Tag Archives: Choosing an Agency Simplified

Updated: Evaluating agency fee schedules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion– My suggestions if you are choosing an agency:

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

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

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Checking for substantiated claims of potential agencies

I spend a lot of time writing about choosing an agency on this blog. That’s because it’s one of the most important decisions you make during the process. You want to choose an agency that you are confident is ethical, knowledgeable about the process, and charges a reasonable amount of fees. I always suggest that people check the Council on Accreditation’s Substantiated Complaints and Adverse Actions list to see if there have been any issues with a potential agency. However, that file is a billion pages long, so I doubt many people actually do so. I decided to go through and list for you the agencies which have had substantiated claims. I can’t guarantee that I know every single agency with a China program, but I checked all that I was familiar with. 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.

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. This information is from the April 2017 file.

  1. ATWA– Agency failed to demonstrate that it was financially stable throughout fiscal year 2013 and completed voluntary corrective action.
  2. Adoption Associates (MI)- In 2010, the agency had multiple violations for charging additional fees and expenses beyond those disclosed in the contract.
  3. 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.
  4. Bay Area Adoption Services– In 2014, the agency did not follow state licensing and regulatory requirements regarding the finalization of an adoption.
  5. Bethany Christian Services– In 2010, the agency failed to include information about an additional adult household member in a home study and RFE response.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Heartsent Adoptions– In 2010, The agency did not report safety concerns to the appropriate authorities in a timely manner.
  10. 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.
  11. Living Hope– In 2013, The agency’s orientation training did not comply with standards.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Wide Horizons For Children– In 2012, the agency’s grievance procedures were misleading.

 

Evaluating Agency Fee Schedules

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**Please skip to the revised version of this blog post which has information from twice as many agencies.**

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 used the same agency they had used for previous adoptions. This agency requires several thousand dollars upfront. After realizing that wait times for matching had increased significantly since their previous adoptions, the family would have preferred to switch agencies but now felt tied to the agency because of financial commitment.
  • 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.

The common theme here is 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 16 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. It was no surprise to me that 3 agencies I consider unethical did not have fee schedules listed on their websites. Two additional agencies only gave a general estimate for the costs of the China program without listing individual fees. The other 11 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.

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.

Homestudy– It came as a surprise to me to find that some agencies are expecting fee payment before the homestudy is complete. Remember that the purpose of a homestudy is to determine that you are eligible to adopt. Certainly most families pass the homestudy, 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 homestudy 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 homestudy is complete. The agency can review the homestudy 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 homestudy, but it would give you the freedom to switch if you find a child at a different agency during the homestudy process.

Number of agency fees– Agencies had between 1 and 3 agency fees.

  • Two agencies had a single fee which was due after homestudy completion.
  • Five agencies had two fees. Three had the first fee due at contract/application and the other two did not have a clear timeline on their website.
  • Four agencies had a three fee structure. The first fee was due at contract/application with two agencies while the other two charged the first fee at homestudy completion.
  • Besides homestudy completion, the most common times agency fees were due were at dossier submission and/or at child match.
  • Some agencies indicated that payments were flexible, so you could continue to make payments throughout the process. It is a good idea to ask a potential agency if the fee payment dates are times that payment is required in full or if you can make payments on it.

Conclusion– 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.

My data– I am sharing my fee schedule tally below without agency names.

  1. 3 fees, 1st with application approval
  2. 3 fees, 1st with application approval and second due within 45 days (I had to submit personal information to download the fee schedule)
  3. 3 fees, 1st at homestudy approval
  4. 3 fees, 1st at homestudy approval
  5. 2 fees, time of 1st fee is unclear
  6. 2 fees, 1st at agency contract but only needs to be paid by dossier submission
  7. 2 fees, 1st at agency contract
  8. 2 fees, timeline unclear
  9. 2 fees, 1st at application acceptance and 2nd at homestudy acceptance
  10. 1 fee, timing unclear but probably at homestudy acceptance
  11. 1 fee, after homestudy acceptance
  12. Only total amount estimate for China adoption listed
  13. Only total amount estimate for China adoption listed
  14. No fee schedule
  15. No fee schedule
  16. No fee schedule

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.

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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.

 

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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 two children at once, 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 handholding 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.

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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.

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.

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 or one which requires a waiver from China’s normal parent requirements.  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. 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. Most designated files may be transferred to another agency but not all agencies will transfer files. Agencies are most likely to agree to transfer a file if the child is older or with greater special needs. The files of young children (girls) with minor needs are what pay an agency’s bills, allowing them to stay open to help place those kids which need more help to find a family. For this reason, those files are rarely transferred. If an agency will not agree to release a file for you, ask the agency for the child’s birthdate and when their designation time is up so that if they don’t place the file your agency can request it from the CCCWA.

*Partnership Files – Most US agencies now have one or more partnership orphanages. The agency provides aid to the orphanage in a variety of forms. In exchange, all new files from the orphanage are designated to the parter agency for a designated time period. Partnership files are designated for 3 weeks for LID files and 3 months for Special Focus. Partnership files cannot be transferred. If a partner agency cannot place 80% of the files, they can lose the partnership with that particular orphanage. Most LID files are now placed through partnerships, so if you know you would like to adopt a LID designated child, you will want to ask an agency about their partnerships. Note: As of January 1, 2018 there will no longer be a partnership system.

Former Shared List Files – Recently, about 2000 of the files from the shared list were removed and designated to four particular agencies. These files were mostly files which had been on the shared list for a long time. The agencies are responsible for updating the files and advocating for them. They will be listed on the Rainbow Kids website. For more information on this program and how to view the files, read this post.

Finding Your Child First

IMG_0086Many people prefer to find their child first and use the agency which has the file. This will involve adopting a child designated Special Focus, so you would want 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.