adopting SN step one: choosing an agency

Often I am asked, “How do I get started? We have decided we want to adopt a child from China through the special needs program, but what do we do next?”

So, although I am definitely no expert, I offer my best effort in answering that very question.

The entire China program (NSN and SN) has certain requirements for all adoptive families, based on a set of guidelines set forth by the CCAA. Most of these rules are non-negotiable, as in the CCAA will not even consider a family if they do not fit within the guidelines. But some of these rules are flexible, especially within the context of the special needs program. So if you don’t meet every rule set forth by the CCAA, you should still contact several agencies to ask their stance on a particular rule. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Here is a list of rules, set forth by the CCAA in 2007, that currently applies to all PAPs:

  1. Both adopting parents must be at least 30 years of age and less than 50 years of age.
  2. BUT, for the Waiting Child Program, both adopting parents must be between at least 30 years of age and less than 55 years of age.
  3. Each parent must have graduated from high school.
  4. A couple must be married for at least 2 years. If either parent has been divorced, you must be married for five years. You may have no more than two prior marriages each.
  5. You must be financially stable, with an annual income that exceeds $10,000 per household member (including the child you plan to adopt).
  6. You must have a net worth of at least $80,000.
  7. Families with fewer than 5 children at home are permitted to adopt. BUT, families with 5 or more children in the home are eligible for the Waiting Children Program. The youngest child in the home must be at least 1 year old.
  8. Neither parent can have a criminal history with severe outcomes no less than 10 years ago. No history of alcohol abuse unless it occurred more than 10 years ago.
  9. Both parents must be healthy, without evidence of any mental or physical illness that will affect their life span or ability to parent in any way, including conditions that require permanent medical treatment or medication. No medication for depression or anxiety for the past two years will be allowed. No history of cancer at all will be accepted.
  10. Adopting Parents must have a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 40.

Beyond the rules set forth by the CCAA, each agency can interpret the program how they see fit. It’s quite surprising how one agency can vary from another to another. That’s one (of many!) things that surprised us once we were on the ‘other side’ and had already brought our first daughter home: all agencies are NOT alike.

After reviewing the guidelines and establishing that you do, indeed, qualify for the China program, I recommend you sit down and make some calls. A list of agencies that participate in the SN China program can be found on our Agencies page. Many adoptive parents either don’t know or don’t take the time to call around, I didn’t do this our first time around, and I think it’s a very foolish mistake. Agencies vary WIDELY, and it is foolish to assume anything, especially when you’re talking about things as important as wait time for referral and expense.

So, you’re ready to sit down and make calls. Have a list ready. Be sure to cover the basics:

estimated time until referral?
number of families currently waiting to recieve a referral?
how they ‘assign’ children to families?
do they have access to the shared list as well as an individual list?

Of course, feel free to add your own questions, but be sure to cover those, most basic, questions. Write everything down and organize your notes so you can compare one agency to another. Also, note the following: were able to get someone on the phone quickly? Were they polite and at least attempted to answer all your questions? Did you feel rushed or unimportant? If you weren’t crazy about your initial contact with an agency, you might want to consider crossing them off your list. What you see is often what you get.

Know that there is no ‘best’ agency in the China adoption world. And that’s truly a good thing. Some agencies excel at hand-holding, some are less expensive and some have a very short, or non-existent wait list for a referral. But there are many good agencies. Plenty of agencies to fulfill all the needs of the families who want to adopt.

Just be sure you are aware of the good and bad points of that agency, before you commit. Are you willing to wait longer for a referral? Is $ an issue for your family? Are you comfortable using an agency that does less hand holding than others?

So again, I recommend you do your research. Decide for yourself based on your list of priorities and desires. Don’t just take your cousin’s sister’s advice on which agency is best, do the legwork for yourself. Ask questions. Be informed. You’ll be so glad you did.

Once you’ve settled on an agency, applied and been accepted, then the real work begins.

But that’s a whole ‘nother post :)

Giveaway Winner!

This weeks Giveaway winner is The Womble Times!

Head on over to and pick out a tee. Then email with your design choice, fit, size as well as your mailing address.

If you would like to get in on the action too, become a follower of the No Hands But Ours blog, and you will be entered for a chance to win a tee from Wild Olive tees. We will draw another winner next Saturday!


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FTIA, a well-respected adoption agency, has recently made public their individual list of waiting children from China.

Visit here to learn more.

Whatever Wednesday

Each Wednesday we post links from the previous week that touch on special needs adoption. Our hope is that these small snapshots provide you with a glimpse of life after adopting through China’s waiting child program… both the long-term blessings and the challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. We also hope to raise awareness about a variety of special needs.

Literally One More Stepadoptive momma (Russia, Ukraine and Siberia) Christine at Smiles & Trials… photos and a description of her son’s recent casting for his ankle foot orthotics (AFOs)

Shriners and So Much Moreadoptive momma (China) Tami at Sea Glass & Jade… a recent visit to Shriners Hospital fosters a special connection between two girls

Response to Yesterday’s Commentsadoptive momma (China) Rumor Queen at China Adopt Talk… navigating the world of speech therapy

A Young Man’s Testimony to Suffering and the Sovereignty of GodJoe Eaton, an adult who copes daily with disability, at the volunteer disability ministry blog The Works of God… Eaton explores Scripturally why God allows disability and suffering

She’s Very Albino, Isn’t She?

Why, yes. Yes, she is.

Or should I have said, “What would make you say that?”

Or maybe, “And you’re very rude, aren’t you?”

Only the person who asked the question isn’t rude. She’s Sassy’s jazz teacher, and she’s a very nice person. So, imagine my surprise when I walked into the dance studio last weekend, and she looked at Cheeky (who she has seen many, many times in the past three months) and said, “She’s very albino, isn’t she?”

Three-hundred responses jumbled around in my head. The first….No, she’s not. She was born with albinism, and she’s very human and very beautiful. The last something along the lines of…..What would make you say such a rude and thoughtless thing?

Both girls were standing beside me, waiting for my response. Sassy looked like a deer in the headlights, her big blue eyes wide with surprise, and Cheeky was burrowing closer to my side (as she always does when people comment on her looks). So, I had to say something.

And what I really wanted to do was correct the terminology, remind the teacher that Cheeky was no different than anyone else, explain that it just isn’t PC to use “albino” to describe a person and, above all, tell her that Cheeky understood every word she was saying and that it really wasn’t very nice to point out other people’s differences.

But I held back because the girls were watching and because the world won’t always be kind. We all have to face thoughtless comments and rudeness at times, and it is our reactions and responses that make us strong. Being upset and unhappy and rude wouldn’t have accomplished anything, and (as I’ve said before) why should I be defensive about my sweet girl?

Finally, I smiled and put my hand on Cheeky’s white hair and said, “She’s very beautiful and very unique.”

And Sheri (who works in the office and has heard me field many questions about adoption and Cheeky) called out from her place at the desk, “She really is. All that gorgeous white hair and those beautiful blue eyes. Both your girls are gorgeous.”

And both my girls preened as the jazz teacher agreed that they were, indeed, stunning.

They are beautiful, my girls, but there is no denying Cheeky’s uniqueness. She is a white rose in a field of sunflowers. She is a single white cloud in an azure blue sky. She is the brightest of stars in the pitch-black night. People cannot help that their eyes are drawn to her.

She will learn how to respond to that by watching me. I am the mirror in which my daughter sees herself, and I am the person she looks to for reassurance when others try to define who she is by the way she looks. It is my privelege and my joy to guide her as she learns to embrace her God-given uniquness, and I pray each day for the ability to be as gracious as I want my Cheeky to be.

Some days, I think I am getting it just right.

Some days, I think I am failing abysmally.

Mostly, though, I simply acknowledge that I can only do my best.

That, I think, is all God asks of me.

Wild Olive winner week #3!

It’s Saturday.

You know what that means…

a new Wild Olive winner!

Congratulations to Sara at Football and Fried Rice!

Email me at and let me know what Wild Olive Tee you’d like!

We will be giving away two more tees over the next two weeks, so there is still plenty of time to win!

Wild Olive Tees

Visit the Wild Olive blog for some new holiday buttons, too :)

Kids need to find families now

Please visit our Children Who Wait page, there are several little ones who must find homes quickly.

$2500 grants are available to qualified families.

Whatever Wednesday

Each Wednesday we post links from the previous week that touch on special needs adoption. Our hope is that these small snapshots provide you with a glimpse of life after adopting through China’s waiting child program… both the long-term blessings and the challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. We also hope to raise awareness about a variety of special needs.

not so well-roundedadoptive (foster care; waiting to adopt from Haiti) and bio momma Kristen at rage against the minivan… about her daughter’s plagiocephaly

Laser Treatmentadoptive momma (China) Monica at Journey With Reese… detailing her daughter’s eleventh laser treatment on her face and third laser treatment on her leg for birthmarks (port-wine stains)

Birthday Realitiesadoptive momma (China) Nicole at The Baker Sweets… looking back at the time of adoption and first few months home, a momma realizes her son’s dire need for more support than the orphanage could provide

The Spina Bifida Clinic adoptive momma (Russia, Siberia and Ukraine) Christine at Smiles & Trials… a synopsis of their recent visit to the spina bifida clinic

what it isn’t
adoptive momma (China) Stefanie at Ni Hao Y’all… celebrating the results of some tests, even though they still don’t know the cause of their son’s failure to thrive diagnosis

Great News for Families Adopting HIV+ Childrenadoptive momma (Ethiopia) Lisa at A Bushel and a Peck… President Obama just announced the end of the 22 year ban on travel for HIV+ people wanting to enter the United States

Healing a Tiny Broken Heart
adoptive momma (China) Karin at Our Treasures from Afar… the story of their daughter’s heart surgery, in Singapore, before they adopted her

Say Ahhhhhmomma to a child with special needs Deborah at the group blog 5 Minutes for Special Needs… rules to live by when dealing with medical treatments for a child with special needs

1 out of 1361

One thousand three hundred and sixty-one days ago, we saw our our daughter, Madeline, for the very first time. She was a grainy image on a fax we’d received from our agency and we were only seeing her photo this early because she was “special need”. Five months earlier, we’d adopted a NSN baby girl from China and learned through our travel mates about China’s SN program. At that moment, two things happened:

  1. We realized that everything we assumed we knew about SN kids was wrong.
  2. We knew our next child would come from our agency’s SN list.

I know that sounds painfully simple and it really was. When I called our agency five months after bringing our first daughter home, they told me about the child who would be our 2nd daughter. The rest, as they say, is history.

I realize procedures and time lines are different today but I’m pretty sure one thing isn’t: The kids.

Our daughter is a normal child. She not physically or emotionally perfect but neither are we (or any of our other so-called “non special needs” kids). In the last 1361 days, there has only been one day that her special needs were the dominant driving force in our life and that was the day we had her cleft palate repaired.

Here’s a synopsis of that day:


I’ve had lots of trouble coming up with my first post here because I just don’t think about my kids in terms in their SN’s.

Only one of our kids is “technically” SN but all of our kids could be. Our bio son had a undescended testicle until age 5 and that’s a common SN in China. He also had febrile seizures until age 3 and that’s another SN. But he’s 21 and totally healthy now.

I was a 3 pound preemie and I had (and still have) a small red birthmark (an hemangioma) on my head under all my hair. Either of those issues would have landed me on a SN list.

Gwen, our technically NSN child, has severe food aversions and still won’t eat anything that doesn’t completely dissolve in her mouth. Not a day goes by that I don’t have to make a special accommodation for her or worry about her food “issues”.

In contrast, we don’t even think about Maddy’s SN it at all. I’m not even sure if it’s okay to say that because there are some SN’s that are much more serious or difficult to casually overlook and I’d never want to say anything that minimizes the significance of what day-to-day life is like in any of those richly blessed families. Our situation is merely different in that it’s not really different at all. We just don’t notice that we have a SN child until it’s time to write a story for this site or until we realize that our LID for Maddy was 5/25/06 and we’d still be YEARS away from her referral were it not for the fact that she had that totally insignificant little fissure in the roof of her mouth. Something we weren’t even sure we needed to fix but easily fixed in just one day.

One day out of 1361.

(The rest of our story is unfolding, day by day, on our family blog: Double Happiness)



Some of you might know me from my personal blog, Ni Hao Y’all. But I am sure many more of you do not. So a quick run down is in order, lest there be some confusion as I share my story.

Our story.

My husband and I met in 1997, each having endured a failed first marriage. I had two children, Victoria and Zach, from my previous marriage, and when Chris and I married in 1998, he became a husband and a father to two in one fell swoop. We spoke in the months that followed about how we might grow our family. Interestingly, not one of these conversations included the word “adoption”. And most certainly not the word “China”. Oh, how God must have been smiling on us as we wrangled with the questions, “Should we have any more kids? Or are we all set with two?” We vacillated between the two scenarios for months, one of us having the opposite opinion from the other every time we sat down to discuss it. God ended the decision making process when I found out I was pregnant… needless to say we were both overjoyed. Fast forward several years and we were again having this same discussion. Around we went and we decided, yes, we wanted just one more child. A pregnancy followed. Which was followed very shortly by a vasectomy.

Whew. Life of toting little ones around, getting up to cries in the night, hauling diaper bags and wrastling humongous car seats is almost in our rear view mirror… we’ve got an open road of freedom just around the bend.

Or so we thought.

Somewhere around the time that our youngest child was born, I was saved. I found the answers I sought to life’s most haunting questions in the form of my Savior. Jesus. As my relationship with Him grew, I prayed a simple prayer. It took me months to garner the strength to not only pray the prayer, but to truly mean the words contained in the prayer. I prayed that God would have His way in my life. That I would surrender my dreams, my hopes, my desires and lay those aside for His dreams, His desires and His hopes for my life. That He would use me as His instrument to fulfill His will in this world.

I had absolutely no idea how that prayer would affect my life, and how it continues to affect my life: the life He has for me.

In the summer of 2004, my youngest was 2, my oldest was 14, with a 9 and 4 year old in between. One ordinary day, my husband came to me with hands trembling. He was afraid to tell me what he had to tell me, he said. But he’d already waited three difficult weeks and he couldn’t wait any longer. He wanted me to sit down.

A million thoughts went through my head. But nothing could have prepared for me for his words: “God told me we have a daughter waiting for us in China.” I was stunned, shocked and completely without words. My first thoughts focused on my kids, their future, their needs. How could we add to our brood and protect them from this… this outsider? I didn’t see how it was possible, it was certainly not in their best interest to have to share their parents, their home, their lives with a complete and total stranger.

Less than 24 hours later, following some serious internet research, my heart had turned 180 degrees. The need was suddenly so real. The reality that we could make all the difference for one child was so hauntingly clear. My eyes had been shut tight and were now wide open. The cloud of selfishness surrounding my initial reaction was blown away by the almost tangible reminder of God’s goodness and love to me, in my time of sorrow and loneliness.

The journey that began that day still continues. We took a different path than we had anticipated and we continue to be amazed, blessed and surprised by the beauty of this not-so-typical journey. We have brought home four children from China, all labeled “special needs”. And one more little one with special needs waits for us in China, hopefully coming home before the end of the year. Our hearts have gone from wanting to make a difference for one to being passionately driven to make a difference for many. We sponsor children in foster care, we give to charities that work with special needs children, we pray nightly for orphans in China. But in our hearts, that’s just not enough. It’s not all we can do.

To be sure, we didn’t set out on a rescue mission to ‘save’ an orphan in China. We set out to bring home our children. Who just happened to be halfway around the world. God, in His infinite wisdom, buried a deep and abiding love in our heart for these children, our children, and it was and is that love that motivates us to keep on when the world would have us stop. And when life gets crazy. And when we get weary.

During each adoption, we have assumed that this would, indeed, be the final addition to our family. But then God gently reminds us, this is not about us. It’s about Him. And what is near and dear to His heart. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that God hears the cries of the fatherless, that He knows every tear that is shed by a child who longs for a family. And to Him, each one matters. Every single one. So, while the fact that we have adopted (almost) five children from China might be a drop in the bucket in terms of the number of orphans worldwide, in God’s economy, it’s five children who won’t ever go to bed frightened, or cry alone over heartbreak, or endure a life without the hope of Christ, again.

So when people ask me, “why?” in response to the fact that our family is adopting again, I wish I could take them by the hand, and spend just one day in China. In an orphanage, where the sound of a baby crying goes completely unnoticed. Where children have flattened, hairless patches on their heads from laying in the same position in their metal cribs day after day, week after week. Where children get sick and die routinely, without anyone shedding a tear, without anyone to hold them as they draw their final breath.

Then I would take them to our home, which is nothing spectacular, but is indeed filled with love, and ask them to look into the faces of our children. The one who came to us with a hole in her heart and sensory issues so severe should could barely tolerate touch on her hands. And the one whose feet were so twisted, his ankles were bruised from trying to stand. And the one who came to us so delayed, it took him months to even begin to come out of his thick, fear-filled shell.

And then, I doubt an answer to “why?” would be necessary.