Today we’re back with our I’m Ready To Adopt series with the fifth in a 10 post mini-series by Kelly – who blogs at Mine In China – on How To Choose An Agency. You can find links to the previous four posts here.
Now that we have discussed the different types of files, you probably know whether you want to choose an agency first or whether you want to find a waiting child and use their agency. There are still many different issues to consider when you are comparing agencies, so now we’re going to discuss some of those variables.
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. There are many great agencies out there but let me tell you upfront that there is no perfect agency! You will 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 when I polled adoptive parents 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.
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 an agency has 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 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 (everybody say it with me now) will vary by agency.
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 (the letter which China sends approving your match to a child) 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 a potential agency:
- How long has your China program been running?
- About how many adoptions did you finalize last year in the China program?
- What support to do you offer in compiling the dossier?
- 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?
- How long does the the dossier review typically take?
- If you have all of the dossier except the I800a sent to the agency, will they review it in advance to save time?
- Are dossiers sent immediately or in weekly batches?
- How will the agency notify you of your log in date?
- Will you be notified of things like “out of translation” or “in review” while you are waiting for your LOA?
- If your LOA wait is long, at what point will the agency check on it?
- Can they tell you of a time when a client had a problem and how they handled it?
- How will you be notified of LOA?
- Do you have any in country staff or offices?
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:
- When can I share my child’s photo on my blog or social media?
- How often can I get an update?
- Is there any cost for an update?
- Can I send my child a care package?
- Can I use a third party vendor to send my child a cake or gift package?
I know this seems like a lot of questions, but I’m only getting started! In the next post we will talk about how to find out in advance if your family is a good fit for a potential agency. Then we will discuss travel arrangements and financial considerations.
— photos by Stefanie