Thursday 27th of April 2017

How to select an agency for a China adoption

Disclaimer - This article represents the personal opinions of the author and should not be take to represent any official opinion of FCC or any of it's local groups. It is presented to give assistance to prospective adoptive families. It should not be taken as holy writ, it is intended to help families focus and organize what can be an intimidating and amorphous process.

I. Introduction

Selecting an adoption agency is in important and intensely personal part of the China adoption process. An adoption is a very stressful experience even under the best of circumstances, a good agency can help with the process and help keep the stress levels to a reasonable level. A bad agency can add to your stress levels by a factor of ten. So how does someone new to China adoptions choose a good agency and tell a good one from a bad one? The first thing to realize is that there is no objective best agency. The agency that is best for you will have both the objective skills to correctly help you through the complexities of the adoption process, and the personal fit between you as a prospective family and the particular people that you will be dealing with at that agency. Both of these factors are important in a good agency experience.

II. Collect General Information.

Before we talk about specific points to consider in selecting an agency a couple of general points. The best advice we got very early in the process is quite simple: "An adoption is one time in your life when you CANNOT be too educated or too organized." Reading this article is one part of the education process but should be only one of many. You should read many articles, several books including 'A Passage to the Heart, edited by Amy Klatzkin', and 'The Children Can't Wait', by Laura Cecere talk with parents who have completed China adoptions, take adoption classes, read extensively in this and other adoption related websites and otherwise become as educated as possible as soon as possible. The other facet is organization, an international adoption is a complex undertaking that requires you to deal with an adoption agency, county and state governments, the US government, and the China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA). Each organization needs certain documents prepared in a certain way to play their part in getting you your child. Spending the time and effort to keep things organized will make your life and the adoption process simpler and less stressful. All of this information will help you focus on the adoption process and the type of help that you will need to get through the process and reach you objective of a daughter or a son.

III. Choose Type of Agency.

Now back to choosing an adoption agency. By this time you should have taken a general adoption class and read enough so that you have a general understanding of the China adoption process. Next we will discuss some factors to consider in choosing an agency. These are my opinions, these are not 'gold standards', you may find an agency that fits none of these criteria but still will do a good job for you. However you may want to take a more stringent look at an agency outside of the listed parameters. There are three major components to consider in selecting an agency, these are technical competence, experience, and personal fit.

Technical competence is how well the agency knows and executes the administrative part of the China adoption process. This involves knowing what paperwork is needed in what format, what additional items are needed to comply with state and local laws, having good relations with CCAA, and having the experience to deal with problems. These parameters will be addressed in more detail in the Interviewing section later in this article.

A separate factor to consider is experience, which has two components, length of experience in China and number of adoptions per year. China adoptions were quite rare before 1990 and did not really start taking off until 1993-1995. Most of the China adoption programs were established in that time frame. An agency that did not start a program until the later 1990s was somewhat behind the curve and should be looked at more carefully. The second factor is yearly adoptions, a large national agency may do several hundred (or more) China adoptions per year. In contrast a small agency where China adoptions are not their area of focus may only have a few a year. In my personal opinion, an agency that is doing less than 20 or so China adoptions a year also deserves a higher level of scrutiny.

Personal fit means how well do you relate to the agency people that you will be dealing with on a regular basis for the next couple of years. This is just as important as technical competence in minimizing your stress levels. Do you feel you can trust them to answer your questions, are they good about giving you information about progress through the process, are they 'your type of folks'? If you are a conservative strongly religious person, you may not feel comfortable working with an agency run by free thinking liberals and visa versa. This 'feel' is very hard to describe on paper but it is important that you feel a level of comfort and trust with the agency that you select.

There are several axes of choices that you will need to make in narrowing the field from the many agencies with China adoption programs to the few that you will choose among. The first item to consider is a national agency versus a local agency. With a national agency you will dealing with agency people over the phone, by email, or US mail and seldom if ever will you actually see an agency representative in person. With a local agency, you can and will sit down with and talk to the agency personnel. A second axis to consider is a large versus small agency. A large agency may process hundreds of China adoptions a year and have a whole staff that just deals with China. A small agency may have only one or a few people that deal with all types of international adoptions. With a large agency you have to balance the experience with the likelihood of less personal interaction. A small agency will likely have a higher level of personal contact and knowledge that has to be balanced with a smaller staff that may be dealing with a number of countries, not just China. A third way of looking at the choices is a specialist versus general adoption agency. There are agencies that only deal with one or a few countries and other agencies that deal with many countries. A specialist agency will be likely to pay close attention to the few programs they have. On the other hand, a generalist agency will have many more options to choose from initially and in case for some reason a China adoption turns out not to be feasible for you.

IV. Make a list of agencies fitting your preferences.

After you have thought about these choices, you need to gather information to make the very long list of agencies that have China adoption programs into a short list of agencies that have the type of program that you think you will feel most comfortable with. There are many ways to locate information and your choices will affect how you search. If you are interested in local agencies, then your best sources are local ones. Look through the Yellow pages for adoption agencies and make a list, call and ask if they have China adoption programs. Many agencies, both local and national, have information sessions where they talk about their programs and have families who have adopted through them speak about their experiences. Join your local chapter of Families with Children from China (FCC) and go to as many events as possible. Talk to a lot of local families about their experiences with their agencies, you may get quite a different picture from the one presented at the agency information sessions or it may confirm your initial impressions.

Locating information about national agencies requires some different tactics. If you have email, join the Adoptive-Parents-China email listserver (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/a-parents-china) which will put you in contact with over 2500 pre- and post-adoptive families. This is a great resource if you are interested in regional or national agencies. When you first sign up, it is wise to read the traffic a lot and ask few questions until you get a feel for the community. There is a tremendous amount of information available on the internet (including this article), the FCC website (http://fwcc.org) is a good place to spend a lot of time looking and reading. In addition, it has links to the websites of over a hundred local, regional and national adoption agencies that have China adoption programs.

If you are not initially sure which type of agency is right for you, it is a good idea to collect information from a variety of types of agencies. As you see their information sessions and get information from them, you are likely to find that you prefer a specific type of agencies. Agencies expect to send out a good number of information packets for each family that chooses to work with them.

When you have identified 10-20 agencies that seem to fit your criteria, write to them to get their information packets concerning China adoptions. These will give you information several different ways. First, these will continue your education about the China adoption process. Second, you will see if the agency selects and presents information in a way that communicates clearly to you. Third, you will see if the agency can deal with simple requests in a timely manner. Few things are more irritating than having to wait weeks for an agency to perform a simple task.

After all of the information is in, look at it carefully and in detail. You will likely find that only some of these agencies seem to be the better ones. These should go on your short list. You should try to pare your list down to a half a dozen or so to go into the next phase of the process.

V. Interview agencies

The next task is for you to interview agencies. The agency that you choose is your employee and skilled agent for the adoption process. You should interview them just as you would a child-care provider. If they are local agencies, you can make an appointment with their China adoption person. State up front that you are interviewing agencies and let them decide who is the best person to speak with you. On the other hand if you are dealing with out-of town agencies, the interview will have to be by phone. You may wish to make up a list of questions to ask all agencies. Be sure to make written notes at the time of the interview or immediately after. This process will last over several weeks at best and agencies may well tend to run together in your memory. Written notes can be invaluable in making a good choice.

The interview is prime time to learn two different things, how comfortable you are with the agency and the knowledge and competence of the agency.

The comfort factor is really a 'feel' thing. An agency may be first class but if you don't feel comfortable and confident with them, then they are not the right agency for you. The agency will be working with you through a complex and stressful process. It is important that you feel that you can trust the answers that they give you. They are your only window into China and you must be confident that you are looking through clear glass and not something from the carnival fun house.

There are several clues that can inform you about the knowledge and competence of the agency.

The first is their general knowledge of the China adoption process. Do they clearly explain the process and the time frames involved? Since you have done your homework, you should be somewhat familiar with this already. Do they know the China adoption process? We eliminated one agency when we ended explaining to their 'international coordinator' how the China adoption process worked.

Do they have a coordinator in China or do agency personnel periodically visit CCAA in Beijing? Agencies that answer yes to this question will have better contacts in CCAA in case there are unexpected problems that must be dealt with.

The Adoption Law in China changed in August 2001, are the agency people familiar with the changes and how they may affect your specific situation? An agency that is not familiar with these changes is not well informed and up to date.

Are they honest and up front about the costs involved, and do they clearly explain their fees, what is covered and what is not. Any agency that quotes you total costs over $20,000 for the entire process including all travel, fees and everything should be looked at very carefully. The costs may well be perfectly justified but this is clearly the full service end of the spectrum. In contrast any agency quoting you much less than $15,000 also needs careful examination. This is the budget end and you will be expected to do a lot more work on your own. You need to be clear what the agency will do and what you are expected to do as part of the adoption process.

Do they offer specific guarantees about age, gender or health of the child? Do they state that they can get a child significantly faster than is usual? These are clear warning signs of an agency that is less than honest. With China adoptions, you will probably get a healthy baby girl around 1 year of age. But you could get a healthy boy that is nearly two, this happened in my travel group to a family expecting the 'standard' baby girl. There are no guarantees in China or any other international adoptions and an agency telling you otherwise is less than honest.

A very important indicator is references, does the agency have families that have recently been through their China program that you can speak with? Most agencies can arrange this even if they do not have a formal program. An agency that refuses to do this may well have some dissatisfied customers that they are trying to hide. This is a clear danger sign.

When you have completed all your interviews it is time to rank your choices and make a decision. However, if you are not comfortable with any of your choices, you may need to re-evaluate your basic criteria. It is much better to go back and collect more information and do more agency interviews than to sign up with an agency that you are not really comfortable with.

VI. Make a final decision

When you have completed the process, you will find that one or a very few agencies stand out from the crowd. These are your finalists, you should rank them, thinking about strengths and weaknesses of each of these finalists. No agency is perfect and strong in all areas, but you want to choose one that is strong in the areas that are important to you. When you have made your ranking, then put all the paperwork away and take a vacation from the adoption process for a week or two. If your choice still seems right to you then you are ready for the next step.

If you are not comfortable with your choices, you may wish to go back and investigate some other agencies in more detail. You may start out thinking that a national agency is better for you, however in dealing with them in the interview phase, you may find that you are not comfortable dealing with people you never see. In this case, you should go back and look at some local agencies. It is better to spend a few weeks of extra research so that you can make the best choice for you as a family.

VII. Fill out the application starting the paperwork to bring your child home.

The next step is to fill out your application for the agency, write that check and formally start the journey that will bring a child home to be a part of your family forever.


© 1999 by James L. Weaver. All rights reserved. For information on reprinting this article contact the author at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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