Tag Archives: International Adoption

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.

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Listening To Adult Adoptees

I’ve noticed that there is a strict divide in the adoption blogs I read.  Those written by non-religious parents often write much more about race, culture, and attachment.  Those written by evangelical Christian adoptive parents talk often about how adoption perfectly model’s God’s redemptive plan for us, a little bit about attachment and culture, and are generally silent on race.  The former are more likely to have read some books or essays from the point of view of an adult adoptee, but really, if you read any adoption blog you’d think that interracial adoption is a fairly recent phenomenon.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 12.48.20 PMInternational adoption began after the Korean War.  Anyone remember when that took place?  Let me give you a hint, long enough that there are people who are adopting through my agency who are themselves Korean adoptees.  Adult adoptees grew up to share their experiences, and they have highly influenced the required education that today’s adoptive parents receive.  It is because of them that social workers stress the importance of trying to keep an adoptee in touch with their cultural heritage.  Adoptees such as Barb Lee, who directed the documentary Adopted, which she co-produced with another adult adoptee.  I watched Adopted on Amazon, but you can view the entire movie on YouTube here.  It was a very uncomfortable documentary to watch, and I assume that is why most adoptive parents prefer to pretend that adult adoptees don’t exist.  We don’t like to feel uncomfortable, and we don’t want to think that our children could grow up with any negative, or even conflicted, feelings about their adoption.

Adopted follows 30-something year old Jennifer Fero, who was adopted from Korea.  When she learned that her (adoptive) mother has terminal brain cancer, it spurs her to seek the relationship with her parents that she has been tip-toeing around for years.  Jen falls into the stereotype of an “angry adoptee.”  I remember hearing Steve Kalb say in an interview that if you’ve met one adoptee then you know one adoptee.  Jen’s feelings are common for some adoptees.  Other adoptees will go through life never struggling with these issues.

On Jen’s visits back home, she repeatedly pushes her parents beyond their comfort zone.  When Jen asks her mother why she thinks Jen’s birth mother left her at the police station, her mother immediately answers “Some people just aren’t meant to be mothers.”  Jen challenges her to think about more possibilities, what if she wanted to keep Jen but couldn’t because of poverty.  Jen’s mom plays along for a minute or two but then abruptly shuts down the conversation with “I don’t think about her at all.  I don’t want to think about her.  You’re my daughter now, not hers.”

Jen’s father tells the story of how they decided to adopt her.  He said that after having a son, they tried for a few years to have another child.  When that didn’t work out, “I said we should go get a baby girl from Holt, the adoption agency here in Oregon.”  Just like ordering up a product.  Later in the documentary, Jen goes on a trip to New York with her father and uncle because her father is very interested in genealogy.  Jen proudly explains to her father that because of his research he is eligible to join the Sons of the Revolution because he is a direct descendent of a man who fought in the Revolutionary War.  Moments later in the film, the man at the Son of the Revolution museum explains that only Jen’s father’s “linear children” are eligible to join.  As Jen’s father clearly isn’t catching his meaning, he is forced to explicitly state “only your biological children are eligible, not adopted children.”  Jen politely smiles and follows along on the tour but later ducks out to wipe away her tears.

Jen’s parents are older working class folks who live in a double-wide and are trying hard to copeScreen Shot 2015-04-30 at 10.06.27 AM with her mother’s terminal diagnosis.  They try really hard to understand Jen’s feelings, but clearly none of it makes sense to them.  Jen’s older brother, who seemed to be the hero of the film to me, lives with his parents to take care of them.  He is eternally patient with Jen, always validating her feelings while trying to gently suggest that she be a little easier on their parents because of their age.  Frankly, while I could understand all of Jen’s feelings, I didn’t like her much.  It was extremely painful to watch her railing about her feelings to her mother, knowing this was her last few months of life.  While I wouldn’t have chosen that moment to suddenly spring an adoptive parent educational course on them, I think today’s adoptive parents would benefit from listening to Jenn and other adoptees.

During the New York trip, Jen drags her father and uncle to eat at a Korean restaurant.  They are clearly unhappy about being there, and it is painful to watch.  At another point in the movie we see Jen telling him that it isn’t fair that she has to make all of the accommodations.  She has to be white.  Despite the fact that he has chosen to have an interracial family, there is no acknowledgement that she is Asian.  She must always adapt to them, they won’t do any adapting to her.  The fact that is family his interracial is clearly news to Jen’s dad.  Throughout the film, both he and his wife make statements typical for people of their age.  “I never see Jenn as Asian–she’s just my daughter” or “I was taught to never see race.”

As I watched Jen’s dad and uncle sit sullenly picking at their Korean food, I was reminded of a fairly recent conversation I had with another adoptive parent.  When we moved to a larger city, my husband learned from from a Chinese-American coworker about a Chinese school in the area.  Founded by Chinese immigrants for their children, it offers a variety of classes in Chinese language, dance, martial arts, and music.  When I met another parent of a Chinese adoptee, I asked if she had heard about the school.  She responded that all of the adoptive parents in the area put their kids in language class with a white guy who has a college degree in Chinese.  She felt it was really great because their daughters were able to be friends with other adoptees and the parents can all talk while their children are in class.

I think it’s wonderful for adoptees to have friends who are also adoptees, but I reflected that the Chinese school was a great opportunity for a Chinese adoptee to become a part of the Chinese community in our city.  We ended up signing up Vincent (who is not adopted) for Chinese language classes.  At the Chinese New Year celebration our family one of a handful of non-Chinese.  The building was full of Chinese people, speaking Mandarin and eating Chinese food.  My daughter commented that it was like being back in China again.  I wondered if the adoptive parents avoided the school for just this occasion.  When you realize you don’t belong and that you’re the one who is different.  I had a sudden flash of sympathy for the one black kid who attended school with me in the rural area where I grew up.  This is what so many of us ask of our adopted children–to be the only non-white person in the area, while trying to avoid being in that situation ourselves.  I always appreciate the opportunity to connect with other adoptive parents, but there is something to be said for the opportunity to connect with Chinese-Americans as well.

Right after watching Adopted, I watched Approved For Adoption, a film by Jung, a Belgian-Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 10.02.59 AMKorean adoptee.  I believe this movie is currently only available on Amazon.  Approved For Adoption is Jung’s memoir, mostly in cartoon form although there are home movies and video footage from his trip to Korea interspersed.  It is in French with English subtitles and it is a little European-earthy with some PG-13 moments.

Jung is much more personable than Jennifer and I think the cartoon format makes this film more approachable for the adoptive parent than the documentary format of Adopted.  Yet, Jung’s story has many of the same themes.  He talks about how he shunned the other Korean adoptees in the village and resented his Korean sister because he didn’t want to face being Korean.  In one humorous episode, he becomes obsessed with Japanese culture and starts to pretend he is Japanese.  Because he was older when he was adopted and had lived on the streets for a time, he acts out in many ways common to children from that scenario.  This causes friction with his adoptive family.  Towards the end he discusses the depression and self-destructive behavior common among adoptees.

I think many adoptive parents avoid listening anything by the “angry adoptees” because we don’t want to deal with the uncomfortable feelings that come from listening to their point of view.  Adoptive parents love “Gotcha Day” because that was the day that WE got our child.  But some adoptees think of it as the day they lost their culture.  They don’t want to be told that they should be grateful they didn’t grow up in an orphanage.  Surely you can love your family while still feeling that it’s unfair you couldn’t grown up with your first family in your country of birth.  Humans are complicated–we can feel all sorts of conflicting emotions.  We need to be prepared to support our children throughout their lives, and even when their feelings make us uncomfortable.  If you avoid adult adoptees because you think that they only feel that way because their parents did it all wrong raising them, so your kids are never going to have those feelings then you will be completely unprepared if you one day find yourself in that place.

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How Accurate Are Files From China?

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The topic of how accurate the files of children are which are prepared by China is one that has popped up several times lately on various China adoption related areas of the web.  Because I apparently aspire to be the most depressing adoption blog ever, I decided to write a post on the topic.  Files from China are generally accurate, but no one wants to bring up the minority of instances where the file is radically different from the child’s actual diagnosis because no one wants to scare people away from adoption.  As I’ve mentioned before, we love the happy endings, and if we scare people away from adoption then some of those children needing families will never get their happy ending.  However, wishful thinking does not guarantee a happy ending.  Prepared prospective adoptive parents are the best way to create “forever families.”

There are many factors to consider when discussing file accuracy.  First, how are we defining what “accurate” means?  Most people refer to a file as accurate if the listed special need is correct but I have seen people say that their child’s file wasn’t accurate because it said that their child was drinking from a cup but really they were still taking a bottle.  If you adopt from Korea, which is kind of the gold standard of the international adoption community, you will get a mountain of medical information.  You will know the exact number of cigarettes and alcoholic beverages consumed by the birth mother, your child will have regular medical care and check-ups in a country with a world class medical health care system.  You should not expect this sort of detailed information from files in China.

Consider the care you might receive in the United States in rural Appalachia compared to a teaching hospital in a major city. In China, the health care situation varies even more widely.  Lian Yu Qiang (2).JPG (1)When a child’s file is prepared in China, the doctor examining the child may not have the experience to correctly diagnose a complex medical condition or rare disorder.  A child might have only the most cursory exam in order for their file to be prepared.  Some orphanages have enough funding for children to receive regular and expert medical care equivalent to what we have in the United States, while other orphanages are underfunded and the children will have little access to healthcare other than the required medical exam.  Similarly, with each orphanage in China being independently run, some will produce files that are highly accurate while others are pretty sloppy in filling out the forms.

Because of these factors, while files from China are generally accurate, they are rarely completely accurate.  This blog post describes a fairly typical occurrence where the main special need is accurate, the “repaired” need was more involved than expected, and additional minor needs were undisclosed or undiagnosed in China.  It is common for children to have minor conditions which are not listed in the file.

  • For those adopting very young children, they might not have been old enough when the file was prepared for an accurate diagnosis to have been made.  If a child is only 6 or 9 months old, you don’t know yet that they will have delays in walking or talking which will be evident by the time you meet your now 2 year old on adoption day.
  • Some conditions, such as tooth decay, are not considered major enough to be worth noting.  Dental hygiene in China is not the same as it is in America and few orphanages have the nannies brushing the teeth of every child twice a day.  My son seemed completely unfamiliar with a toothbrush when we adopted him, and that is the norm for most.  You should assume your child will have at least some tooth decay.  It would not be unusual for your child to need teeth extracted, enough fillings to require a surgical suite be booked so the work can be done under anesthesia, or dental work to the tune of thousands of dollars.
  • Some conditions might not be noticed in a quick medical exam.  The doctor doing the exam might not notice head tilting that indicates a vision problem, mild facial asymmetry, or other indicators of an underlying problem.  These would more likely be noticed by the nannies who work with your child but they are not directly involved in preparing the file.
  • The sort of standard tests and developmental checks that we have here in America are not routine in Chinese orphanages.  Hearing tests are rarely performed so children can often have up to moderate hearing loss not be detected if they have enough hearing to compensate.  While head circumference measurements are important to American doctors, it is not a standard used in China so the measurements provided for files are often incorrect because they are not measured properly.
  • Your child’s condition could have worsened since the file was prepared, or they could have developed a new condition such as a hernia. In boys, testicles can wander around in the first year so your son might have developed an undescended testicle when you adopt him that was in the correct place when the file was prepared.  Because you are not the legal parent until after the adoption is finalized, you might not be notified that your child has had surgery or that they now have a burn scar from an accident.

The only official statistics I have been able to find on this are from the Donaldson Institute Study in 2013. They studied 271 children adopted from China, but not all were through the special need program. Of 105 children who were adopted with identified special needs through the special needs program, 32% of the children were diagnosed with an additional special need once home. 50% of the all children (this is special need and non-special need programs both) had completely accurate medical information. Parents surveyed said that they experienced incomplete medical information, their child had an undiagnosed condition, their child was diagnosed in China with a medical issue they didn’t actually have, or that their child’s medical condition was more severe than indicated. Most parents indicated that they felt the issue was because of the poor quality of medical records. Translated medical records contained less detail or were less accurate than the original language records. Some parents indicated that poor medical care in China was the reason for the discrepancy between their child’s condition and diagnosis. A few parents felt that China had lied or been misleading in the reports they had been given.

These statistics might sound a little shocking but keep in mind that it is a small sample size. Additionally, they didn’t include the dates of the adoptions. The fact that half of the adoptees included were from the NSN program would indicate that the adoptions were from an older time period when the medical information given to adoptive parents was scant. It said that the most common diagnosis was “developmental delay” which I find completely understandable for those NSN girls adopted in the 90’s. The orphanage conditions were poor then and most came home an under a year of age having never spent much time out of a crib or chair. Undiagnosed conditions would include the “minor” medical conditions I mentioned above such as a heart murmur, scoliosis, or hearing loss from untreated repeat ear infections.

Are there things I can do to try and make sure I have the most accurate information in order to make a decision on whether or not to adopt this child?  

Lian Yu Qiang (3)_2Yes, the best thing you can do to make sure you are maximizing accuracy is to have the file reviewed by a doctor who specializes in international adoption. This can cost several hundred dollars, so many families are tempted to skip it in favor of having their local pediatrician review the file or sometimes no doctor at all. Even if you are certain that this is your child, having a doctor review the file can give you more information to be prepared to meet the child’s needs. International adoption (IA) doctors have experience interpreting files from China and understand how Chinese doctors typically diagnose and how orphanages typically prepare files. Remember that the language difference can also cause translation issues. An international adoption doctor can tell you “When the file says ______ what it usually means is _____.” For example, Treacher-Collins syndrome is not recognized in China, so those children are usually listed as having Down syndrome. Dwarfism is often listed as hydrocephalus in younger children (children with dwarfism have a disproportionately large head) or short stature for an older child.

When you have the file reviewed, it is important to include the Chinese language file as well as the English translation. Even if you or the doctor does not read Chinese, there is often additional information included. Sometimes additional photos are attached the end that aren’t also included in the English translation. The developmental section has an area where the person submitting information checks boxes for developmental milestones which are dual Chinese/English. The English transcription the boxes checked is not always accurate. In addition, seeing which boxes were not checked can be informative. In the English transcription, only the information from the checked boxes is included.

Two issues that frequently come up when reviewing files are head circumference measurements and developmental delays. Head circumference is not used as a development marker in China so orphanage personnel are often not skilled at taking accurate head circumference measurements. The head circumference measurements from one of my sons went from off-the-chart small to off-the-chart large in a six month time period, which is a good indicator that whoever was taking them was not taking them correctly. A good IA doctor will be aware of this and should look at the overall picture the measurements paint, taking into account not just one problematic set of measurements, but also their overall development and whether or not their head looks proportionate in photos.  

Not all IA doctors are equal. It is important to remember that a good IA doctor will only go over the information in the file, giving you various scenarios so that you can make the decision as to whether or not the child is a good fit for your family. Any IA doctor who tells you that you should not adopt a particular child or describes the child in a derogatory way, saying, for example, that the child would be lucky to get a job bagging groceries, is not being professional, and you should seek a second opinion. The doctor’s job is not to make judgments about the child, but to give you the information they see so you can make the right decision for your family. It is also important if you have a solo doctor rather than a clinic review a file that you use someone who specializes in adoptive medicine as a career rather than someone from another specialty who moonlights reviewing files to bring in a little extra money. If a doctor isn’t seeing as patients any of the children whose files they have reviewed, they are only seeing half of the file picture. Check with your agency for IA doctor or clinic recommendations.

The fee for an IA doctor or clinic review will often also cover writing prescriptions for the trip and support in-country which can be helpful if you need to consult the doctor about concerns you have after meeting the child. I want to really underscore the importance of viewing an IA medical review as an investment. It is very frustrating for me to see how many people feel that paying for a review is too expensive, but a few months later the same people are upgrading to economy plus plane seating or booking executive suites in hotels because “it’s worth every penny.” I think part of the issue is that the file review cost comes earlier in the adoption process when you are still counting every penny. By the end, you are bleeding out funds so quickly that adding on a couple hundred bucks seems hardly worth mentioning. The Sparrow Fund offers grants to cover the cost of a file review 

Children who are in institutions do not develop at the same rate as children raised in families. A general rule of thumb is that the child will lose one month of development for every three months in an institution. This would mean that it is not at all unusual for a child in an orphanage to not be walking at a year old. An international adoption doctor should be adept at sorting out what are typical orphanage delays and what are true developmental delays due to an underlying condition or syndrome that may not have been diagnosed in the file. They are also aware of which special needs can have correlated developmental delays. Children with heart disease, for example, are often delayed both physically and developmentally because their body puts every available resource into compensating for the heart problem. Most children with orphanage or special need related developmental delays make rapid progress once they are home and their needs are addressed. However, there are never any guarantees that the delays will be overcome. You should also keep in mind that a “developmental delays” label in a file typically indicates that the child is even more delayed than their same-age peers in the orphanage.  

Another important factor is how informed and objective perspective adoptive parent can be.  Parents having unrealistic expectations is far more common than inaccurate files!  It is very easy for parents to fall in love with a picture.  I have heard many people say “We didn’t have the file reviewed because we knew it wouldn’t matter–she was our daughter!”  Which is not necessarily a problem unless the reality doesn’t meet up with the fantasy in a way the parents are completely unprepared for when they meet their daughter.  Tales abound in the adoption community of parents choosing not to finalize an adoption for reasons which indicate that they were inadequately prepared.  She walked with a slight limp, one of his eyes was droopy, etc.

It is especially important to be well informed about the special needs which you decide to be open to.  If you think that albinism is just a matter of extra sunscreen and sunglasses (as I have seen people say online) then you may be very caught off guard when you are handed a child with significant visual impairment.  I have a friend who advocates for children with heart issues, and she has talked to parents who seem to believe that their child’s heart condition will be completely repairable despite being clearly told the contrary by doctors who have reviewed the file.  When you are in love with a picture, it can be easy to fall into denial about the true state of the child’s health.

One of the people I corresponded with before writing this post was Shecki from Greatly Blessed who ended up writing a full blog post on the topic.  She told me “We missed things. Looking back, we can see that Luke wasn’t sitting independently in any of his photos. He was either contained in a chair/stroller or there was a hand holding him up, although one picture showed him standing, leaning against a wall, which was hugely misleading. Luke has never pulled himself to stand, but can bear weight (sometimes) when placed in a standing position.”

Photos are an important evaluation tool.  Our son’s orphanage did a great job of sending photos with our updates that showed Leo’s developmental status.  In the very first update we requested, they sent a series of photos showing Leo going from a sitting position to a crawl and crawling toward a toy that a nanny had enticed him with. For those of you who are still considering adopting from China or are early in the process, I have used photos in this post that we received from Leo’s file or from updates we received so you can look at them and ask yourself “What can I learn from this picture?”

As Shecki said, sometimes it can be easy to miss warning signs from the photos.  DSC01219_2At other times, they can be misleading in the other direction.  I have known people who worried because they only received photos where the child wasn’t smiling or making eye contact, but after the adoption they received photo files from the orphanage (this is common practice with Half the Sky orphanages) which showed the child happy and engaged.  We experienced that ourselves, when we only received photos of Leo walking with a toy.  Although the update said that he had begun to walk, we weren’t completely sure he really was walking.  When I uploaded the files from my HTS disk I found several photos of Leo chasing other children around the room. It would have been reassuring to have those ahead of time!

Unfortunately, parents do not have access to this additional information from private charities until after the adoption is finalized.  This is to protect the child’s privacy, but there are times when having access to those quarterly reports or updates would make a difference in a parent’s decision.  Shecki wrote: “After we got home, I requested and received quarterly reports from the NGO working with his orphanage.  Had those reports been part of his referral file, we would not have submitted LOI for him. Let me say that again.  Had we seen those reports prior to the adoption, we would NOT have adopted him.  That’s where I get resentful.  The first report shows a very, very sick baby, who looks nothing like the little butterball we saw in the referral pictures.  And *every* single report lists him having CP, which was NOWHERE in his referral file.  We were not approved for CP in our homestudy, and we would not have pursued him, had we had that info.

While access to information from private charities is not available, it is becoming more common for parents to be provided with video now, and this can certainly be more informative than photos.  It is also possible to ask questions of the orphanage, to try and follow up on things that a doctor feels might point to as problematic.  However, there is no guarantee that the questions will be answered.  Some orphanages are better at communicating than others. Generally, you want to ask as few questions as possible and word them carefully.  You can ask for testing, and at times you can pay for more expensive tests which the orphanage would not have normally done.  Sometimes the answer will be no.  We asked for a hearing test on Leo, as well as photos showing his ears so that we could try to determine if his funny shaped ear had an ear canal.  The provided photos were not from an angle that showed his ear canal, and the orphanage replied that there was no need for a hearing test because they felt his hearing was fine.  We had assumed that Leo would not have hearing in that ear, and so we were comfortable going forward without the additional information we had requested.  In our case, the reality turned out better than our expectations.

Sometimes it is possible to get additional information on children from other avenues.  There are American run foster homes in China which post pictures or videos.  They cannot directly provide information to parents before the adoption is finalized but if you know that your child is in a home which has a blog or facebook page then you can often get unofficial info from those sources.  Many adoption advocates request updates or keep track of files as they pass from agency to agency.  Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that one agency will have video or photos which are not passed along with the file when it leaves their agency.  Files which come from a partnership will have access to more information than those an agency doesn’t have a relationship with.  Often if you are adopting from an orphanage which your agency is partnered with then you will find agency personnel have met with your child, or they might have been evaluated by an American doctor during an agency visit to the SWI.  It is very common for parents to be able to get updated photos from other parents who are adopting from the same orphanage and travel sooner.  The only picture we received of Leo standing unassisted was taken by a family who traveled to Leo’s orphanage to adopt a few months before we traveled.

Having access to this additional second hand information can be mixed. Often advocates can use it to successfully find a family for a child who has a file which is outdated or inaccurate.  IMG_3837Many children have languished because their file indicates that they have low intelligence, maybe from an “intelligence test” performed when they were a toddler, but people at the foster home or someone who worked with them at a summer camp say that the child has normal intelligence and is a joy to be around.  Or over a number of years their special need has improved and they are basically healthy but the file doesn’t reflect that because it is years out of date.  Advocates do incredibly good work in helping these “hidden gems” to find homes.

However, sometimes advocates can minimize a child’s needs by being overly optimistic about how much a child can improve once home.  They encourage families to step out in faith, saying “She will just thrive once you get her home.  All she needs is a loving family and she will catch up!” Many children do make incredible improvements once they are part of a family and receiving regular medical care and therapy services, but there are never guarantees about the future.  Going back to the previous point about having realistic expectations, be sure to ask yourself if you would love and cherish this child as a part of your family as they are right now, as presented in the file, or if you really only comfortable with the potentially improved child. 

To quote from Shecki again:

“When considering any special need, you should think of the worst case scenario, and determine whether your family could handle that or not.

When I considered “delays,” tacked on to the end of Luke’s primary special need (which, ironically, aside from one specialist appointment has been a non issue), I thought “worst case scenario” would be that he’d still be a little behind when he was school age, and would need an IEP to help him get through school with his peers.  Never in my wildest imaginings did I think that “delays” meant he would not walk, speak, or toilet train, and that he would not be in a regular classroom at all.

The long and the short of it is, we took a risk, never really believing, or even suspecting, things would turn out as they have.”

So what if the worst happens and you, like Shecki, arrive in China to find a child that does not match up at all with what you were expecting?

I spoke with another parent, who wished to remain anonymous, who reviewed the file of a girl who had some markers which could indicate a potential syndrome.  Initially they decided not to submit a LOI but later found sources of additional information.  This girl was involved in one of the American charities so they were able to find blog posts about her and communicate with people who had met her.  With this new information, they felt confident enough to move forward with the adoption.  However, once they arrived in country the girl was extremely delayed and not the active and engaged child they were expecting.  

At this point adoptive parents are faced with a difficult decision.  You have 24 hours to decideLian Yu Qiang June (2) to finalize the adoption.  When you have a child who is not making eye contact, who is not communicating, and is not doing things you have been told they can do such as walking or crawling, you must quickly decide if this is medically related, or if they are reacting to the trauma of the adoption.  These children have just been taken from everything familiar to them and handed over to strangers.  It is not unusual at all for children to cry for hours, to sit limply and not make eye contact or react to your voice, or to stop walking and talking.  When parents reach out to other adoptive parents in that situation, they are frequently reassured that the child is in shock, and they will come around.

There are a few practical things you can do if you are in this situation:

  • Request a delay before you finalize the adoption.  It can be possible to add an extra day for you to gain extra information and for your child to adjust.
  • Try to contact a doctor at home to get their advice.  While it can be difficult to arrange in 24 hours with the time difference, if you describe the child’s behavior and send photos or video then it is possible to get a medical assessment.
  • Try to talk to the child’s nanny.  It is not always the child’s primary nanny who accompanies them to the civil affairs building, but it is possible that the people who accompanied your child knows them well enough to say what their usual behavior is.  Your guide may have the orphanage director’s phone number, so questions could be asked through your guide.

Ultimately, you will need to decide if you want to finalize the adoption.  Becky, writing at The Red Thread blog, gives a brutally honest account of when she met her daughter, how scared she was looking at the possibilities of her being near death or facing lifelong delays, and making the conscious decision to commit anyway. A friend who wrote on her blog about being scared but finalized the adoption anyway said she was bombarded with messages from people who said they had felt the same way.  So if you are scared, you are not alone.  So many families are scared to death when they sit down to sign that paperwork.

Probably for this reason, families who decide to disrupt the adoption and leave the child in China can be harshly judged by the adoption community.  Certainly, we have all heard stories where the potential adoptive parents seem to behave as if they received a defective product and returned the child for the most superficial of reasons.  But for most parents (hopefully), this is a heartbreaking decision which is not easy at all.  They love this child, and they wonder if he or she will receive good care if they leave them in China.  Sometimes children who are rejected are deemed “unadoptable” by China and their file is pulled so that they do not get a second chance for a family.  But if a family truly knows that they cannot provide the care that a child needs, and they did not have the information to know that ahead of time, then it is the best decision to not finalize the adoption.

For the anonymous family I wrote about earlier, this is how their story ended.  They were able to delay the adoption by a day.  They sought a doctor’s evaluation and asked other adoptive parents for input.  In the end, they decided that their family could not provide the long term care that she needed and so they did not finalize the adoption.  She is still in China, and they are grieving.  As Shecki wrote of her experience, “If you get to China, and you disrupt because you’re afraid there’s bigger issues going on, you get roasted alive online because, “How can you know after only one day what progress that traumatized child would make, given the chance?” and then you’re accused of ruining their chances of getting adopted by some other family.  If you bring them home and then you’re overwhelmed, you get tons of people telling you, “You should have known better!  You knew he was delayed, but you brought him home anyway!

One final topic to discuss is the frequent suggestion which I’ve seen that a family should bring the child home anyway, even if they know they cannot parent the child because “there are people here who will adopt them.”  I want to point out that this is completely unethical.  This child is under the guardianship of the Chinese government, and the Chinese government has given your family, and only your family, permission to adopt them.  On all of the documents you sign for China, and when you take the oath at the US consulate, you are promising that YOU are adopting this child forever.  It doesn’t matter if you think they will be better off in the US than in their orphanage in China.  It doesn’t matter if you think you know a family who can handle the child’s needs better than yours.  If you knowingly adopt the child intending to turn them over to a family when you return to the US, you are committing fraud and are guilty of human trafficking.

IMG_0434If you are reading this as a potential adoptive parent, then you might be scared out of your mind now.  I can only assure you that while these situations happen, they are a minority.  I have tried to give you advice to try and avoid this in advance but there is never any guarantee in adoption any more than there is in giving birth.  My agency will often write on a child’s photolisting that the child would do best with parents “who are comfortable with the unknowns.”  Adoption is a leap of faith, and even when you adopt a child whose medical file matches perfectly with their physical condition you can find that you were unprepared for the child’s emotional needs, as they act out of trauma or neglect. You have to learn to be comfortable with the unknown, and be prepared to face the future together, no matter what it brings.

 

 

 

 

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.

November is National Adoption Month

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Last year I did a series of posts for National Adoption Month.  This year I kind of regretted not saving my How To Choose An Agency series to dole out during November because I don’t have any ideas for new posts.  What can I say, I’m only an occasional blogger.

I thought instead I would share with you some of the best posts I’ve read lately.

–Many people choose to adopt from China because it seems to be a well run program with little corruption.  I know that is one of the reasons why we chose China.  Brian Stuy has published his research on widespread corruption in the program which is important to read and acknowledge.

–Amy Eldridge wrote on the Love Without Boundaries page about why parents in China abandon children with medical needs.

–I love reading the blogs of families who are in the adoption process and I found Mom of 4 Boys blog when she linked to my blog.  I was so excited to hear that they are adopting an “older” boy but I especially loved how her youngest son started a campaign for them to adopt a brother for him.  He even had a name all picked out.  I love it!  Sounds just like my house.

–If you remember, I shared some of my struggles with how to view Leo’s birth parents and the role God plays in adoption.  I ran across this post from Mommy Means It which I think better explains the concerns I have with saying that God planned for Leo to be our child.  A good discussion in the comments too.  We need to remember that all adoptees will process things differently and we need to take our cues from our child and not assume that they will feel a certain way about their adoption.

–I followed along as the Munn family raced to adopt Michael in a few shorts weeks before he turned 14 and was no longer eligible to be adopted.  There is a great article on how Michael is running the Marine Corps Marathan with the help of a guide less than six months after being a US citizen and part of the Munn family.

–I’ve been reading Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones which is difficult to describe since it’s such a hodgepodge of China.  But it’s fascinating and hard for me to put down, so go read it.  Anyway, Hessler spends a lot of time talking about the Uighurs, which are an ethnic minority who used to be an independent nation but were taken over by China.  They are generally persecuted, and in fact, China canceled Ramadan this year in the Xinjiang province.  I found this photo essay in the Atlantic that put a face on this group of people.

–You know that Family Preservation is near and dear to my heart.  As I’ve been reading through all of the National Adoption Month posts that come through my reader I am glad to see more people posting about family preservation.  Love Without Boundaries is raising funds to provide cleft bottles and information on feeding a cleft-affected infant to families in hospitals.  Hopefully if families are educated about cleft care and know that they have options for low cost treatment then they will be able to stay with their family.  Most people will never adopt a child, but anyone can help families stay together.  A donation of only $3 will provide a family with the necessary bottle for their child’s health and survival.  Please consider donating to this important project!

–I tend to save up the adoption podcasts from Creating A Family to listen to on road trips so I haven’t listened to this one yet, but I am really looking forward to hearing Growing Up Black In A White Family.  Listening to the experience of adult adoptees is so important for adoptive parents.

–And in case you’ve been really considering adoption and National Adoption Month is the last little push you need to take that leap of faith, I’d like to mention that there are more than ONE HUNDRED waiting children from China on my agency’s photolisting right now.  Mind-boggling isn’t it? Over 100 kids just with one agency in one country program.

 

 

 

 

Choosing An Agency 4: Special Adoption Situations

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you would like to adopt from China, you need to fit three sets of criteria:  China’s, your placing agency’s, and your social worker’s.  Some of these you can work around and some you can’t.  Often choosing your placing agency carefully can help you with these issues.

China’s Criteria

China really has only one unbreakable rule for their special needs adoption program and that is that both parents must be 30 years old.  You never knew you’d be looking forward to your 30th birthday so much!  Some agencies will not let you even begin your homestudy until both parents are 30, but others will let you begin at around 29.5 so that you can mail your dossier to China on your 30th birthday.  This will shave a good six months off your wait time, so be sure to ask prospective agencies what their policy on this is.

All of China’s other rules are more like guidelines.  They are generous in granting waivers, but some agencies are more willing to ask for waivers than others.  It is important to get opinions from multiple agencies before giving up!

Age- In Asia there is a long tradition of grandparents raising their grandchildren while the parents work.  For this reason, while China is strict on the lower age limit they will allow older parents to adopt even into their early 60’s.  It greatly depends on the parents’ health, ages, and the age of the child.  Older parents are more likely to be approved for older children.  Jean shares her experience adopting as an older parent here.

Health- Mental health issues are a big red flag for China.  Depending on the individual situation, some agencies can obtain a waiver so you can still adopt.  Cancer waivers can also be obtained.

Income and family size- China is very generous with these waivers and you are more likely to run into an agency who has a problem with these.  Which brings us to . . .

Agency criteria

Marriage and social issues– It is possible to get a waiver from China if the couple has more than the allowable amount of divorces in their history but placing or homestudy agencies may have different criteria.  If you are an unmarried female cohabitating with a partner, some agencies may decline to work with you because they feel it is important for children to be placed in families with parents who are married.  A few agencies will require a statement of faith, meaning you sign that you share their protestant Christian views.  If you are not Christian or a non-mainstream Christian (Jehovah’s Witness, LDS, etc.) you will more than likely be turned down by these placing agencies.

Family size– There are plenty of large adoptive families but there are also many social workers, agencies, and even states who want to establish a cap beyond which no family may adopt.  If you have a choice of homestudy agencies, try to preview social workers to see if they are prejudiced against large families.  Placing agencies vary, so shop around.

Pregnancy– Some agencies will require that you put your adoption on hold if you become pregnant during the process.  This means that if you have already been matched with a child, you will no longer be able to adopt that child.  Other agencies may be flexible or not care at all.

Discussing larger issues— Birth order, adopting two at once, and older child adoption OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You 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 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.  Many agencies now are allowing these practices, at least in some situations. Why would other 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.

People in the adoption community love the happily ever after ending.  People who aren’t in the adoption community love it too, just look at the movie Annie.  We all want to believe that every adoption ends with a child being united with their “forever family.”  (If there is anyone left on earth who hasn’t read Jen Hatmaker’s After The Airport post then now’s the time.) And most adoptions are successful.  However, we need to acknowledge that there are times when adoptions fail.  People who have had a failed adoption usually do not stay within the adoption community so you rarely encounter their experiences in your online groups.  You will only read about the happy endings.  When you are trying to decide if you should pursue an adoption you might ask in an online forum “Has anyone else done this?”  Keep in mind that the responses are already pre-selected to be favorable.  When it works out for people they are happy and want to encourage others.  When the outcome was not good, they do not want to be condemned by the adoption community and so they leave.  Even though I have been in the adoption community a fairly short amount of time, I have already encountered two different families who complained about how their social worker was making them “jump through hoops” before approving the match they wanted, and then a year later when the child/children were home, they were writing on their blogs that their adoption was failing.  My intention in writing about this is not to scare anyone off from adopting an older child, out of birth order, or adopting two unrelated children at once.  I only want to stress the importance of making an educated decision and having realistic expectations about the difficulties involved in making such adoptions successful.

An adoption disruption is when the adoption is not completed, such as when a couple travels to China but decides not to complete the adoption once they have met the child.  An adoption dissolution is when a legal adoption is dissolved, although this is commonly referred to as disruption as well.  Try to imagine for a moment an older child, who has grown up in an orphanage in China.  One day an American couples arrives–the Mama and Baba they have always dreamed of!  But a few months or years later and things aren’t going well.  There could be any number of reasons why.  Will the child go back to the familiar orphanage in China where he or she has spent most of his/her life?  No.  Now an American citizen, this child will stay in this strange land, where they may or may not speak the language.  What happens to this child now?

  • They might end up in the US foster care system.  Often this is a last resort for parents because they fear they might lose other children in their home or that it would rule out the possibility of their adopting again.
  • They end up re-homed.  Sometimes this is done informally through online networks or another official adoption may be facilitated through an agency.
  • They have a tragic ending.

When things like this happen people inevitably say “Why did the agency let that happen?  Why weren’t these parents prepared?  We need more education, better screening!”  It’s the complete opposite of “Each family knows what is best and what they can handle.”  Hopefully now you have a better understanding of why some agencies have this criteria, because not every family does know what they can handle until they get there.  We need to acknowledge that people on both sides of this issue are working for what they see as the best for the adoptive child.  One side says “They need a family, disruptions are rare and it’s better to take the chance to get them a family” while the other says “Disruptions are real and we need to wait for the best family for a child rather than chance putting them through the trauma and upheaval of a disruption.”

Creating A Family has a radio show discussing adoption disruption and dissolutions.

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

IMG_0234The first is adopting out of birth order.  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.  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:

 

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.”  You need to consider the impact this will have on the children involved and not your convenience.

Many people do adopt two successfully and find it works great 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.

  • Pros and Cons of Adopting More than One Child at Once
  • Creating A Family radio show on Adopting Two Unrelated Children at the Same Time
  • LWB Wisdom Wednesdays:  Adopting Two At Once
  • Characteristics of families who have successfully adopted two at once
  • Jean at There’s No Place Like Home is a very experienced adoptive parent having adopted over a dozen times!  (See, I told you large family waivers were easy to get!)  They have almost always adopted two at once except for the time they adopted three at once.  She has had a positive experience.  “For us, bringing home two at a time has been awesome!
  • Liz at Learning Patience and her husband had a mixed experience, finding it difficult but not insurmountable.  They decided not to adopt two at once the next time they adopted.  “What I hope is that what I say will make you pause and think about how you and your family will be impacted by this huge decision.
  • Finally, Shecki at Greatly Blessed had a negative experience when her son turned out to have greater needs than they expected.  “it’s becoming very apparent that we did not think this through.”

 

The third issue is older child adoption.  The definition of an “older child” can vary, but I amIMG_0086 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 considering 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.  But as I have said before, 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 the 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.
  • 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.

Financial considerations–  No one wants a child to lose their chance for a family because of finances.  For this reason you will find that there are many generous grants available for 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.

IMG_0629There 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.

 

Other posts in this series:

Part 1:  Which comes first, the child or the agency?

Part 2: Comparing agencies

Part 3: All about the money

 

All About The Money

Which agency is the Cheapest?

By now your eyes are glazing over and somewhere out there someone is thinking “Look, I don’t care about all of that–how do I find out which agency is the cheapest?!”  That is a surprisingly difficult question to answer.  I reviewed cost sheets for several popular agencies to try and answer that question.  You start with the application fee which can range from $200 to $700.  All agencies will have the same fixed costs for the adoption such as the fees you pay to immigration and to China.  But then there is an “agency fee” which should cover all of what you pay to the agency that isn’t a fixed cost from somewhere else.  However, the agencies all calculate these fees differently on their cost sheet.  Some favor one large “inclusive” agency fee while others have an agency fee which seems low but they nickel and dime you with various other fees.  And an itemized cost sheet may or may not be available on the website, just to make it a little bit more difficult to compare costs.

Let’s look at two different agency fees using information I pulled from two actual agency sites:

Agency A has an agency fee of $15,000.  Agency B has an agency fee of $5500.  Sounds like an easy choice, right?  But Agency B has the following additional fees:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • Translation and document fee $600
  • Dossier registration fee $800
  • Dossier translation fee $350
  • Professional service fee $1500
  • Orphanage donation $5300
  • Fees to US Consulate for services $1000
  • —————-Total extra fees = $9550

All of those extra fees for Agency B are included in the agency fee of Agency A.  So if you subtract those out, then you are actually comparing an agency fee of $5450 for Agency A to the agency fee of $5500 for Agency B making them essentially the same cost.  This is why it is so difficult to compare agency costs!

Let me give you another example: orphanage partnerships.  I discussed orphanage partnerships previously, and because they involve an agency supporting an orphanage financially, partnerships raise an agency’s operating costs.  Agencies can spread this cost around in different ways.  Let me use the same two actual agencies above, and add Agency C.

  • Agency A has 10 partnerships and includes any partnership costs in their comprehensive “agency fee.”
  • Agency B has 12 partnerships and has a “charitable aid and development fee” of $500 which is probably used, in part, to support their partnerships.
  • Agency C has 12 partnerships and charges a $600 fee specifically to people who adopt from a partnership orphanage, but also an additional $250 fee for everyone which goes to support their charitable development work.

An important aspect that few people consider when comparing fees between agencies are the homestudy and post-placement costs.

Sometimes your placing agency will also be your homestudy agency and in that case, you can’t do much about the cost of the homestudy.  If you are in that situation be sure you ask if you would be able to keep your homestudy if you transfer to another agency later in the process. Most people will use a local homestudy agency and that agency will send the homestudy to the placing agency for approval.  The placing agency might tell you that you need to use a particular homestudy agency that they are affiliated with or you might be able to choose any Hague accredited agency.  My placing agency estimated the homestudy cost at between $2500 and $3500 but my local homestudy agency only charged $1500, so it pays to shop around if you have that option.

China currently requires that you submit post-placement reports for five years following an adoption.  Unfortunately, many parents are less motivated to complete this paperwork once their child is home.  When an agency consistently has parents which do not submit post-placement reports, then it reflects poorly on that agency and can affect their working relationship with China.  For this reason, many placing agencies are now requiring a security deposit from parents at some point before the adoption is finalized.  Many homestudy agencies are also either requiring a deposit or that all the post-placement costs be paid upfront rather than the old way of paying per visit as you go.  I spoke with one parent who paid $6000 in post-placement visits before they were allowed to travel.  If you are comparing two agencies and they are $2000-$3000 apart in costs, be sure to ask about their post-placement polices because this can make a difference.

  • Does the agency require a deposit or that all the costs be paid upfront?
  • If it is a deposit, what will happen to the money if you move or the agency closes? I can’t stress this point enough because many parents have lost their deposit money for these two reasons.
  • Does the placing agency charge one post-placement fee or a fee per visit for translation and submission of the reports?
  • How much does the homestudy agency charge per post-placement visit?

Travel costs are also an area where agencies can make up additional funds to offset an attractively low agency fee.  I discuss this a bit more at the end of this post, and you can use the questions from the travel section in the previous post to help you in this area.

 

I think the conclusion I have drawn from my research on this topic is that it is almost impossible to determine which agency is The Cheapest.  There are too many variables to IMG_0549compare.  Most agency fees will vary within a range of about $5000.  If you narrow it down to two agencies and their costs are within $2000-$3000 then I would consider the factors in the last post carefully as you make your decision. Everyone needs to think about what they would pay more for, because as I pointed out last time, there is no perfect agency.

Let me give you some examples of how this works out in practice.  Unlike the agencies I listed above these are not actual agencies, just composites of typical experiences.

Big Agency is big but you didn’t realize how big until you waited three weeks for your dossier to be reviewed so it could be mailed to China.  Then you waited 9 months longer to get a referral than all of you friends on your DTC group who sent their dossiers at the same time.  But since you had been logged in so long you got your LOA in a week so you made up all kinds of time there!  Also, you split the difference on the travel group issue because your agency is so big that they send groups weekly so you got to travel 2 weeks after your travel approval arrived.  Your agency is one of the cheapest options even though they don’t offer grants, and you feel like you got great service, but part of you wonders if next time you shouldn’t pay a little more to go with an agency that will get you a referral sooner.

Small Agency is pretty small and you loved chatting on the phone with your agency rep.  It felt like you were part of a family and you still have the agency rep’s number on your cell phone.  Their fees were a little higher but they offered a lot of grants to their kids so that made it basically the same price as some of the cheaper ones.  You had to do most of the paperwork yourself, but the ladies from your DTC group were a huge help with that.  It was so exciting that your agency mailed your dossier to China the day after it arrived!  It was awesome to get a fast referral even if it seemed like that LOA would never arrive.  The only thing you didn’t like was that they require you to use a particular travel agency to handle all of the travel arrangements.  Yes, you got to leave five days after your TA arrived, but you feel that they really jacked up the price and you could have saved money by booking your own hotels and flights.  You also got really mad that they charged you a daily guide fee even on days when you didn’t use the guide!  And frankly, the guide wasn’t that great.  You were a little jealous of the great day trips and guide service that your friends with Big Agency had.  You hate to leave the agency family but you’re thinking that next time you might find an agency that won’t charge so much for travel.

Middle Agency is a mid-sized agency.  Their fees are a little higher but you felt you got a lot of perks for the money such as a dossier preparation service and they included a lot of those little fees in their price so you weren’t always being asked for money.  You were disappointed that they only send dossiers to China on a Friday but at least they reviewed it in 2 days so it went out the same week they received it!  You had to wait 3 or 4 months for a referral but it was so worth it once you saw her picture, and besides, you know lots of people on your DTC group with Big Agency that waited much longer.  You didn’t even mind the travel groups because your agency got great group rates on the hotel and guide service so it sounds like you paid less than the people who booked their own travel.  Unfortunately, your agency only sends a travel group to your child’s province once a month so you had to wait over a month after your TA to travel!!  Yes, you saved over $2000 on your airfare by waiting so long, but it seemed like everyone else left within a week of getting their TA.  You loved your agency, but you think that next time you might shop around a little to see if you can find one that is not quite so pricey and will let you travel sooner.

All three of these people had good experiences with their agency, would recommend them wholeheartedly to friends, yet had a major issue that they weren’t quite happy with.  Would you pay more to shave 6 months off your referral time?  To leave right away after TA?  That’s what you need to decide when choosing an agency.

Raising Funds For Adoption

IMG_1372It has become quite common for families to use fundraising to help with the high costs of adoption.  There are a few factors involved on this that I wanted to touch on in this post.  First, if you do not have all of the funds starting off, be sure to ask potential agencies for a payment schedule.  Some agencies require that you have at least half of the funds upfront.  Most agencies will have points where you cannot progress further if you are not paid up, often at either dossier submission (DTC) or travel.  Be sure to budget carefully knowing what you need to pay when.  My agency had us pay the orphanage donation at LOA, although you could make payments on it until travel.  Most other agencies don’t have you pay that until you travel, but many people were scrambling to come up with the orphanage donation funds plus travel costs all at the same time.  If you add in an agency that requires you to pay several thousand for post placement visits at the same time, that is a big chunk of money to come up with at one time and most of us don’t have a money ram to slaughter to pay for it.

Moving on to a sensitive topic, many families feel that they are called to adopt and an aspect of this for them is “stepping out in faith” even though they do not have all, or sometimes any, of the funds required.  In online adoption communities, faithful families will encourage each other with testimonies of how God provided all the funds necessary for their adoption even though it seemed impossible when they began.  I do not discount those stories, but I want people who are considering this route to know that not all families are able to come up with the funds in time, and these families are less likely to stay in the adoptive community to share their experience.  There is a constant flow of children on advocacy sites who were locked for a time and then return, weeks or months later, because the potential family could not find the funds to complete the adoption.  This hurts both the children, who will now be that much older and therefore more difficult to place, as well as the families who feel the heartache of the child they lost and probably a struggle with their faith since they felt they had a call but it didn’t work out the way they had expected.

If you are beginning an adoption without the full amount of funds available you should give serious consideration to how you expect to make up those funds.  Ideally you would have a large portion of it when you start and a plan for how you are going to bring in the rest.  Tax refund, selling stocks, home equity loan, fundraisers, whatever.  While fundraising for adoptions is still controversial with some adoptive families and can have some unforeseen consequences, it has become a common practice.  People who are well-connected in the community, have churches with active adoption ministries, or even with popular blogs have highly successful fundraisers.  But what if no one wants to buy your T-shirts and your yard sale is rained out?  Make sure you consider carefully how and when you think the money will be coming in, and remember that you can choose to delay several months or a year before starting the process if you need to be more financially secure.

I will write more about adopting two children at the same time in the next post, but be aware that if you adopt two at the same time there is not a substantial savings.  Most of the fees will be doubled because all of the paperwork, visas, and donations still need to be paid for each child.  Your chief savings will be in not having to make a second trip.  Some agencies will offer a discount on their fee if you are adopting two at the same time, but not all.

Some links with resources on finding funds for adoption:

Other related questions to ask potential agencies:

  • Do you offer grants for waiting children?
  • Do you offer a returning client discount?  Military discount?
  • Are the grants automatic or is there an application process?
  • Do you partner with any organizations such as Brittany’s Hope?
  • If I have funds available through an organization such as Reece’s Rainbow or Adopt Together, will you count those towards our bill?  Do you charge a processing fee for the transfer of these funds?
  • Do you have a way for people to contribute directly toward our adoption costs?  Is there a fee associated with this?
  • If people contribute funds that are more than the amount owed to you, will you keep the extra funds or are those returned to us?
  • If I receive notice of a grant after my child is home which is paid directly to the agency, will that amount be refunded to us (since you’re already paid off the bill) or does the agency keep the grant money?

The Business Side of Large and Small Agencies

IMG_0641While people sometimes assume that “bad” agencies charge high fees and “good” agencies charge low fees because they only care about finding children homes, this view is missing the basics of how businesses are run.  Larger agencies often have higher fees because they have higher operating costs.  Supporting a dozen orphanages in China rather than only one is just one of many differences that can add to an agency’s operating cost.  A larger agency will often spend more than a smaller agency’s entire operating cost on humanitarian aid programs alone!

A larger agency will:

  • Have multiple offices in the United States (multiple buildings, staff, etc.)
  • Operate programs in five or more countries (adds travel to multiple countries)
  • Have in country offices in multiple countries (buildings, staff, taxes to multiple countries)
  • Operate aid programs in the countries where they have adoption programs (again requires more staff and travel)
  • Sometimes will continue to operate aid programs in countries where international adoptions have closed such as Guatemala or Cambodia.

Now maybe you’re thinking “That’s all well and good, but I can’t really afford to pay more in agency fees because they have to pay a lot of staff.  I’m all for donating to charity but I can donate money to my own charities after I have this adoption paid off!” That brings us back to deciding what is most important to you and choosing an agency based on that.  While humanitarian aid programs are an important factor to some people, it is by no means the highest priority for most families when choosing an agency.  

While you might think that smaller agencies would be less costly although a smaller agency might have lower fees, they end up with more profit per adoption than a larger agency with higher fees because of the higher operating costs for larger agencies.  One large agency told me that they actually lose money per adoption, but they are able to make up the difference because they have other sources of income such as investments, heritage camps, and major fundraiser activities.  These are all things which smaller agencies who operate on a much smaller profit margin don’t have the ability to use to offset their costs.  

Smaller agencies have their own problems when it comes to pricing.  Smaller agencies seem more likely to use the travel costs as a way to generate more income.  Since most people focus on whatever is labeled “agency fee” on the cost sheet, and because travel costs vary by time of year so much, it is easier hide some extra fees in that column.   As I wrote in the last post, larger agencies can use their travel groups to obtain group rates at hotels or with guide services.  Smaller agencies aren’t able to do this.  This is is a generalization that doesn’t hold true for all agencies however, so use the questions in the travel section to try and figure out if you will be facing unexpectedly high travel costs with an agency that seems to have lower fees overall.  One good question to ask to try and determine if the agency is padding the travel portion is “Will I be able to receive an itemized receipt for the travel costs?”

Why am I giving you this general information about operating costs?  Because there is a lot of money involved in international adoption.  When you’re running low on funds and feeling stressed it is very easy to feel that the agencies are all about the money.  Someone out there probably is getting rich off of adoption.  But for most agencies, big or small, the decrease in international adoptions paired with rising overseas costs means that they are doing all they can to stay in business.  Agencies can and do close and the reality is that they need to bring in some money in order to stay in the black.  You need to use your financial resources the best you can so that you can bring home your child, and similarly your agency needs to use their financial resources the best that they can so that they can continue to help children find families.

Other posts in this series:

Which comes first, the agency or the child?

Comparing Agencies

Special Adoption Situations

Comparing Agencies

When most people get started with an adoption from China they might choose Local Small Agency that is nearby or #1 China Agency that a friend who adopted raved about.  It isn’t until you get online later and maybe join a DTC group on Facebook that you start to realize how many differences there are between the various agencies.  As I’ve already said, there are many great agencies out there but let me tell you upfront that there is no perfect agency! You just have to decide which factors are the most important for you and live with the things you find annoying.

I was preparing to discuss the pros and cons of large versus small agencies but I found that people were telling me that they got personal attention and quick responses from a large agency or that a small agency really went to bat for them with the Chinese officials despite not having the connections or influence of a big agency.  I want to give you the tools you’ll need to find the agency that is the best fit for your family, independent of big versus small or name recognition.

I’m going to give you an almost overwhelming amount of information.  I suggest you:

  • Read through this massive series and decide which factors are most important to your family.
  • Then narrow down the agencies to three or four which are the best match for those important factors.
  • Contact the agencies and ask them questions.  I’ll give you plenty to ask so contact them a couple of times–both call and e-mail.  How quickly did they respond?  Did they give you vague answers or specific ones?  Did they ever act annoyed in any way with your questions?
  • Cross any agency off the list who didn’t return calls, acted insulted that you asked about finances, or wouldn’t give you a straight answer to any question.  Because an agency that doesn’t make a potential client a top priority is going to make even less effort when you’ve already given them money.
  • Choose the agency that you felt a connection to, or was the best match on your important factors.

 

Being Matched With Your Child 

IMG_1414Let’s get started with what is most important to everyone–getting a match!  Here is what you should consider if you are going the LID only route.  If you are wanting a young child (usually a girl) with minor needs then you will find an agency, complete your homestudy and send your dossier to China to wait for a match.  Your agency will find a match for you based on the date your dossier was submitted, so basically your place in line.  You might think that you’d get matched faster with a big agency because they get more files, or faster with a small agency because they have fewer families waiting in line.  Really, there is no way to know what the shortest wait is without asking some questions.  You don’t want to wait until you’ve already handed over a couple thousand dollars to your agency to realize that you’re looking at a 2 year wait for a referral while if you’d chosen a different agency you’d have been matched in under 6 months!  Most agencies have more young boys with minor needs than they can place so this is less of an issue for those who are open to a boy.

The most important question is–How long is your average wait for a match for a child that matches our profile?  Most agencies will tell you the wait from DTC, or the date your dossier is logged into China’s system.  One major agency will give you the wait based on when you submitted your medical needs checklist to them.  For most first time adopters, this will be when they send in their agency application, so about six months prior to being DTC.  That means that if that particular agency tells you that you should expect to wait 18 months from MCC to be matched, and another agency is telling you that you would wait about 12 months from DTC to be matched, then they would have a similar timeline.

Many agencies will be vague and say “We are able to match most of our couples within a few months of DTC.”  Do not be satisfied with this.  Ask specific questions:

  1. How many families do you currently have waiting to be matched?
  2. How many families do you usually match per month?
  3. What is the current wait time for a child with the profile that we are looking for?
  4. Will we be updated on changes in wait times, or told how many couples are ahead of us in the process?
  5. Do you have any partnerships?  If so, how many?
  6. Do you match from the shared list?

As I said in the previous post, these days it is important to chose an agency that has an agency partnership, and preferably at least two or three.  At the same time, some larger agencies match exclusively from their partnerships and will not check the shared list.  A recent informal poll in a facebook group found that over half of people who were matched within the past year were still matched with a file which came from the shared list.  There are plenty of orphanages without partnerships, so an agency which matches from both the shared list and partnerships will probably be your best bet.

If you are trying to find your child first, then you would want to ask How they match photolisting children with families?  You found a child you are interested in, and you want to view the file.  Maybe you aren’t the only one who are interested in the child.  There are three different methods that agencies use to decide which set of potential parents will end up with a child on a photolisting.

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 method 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.

After you are matched, you are going to want to share the news and keep updated with your child.  These questions aren’t as important, but you still might want to ask an agency:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  1. When can I share my child’s photo on social media?
  2. How often can I get an update?
  3. Is there any cost for an update?
  4. Can I send my child a care package?
  5. Can I use a third party vendor to send my child a cake or gift package?

 

Paperwork

Whether you are matched before you start the process or after you are DTC, there is still a mountain of paperwork that needs to be compiled before you get to bring that lovely child home.  Since international adoption paperwork involves county and state documents as well as documents which meet the standards of two different countries, you want to make sure you feel confident that your agency knows what they are doing.  Don’t be shy about asking how much experience your agency has.  While the China program has been around for over two decades now, other countries such as Guatemala, Russia, and Ethiopia have been the biggest placing countries for most of that time.  With two of those programs closed and Ethiopia slowed almost to a halt, more agencies are adding a China program as a way to keep their agency open.  Don’t assume that just because agency touts 20 years of experience in international adoption that they have been running a China program for all of that time.

People who are starting the process often feel more comfortable with an agency that does a lot of handholding but I think it really depends on how organized the parent is who will end up doing most of the paperwork.  Agencies really vary as to how much support they offer in compiling a dossier and completing other required forms.  Some will do all the paperwork for you and it’s included in the price, some will do the work for an extra fee, and some basically leave it up to you with little direction.  Once you have compiled the dossier your agency will review it and mail it to China, but the turnaround time on this will (everybody say it with me now) vary by agency.

I will discuss older adoption and adopting two unrelated children at once more in the final installment, but I wanted to mention that you should try to think ahead when your social worker is preparing your homestudy.  It is very common for people to have their homestudy written for a girl with minor needs under the age of two.  And then they decide to be open to a boy, or fall in love with a 4 year old girl, or decide to add a second child.  Any changes to your homestudy will involve getting a homestudy update and filing a supplement with USCIS, costing you hundreds of dollars.  You do not want to be out all of this money because you are approved only for “under two” and you accepted a referral who was 2 years and 2 months old.  Have your social worker write your homestudy as open-ended as possible.  Be approved for either gender, two children, and as old as your social worker is comfortable with.  This costs you nothing and makes no commitment on your part.

If you are approved for two and only adopt one, you might choose to reuse your dossier to adopt another child within a year.  In that case you can only do a homestudy update instead of an entire new homestudy which will save you time and money.  For more information on reusing your dossier, you can join this Facebook group.  If this is something you are interested in, ask your agency how quickly you can start the process again.  Some require you wait at least six months or longer before being another adoption.

If you are adopting a child who is in a life or death medical situation, or an aging out child, ask potential agencies how much experience they have with expedited adoptions.  Some are familiar with this and know all of the steps involved while others may not be aware this is an option.  Sometimes you will not be able to choose the agency, but if you join the China WARP speed adoption group then you will get the support you need walk your agency through the process.

The final consideration is how your agency will handle any problems which pop up on the China side of the paperwork.  I’ve talked to more than one person who said that when their LOA was delayed an excessively long time they were told by their agency that it probably indicated China felt there was a problem but the agency had been waiting it out because they really didn’t know what to do!  Some agencies have in country staff who can visit the CCCWA to check in on problems, but other agencies manage to find and fix problems even without in country staff.

Questions to ask about this part of the process:

  1. How long has your China program been running?
  2. About how many adoptions did you finalize last year in the China program?
  3. What support to do you offer in compiling the dossier?
  4. If the agency compiles the dossier is there an extra fee for this service?  Or can you get a discount if you do it yourself?
  5. How long does the the dossier review typically take?
  6. If you have all of the dossier but the I800a sent to the agency, will they review it in advance to save time?
  7. Are dossiers sent immediately or in batches?
  8. How will the agency notify you of your log in date?
  9. Will you be notified of things like “out of translation” or “in review” while you are waiting for your LOA?
  10. If your LOA wait is long, at what point will the agency check on it?
  11. Can they tell you of a time when a client had a problem and how they handled it?
  12. How will you be notified of LOA?
  13. Do you have any in country staff or offices?

 

Travel

The only thing which might possibly stir up stronger feelings than the Committee Decides method of placing a child would be . . . travel groups!  If the mere thought of a travel group is OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcausing your blood pressure to rise then cast your eyes on my soothing Forbidden City garden picture and remember that you do not have to work with an agency that requires travel groups.  But if you are here because you want to choose an agency to start your first adoption then it’s a safe bet that travel arrangements are the last thing you would think to ask about when you are choosing an agency.

So here’s the deal–you compile a dossier, you get matched with a child, after that long wait for the official letter from China saying that you are all set, then you are ready to hop on a plane.  But like anything else, agencies all do things different ways.  Some people can be on a plane two days after their Travel Approval arrives while others are stuck revising their packing list for another three weeks until the next time their agency sends a travel group.  I know it seems odd to be asking about travel when you are nowhere near that part of the process, but let’s look at the pros and cons of travel groups so you can figure out if you want to rule out an agency based on their travel rules.

Bring On The Travel Group!

  • Your agency will handle all or most of the travel arrangements.  You will be met at the airport and someone will help you check into your hotel.  If you haven’t traveled much or are concerned about traveling to China, you will welcome not having to worry about any of this!
  • By sending families in groups, agencies can secure group rates for hotels and guide services, keeping your travel cost lower than if you had booked everything individually.  Some agencies don’t send groups during the two annual trade fairs or the two weeks of Chinese New Year when travel costs double.
  • Similarly, by booking your airfare two or more weeks ahead, you will pay much less than those who buy tickets at the last minute.
  • Many people love the bonding aspect of travel groups.  You can swap Gotcha Day stories, ask advice from seasoned adoptive parents or be the parents who are helping out the overwhelmed new parents.  Some travel groups continue to have reunions years after they traveled.
  • When you realize you forgot to pack something, you can borrow the item from someone in your travel group or from the agency office (if available).
  • Some of the larger agencies have an in country office within the hotel they use in Guangzhou.  It can be very helpful to have them available for late night translations, to arrange a medical visit for a sick child, or to use the stockpile of donated medications and other items (sometimes strollers and inflatable mattresses even!) in their office.
  • Often people need time to schedule work and childcare so delaying travel for a little while due to a travel group schedule isn’t much of a problem and having fixed dates can sometimes help in the planning.

I Would Never Use An Agency That Requires A Travel Group!  Ever!

  • You are an experienced traveller and you like being able to book your own hotels and flights.
  • Agency travel groups will have everyone stay in the same 5 star hotel, and you would rather use a different hotel where you can use some of your travel points on for some free nights.  Or you want the freedom to stay in a 3 or 4 star hotel and save some money because you are a low maintenance traveler who isn’t intimidated by stories of strange smells and hard beds–it’s only two weeks, people!
  • You feel comfortable getting around on your own, and you like the idea of seeing the “real China” rather than spending a lot of time in touristy group activities.
  • While some agencies use travel groups to save money, others use the opportunity to make some money, requiring you to purchase an expensive “travel package” that costs much more than if you had done the booking yourself.
  • The biggest reason to avoid travel groups is that you can leave as soon as possible after you receive your Travel Approval.  This is what you’ve been waiting for and you want that baby in your arms ASAP!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProbably you had a gut reaction to one or the other of these while you were reading through, but there are still some questions you can ask to see if you can live with an agency’s travel requirements.  Even if you don’t care one way or the other you might find information on your specific agency’s policies helpful, for example knowing which hotel they use if you want to apply for a hotel affiliated credit card so you can start earning points. Some of these only apply to particular situations so only ask those that might apply to you:

  • Do you require we travel with a group?
  • How often do you schedule the groups?
  • Can I book my own in country travel arrangements?
  • If you don’t have parents travel in groups, will we be responsible for getting ourselves to and from the airport and various adoption related appointments?
  • Will I be able to travel during a trade fair or Chinese holiday if I don’t mind paying the additional travel expenses?
  • If I am adopting an aging out child or a child with a medical expedite will I still be required to wait for a travel group?
  • When is the typical length of time between TA and travel for your clients?
  • Am I required to stay at a particular hotel or work with a particular travel agency?
  • Can I stay at a hotel other than the one you use?
  • Can I use frequent flier miles or hotel points to save money on my travel expenses?
  • Are group trips to destinations such as the Great Wall or the Guangzhou zoo optional or required?  If I don’t attend will I still need to pay for it?
  • Do you allow one parent to travel alone?
  • Can we bring along our whole big family?  (My agency said “Sure!  We love it when the whole family goes!”)
  • Does your agency allow us to send the orphanage donation by electronic funds transfer?  Only a few do so this shouldn’t be a deal-breaker but it’s good to know because it’s never to early to start haunting your bank for new $100 bills.

Other posts in this series:

Which comes first, the agency or the child?

All About the Money 

Special Adoption Situations