who adopts internationally. Looking over an agency’s cost sheet is important. Some agencies offer grants to children who are harder to place. Many parter with an organization such as Brittany’s Hope to provide matching grants for families. Some offer financial planning services for their families. While many families focus on the agency costs, I did a detailed analysis of why it can be difficult to determine which agency is the cheapest. Even travel arrangements can play into agency cost if you had planned to save on travel through frequent flier miles or hotel points but later discover you cannot use them because of your agency travel regulations.

Pulling it together

Take some time to consider these different aspects. Which are most important to you? Do you feel it’s fine to wait a year to be matched because that gives you longer to save up for expenses? Do you feel that hotel arrangements are pretty trivial compared to finding an agency with high ethical standards? You know you can deal with filling out your own paperwork or put up with travel groups as long as you find the agency with the lowest costs?

There is no right or wrong answer here. But you will find that when you are looking for agency recommendations, it is easier to get targeted answers if you are more specific than “What is a good agency to use?” In the final post in this series, I will give you some tips for finding the right agency for your family now that you know what your ideal agency looks like.

Understanding China’s File Designations

If you find this post helpful, you might want to read the expanded version in my book which includes even more information on this and all aspects of the China adoption process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This post was updated in April 2018 to reflect changes in the China program.

File Designations

When you choose to adopt from China, you can either choose an agency to match you with a child or you can choose a waiting child and sign with the agency who has their file. There are pros and cons to either of these matching methods. Let’s begin by discussing the different types of files.

Shared List – The shared list is a listing of files available to any agency. For many countries outside of the US, it is the only source of files. The shared list can only be viewed by agency personnel and is composed of both LID and Special Focus files. At any given time, the shared list is about 75% boys and 25% girls. There are usually very few LID files on the shared list because they get locked almost instantly by agencies. With the partnership program ending, China will be moving to an all shared list system for file distribution.

LID Files – Your LID is the Log In Date for your dossier. LID files are reserved for families who already have a dossier logged into China’s system. LID files tend to be younger children with minor needs. Because adoptive parents overwhelmingly prefer to adopt girls, girls will often be designated LID to an older age or with more moderate needs. Fewer boys are labeled LID, and boys are more likely to be designated as special focus even if they are young and with minor needs. LID files are designated to an agency for only 3 weeks, and they may be switched to Special Focus if they remain unmatched after about 3 months. It is unlikely that LID files will continue to be designated to agencies once all partnership files have been completed.

Special Focus Files – Special Focus files are files which China feels will need a little more help to place. For that reason, they may be matched to a family who does not yet have a dossier in China. Special Focus files are often for children who are a little older, or have moderate or greater special needs. However, as LID files can be changed to Special Focus simply for not being matched quickly, it is very possible to find young children with minor needs who are designated Special Focus, particularly boys. If you fall for a child who is labeled Special Focus, don’t worry that you are missing something. The only thing you are missing is a wonderful opportunity to add a child to your family!

This post has some examples to give you an idea of Special Focus versus LID files.

Designated Files – Designated files are any files not on the shared list, but designated to a particular agency. Previously, this could be through a partnership, a program such as Journey of Hope, hosting program, or simply because the agency requested the file be designated to them. Moving forward, designated files are likely to be those which have not been matched after a period of time on the shared list. Designating files to a specific agency for advocacy makes it more likely for the child to find a family.

Partnership Files – Previously, agencies would partner with specific orphanages. In exchange for providing aid to the orphanages, any files prepared from that orphanage would be designated to the partner agency first for a period of time. The partnership program was ended in 2017.

Finding Your Child First

IMG_0086Many people prefer to find their child first and use the agency which has the file. Because of new regulations from the US Department of State you will need to have a completed home study before you can be matched with a child. Finding your child first will involve adopting a child designated Special Focus, so you will need to be open to at least a moderate amount of needs. Flexibility in gender and age is also helpful. People who prefer to find their child first often like the idea of adopting a waiting child or like to have more control over the matching process. If you find your child first, you will have a longer wait from the time you identify a child until you travel, so consider how you would feel about that when deciding if finding your child first is best for your family.

Besides agency photolistings, here are some ways to view waiting children, most agency designated:

While some people are fine with using any agency which has their child’s file, others prefer to rule out a few agencies that they absolutely would not use. It can be useful to ask a few questions to make sure you are comfortable with an agency before viewing their files.There are three different methods that agencies use to decide which set of potential parents will end up with a child on a photolisting. I know this information makes the post a little long, but it is important to ask the agency how they will match photolisting files with families, because you might not be the only one who is interested in the child.

The most common is First Come, First Served. The first person to ask for the file gets to review it, and other people who want to review the file are added to a list. The first couple has a certain amount of time to review the file and decide–maybe a few days, maybe a week or two. (While files which are pulled from the shared list are only locked for 72 hours, agencies have a greater latitude in their designated files.) If they decline the file then it is passed to the next family on the list, and so on until someone is ready to submit a Letter of Intent (LOI).

Pros: Only one family views a file at a time, which does not put pressure on the family to rush into a decision. First come, first served is a principle which seems fair to Americans (further on into the process you will realize this is not an Asian view), so it is not as disappointing to not get matched with a child you love. You know it’s not personal, you just weren’t first in line.

Cons: This can really drag out the process for the other families and the child involved. If there is a child who is seriously cute but with a serious medical condition, the file could be viewed numerous times before someone is ready to write a LOI. One parent told me their child’s file was turned down 50 times before they accepted it! For children with time sensitive medical needs or who are close to aging out, this method can waste valuable time.

Let’s call the second method of matching Race To The Finish! Agencies who use this methodOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA will allow all interested families to view the file at the same time. The first family who is ready to write a LOI gets the child.

Pros: This more efficient methods cuts down on the wasted time of First Come, First Served.

Cons: This method can really pressure families to make a decision before they’re ready. Maybe they’re still waiting to hear back from a doctor who reviewed the file but they don’t want to chance losing the child. Unethical agencies can pressure families to act quickly by saying they think another family is really interested when really, they just want to close to deal and get you to sign.

The third method is Committee Decides. Multiple families are allowed to view a file at the same time and if multiple families are ready to move forward then an agency committee chooses from among the potential families.

Pros: Committee Decides is the least popular method and it is easy to find people who are angry about it online. From my perspective, I’m not sure how “I saw her first!” is any more fair? Committee Decides is a child-centered method to find the best family for a child. While most of the young children with minor needs would thrive in any loving family, there are often instances where some families would be a better fit than others. If a child has a time-sensitive special need such as Thalassemia, isn’t better that they be matched with a family who is already DTC so that they can come home six months sooner than if the family who saw the child first was only starting on their home study? Wouldn’t a better family for a child who is deaf be a family who is already fluent in sign language and a part of the deaf community? How about older children? Wouldn’t the best family for an older child be a family who is experienced with the challenges of older child adoption and who has parented past the age of the child rather than a family with only younger children and just beginning their first adoption? So I will take the unpopular stance and say that I think this method is better for the children who are being placed.

Cons: I will also acknowledge the serious flip side to this method, which is that it is harder on the potential families. It is very common for people to feel emotionally connected to a child from the first moment they see the picture. I can understand how devastating it must be to feel deep in your heart that this is your child, and now a committee is telling you that there is another family better for the child than yours. Not only is it a loss, but it comes as a veiled insult. If you feel you can’t handle the heartbreak of a committee deciding that you aren’t the best family for a child then it is important to know which agencies use this method and avoid their photolistings.

Next week we will look at more general agency considerations for those families which prefer to choose an agency first.