Tag Archives: International Adoption

A new year . . . a new China program?


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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!

Understanding China’s File Designations

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


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

File Designations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Your Child First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More considerations when choosing special needs


Categorizing the special needs

This post is a continuation of my post Which Special Needs? which discussed choosing which  special needs are a good fit for your family.  Now that you’ve taken some time to consider what resources you have in your area, what sort of time commitment you have, and other practical factors let’s look at some other considerations.  

For the majority of people, the question might be “What are the easiest needs?”  However, other people might want to adopt a child who is considered difficult to place so they might be asking “Which are the needs which few people are willing to accept?”  Here are a few different ways of categorizing the special needs which are found in files:

What are the most common needs people are open to when they are looking for a child with minor needs?

  • Minor and correctable heart conditions
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate
  • Club feet
  • Birthmarks
  • Treated congenital syphilis
  • Missing or extra digits

These represent special needs which are correctable, do not affect intellect or mobility, and are generally less visible once corrected.

What are the most common special needs in the files made available for adoption?

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Heart conditions
  • Down syndrome
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Cleft lip/cleft palate
  • Limb differences
  • Spina bifida
  • Anal atresia

This list is pretty much a list of the most common birth defects in any human population with the exception of anal atresia which has a higher incidence in China than in the US.

What special needs do the children have who are most difficult to place?

  • Being a boy
  • Any intellectual/cognitive delay
  • Urinary or bowel incontinence
  • Uses a wheelchair
  • An identified syndrome
  • Visual impairment
  • Disordered Sexual Development (genital malformation or intersex disorder)
  • HIV+
  • Cancer, or a history of cancer, such as retinoblastoma

Other than being a boy, these are all things that cause people to go “I just couldn’t handle that!”  We will discuss some of these needs later on because often they are not so scary if you have a better understanding of what is involved in the need.

Which special needs are matched fairly quickly for girls but cause boys to wait for families?

  • Albinism
  • Giant congenital nevus
  • Dwarfism
  • Ichthyosis
  • Microtia
  • Deafness
  • Age*

Girls with these needs are so easily matched that their files are often labeled LID only if they are young.  What is interesting about this collection of needs is that with the exception of deafness they are all visible needs.  In some ways you might expect this to have a greater impact on girls than boys.  Perhaps similar to the impulse people feel to adopt “unwanted” girls as a way to show that they have value, people also decide to adopt a girl with a visible special need because they want to teach her that she is beautiful in her own way as a reaction against a society which prizes beauty in girls.  

*Older girls are not matched quickly in the way that young girls with the medical needs listed are.  However, it is substantially more difficult to find a family for an older boy than an older girl. There are twice as many boys as there are girls over age 10 on the shared list.

Which special needs will lead to a shortened life expectancy due to the limitations of health care available in an orphanage if the child is not adopted?

  • Cancer
  • HIV+
  • Thalassemia
  • Congenital heart conditions
  • Hemophilia
  • Spina bifida

These conditions really have nothing in common.  Children sometimes receive heart surgery or chemotherapy in China, but the quality of medical care is usually much better in the US.  However, congenital heart conditions and cancer are still potentially lethal for the children even if they are adopted and receive the best treatment available.  

Chronic blood shortages mean that children with Thalassemia are not infused as often as needed causing their life expectancy to be only age 10 in China, while they are expected to live normal lives in the US.  The clotting factor given to people with hemophilia in the US is not available in China, so the life expectancy of a hemophiliac there is only to age 24.  

Children with spina bifida or other diagnoses which can cause incontinence who are in orphanage care in China are often left in diapers rather than using a catheterization routine.  This can lead to routine bladder infections and over time cause the kidneys to stop functioning.

China has a strong stigma against HIV+ individuals.  Medication may not be as readily available and HIV+ individuals, even children, are often turned out of hospitals when they are ill because of their status.   While the long term life expectancy of children living in the US who are HIV+ is uncertain due to how recent the medical advances have been, those whose viral load remains at the “undetectable” level is currently assumed to be the same as the general population.


What parents want you to know

This final section should not be considered medical advice.  Rather, I’m going to pass along some information shared by parents of children who have some of those “I could never do that” special needs.  These are the needs that I often hear people saying “I never considered this need but there is a child I am drawn to who has it.  Can you tell me what daily life looks like?” If this information helps you to think a need might be a possibility for you, I would encourage you to do more research.

Blindness/Vision Impairment– More people are open to albinism as a special need than to other vision impairments, which is a confusing phenomenon when you consider that most people with albinism are legally blind.  So many parents find any special need associated with vision to be very scary because they can’t imagine what their own life would be like without sight.  What parents who have adopted visually impaired children want you to know is that they find it so easy, they feel it really shouldn’t be a special need at all!  These kids compensate in so many other ways for their loss of vision.  Most attend public schools and will grow up to marry and lead productive lives.  I had a friend in high school who was blind.  He taught me to play chess, was the marching band drum major, walked across four lanes of traffic every day to take calculus at the university near our high school, and is now a professor of music.  However, children with VI who are adopted from China will need time and therapy to overcome the delays they experience due to caregivers who don’t understand how to give them the non-visual stimulation they need to grow and develop.

Deafness– Surprisingly, what I heard from parents who have adopted children with this special need was kind of the opposite than that of blindness.  Parents want you to know that the communication is a greater challenge than they expected, but it is worth the effort.  It is vital that you have access to resources to learn ASL, something you should begin doing before you even meet your child, because they will soon surpass you.  Ideally, your entire family would sign all the time, even conversations which don’t include your deaf child. Being unable to take part in routine conversation, even indirectly, will over time cause your child to feel excluded.  While hearing aids and cochlear implants are helping children to hear, they sometimes fail so having the ability to sign will insure that he or she always has a way to communicate.  Finally, be aware that there is a deaf subculture and topics such as whether or not to implant children, or send them to a school for the deaf versus mainstream education are all very loaded topics.  As with any special need, it will be up to you to educate yourself and be your child’s advocate.

Disordered Sexual Development– This is a very large category of special needs which means that there is an abnormality in the systems which affect a child’s sexual development.  Some of these children have hormonal abnormalities such as with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) while others might have physically ambiguous genitalia, often labeled by the antiquated term “hermaphrodite” in Chinese files.  These files will often be listed as “sensitive special need” on advocacy photolistings.  Parents who have adopted children with these special needs want you to know that these kids are healthy and normal!  Their greatest need is for a loving family who will support them as they develop a sexual identity as male or female, protect their privacy, and help them to navigate peer and romantic relationships as they grow.  Being within travel distance of a specialized DSD clinic is important to make sure your child is getting the most modern treatment options.  Be aware that surgery to assign a gender to a child at a young age is not medically necessary.  The current recommendation is to wait on surgery until the child is old enough to want it, and many adults with DSD have chosen not to have surgery at all because they are happy with their bodies intact.

HIV+– Parents want you to know that dealing with people’s ignorance is the greatest challenge about adopting a child who is HIV+.  Thanks to new medications, the virus can reach levels so low that they are “undetectable” in a blood test.  This means that as long as they are taking their medication twice a day (sometimes dropping to once a day after age 12) they can expect to have a normal life expectancy.  Many HIV positive adults are married and have biological children with an HIV negative spouse.  Insurance companies will pay for the medication and there are many programs available which will even cover the cost of the copayment.  Most families pay only $30-$60 per month for their medication.  China currently considers HIV+ children to be unadoptable so few files are made available.  This will change if more families request HIV+ children, so let your agency know if you are open to this need.  Be aware that most of the  HIV+ kids available for adoption are usually older and have come into care after the death of their parents.  These files will often be listed as “sensitive special need” on advocacy photolistings.

Hydrocephalus– This diagnosis literally means “water on the brain” and it is a condition in which there is excessive fluid in the brain.  It is sometimes the result of brain damage or occurs in conjunction with spina bifida.  Hydrocephalus is most commonly treated by a surgical procedure to shunt the excess fluid away from the brain.  Hydrocephalus can cause brain damage if left untreated but it is typically not a condition which affects intelligence.  Parents of children with hydrocephalus find this condition to be very manageable.

Incontinence– Parents want you to know that yes, you will deal with pee and poop.  However, this doesn’t mean your child will be attending prom in diapers!  There are many modern medical advances which make it possible for people with incontinence to achieve “social continence” which means that they wear normal underwear.  Urinary incontinence is usually managed through a catheterization routine.  Children are able to self-cath by age 8 and sometimes younger with girls usually becoming independent before boys.  Bowel management can mean routine enemas or surgical methods which ease the process.  Social continence isn’t achieved instantly, so you should have a flexible attitude and a good sense of humor as you work with your child’s doctor to find the management system which works best with your child. 

Spina bifida– This is a very common birth defect with a wide variation.  The most common associated conditions would be reduced mobility, incontinence, and hydrocephalus. Please refer to the entries related to those conditions. Club feet is another associated condition, so if you are open to club feet as a need you might want to research spina bifida as well because you could learn once your child is home that they actually have a mild form of spina bifida.   Children with spina bifida are intelligent and grow up to live independent and productive lives.

Wheelchairs– Parents want you to know that children are not “limited” by a wheelchair.  It gives the child mobility that they are lacking!  If you are adopting a younger child then you probably do not need a special house or van, although many parents find these helpful once the child is too heavy to lift.  Depending on their special need, your child can probably get him or herself up and down stairs, into a vehicle, in and out of their wheelchair, and live a fully independent life as an adult.  Most parents say the most difficult aspect is visiting private homes which do not have a wheelchair ramp to enter, but portable ramps can be purchased to take along when you visit friends and relatives.

Many parents begin their journey into the world of special need adoption tentatively, and asking “what are the easiest needs?”  However, my hope is that this post will cause you to consider the many children who are waiting because of their particular special need.  You might be scared about a need being too difficult for you, but also consider how much more difficult life will be for that child without what they need most–a loving and supportive family.  For more information on these or any special needs, please join the Special Needs Resources group on Facebook.



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.

Adopting Out of Birth Order, Two Unrelated Children, or an Older Child

This information was originally included with my series on choosing an adoption agency.  I am now making this information and resources on these three special adoption situations its own separate post.

IMG_0549You might assume that if China allows a practice, such as adopting two unrelated children at once, then your agency will allow you to do so. This is not the case. All placing agencies determine their own guidelines for adoptive families. Sometimes even when a placing agency will allow something, the social worker who writes your homestudy might not approve your family for that situation. For example, a placing agency might not have a problem with you adopting an aging out child who is older than your oldest child but your social worker opposes disrupting birth order and she refuses to approve you for a teenager in your homestudy.

You mean agencies or social workers think their rules are more important than finding these kids a family!? I’m going to choose an agency that understands that each family knows what is best and what they can handle!

Before I discuss these situations, we need to understand the reason behind these rules. 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.

I 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.  

Let’s look at the three most common issues where parents clash with agencies.

The first is adopting out of birth order. Best social work practice would say that you shouldIMG_0584 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. They will probably want you to consider your family dynamics. How would you handle it if you had an extended period of conflict between the adopted child and the child who was upset from their place in the family? Also, a child who was more recently adopted into a family will not necessarily be as set in his place as a child who has been the oldest for his entire life. 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.

Resources on adopting out of birth order:

Nine Rules For Adopting Out of Birth Order
Creating A Family podcast on Adopting Out of Birth Order
Negative experience- Disruption: A failed mom’s look back
At No Hands But Ours a parent shares the unexpected difficulties they encountered when they adopted a toddler 6 months older than their biological son already at home.

Positive experience- Googling “adopting out of birth order” will bring you to many blogs where parents share that they adopted out of birth order and it worked out great in their family.

The second issue is adopting two unrelated children at once. Adoption involves a huge amount of stress and upheaval for a child. When you adopt two at once, the theory is that you cannot give each child the amount of attention that they need to bond with your family. Because China’s adoption program involves special needs, then you need to consider that you will also be dealing with double the amount of doctor’s visits. I am sometimes concerned that there can be a subtle form of peer pressure to adopt two at once on adoption forums with many people asking “Are you going to go for two?!” Deciding to adopt two unrelated children at once should involve careful consideration.

  • How much parenting experience do you have?
  • How much adoptive experience?
  • Do you have a plan for the medical care the two children will need? What if they have unexpected medical needs, for example both end up needing surgery at the same time?
    How much of a local support network do you have?
  • Can you afford to double the fees? Most likely spend three weeks in China instead of two?
  • Have you thought through the worst case scenario? What if one or both have unexpectedly worse medical issues? What if they are both having attachment issues?
  • Be aware that you might be tempted to favor one child over the other. Children react so differently to the adoption experience. If you have one who is seamlessly attaching to your family while the other is acting out and constantly causing stress in your family it can be very easy to unconsciously favor the “easy” child. As much as you know that you shouldn’t compare the two children, it is almost unavoidable especially if they close in age.
  • Are you doing this because you think it will be cheaper or make your life easier? I have seen multiple people actually say “I’m not going to go through all of this trouble twice. I’m just going to get two at once and get it over with all at the same time.”  I’m going to be completely blunt here and point out that you need to consider the impact this will have on the children involved and not your convenience.

IMG_0554Many people do adopt two successfully and find it works well for their family. Here are some additional resources and experiences for you if you are considering this option. I’m including three blog experiences, each from families who were experienced parents and had adopted prior to adopting two children at once.


The third issue is older child adoption. The definition of an “older child” can vary, but I am going to focus on the age range of 10-13, the time period where a child is close to “aging out” in China. At the age of ten, the child must also consent to the adoption and sometimes they say no thanks, I’d rather stay here. China does not allow children to be adopted past their 14th birthday. There are no exceptions to this rule, even if a parent is in the process of adopting a child. For this reason you will often see advocates publicizing children who are close to aging out. “URGENT! This is the child’s LAST CHANCE for a family!!!” This tugs at your heart, is this something that your family should consider? Here are some things to consider when making this decision.

Are you thinking of doing this because you want to save the child? I have seen many instances where people have been told that an orphanage kicks a child out onto the street on their 14th birthday. As far as I am aware, this is not the case. When we visited our son’s orphanage I asked the director what happened to children who aged out. She said that those who could live independently would be given some education or vocational training and they would try to find them a job. They continue to live at the SWI until age 18. Those who cannot live independently will live there for life. While children who have aged out will face many challenges in their life, it is not necessarily so dire as being kicked out onto the street. Organizations such as Love Without Boundaries are working to give these children more educational opportunities and at least one agency has a similar program as well. Yes, adoption will give these children more opportunities, and most importantly a lifelong family. However, it is important to understand the challenges before you take this step and not rush in to “save” someone expecting that happy ending.

Why China rather than the US foster system? Since I adopted from China and I wrote an entire post defending people who adopt internationally rather than from foster care, you might wonder why I ask this question. I support both adoption systems and I think that you need to find the best fit for your family. But if you are considering adopting in the 10-13 year old range, this is an age where there are many children available here in the US. Sometimes people have the mistaken idea that a 13 year old from China won’t have any baggage, unlike a teenager in the US foster system. If you are feeling called to adopting an older child from China you need to make sure you understand that there will be challenges including additional challenges specific to international adoption.

  • Care varies widely in China. Older children have lived over a decade with their family, with a foster family, in an orphanage, or any combination thereof. They could come to you having experienced malnutrition, a lack of necessary medical care, neglect, and physical or sexual abuse.
  • They may have years worth of ingrained orphanage behaviors.
  • Related to orphanage behaviors, you should expect your child to be immature for their age and act several years younger than their age.
  • The information in their files might be incorrect, and not just medical information. You might your child is older or younger (but usually it’s older) than you thought. Or they might have siblings you didn’t know about until you got to China.
  • It is much more difficult to learn a new language after puberty, even if you are immersed in it.
  • Your child may have received little or no formal education. Mixed with the language issue, this means that they may not ever achieve reading fluency. Adopting older children will bring many educational challenges.
  • They may have unrealistic expectations of their own. Children are often told that everyone in America is rich and they will be given anything they want.
  • Love Without Boundaries post looking at the Post Adoption Adjustment For Older Children.
  • They may not even understand what adoption is. Love Without Boundaries interviewed older children in orphanages and they struggled to come up with answers to questions about what adoption is, why a foreign couple would want to adopt a Chinese child, or what they think life would be like after adoption. Watch the video.
  • Read Vicky’s post called You Shouldn’t Adopt A Teen for an honest look at the challenges you should expect from an experienced mother of adopted teens.
  • A Little Advice From the Front Lines For Parents To Be  on behaviors in country with newly adopted older children
  • Also, the second half from I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go which discusses older child behaviors in the early days home.
  • An experienced mom offers 10 pieces of advice for those adopting an older child.
  • I’m also going to link again to the list of characteristics of families who have successfully adopted two unrelated children at once, because successfully adopting an older child uses the same characteristics.  Older children do best with parents who have are easy-going and flexible, have a good sense of humor, and who can cheer their child on for all the small successes they experience rather than fixating on all of the challenges they still face.

Financial considerations– No one wants a child to lose their chance for a family because of IMG_0558finances. For this reason you will find that there are many generous grants available for older children who are reaching the end of their opportunity for adoption. Sometimes a particular child will be offered a large grant by a private donor which is independent of an agency. Some agencies will reduce their agency fee by a significant amount in addition to offering a grant. Finally, many of the orphanages in China will reduce or waive the required orphanage donation in an effort to help these kids find a family. While no one should consider adopting an aging out child because it is cheaper, if you are interested in adopting a child who is close to aging out you should be aware of all of these available resources.

Time– Because the adoption must be completed by the child’s 14th birthday, time is often a major concern. Be sure to ask if your agency has experience with expediting the adoption of an aging out child. There are many things which can be done to make sure the adoption is complete in time. I have known people who adopted an aging out child in under 3 months from start to finish, barely making it across the finish line by finalizing the adoption in China before the Travel Authorization had been issued. Most agencies will transfer the files of aging out children so if an agency is skeptical that they could complete the adoption in time then you could see if they would transfer the file to another agency which is more experienced with the expedite procedures. If the agency is unwilling to transfer, or is offering a generous grant which you need then join the Facebook China WARP Speed Expedited Adoption group for support to walk your agency through the process.

There are many resources available for those considering older child adoption. Here are a few to get you started:

Finally, if you are considering adopting an older child from China it important to know that this is an area where child trafficking occurs. Unfortunately, some people bring home older children only to find that they have families back in China. There are many older kids in China who need homes, and you want to make sure that you make one of them a part of your family rather than someone who has been coerced into coming to America with you. While most of these false orphans come from one particular orphanage, the problem isn’t limited only to that orphanage. There are often red flags that will help you spot these kids. Allow me to break out the bullet points one more time.

  • Abandoned at an older age under fishy circumstances. Found wandering the streets at 10 or 12 but can’t remember their name, parents names, or address.
  • Came into state care at an older age because their entire family was tragically wiped out.
  • Often comes with fake death certificates to aid the story.
  • Looks older than 12 or 13. Many of these kids are closer to 17, so if your son has a 5 o’clock shadow in his pictures, beware.
  • Not only are completely healthy, but excel academically. Often are accomplished at playing a sport or instrument.
  • For more information google “China aging out fraud.”

I don’t want to leave you on that negative note, especially since this post has been focused on the negative more than usual. I have already linked to the Seriously Blessed blog in this post but I wanted to highlight the story of Jasmine. The Lisa and her husband decided rather last minute to adopt Jasmine even though they had previously discussed older child adoption and said it was something they would never consider. When they arrived in China to adopt Jasmine, they realized she had muscular dystrophy rather than spina bifida, meaning her special need was a much worse diagnosis than they had been prepared for. Despite this they completed the adoption.

As Jasmine grew comfortable enough to begin sharing her story they learned that she had been mistreated by both her father and her orphanage nannies. She was abandoned by her grandmother, the only relative who had treated her with kindness. She hadn’t received any education in her orphanage, and had been told that the American couple coming for her would surely mistreat her or abandon her in America. This sounds like everything I’ve been warning you about, right? But Jasmine is thriving in a loving family. She is so appreciative of “simple” things like hot showers and receiving an education. This is why some families will educate themselves about all of the negative aspects of older child adoption and decide to go ahead anyway. Because it’s worth it, and it makes all the difference in the world to kids like Jasmine.