Tag Archives: International Adoption

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 completed 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 shared list 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!

Five ways to shorten your wait for a match

I realize this is the closest I’ve come to a click-bait title. I do apologize, but “Five ways, which are not quick and easy, to maybe or maybe not shorten your wait for a match” was too long to fit in the title space.

Now that we are getting into May, we are starting to see more of a shift to matching by shared list rather than partnership files. The (generally) monthly release of new files to the shared list is becoming important to people waiting for a match. Everyone is anxious to be matched as soon as possible but wait times are unpredictable. Here are some things you can do to minimize your wait.

1. Make sure you understand what kind of wait you have before you

Assuming you are not able to be matched with a waiting child, your agency will match families in order of either MCC date or LID date. You are essentially in line at your agency to be matched. When a new file is released to the shared list, if your agency has a family open to that child’s profile, they can lock the file for that particular family. All agencies have access to the shared list, so while multiple agencies might have a family they want to match the file with only one agency will be able to lock the file. If the family reviews the file and decides that child isn’t a good match for them, it will return to the shared list. The agency which locked the file cannot lock it again for a week, so they can’t simply pass the file to the next family on their list.

Many families begin eagerly awaiting a referral call as soon as their dossier is logged in, but it could be months before your agency has matched enough waiting families that you are close to the top of the list. Here are a few questions to get a better idea of whether you should be expecting to be matched within the next 2-3 months or if you should settle in for a long wait (see #5).

  • How many families do you have waiting to be matched right now?
  • Where does our family fall in the list of waiting families?
  • How many families did you match from the shared list last month?
  • Would you say our MCC is very open, average, or restricted compared to other waiting families?

If you are very early in the process (have not yet sent your dossier to China) and find you should expect a long wait with your agency, you can consider switching agencies. Wait times are unpredictable at the moment, but it is undeniable that some agencies have a long list of families to match while other agencies are advertising that they have only a handful of families with dossiers in China. If agencies match, say, 3 families per month with new files from the shared list, you will be matched faster at an agency with 6 waiting families than one with 60 waiting families. I would not suggesting switching agencies without careful consideration, but some families might feel this is the right decision for them. I have several blog posts to help you evaluate potential agencies to make sure you are choosing an ethical agency that is right for your family. This post is a good starting place.

2. Re-evaluate age 

Your agency will ask you to give an age range for the child you wish to adopt. The age range is the upper limit, so if you write down that you want a child under two and your agency has the file of a child who is 26 months old, you will probably not be considered for that child. Because the majority of families will request a child under two, opening your age range will allow your agency to consider more files for you. However, age range preferences vary by gender so moving up to age three might not make much difference on your wait time if you are requesting a girl. More families are open to girl through age five, while the number of people open to boys steeply declines once a boy reaches age three. Here are numbers taken from the shared list in February 2018 to illustrate file availability by age:

  • Children under the age of 1: 0 girls, 1 boy
  • Age 1: 2 girls, 17 boys
  • Age 2: 17 girls, 78 boys
  • Age 3: 74 girls, 185 boys
  • Age 4: 82 girls, 200 boys
  • Age 5: 98 girls, 223 boys

Besides wanting to keep birth order, the factor which holds many people back from considering older children is the concern that older children will have more problems attaching. This could certainly be the case for some older children, but there is no major difference in attachment between a one year old and a three year old. It is also possible for children under the age of two to have attachment difficulties. So much of attachment will depend on what sort of care your child received, trauma your child might have experienced, how many placements they have had, and their own personality. There is really no magical formula for guaranteeing attachment. Take some time to consider whether a 3, 4, or 5 year old might be a wonderful addition to your family.

3. Re-evaluate special needs

When you are unsure of the idea of adopting a child with medical needs in the first place, it’s especially hard to know what to sign up for. It can be daunting to sift through the medical conditions list when it ranges from familiar scary medical diagnoses like spina bifida and HIV+ to unfamiliar yet still scary sounding medical conditions like thalassemia or Tetralogy of Fallot. If your medical conditions list only contains the “popular” needs like minor heart conditions, club feet, and cleft lip/cleft palate it will take longer for you to be matched than someone who is open to other less popular needs.

You absolutely should not mark needs you are not comfortable with simply to be matched sooner. However, while you are waiting to be matched is a great time to continue educating yourself about the needs available. As you learn more about a particular need, you may find it is one which would be manageable for your family. Here are two posts from my blog to get you started:

Which Special Needs

More considerations when choosing special needs

4. Re-evaluate gender 

Whether you look at domestic infant, foster, or international adoption, adoptive parents overwhelming prefer to adopt girls. Some people choose the China program specifically because you can choose the gender of your child. People have individual reasons for this choice. However, for many who are starting their first adoption from China the gender preference is not something they’ve thought deeply about. You thought you could only adopt girls from China, you’ve spent all this time visualizing your daughter from China, and the idea of adopting a boy just sounds strange.

If that’s the case for you, give some thought to becoming open to either gender. There is really nothing to lose by telling your agency that you will accept either a boy or a girl. When they send you a file, give it a look. If you don’t feel the child is right for you, you can decline the referral. However, by limiting your criteria to only a girl you might miss out on a wonderful opportunity.

For a longer discussion of the adoptive parent preference for girls, please read this blog post.

5. Accept the wait

If you are confident that you are with the right agency, and the age, special needs, and gender you have marked are really what you feel comfortable with, then accept that. It is worth it to you, despite the wait. Adopting a child is a lifelong decision–there are no shortcuts to finding that child. Your agency will let you know when they have found a file that they think is a good match.

My advice is to take a step back if you know you will have a long wait. Haunting the adoption groups and photolistings will only cause you to feel frustrated that it is taking so long to see your child’s face. Leave the groups until you have a match. Spend your time occupying yourself with projects that have nothing to do with adoption. Creating A Family has a list of 42 ways to survive the adoption wait that will give you plenty of ideas. Hopefully, you will get that phone call from your agency sooner than you think.

Potential upcoming changes on the US side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Reasons to (Still) Adopt from China

Last November for National Adoption Month, I gave five reasons to choose China to adopt from. Since then, two of those reasons are no longer part of the China program. I thought I should update it this year to let you know that despite recent program changes, the China program is *still* a great option.
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November is National Adoption Month! I thought I would kick off the celebration by giving some reasons why China’s adoption program might be a good fit for your family.

1. The process is streamlined and predictable. Unlike adopting from foster care, domestic infant adoption, or programs from some (but not all) other countries, the China program has a clearly defined timeline of steps. Most families will bring home a child 10-15 months after they begin the process. Many people switch to the China program after a failed attempt at adopting through another program, so the stability is appealing.

2. You have the ability to choose your child’s age, gender, and the special needs you are comfortable with. You will not be assigned a child, nor will you be penalized for declining a file which you do not feel is a good fit for your family.

3.Travel is a single two week trip and only one parent is required to travel. Some countries require multiple trips or a lengthy stay in country to complete the adoption. While this gradual approach is undoubtedly better for the child or children being adopted, the fact is that many families could not adopt if that were a requirement. China’s travel requirement is one which most families can meet.

4. The China program still has generous eligibility guidelines. While the guidelines are now more restrictive than previously, the upper age limit is 5-10 years higher than many programs. Allowing five children in the home is more than other programs such as Thailand, South Korea, or India. China’s criteria for single parents or couples with a single divorce in their marital history are more generous than the former guidelines.

5. The China program is well established and stable. Some people have been concerned that the recent changes might indicate an upcoming closure of the program. On the contrary, China has regularly made updates to their program every 3-5 years. This is one of the aspects of the program which has helped it to continue going strong for more than 20 years. Nearly 80,000 children have been adopted to the US from China, far more than any other placing country. Of the other four top placing countries, only the Korean program remains open to American parents now that Russia, Guatemala, and Ethiopia have closed.

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

Ethics Matter in Adoption

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On December 16th, the US State Department announced that European Adoption Consultants (EAC) has been debarred from conducting adoptions for the next 3 years due to ethical violations. You can read a news article on the topic here. The list of ethical violations they were found guilty of is lengthy. You can read the full list here. It concludes: “In general, based on the conduct described above, EAC consistently failed to provide adoption services ethically and in accordance with the Convention’s principles of ensuring that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of children, and failed to provide adoption services in intercountry Adoption cases consistent with the laws of any state in which it operates”

The immediate ramifications of this are felt by the families who are in process with this agency. Those who were already matched with a child, some getting ready to travel, will have a delay as their files are transferred to another agency. While parents can pursue legal action, it is unlikely that they will receive any funds already paid to EAC back. One red flag about this agency which has come to my attention is that they required half of the adoption cost up front–before a home study has determined that a family is eligible to adopt! 

However, ethical violations affect far more than the families involved in that particular agency. I write this blog for people considering adopting from China so I am familiar with the concerns of those just starting out in the adoption process. Most people are concerned with how quickly they can be matched with a young child (almost always a girl) with the most minor needs possible. I have been asked about ethical issues very few times. The desire to get a child that matches the desired criteria as soon as possible is one that leads to ethical violations. People want that young as-healthy-as-possible girl ASAP and they will pay more to get her. It’s much easier to brush aside ethical concerns when you are fixated on getting a child. It is often from families who have adopted previously, seen the ethical problems first hand, that are the ones who try to point out the importance of ethics in adoption.

I would like to share what my friend Judy, an experienced adoptive parent, posted in an online adoption group. She attached the news article which I linked above:

Ethics in adoption. And why it matters.

I’ve attached the local article on the closing of EAC. The PDF containing the charges levied by the Council of Accreditation (COA), and causing EAC’s disbarment is linked in the article (click the word “crimes” in the article).

I suggest that Every. Single. Person. on this group read the PDF. If you have a spouse, I suggest you both read it, preferably together. Then print it out and stick it on your fridge and read it again at least monthly while you are in process. And talk about it, and research what ethics in adoption looks like.

Some of these charges border on human trafficking. No, scratch that – not border on, some ARE human trafficking.

Now, I don’t know if these incidents occurred in China or one of the other countries from which EAC placed children. I hope to God it wasn’t China. But, that said, I’m aware that EAC had partnerships in China. Which means that every family that has come home from China through EAC now gets to experience the feeling of looking at their child and thinking “what if we were inadvertently a part of this?” Those are not a pleasant thoughts. And as an old-timer, who lived through the Hunan Baby Buying scandal and saw the agony those thoughts caused some families, I’m sorry that you have to go through that.

Second impact, I’m aware that China recently tightened the rules about partnerships and waivers and is scrutinizing everything just a little more closely. Knowing the history of China adoptions like I do, that tells me that this matter has come to the attention of the CCCWA and may be partly responsible for the new rules. That again gets to impact families and children who may not now come home. Even for those in process, it has the impact of making everyone just a little more up tight.

People have complained about the Hague and how it’s rules slow down adoptions. When partnerships started, and some of us were skeptical, we were attacked. And when an agency last year advertised ‘mission trips’ that let you ‘pick out your child’ it got attention for a few days, then most people seemed to think it was a pretty cool idea. And, over in the Rate group, there are frequent flames and attacks on those that who warn against falling in love with a little face and going with a questionable agency.

And now EAC. Read the PDF. Re-Read it. Think about it.

There are reasons why the Hague exists, and there are plenty of examples of why we need to pay attention to ethics. I’m sorry we all get to experience the fallout of ethics violations in real time now.

When asked for other resources for parents interested in ethical adoption, Judy said that joining the Rate Your Agency group to inquire about a perspective adoption agency was a good idea. In addition she wrote:

This list is a good starting point of warning signs (they are accused of being anti-adoption, but the list *IS* still one of the most comprehensive I’ve found after being around for 12 years). Knowing as much as you can about your child’s orphanage and the province and city around the orphanage is also helpful. I keep meaning to pull together the list of orphanage groups that we posted over the holidays. And it’s also helpful to google everything you can about the CWI, the city, the province. I’ve learned a lot that way about my kid’s orphanages (plus it gives you something to do while you wait. There’s also the subscription blog  research-china.org that has some good stuff.

Judy noted the pattern that happens repeatedly in conversations when ethical violations are noted at a particular adoption agency:

A) a problem is turned up at agency/orphanage X; B) everyone has stories about agency/orphanage X – how they were involved, how they knew something was wrong, etc; C) those posters not at agency/orphange X are happy they are not involved, and cry out in self-righteous anger to lynch agency/orphanage X….. and D) everyone is smug, and doesn’t think about the broader implications at agency Y, their own agency.

When many people mentioned that they had many young children with minor needs as a potential red flag, they were attacked and discounted.

Bringing home all the adorable faces in the world, all our wealth and good intentions, don’t mean much if those adorable faces should still be being kissed by their birth parents.

So, my caution to you is…. read the PDF. Read the red-flags list I posted above. Join the Rate Your Agency group, if you aren’t already in it. And listen when someone says something negative about Agency Y.

Judy is one of many veteran adoptive parents who try to advocate for greater awareness of ethical issues for those considering adoption. I would suggest you also visit Elizabeth at the Ordinary Time blog. Elizabeth has adopted from Vietnam, a program which was closed for a time to the US although it has recently reopened. You can read the letter she wrote to Angelina Jolie back in 2007 when Ms. Jolie was adopting from Vietnam. She wrote about fraud in adoption again in this 2014 post The post I have to write but wish I didn’t.

Becky, who blogs at The Full Plate, is another experienced adoptive parents who has written several times about ethics in adoption. Becky has adopted domestically and most recently from China, but her adoptions from Ghana were the ones where she experienced ethical violations. Read Adoption Ethics: 15 Years of Lessons and Adoption Ethics: Policing Our Own Community on her blog.

A new year . . . a new China program?

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I’m breaking my holiday hiatus a little early because panic has been spreading through the online China community. I’m seeing:

  • No more waivers–ever!!
  • China is denying LOA to families who already had PA!
  • Agencies can’t visit partnership orphanages any more!
  • The political situation between the US and China is causing all these changes!
  • This is the beginning of the end of the China program. It will be closed in 5 years!!

I contacted three different agencies to discuss these issues: WACAP, Holt International, and Lifeline. All three of the representatives I spoke with have many years of experience in the China program. None of them were at all concerned. They all stressed that there are always minor changes in the program, as well as an ebb and flow of being strict with the rules or relaxing them.

What seems to have created this situation is the coincidental timing of some policy changes within the CCCWA paired with the implementation of the Chinese laws governing NGOs (non-governmental organizations) which will take effect on January 1st. And without getting political on you, all of this happened around a time that the US/China relationship seems strained because of the presidential transition. This seems like overwhelming change to people, and it is causing the sort of rumors and speculation that leads to the idea that the China program will close down at any moment. Let me try to sort these issues out individually for you. Hopefully this will ease your fears as well.

First, the new laws foreign charities operating in China. You can read about the new NGO laws here or here. Agencies have been aware of this law for some time and planning on how to handle the issues raised by it.

IMG_5573Children’s House International posted the following on their Facebook page:

The CCCWA notified all agencies today that the new NGO law that goes into effect January 1, 2017 will have the current impact on adoption agencies:
1) The CCCWA will continue to assign children from CURRENT one to one partnerships to agencies. Agencies are currently asked to not travel to visit partnerships. No new partnership contracts may be added and expiring contracts will not be renewed at this time.
2) Advocacy Camps and hostings here in the USA will continue, but must be registered and approved under the new NGO law.

Does this mean that all partnerships will be ending? No one knows exactly how it will play out in practice. Presumably agencies with partnerships will register as an NGO, if that is possible for them. Holt International informed me that they are already registered as an NGO, while WACAP and Lifeline told me that they are seeking NGO status. No agency will be able to create a NEW partnership unless they have NGO status under the new law, but agencies which already have partnerships will continue to receive files from the partnerships until the contracts end, typically 1-2 years. Hopefully by that time everyone will be set up to be compliant with the new law or some new system will have come about. Remember that the partnership system is still fairly new in the China program.

What does this mean if you are in process? If you are already matched with a child in a partnership orphanage, you should expect to receive the file and complete the adoption. If you were expecting an update because your agency planned to visit the orphanage soon, that will probably be postponed. It is best to contact your agency directly to ask how they will be handling the situation. All of the agencies I contacted expected to be directed through the implementation by the CCCWA working with their in country agents.

The next issue that is the CCCWA recently notified agencies that they would no longer be granting waivers. First, we need to backtrack a little. China has changed the parent eligibility requirements over the years. At one point they stopped allowing single women to adopt but then they began allowing it again. In December 2014, China changed their eligibility guidelines in a way that formalized the waivers that they had been granting regularly. This included changing the upper age limit, family size, and allowing couples where one spouse has a serious medical condition to adopt if the other spouse is healthy. One of the biggest changes was to formally allow people to adopt if they are taking “a small dose of medication” for depression or anxiety. You can find the full text of these rules in the China Adoption Questions group on Facebook.

In the time after these rules, the CCCWA stopped granting waivers. Over time, they began granting waivers again. In some cases these waivers were to take into account special situations for particular couples. In other cases, it seems that because the changes moved the line to X point, that made it seem that now you could request waivers even further to Y or Z. If you think about it, someone in the CCCWA has to process the waivers. It got to be a lot of work, so they decided to change the rules to cut out most of the waiver requests. But the waivers kept coming. At this point, the CCCWA feels that the rules in place are sufficient and they will enforce them. China has very generous parent criteria compared to many countries. While it is disappointing to not qualify, this is one of those times where we need to remember that each country gets to decide their own program criteria. If the program history is any indicator, it is likely that they will begin granting waivers again at some point, but it seems clear that they want agencies to stick closely to the guidelines and reserve waivers for exceptional circumstances rather than routinely.

IMG_5400Pushing the envelope seems to be the catalyst for the situation regarding adopting three children at once. That happened a time or two, for particular families with particular circumstances. But once people found out that it was possible, they began asking if they could do it, too. Recently a few couples who had received PA for three children were told that they needed to let the CCCWA know which two they would like LOA for. If they wanted to adopt the third, they would have to start the process over and return to China. While I do not feel that adopting multiple unrelated children at once is generally in the child’s best interest, I know that this had to have been devastating for the families involved. It would have been better for China to have said no initially than to have changed the answer at the point of LOA. China has become increasingly concerned about the number of in country disruptions. It is possible that they found the situation sufficiently serious to warrant not granting LOA even though PA had been received. None of the agency representatives I contacted felt that this would begin happening in any other circumstances. They felt that at most, more information might be requested at the point of LOA for those who had requested a waiver prior to the tightening up on guidelines.

Finally, as regards the political tensions between China and the US currently, none of the agency representatives I contacted felt it was having any impact on the China program. Beth Smith of Holt International specifically said “I have worked with the China program for over 18 years, and, during this time there have been various major and minor political events and/or levels of tensions between our two countries. Political tensions or events historically have never had an impact on the China adoption process.” Her sentiments were echoed by the other two representatives I contacted who have been working in the China program for a similar length of time.

I hope this information has helped to reassure those who were concerned. The China program is still a good option for those who qualify.

My Favorite Adoption Resources

It’s been about three years since I posted my top adoption resources, so I thought it was time to update that post for National Adoption Month. I’ve read a whole lot more adoption books since then! Reminder: I’m not an Amazon affiliate, so when you see a link for a book, it just takes you to an author interview or a book review. You can order them through Amazon using the Love Without Boundaries affiliate link.

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If you are just starting to consider adoption but not quite sure about what it would look like, I suggest:

Baby We Were Meant For Each Other. Simon writes the story of he and his wife’s adoptions from China, but he also includes the narratives of several other families so that a wide variety of adoption experiences are included. Simon adopted back when adoption from China meant healthy infant girls, so keep in mind that his experience is not going to be typical of today’s China adoptive parent. If you are an NPR fan, you’re probably familiar with Scott Simon of All Things Considered.

No Biking In The House Without A Helmet by Melissa Faye Green is laugh out loud funny. While Melissa and her husband are probably not your average adoptive couple since they adopted mostly boys and older children, everyone can enjoy her humorous look at her large international family. She doesn’t shy away from reality though, talking about her difficulty in bonding with her first adopted son, the challenges of “virtual twinning” when they adopted a son the same age as a son already in the family, and even religious issues such as sitting down with the two older Christian boys they were considering adopting from Ethiopia and explaining that their family was Jewish. Melissa will really make you feel that adoption isn’t just for the super parents, but is something that even the average parent can do.

I highly recommend getting familiar with the  Creating A Family website. I listened to hours of podcasts from Dawn Davenport. I started with podcasts on how to decide whether foster, domestic, or international adoption was the best fit for us. I listened to a podcast on adopting when you already have biological children, toddler adoption, and how to consider which special needs to be open to. While we were waiting to bring Leo home, I listened to more specialized podcasts such as language development in internationally adopted children, feeding issues and nutrition in adoption, and bonding with your child while still in country.

IScreen Shot 2013-11-16 at 1.29.49 PMDawn Davenport’s book The Complete Book of International Adoption is a great resource if you decide that international adoption is the best fit for your family. Davenport is very systematic in taking you through the various factors to consider. She includes lots of narratives from adoptive parents, and I love that she always includes an even amount of pros and cons on issues like deciding if you should take your child(ren) with you on an adoption trip. Because this book is older, some of the country information is out of date but most of the information is very helpful, even if you know that Russian adoption is closed down for Americans.

 

If you know you are going to adopt from China and want to know more about China’s adoption situation I recommend:

The Love Without Boundaries series Realistic Expectations and The Changing Face of China’s Orphans.

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-1-36-29-pmWish You Happy Forever– Jenny Bowen, founder of Half the Sky, writes the story behind the charity.  Her experience adopting her daughter inspired her to change the way orphans were cared for in China, one child at a time.  She writes about the changes in orphan care and population throughout the book.  I was particularly shocked to read about the origin of the AIDS crisis in Henan, which I was unfamiliar with before reading the book.

The Heart of an Orphan by Amy Eldridge, founder of Love Without Boundaries. I absolutely loved this book. However, I can’t say that I couldn’t put it down because I couldn’t read more than a couple of chapters without needing a break. Amy’s book is basically a collection of stories about children she has known through her work with Love Without Boundaries. It’s the heartrending emotional rollercoaster that you would expect.

Each chapter also tells some part of Amy’s story of how Love Without Boundaries grew, but also her personal growth. I really appreciated her nuanced discussion of sensitive topics. She discusses how her view of parents who abandon their children changed as she worked to provide surgeries for children still in their birth families. How she came to recognize the adoptive parent preference for girls as she saw, over time, how the orphanages were filling up with boys but families did not step forward as quickly to adopt them. She even acknowledges the challenges of older child adoption while discussing the plight of children who reach the age where they are no longer eligible for adoption.

I feel a little odd in writing such a short review for a book I want to rave about. It’s simply that it’s hard to describe it in the way it deserves. I think that Eldridge’s memoir, along with Jenny Bowan’s (of Onesky/Half the Sky) Wish You Happy Forever, should be required reading for those in the China adoption program. They are both far more relevant for families in the current process than the frequently recommended Silent Tears.

And, you know, my book. Which I always feel self-conscious about recommending but as far as I know it’s the only book that takes you through the process of adopting from China.

 

If you’re in process and killing time waiting to meet your child, here are the adoption parenting books you should pick up:

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 1.44.08 PMWhen parents in online adoption groups are asked for book recommendations, Karyn Purvis’ The Connected Child is always mentioned over and over again. Karyn wrote about her work with children “from hard places” and she was always in demand as a speaker at adoption conferences. Sadly, she passed away earlier this year after a long battle with cancer. The Empowered To Connect website is a wealth of information, with many videos and articles. I appreciated the science heavy information in The Connected Child which explained how things such as prenatal drug and alcohol exposure, trauma, or malnutrition cause chemical changes in the child’s brain. She gave many ideas on how to work through challenges, and many of them were very simple such as offering the child chewing gum because chewing reduces stress.

EMK Press is another website with many good articles available. They offer a free ebook called Realistic Expectations which many adoptive families have found helpful.

Attaching Through Love, Hugs, and Play by Deborah Gray gives practical advice on how to parent your child in a way which fosters attachment. Writing up a more in depth review for the blog is on my to do list.

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is not an adoption book, but one I had on my parenting bookshelf already. I find it just as helpful for my adopted children as I did for my biological ones. I find that it goes hand in hand with connected parenting. When my youngest son was melting down multiple times a day because he was frustrated by not being able to communicate in English, I found myself making statements like “That must be really frustrating” or “You are really mad!” Now he has the vocabulary to share what he is feeling. He will say “Dat fwustwating” or more often “I MAD AT YOU!” This is a really easy to read book which will change your conversations with your children for the better.

Love Me, Feed Me by Katja Rowell is a great book focusing on the many food related issues which can be a struggle for children adopted from institutions.

If you want to become familiar with Chinese culture and life:

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother by Xinran- If you want the back story on how those lost girls ended up at the orphanage, this is the book to read.  Xinran’s book is jaw-dropping and heart-rending, but keep in mind that she collected these stories over 20 years ago so they are not necessarily an accurate account of the situation in China today.

Wild Swans–  This is the story of three generations of women that span pre-revolutionary China to the 1980s.  It is a real page-turner, but will help you to understand the various movements that occurred within the Communist era.  It really helps you to understand the turmoil which went on for decades within China. If you read Wild Swans, read this article as a follow up to see the contrast between those born after 1980 and those who lived through all of the Communist era conflict and hardship.

Home is a Roof Over a Pig by Aminta Arrington. This is my favorite in the “I went to live in China” memoir genre. Arrington is herself an adoptive mother. Allowing her two children from China to experience life in their native culture as well as to obtain Chinese fluency was a primary motivation in their family moving to China.

153607842This is really a combination of what I liked best about Dreaming in Chinese (my review here) and Awakening East (my review here). Like Dreaming in Chinese, Aminta shares how her quest to learn the Chinese language helps her to better understand the Chinese people and culture. The title refers to the Chinese character for home, which is a roof over the character for pig. Learning the Chinese language, especially the characters, gives her insights into her host culture. Amina is also very interested in the Chinese educational system. She teaches university students English at the same time that her three young children are being immersed in the educational system at a local Chinese kindergarten. She shares the strengths and weaknesses that she observes as both a teacher and parent. The Arrington family continued to live in China for many years. I couldn’t help but marvel at the wonderful opportunity it was for her children to become bilingual by moving there at just the right time for them to begin in primary school.

Aminta is a keen observer, both of others and within her own family. She narrates the process of acclimating to the foreign culture. She honestly describes a time when she and her husband realized they had somehow taken the habit of using the adjective “Chinese” in a negative way, as well as their awareness of how it might impact their daughter adopted from China. Throughout the book she relates Chinese cultural habits in a way that always treats them with respect and humanity, unlike other “I lived in China” memoirs which can slip too easily into “Let me tell you how crazy everyone here is.” There are plenty of humorous stories included.

Eating Bitterness, by Michelle Loyalka, is about China’s migrant workers. Unlike Factory Girls by Leslie Chang, this book focuses on the personal stories of migrants who are a variety of ages. Most are married, but a few are single. Some live with their spouse and child/ren while others are separated because of work.  It is also a little unusual in that it is based out of Xian instead of Guangdong Province.  Once again, there are the constant themes of the generational attitude differences and the rapid change in Chinese culture in such a relatively short amount of time.  I think this book is a little easier to read than Factory Girls because of the variety of people and because, frankly, it was edited better.