Today we’re back with our I’m Ready To Adopt series with the eighth 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 posts here.
If you have stayed with me through this series it is likely that by now your eyes are glazing over. 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 and the next few posts in the series will cover several financial aspects to consider when choosing an agency.
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:
- 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, which are standard expenses for any adoption from China, 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 of how agencies vary in fees: 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 12 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 shop around if you have that option.
China currently requires that you submit post-placement reports for five years following an adoption. Unfortunately, some parents are less motivated to complete this paperwork once their child is home. When an agency consistently has parents who 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 which means that sometimes you will get hit with double deposits. 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 policies because this can turn a small price difference into a large one.
Here are some questions to ask potential agencies about this part of the adoption process:
- Does the agency require a post-placement report 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 that covers all of the reports or a fee per visit for translation and submission of the reports?
- How much does the homestudy agency charge per post-placement visit?
- Does your agency require that all post-placement reports be written by a social worker or will you be able to self-report the ones allowable by China? Now that China allows some reports to be completed by the parents you can save the cost of the social worker’s visit if your agency allows this, which almost all do.
While you are asking these post placement questions, it’s a great time to ask potential agencies what resources they offer during that time. If you are struggling with attachment or other issues once home, how will they help? Some larger agencies also offer to keep copies of important adoption documents for you in case yours get lost or destroyed in a fire. Many offer camps for adoptees or heritage tours as well which you might find beneficial as your child grows older.
Next week, Kelly covers grants, fundraising, and understanding the business side of agencies.
– photos by Stefanie