RainbowKids, Martha Osborne and the Shared List

August 6, 2016 Advocacy, CCAI, Gladney, Holt, Lifeline, RainbowKids, referral, shared list, special focus, Stefanie 0 Comments

We recently had an opportunity to talk with Martha Osborne, founder of RainbowKids, and ask her some questions about RainbowKids, the recent changes in the Shared List and the impact of those changes on China’s special needs program.



Q: Can you tell us more about Rainbow Kids – how did it get started?

Our About Us page tells a little bit and has a video as well.

RainbowKids began with our family. We set out to add a daughter to our our family of three boys in 1995. At that time, the internet was new. Bright and shiny, some people had an email address that ended in “@aol.com”… but most people actually didn’t even have an email address.

There were two… two websites that existed about adoption. One was an agency website, and one a very commercial domestic adoption website. No blogs, no chat rooms, no advocates, facebook, or other social media. And absolutely no one speaking out specifically for special needs kids. It was difficult to gather the information; to find resources about which countries were open to adoption, qualifications to adopt, to understand the process and connect with other families.

As a natural researcher, I set up a system of gathering adoption information, creating spreadsheets, and listing resources and contacts. Once our paperwork was complete, I found myself with stacks of information that we no longer needed. And I wondered, “Why must it be so difficult to learn about adoption?”

As an adoptee myself, I found these roadblocks frustrating. How many children were not being adopted because the system was so difficult to navigate? Looking at the information I had gathered together, I decided that I would teach myself HTML and build a website that could help other families find information on adoption easily. I’d put all the information that I had online. RainbowKids began as a project while we waited to be matched with a child. No grand plan, no dream of devoting my life to adoption.

And so, in May of 1996, 20 years ago, a little website went online. I shared stories from a local online forum called the APC list (Adopt-Parents-China). I added other countries’ requirements and created an area about all the countries families could adopt from. And for a few short months, that is what RainbowKids was all about: teaching families how to adopt. Encouraging by sharing with one another.

And then I received an email from an adoption agency. They praised the idea of a central resource, and then asked if I would put an article online about a sibling set in Vietnam who needed a family. An older sibling set. Remember, we had even adopted a child yet. This was new. Older kids? At that time, all anyone ever heard about was infants. Healthy infant girls in China, healthy infants in Korea, healthy infants in Russia. But older kids? Vietnam?

I thought, “Okay.”

And within one day of that article going online, a family stepped forward to commit to adopting these “older kids”. I think they were about five and seven years of age. So the agency worker, who would become the ethical driving force and my mentor over the years in developing a waiting child area on RK, asked me again if I would feature another child. A child missing her legs. And I thought, “Oh my. No way will this child find a family.” Remember, families were adopting healthy kids… healthy babies under a year.

This was a four year old girl in Russia without legs. I believed, without a second thought, it was impossible. And it took less than a week. She was matched. A doctor and her husband wanted to adopt this sweet girl.

And that’s when it hit me. I was not the one who decided who could or could not find a family. I was simply tasked to be a vehicle. God would do the rest.

When our referral from China came in December or 1995, we received a blurry photo and two lines of medical/social info on our twelve month old daughter. We had 24 hours to accept the referral. If we did not, she would not be referred out again. That is how the process worked at that time. She was perfect… to us. To the world she was classified as “medically special needs”. She would require multiple surgeries, and would become the center of our world.

Our journey in May of 1996 to China to adopt our first daughter was eye opening. Anyone who has spent time in an orphanage learns things that words cannot express. I learned that there are warehouses for children in the world. And I learned that my soul cannot accept that reality.

Our second daughter was a RainbowKid. One of the first children to appear on our new Waiting Child area, launched in 1996, she did not easily find a home. And so, she joined us from her institution in South Korea. Her older sister came home a year later, in 1998 at the age of nine years, another RainbowKid.

It seemed we would be adopting one child per year if I was kept in charge of uploading each waiting child myself, and so, with the help of my technological stepson, an admin area for agencies was developed. Agencies could now upload their agency information, country programs, waiting children, and events.

Our fourth daughter joined us in January of 2001 from China, and our fifth later that same year. Our children came out of birth order, “twinned”, with undiagnosed conditions, all classified as special needs, and remain today the joys and blessings of our lives. They are now ages 17, 20, 21, 23, and 26. They have defied every limitation others have put on them. They love and serve their communities, God, our country, and their family.

Q: How long has RainbowKids been running?

RainbowKids celebrated 20 years online in May of this year. We have helped in the placement of over 40,000 children and exclusively dedicate our service for those children who are non-infants and labeled as special needs, older, or part of a sibling group.

Q: How do agencies go about listing children?

A Hague-approved agency (if joining as an international agency, we also have a few domestic agencies with foster-adopt programs), having been in business for three or more years, may join our Agency Program. Our Agency Program is all-inclusive and allows agencies to list a profile, their agency programs, upload articles, list events, and use an Agency Admin area to upload waiting children. A Terms of Service requires agencies to not list a child’s real name, the country of their origin, their real birthdate, and to only list information on a child that is general (no explicit medical photos, no traumatic past details).

Q: Is there a fee that agencies must pay to list children?

We have an agency program. Half of our agencies do not list children. We have a low, lower than you can imagine, fee for agencies to join our Agency Program. It’s one fee. No additions, no up-sell, RK has never advertised or sought out an agency. We don’t use Google, or other methods to try to reach families or agencies. We do our thing. There’s one fee. You pay to list your agency, programs, events, countries and upload interesting articles (we have a volunteer content manager to schedule articles, and deny them as well). And list waiting children. But no extra fee for listing kids.

RK isn’t about China. We work to advocate for countries like Poland and Colombia who do not allow photolisting, but have so many waiting kids. It is hard work to advocate for these kids and takes up the majority of our time in advocacy.

I think sometimes passionate advocates lose track of us all being on the same page. It’s exhausting work to advocate for kids who have so little chance of finding a family…

Q: Is the number of agencies that post to Rainbow Kids limited?

No, but adding an agency takes time. If an agency approaches us (again, we do not advertise), we need to check out their licensing, research their programs. But we are not a “watchdog”. We confirm their Hague status, programs, Google their board members. Adding a new agency isn’t something we do frequently. Most agencies have been with us for over a decade.

Q: Can you tell us more about your recent trip to China and your visit with the CCCWA?

As my children have grown older, I’ve welcomed the opportunity to travel and update my knowledge of the state of children’s care throughout the world. RK works to place vulnerable children from many nations. This year I traveled with four agencies, on two trips, to Colombia, meeting the most amazing sibling groups and older children living in institutions and foster care. Part of that trip was meeting with Colombia officials and explaining the complicated ethics around photolisting, and social-media advocacy.

My interest in China’s new programs centered around families traveling to do “camps”… my ethical questions around this practice led one agency to invite me to participate in their first Advocacy Camp. I traveled with this agency earlier this year, and during the last part of that trip, received an invitation to meet with the CCCWA. To be honest, it was an honor to be invited. I have never met with the CCCWA, and it was a gift to visit with them and share photos of our daughters whom China has so generously entrusted to us.

Our conversation was general, centered around RainbowKids. I was told that many agencies and families have shared that RK has been of great use to them in advocacy and finding children. And I was asked specific questions about how RK works: Do we charge families to view children? No. Are agencies who list many children charged more than agencies who list few or no children? No. Do we allow social medial in this way or that way? Do we mainly focus on older and special needs children? Yes, exclusively. Do we work directly with families? No. And other easily answered questions… we met for perhaps 20 minutes.

I was not asked my opinion about the Shared List, I was not invited to share my ideas, nor did I expect to be consulted. The Shared List didn’t directly come up in the conversation. Only general mention of the many programs that the CCCWA was using to help find families for the same types of children that we feature on RainbowKids.


Q: What came of your visit with the CCCWA? Was anything immediately resulting or did they take some time before implementing and announcing their their new plan?

The first that I heard about this new program was an email from an agency while I was traveling for another project. A short email asking if that agency could arrange a phone call. I replied that I would get back to them in a week. A couple of days later, I received an email from a different agency asking if they could speak to me about “this new China program with RK“. And that got my attention.

Do you want to know the truth? This project was a big surprise to the agencies that others are saying were “chosen”. I haven’t actually seen the email agencies received informing them of the project, as we all hit the ground running and perplexed for about 10 days. As of today, this new program still does not even have a name. Some are calling it FSL (Former Shared List). That’s how new it is. RainbowKids isn’t in the loop directly with the CCCWA.

RainbowKids is a platform. We are honored that the CCCWA is allowing us to be a part of this project, and I remain open to suggestions from advocates. I’ve heard from others asking that we add specific special needs, and I’ve responded within 24 hours. We’ve added twelve in the last week. I’ve heard that RK is harder to use in it’s newest version, but no suggestions about how to make it easier. I’m open to working with any and all who can be specific and collaborative. I can be reached via email here.

Q: Did you discuss with the CCCWA which agencies you’d recommend for this new shared list concept? If not, do you know how they chose the four agencies that they did?

Absolutely not. I was not part of the CCCWA’s design of a new project. I’m honored that RK is a part of it, and want only to give these children, primarily invisible before now, a real opportunity at finding a family. To that end, I invite advocates to work with us to expand our system. These children deserve this chance. To come home to a loving family.

Q: Do you know how China chose the files for this new program that they chose? It doesn’t appear that all of the files chosen were outdated, as some were less than a year old.

No I do not.

Q: Do you know if the CCCWA plans to move every child from the shared list to these four agencies and do away with the shared list as a whole?

I don’t know the plans of the CCCWA. But I applaud them for making this bold move to take children with files that are 4, 6, even 10 years old and make this push to find them families.

What chance did they have before now? None, or almost none. I’ve watched the files being slowly added to RainbowKids. I saw seven boys added in one day. Seven boys, all eleven years old. The photos showed three-year-olds. Medicals outdated. Social profiles that talked of learning to walk. They were toddlers when these files were completed. They’re human beings in need of loving families.

Now that thousands of people will be viewing their profiles daily, they have a chance. They will have medical, developmental and social updates. I don’t know the CCCWA’s plan, but I do now that thousands of children are trapped in institutions across the world. These 2,000 files… they are human beings. Let’s place them all… and watch another 4, 5, maybe 10,000 more files become available because now there is a way to reach families and make these formerly Invisible Children, Visible.


Q: Do you know what provinces each of these four agencies were assigned and can you share that information with us? (*many families like to look for a child from a certain province because they have a heart for a certain area in China or a child from that province)

I think that information is now out. This information, listed below, was sent to me by a humanitarian organization that received it from an advocate.


Q: Will the CCCWA be in charge of getting updates on all of these children or will each of these four agencies need to find a way to get updates on all of the children whose files they have been entrusted?

I know that each agency is making a plan. Some are sending over medical/social teams to meet the children. Some are using in-country staff. Some agencies, not part of the four agencies that I think of as “Gateway Agencies”, are volunteering profiles of children they have updates on. God bless those agencies.

I think if we can all just take a breath and consider that this is probably an evolving system, we can all agree to work together to do what is good and right for these children. It is a work in progress.

Q: Is it your understanding that there is a time frame that these agencies will have these files for or is this indefinite?

I’ve heard six months, but I do not have access to any official information.

Q: Will the agencies rotate files/provinces at some point or will they have the same files for the entire length of time this program runs?

I do not know.

Q: Will these agencies be willing to share files of these former shared list children with clients with other agencies not involved in this project? And, will families from countries outside of the US still be able to request a file transfer from one of these four agencies?

I do not know.

Q: From past observations, it seems three of the four agencies chosen have extra requirements beyond China’s general requirements and that those same three agencies only allow families to adopt one child at a time. Do you know if any of these agencies may consider loosening some of their requirements now, even on a case-by-case basis?

I do not know that, but would love to speak to that practice separately at some time. As a family who has adopted older children, I am well aware of the sibling-relationship many children develop within institutions. They grow their own families in orphanages and foster homes, and the attachments are deep and real. I would love to see children with this sibling-bond adopted together. As for the additional requirements of individual agencies, I cannot speak for them.

Q: There are rumors that the CCCWA may add more agencies to this list in the future. Do you know anything about that or can you comment on that?

This program is very new. It’s developing. I do not know the intentions of the CCCWA.

Q: Can you share with us exactly how people with other agencies can find these children on your site?

1. Go here. (if have not already, you will need to sign up to view children on RK)
2. Click on the search option – the yellow box farthest to the right – that says “More Options”.
3. Select “yes” and then click “Add Preference” on the bottom option.

You will now see all of the Shared List kids who have been added. Many more will soon appear.

However… families can easily see kids with specific special needs, newly added, etc if they complete their advance profile. The new kids will be emailed to them with links.

Q: Are you open to adding new special need categories that are not current options, such as PKU and needs seen regularly in regards to China’s waiting children?

Absolutely. We’ve added twelve in the last week. We also have the Child Advocacy Network, where advocacy FB groups, websites, organizations can register to be notified when a child is added with a specific special needs. Simply go to our “Get Involved” area and register. We will work with anyone who has a heart and voice for waiting kids.



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