Tag Archives: International Adoption

COVID19 Adoption Update

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As the COVID19 pandemic continues to disrupt life worldwide, I’ve seen people questioning how it is effecting adoption and whether this is a good time to begin an international adoption. Certainly, being stuck at home for weeks on end sounds like a great time to embark on an epic paperwork journey. Let’s look at the different parts of an adoption from China and how they are being effected.

Home study– A home study involves gathering paperwork to meet your state’s requirements, a physical from your physician, fingerprinting, background checks, and your social worker must visit your home at least one time.

  • Some home study agencies are completely closed to new clients at the moment but others are trying to do everything but the home visit remotely. The home visit will have to be completed once restrictions are lifted.
  • Many doctor’s offices are only taking urgent appointments or tele-visits. Check with your physician to see if a physical is possible at the moment.
  • Many fingerprinting services such as FastFingerprints are temporarily closed.

Dossier-

  • Dossier- USCIS is still processing I800a and I800s, however their processing times are very slow.
  • Getting your documents authenticated at the state Secretary of State office may be difficult at the moment. In my state, they are only authenticating documents which are mailed in and documents may be held for later processing.
  • Chinese consulates are closed right now so you will not be able to get your documents authenticated.

Taking these factors into consideration, my advice to someone considering starting the process right now would be to continue to read and educate yourself about adoption but to wait on starting the actual process. Remember that Chinese consulates will not accept documents more than 6 months old, so you don’t want to have your home study process drag out so long that you need to start redoing paperwork. Figuring out which placing agency you would use and contacting your local home study agency to see what your process will look like are other good ways to spend this time.

CCCWA-

  • Dossiers are still being sent to the CCCWA and log in dates are being issued.
  • Only a handful of LOAs have been received.
  • TAs are only being issued for aging out kids. Remember that TAs are only valid for 90 days. It doesn’t make sense for China to issue them if people are unable to travel.

Matching-

  • There was one shared list release in early January, before things got really crazy in China.
  • There was also one non-special focus list released in early February.
  • Other than that, there have basically been no new files made available. Presumably the pandemic closures in China will have an impact on the creation of new files for several months.

Travel-

  • For families who were close to travel when things shut down in China, there is no end in sight for the completion of their adoptions.
  • Intercountry adoption depends on families being able to enter China as well as return to the United States. Your child must be able to obtain a visa while you are in China to be able to travel home with you.
  • Earlier this week, President Trump said that he was placing a 60 day suspension of immigration to the United States. An exception is included in Section 2 for minors immigrating through adoption. So, if anyone were to be able to travel within the next two months, this would not cause a problem for your child.  Screen Shot 2020-04-24 at 3.10.32 PM

What to expect in the future? That is anyone’s guess. I think that there will be very few international adoptions in 2020. Even when businesses and agencies begin to open, they may not be working at typical speed and there will be a backlog. It is uncertain how many new files will become available in China over the next few months. Finally, as my last post discussed how financially precarious most adoption agencies are, I think we can only expect more agencies to close. Most of these agencies have zero resources available to weather a year with very few adoptions. If you do decide to begin an adoption at this time, choose your placing agency carefully. Having your placing agency close in the middle of an adoption is both expensive and disruptive to your process.

Agency IRS 990 data

Disclaimer: I do not work for an agency. I do not have an Amazon affiliate account. Only WordPress gets money from ads you might see on my blog. I do get a few bucks if you buy my book, so that is the best way to show your appreciation if you find this blog helpful.

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With the recent round of mergers and accreditation relinquishments it has become harder to make agency recommendations. If a family is in process with an agency and that agency suddenly does not facilitate adoptions the family will lose time, money, and sometimes not have a choice about which agency they will complete the adoption through. While I do always recommend families look at the IRS 990 data for agencies that they are considering, I doubt if few do so. For this reason I took the time to compile the numbers for the thirty most frequently used agencies using ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer.

Remember that this is only one consideration when choosing an agency. I am not recommending that you go with the agency which looks like it is doing the best financially. You should still try to find the agency which will be the best fit for your family. Checking the substantiated claims list to see if the agency has been found to have done something unethical or illegal is also extremely important.

Finally, a few comments about this information. I included some of the agencies which have merged or relinquished their accreditation so that you can see what their finances looked like preceding that decision. They are marked with an asterisk. You can see that some of them like Bethany made the decision while still financially secure while others like WACAP were in the red for several years in a row. The information for Wide Horizons for Children is somewhat misleading. They were hundreds of thousands in the red for several years. While they did reduce operating expenses, ultimately they sold assets worth around 1.5 million in 2015 in a bid to stay solvent. You can see that it helped, but seemingly only temporarily.

CCAI’s loss in 2018 is another outlier which you have to look more deeply at the IRS 990 to see the full picture. CCAI lost 1 million in investment revenue but their program revenue from 2017 to 2018 is almost identical: 4.35 million versus 4.18 million. So 2018 is all the big investment income loss, not any change in number of clients. Their investment revenue had been steady at around $150,000 through 2014. Here is their investment revenue:
2018: -1 million
2017: +2.8 mil
2016: +1.3 mil
2015: -300,000
2014: +150,000

Some of these agencies had a significant amount of investment or real estate income each year, often making the difference in keeping them in the black. I marked those in the final column. You can see that between the rising costs of accreditation and the decline in families adopting internationally, very few are consistently generating the kind of revenue they need to stay operational.

These numbers are what the IRS 990 indicated was their bottom line figure (income minus expenditures) for the year. Black means they made a profit and red indicates a deficit. The full IRS 990 includes donations, fundraising, investments and more under income. It also lists executive salary among other expenditures. Looking over the actual form will give you a fuller picture of an agency’s finances. I only pulled out one data point for this chart.

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*Agency has merged, relinquished their accreditation, or announced they will not be renewing their accreditation once it expires.

The future of LID matching

 

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Is the China program a good option if I want to adopt a young girl with minor needs?

That is the question continually being asked both by those seeking to adopt for the first time and those who adopted previously from China. Unfortunately, there is no easy yes or no answer. Since we do have shared list data from the past three years, there is some information to help with that decision. But please keep in mind that this is only my opinion and speculation.

Starting in December 2019, the CCCWA has done a trial method of matching LID files. Each agency can put forward one family per LID file. Out of those families, the one with the earlier LID date will receive the file. My understanding is that in both December and January all of the files were matched with European families. Because European countries have more restrictive laws governing international adoption, European families were at a disadvantage at being matched with LID files from the shared list. There are European families who have been waiting five years or longer. In comparison, few American families have waited longer than 2 years from dossier log in to be matched. So until the European back log gets cleared out they will presumably continue to be matched with new LID files until they get caught up to dossier dates that are shared with American families.

Previously, if you were starting the process looking at the number of waiting families would be important because the fewer families an agency has ahead of you the sooner it will be your turn. However, assuming LID files continue to be matched by dossier date, this puts you into the greater pool of families with dossiers logged in at the CCCWA, not just the pool of families at your agency. I don’t know how many dossiers there are for the special needs program at the CCCWA. There are 70+ agencies with a China program worldwide. The largest American agency has at least 100, if not 200, LID families. We could put the next few most popular agencies at say, 30 dossiers each, and all the other agencies at a dozen or less. I’m going to use 1000 dossiers as a very general number to work with because it’s nice and round.

So, if you are dossier #1001 when would you be matched with that young girl with minor needs? The number of girl LID files increased from 2018 to 2019, but I don’t want to assume that will keep up. I think we should use 100 girl LID files per year as our number there. That means it could be ten years before you are matched. If you think that is crazy talk, remember that families which sent a dossier through the standard (non-special needs) program in early February 2007 waited eleven years to be matched. And a lot of February 2007 is still waiting.

However, not all 1000 of those families ahead of you are waiting for young girls with minor needs. It’s important to remember that LID versus special focus is a rather arbitrary designation that reflects the most popular needs. A lot of families talk about “going the LID route” but this isn’t a system where you have to pick an option. Many families will be matched with special focus files either before or after their dossier is logged in at the CCCWA because their agency found a special focus file which was a good fit for the family. For this reason, I think it is still a good idea to ask about the number of waiting families at an agency before making your agency decision. Don’t assume you will only be looking at LID files. In an agency with fewer waiting families, you very well might be matched much sooner with a special focus child which is perfect for your family.

Let’s say that 500 of the dossiers ahead of you are matched with special focus children. That brings your potential wait down to five years. If half of the remaining 500 dossiers are open to boys, your wait might be as little as three years. I believe several agencies are now quoting three years as the estimated wait time for a young girl with minor needs. I think 3-5 years is probably more accurate since I wouldn’t assume the number of LID files will keep increasing.

It is accurate to say that the China program is transitioning from young children with minor needs to older children with moderate or greater needs. There are still young children and children with minor needs available but the more flexible you are on your child criteria the faster you will be matched. Because of the increasing matching times for those young children with minor needs, families are beginning to choose other programs. In 2018, there were increases in adoptions from India and Colombia. I think the number of families adopting from China will continue to decrease. When the US Department of State releases the 2019 numbers, I think it’s very possible there will have been under 1000 adoptions from China.

So, should you adopt from China if you will only accept a young girl with minor needs? I can’t say what the future holds and I certainly don’t know what is best for your family. If you are absolutely set on a young girl and only open to a few needs, I think I would look at other adoption options. I can’t stress enough that most months there are 10 or fewer LID girl files, some of which are older girls, but 70+ agencies with hundreds of waiting families. People always want to know why it takes so long. That’s why–supply and demand. There are far more families who want to adopt young girls with minor needs than there are actual girls who need families.

However, for those who are more flexible on age/gender/medical need I think the China program is still a good option. There are more than 3000 children waiting on the shared list who DO need families with no wait necessary. Each of those children deserve a loving family just as much. Maybe one is the child you’ve been waiting for.

USCIS changes may effect children adopted by military families stationed overseas

On August 28th, USCIS issued a policy update which states that US military or government employees stationed overseas are no longer considered “residing in the US” for citizenship purposes. Almost immediately, articles were published with headlines stating military dependents born overseas will no longer be natural born US citizens. Because of the confusion, additional clarifications were made. Military families and expatriates do adopt internationally so this policy update has caused a lot of anxiety within the international adoption community.

I took the time to read through the actual document as well as news articles from a variety of sources. HOWEVER, I am not an immigration expert. Nor have I ever been in the military or resided overseas. This is simply my understanding of the changes.

First, some people were concerned that because internationally adopted children were born to non-US citizens, that makes them ineligible to become citizens. However, at the point of legal adoption, you become the child’s parents. They are not considered natural born US citizens, but their citizenship is derived from your citizenship. Adoption is specifically addressed in the document.

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So, as long at least one adoptive parent is a US citizen, your child is eligible to become a US citizen. But all of these conditions must be met. That means if you are not residing in the United States when the child is adopted, the residency requirement is not met. This is detailed in the footnotes for the above section.

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For US citizen parents residing in the United States, their child’s citizenship is processed upon landing at a US port of entry. Previously, expatriates who adopted still needed to make a trip back to the Unites States to “activate” their child’s US citizenship. Most would make a short trip back to the US after the adoption was finalized in country, have the paperwork processed, apply for a passport for their child, then return to their country of residence. My understanding of the above is that this process would now only establish the child as a Lawful Permanent Resident rather than a citizen if the parents reside outside of the US. The child would only become eligible for citizenship after returning to the US to live with their parents in an established residency unlike natural born children who would be eligible through birth.

If this is correct, military families would have to file for citizenship for their adopted children once they return to live in the United States and this would have to happen before the child turns 18. This will probably be more of a problem for the children of diplomats who are more likely to reside outside of the US on a more long term basis than military families. The family at the “Diplofam blog” has adopted three children from China but because they are career diplomats they did not have a permanent residence in the United States during any of that time. (I do know this family but am not publishing their name for security purposes.) The USCIS official who responded to press inquiries stressed that these changes would effect “very few families a year” but this will still be a very serious issue for those in that situation.

Please leave a comment if you think I am interpreting this wrongly. I will update the blog post if more information becomes available.

 

How does this all work now, anyway??

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

  1. Preliminary

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

2. Begin the home study process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frequently Asked Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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 12-18 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.