Tag Archives: International Adoption

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.

Five Reasons to Adopt From China

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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 set 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. China is generous in granting waivers for families or single women who do not meet the program requirements, particularly those regarding family income or parental health. Recently, they even approved a single man to adopt making this one of the few countries where it is possible for single men to adopt.

[Note: As of January 2017, China is no longer granting waivers. Most agencies expect this to be relaxed after a few months as has happened in the past, but no one can guarantee the future. If you do not currently qualify, speak to a reputable agency to find the current waiver status.]

4. Travel is a single two week trip, possibly longer if you are adopting two children, 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 undoubtably 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.

5. China allows families to adopt two unrelated children at the same time. While I would urge families to carefully consider this option before deciding to do it, it is something which appeals to many families. [Note: As of June 30, 2017 this is no longer an option in the China program.]

 

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.

Important Information for Adoptive Parents

This blog is read primarily by people who are adopting or have adopted relatively recently. Those of us who are adopting are benefiting from the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which automatically grants citizenship to children adopted internationally by US citizens. Unfortunately, this was not retroactively effective leaving thousands of adoptees, who were adopted internationally during the previous decades, in a vulnerable position. Not all adoptive parents took the necessary steps to complete the citizenship process for their children.

The sad results of that inaction are that adult adoptees have been and are being deported if they commit even minor crimes. You can read a long list of adoptees deported as adults on the Pound Puppy Legacy website. While I’m sure everyone agrees that it would be better to never have committed crimes such as possession of marijuana or shoplifting, the punishment of being deported to a country where you have never lived and do not speak the language seems excessive. All adoptees whose parents failed to complete their citizenship paperwork are in a vulnerable position if they ever come to the attention of immigration officials. Deportation has increased over the past decadeThese adults are being punished for the negligence of their parents when they never had a choice in being adopted. 

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-10-31-37-amHow does this effect you? As an adoptive parent, please support these adult adoptees who did not benefit from the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 as your children did. This past week, Adam Crapser, an adoptee who came to the US at age 3 from Korea, was denied a reprieve. He will be deported to Korea and separated from his wife and three children. Crapser, who was abused by his adoptive parents and ended up in state custody, seems to be the victim of a huge injustice. Was the state not partially responsible for securing his citizenship when he was removed from the custody of his adoptive parents? You can read what the New York Times refers to as a “bizarre deportation odyssey” here.

Please consider taking action by:

Finally, remember that this is why it is SO IMPORTANT for adoptive parents to stay on top of paperwork. It’s easy to delay once your child is home. I have seen countless adoptive parents say that they have not secured a US issued birth certificate for their child, lost their child’s adoption paperwork or Certificate of Citizenship. People lose these all the time when they move or in fires. Be aware that the cost of a replacement Certificate of Citizenship will soon be increasing from $600 to $1170! If you know you need a replacement and have been putting it off, submit the application now before the price increase goes into effect.

Adopting Out of Birth Order or Artificial Twinning

This is the 3rd in my series on special adoption situations. The first was on adopting two unrelated children at once and the second was for those considering adopting an older child.

IMG_5573This post will focus on adopting out of birth order and artificial twinning. Disrupting birth order is when you adopt a child who will not join the family as your youngest. If you have a toddler and adopt a 5 year-old, you have disrupted birth order by displacing your oldest. If you have two children aged 6 and 2, and you adopt a 4 year-old, this would not disrupt any birth order because your oldest would remain the oldest and your youngest would remain the youngest. However, it would still be adopting OUT of birth order as the normal order of adding to the family would be to add a child younger than your youngest. In larger families, the birth order is somewhat fluid. Moving from #5 of 8 to #7 of 9 is not as big of a difference as when you are dealing with one or two children who already have an identity as the oldest or youngest in a family.

Artificial twinning is when you adopt a child under 9 months of age of a sibling. For a time they will be the same age and often will be placed in the same grade at school. Traditionally this is frowned upon by social workers because it disrupts the place of the child already in the family. Now he or she has a “twin” which was not there before. This can cause competition and conflict within the family as the two children struggle to determine who is “alpha” or who is oldest. A child adopted from institutional care would typically be more delayed and immature than a biological sibling of the same age. This might seem to make the artificial twinning a mute point at first, however as time goes on the adopted child might be resentful that they do not get the same privileges of the biological child of the same age such as a later bedtime or driver’s permit.

If you are considering adopting out of birth order or artificial twinning, be aware that this might not be allowed by either your placing agency or your homestudy agency. Generally, the older the agency the more likely they are to stick with what are called “best social work practices.”  These are things such as only adopting one unrelated child at a time, keeping birth order, avoiding “artificial twinning” (ending up with two children of the same age), etc. In most other countries these practices are not allowed but our American independent streak rebels at those sort of absolute guidelines. However, many agencies now are allowing these practices, at least in some situations.

Why any agencies not allow these things? Because agencies which have been around for decades have seen a lot of failed adoptions. I spoke with a representative of an agency often characterized as being “conservative” and “having a lot of rules.” I was told that their top priority was finding the right family for a child. They wanted to make sure that the adoption was successful and they didn’t want to risk the child’s placement by matching them with a family with the potential for disruption.  Please take the time to read my post on adoption disruption for a longer discussion on why you need to keep this possibility in mind as you decide whether or not these special adoption situations are right for your family. Although this article is about whether or not your family is cut out to adopt two at once, these same characteristics will be valuable for anyone considering adopting out of birth order or artificial twinning.

IMG_0584I see people asking about these three situations extremely often in online adoption related groups.  As I mentioned in my post on When You’re Asking the Internet About Adoption, please remember that these groups are full of people who are happy with their experience, and so you will most likely not hear from people who would tell you that they adopted and had a bad experience.  You can hear from many people who disrupted birth order in their family, adopted two unrelated children at the same time, or adopted an older child who was aging out and tell you how amazing it was for their family but that does not help you to know what YOUR families experience will be like.  You are a different family, adopting a different child or children.  That doesn’t mean I’m trying to talk you out of it, I’m trying to make sure that you’ve seriously considered all aspects of the situation.  Thinking about the hard aspects of adoption will only give you more tools to succeed.  Educated and informed families are the best families for children.  

Adopting out of birth order is probably the most common special adoption situation. With the average age of a child adopted from China being 3, there are many families with a toddler at home who do not want to wait for only for files of children who are very young. There are also plenty of families who consider children up to around age 5 with younger children at home. Best social work practice would say that you should adopt a child who is at least 9 months younger than your youngest child on the theory that this would be the closest naturally occurring spacing between siblings. Someone who adopted at the same time as I did spent several months convincing her agency that it would be acceptable for their family to adopt a child who was a mere 8.5 months younger than their youngest so some agencies hold very strictly to these guidelines.

If this is something you want to do, you will need to discuss it with your social worker and placing agency. Much of the success will be determined by the personalities of the children involved but unfortunately you won’t know your new child’s personality when you are making the decision. Here are some questions you should consider before pursuing this path of adoption:

  • Have we considered the personalities and birth order identities of the children already in our family? How will the children in our family likely feel about their new birth order place in the family?
  • What are our expectations for the child we want to add into the family? Have we considered the likely immaturity and behavioral problems of the new child?
  • Are we aware of the natural tendency to compare two children of the same age and how do we plan to deal with that?
  • Can we give a child adopted at an older age the time as “baby” that he or she needs, even if the child isn’t chronologically the youngest in our family?
  • Are we prepared for the baby of the family to imitate undesirable traits modeled by a recently adopted older sibling? Do we have a plan for meeting the needs of the youngest even as we are meeting the needs of the newly adopted child?

Resources on adopting out of birth order and artificial twinning:

 

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.

Three Years Home

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Labor Day weekend marked 3 years since Leo became part of our family. I don’t write as many personal posts on the blog now that it has transitioned from a travel blog for family and friends to a public blog for those considering adoption from China. However, I thought I would take the opportunity to reflect on what I have learned through this three years of adoptive parenting.

Yes, you can love the children you adopted as much as the children you gave birth to. More and more families are adopting after having biological children. A frequent concern is that it might feel different. People always laugh when I say this, but despite having 6 kids, I don’t actually like little kids that much. I’ve never wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, so you can understand how this was a big concern for me. While adoption might seem at first like babysitting the neighbor’s kid, I was surprised by how very quickly each of my sons felt right in my arms. I think the months of paperwork with seeing pictures and getting updates serves as the “paper pregnancy” preparing your heart. No it isn’t instant, but for most families their adopted children are simply their children, whether they also have biological children or not.

july4thSpecial Needs adoption does not require you to be a super parent. So many people are intimidated by the “special needs” label. We were already parenting children with special needs before we adopted–they needed glasses and braces. In the China program, you can choose which medical needs to accept and only receive referrals meeting that criteria. Sure, Leo’s weekly speech therapy, quarterly ENT nurse visit, bi-yearly ENT visit, and annual cleft clinic visit takes up a few more squares on the calendar, but not any more than squeezing in piano or baseball between the pediatrican-dentist-optometrist-orthodontist. August’s limb difference is going to require some intensive surgery this year, but after the initial correction his need will be less time intensive than Leo’s. Yes, these things take time and money, but you do it because it’s your child. We now know these waiting children aren’t “special needs kids.” They’re simply children whose biggest need is a family.

The other kids will be fine! Another common concern we had was how adopting IMG_2256might effect the children already in our family. Were we going to ruin their lives? However, from the very beginning our children embraced the idea of adopting a sibling. It opened their eyes to the fact that there were children who didn’t have a family. While we in no way approached adoption as a charity project, through our many conversations on the hows and whys they have become more interested in ways they could help children in need. Several of our children sponsor a child to help preserve a family, and two of our older children have written papers on adoption for school. I was so impressed by how understanding they were in the early days with grieving or tantrums because they understood what a huge scary change in was in the life of their brothers. Our children have become more caring and compassionate. Adoption changed the lives of all of our children for the better.

Don’t let fear hold you back. Many people consider adoption but few actually adopt. I don’t know what it is that makes some people take that step forward but I know exactly what it is that holds so many people back. Fear. It took us so long to decide to adopt, but before we had come home from China we knew we’d be going back. It changes you that quickly. Less than a year earlier, we had sincerely explained to our social worker that we would be adopting exactly oneimg_0823 child to complete our family. She was skeptical. As many have said before, adoption is hard to start but harder to stop. When you plan your biological family, you ask yourselves many of the same questions–does everyone have enough time and attention, can we afford another child, do we have another bed and seat in the van–but somehow there’s a greater urgency to the question when you’ve seen all those little faces. When you hold a child in your arms while the orphanage director says “This child needs a family.” After you’ve made that trip, it’s easier to understand why some families adopt over and over. (The children in this photo are home with families now. However, one of the little boys we met on this trip had a limb difference. Meeting him caused us to check the limb difference box during our second adoption, which led to August becoming part of our family.)

At this time, we feel our family is complete and have no plans to adopt again. (Famous last words, I know.) But I still remember how it felt to be trying to make the initial decision. How we went back and forth asking if we should or if we shouldn’t. We had so many fears. What I have learned from saying yes is that if you let fear make you say no, you’re saying no to letting your life change in a wonderful way. Saying no won’t prevent bad things from happening in your life. That happens to everyone. Saying yes WILL cause changes in your life. You’ll learn that you’re stronger than you think, what’s really important in life, and your family will be enriched beyond measure by the children that you didn’t know you had until you saw them in a photo.

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Finding Your Agency

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

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

Get Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

Evaluating Contenders

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

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

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

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