Today we’re finishing our I’m Ready To Adopt series with the final post by Kelly – who blogs at Mine In China – on How To Choose An Agency. You can find links to the previous nine posts here. So grateful to Kelly for this insightful and well-researched series, such an excellent resource for adopting families!
Finding Your Priorities and Choosing Your Agency
In the last post we discussed how difficult it is to compare the costs between agencies. 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 compare. 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 what factors are most important to you 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.
It is probably difficult to remember all the issues which have been discussed in this series, so let me summarize the main factors to consider when comparing agencies. You might want take a moment to rank them in order of importance to help you in making your decision:
- How much an agency charges for the the adoption including grants they offer
- The ethics of an agency including how much humanitarian work they do
- How quickly you will be able to matched with a child
- The travel arrangements used by an agency
- The post-placement costs, requirements, and resources of an agency
Let me give you three examples of how this works out in practice. Unlike the post comparing program costs, these are not actual agencies, just composites of typical experiences.
Example 1: 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.
Example 2: 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. They don’t really do much humanitarian work outside of their orphanage partnerships, but that wasn’t really a priority for you. 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! 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! 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.
Example 3: 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. You especially love all the humanitarian work this agency does and their sterling ethical reputation. 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 each 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. If you have taken the time to talk to a few agencies and you’ve narrowed down the list, thinking about what the priorities are for your family will hopefully help you to make the final decision.
I know this series has provided an almost overwhelming amount of information. I suggest you take some time to:
1. Read through the 10-post series and decide which factors are most important to your family.
2. Narrow down the agencies to three or four which are the best match for those important factors.
3. Contact the agencies and ask questions. I’ve given you plenty to ask in this series 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?
4. Cross off the under-performers. Any agency on your list that didn’t return calls, acted insulted that you asked about finances, or wouldn’t give you a straight answer to any question doesn’t need to be on your list. 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.
5. Make the big decision. Choose the agency that you felt a connection to or seems most capable of meeting your prioritized needs. And know that there is no perfect answer – make your most well-educated decision and get on with your adoption journey!
Remember, there are many great agencies out there!
– photos by Stefanie