We started the process for our first China adoption in May of 2013. It’s crazy to me to think that five years have passed since we made our initial application to an agency for their China adoption program. We did hit some speed bumps and detours throughout our process: a move to another state, an agency change, and a huge slowdown in processing of LOAs from China. These were all stressful, and at the time they felt devastating and overwhelming to me. It seemed like we had so many factors working against us, and all we wanted was to bring home our boys as quickly as possible, just as all adoptive families hope to do.
We completed our adoptions in March of 2015 and in May of 2016, and the China program still seemed to be a very solid, predictable program. However, that reputation was shaken in June of 2017 when China released revised requirements for prospective adoptive parents. Some of the most substantial changes according to those in the adoption community were:
• Number of children in the home. The new requirements stated that families could have no more than 5 children under the age of 18 living in the home. For single mothers, the requirement was no more than 2 children under 18.
• Age of youngest child in the home. Previously, there was no restriction on this, but the new guidelines stated that the youngest child in the home must be 3 years old at the time of LOI or LID, whichever occurred first.
• Frequency of adoption. China’s revision required a one year period between the adoption date of the first child and submitting LOI for the adoption of another child. This eliminated the possibility of reusing a dossier for a second adoption.
Had these rules been in effect just a year or two earlier, we would not have been allowed to adopt our youngest son. The thought of that is absolutely heartbreaking to me. We’ve seen the positive effects of “twinning” our youngest children, and we can’t imagine our family any other way now.
One of my good friends experienced the reality of the change in requirements first hand when her family submitted LOI for a little girl that was listed as special focus. The timing was truly devastating to them. At the time of submission, agencies had not yet been notified of the changes. Her family had no reason to believe that they would be ineligible to adopt another child at that time. She experienced a loss, and still does, over a child that she and her husband had hoped to adopt just months later.
The end of 2017 saw yet another change… the end of orphanage partnerships. Families in process and families who were beginning the adoption process worried that the end of partnerships might mean a longer wait time for a referral since agencies would no longer receive designated files. The assumption was that all files would go to the shared list, as was the practice for many years prior to partnership orphanages.
Recently, the new governing entity for intercountry adoption, Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME), announced that families must now have an approved home study before they can review files and be matched with children. This has been heartbreaking in the adoption community. Advocates for special focus children are saddened because they know many families commit to a child after seeing advocacy photos and reading the child’s story. Many people who weren’t even planning to adopt at the time saw their children on an advocacy site and knew that it was the time to move forward with an adoption.
To be honest, if our family planned to return to China to adopt, we had already decided we would pursue an older child that had been designated special focus prior to completing our home study, thus tailoring the home study to that particular child.
All these factors lead up to the story of Karen and Ryan and a five year old boy in China that would have been their son, had things not shifted so drastically in adoption requirements over the past year.
Karen and Ryan had two biological sons when they decided to adopt a daughter from China. Adoption was something they had talked about while they were dating, and both felt it was an avenue they would eventually pursue. Their first adoption process was fairly smooth aside from some paperwork delays. The wait for paperwork to be completed and travel to China was tedious, and they anxiously counted down the days until they could finally hold their daughter. Their biggest challenge occurred in China when their daughter’s visa wasn’t ready in time for them to travel home on their scheduled date, resulting in an extended stay in China and additional expenses for hotel and airfare.
Since coming home, they have met challenges that a lot of adoptive families face such as cocooning with older, active children at home, identifying sensory processing issues, and working through speech delays. Karen and Ryan have done a beautiful job of meeting all their children’s needs and ensuring that their daughter gets the therapies she needs in order to meet her full potential.
Their daughter has blossomed since she came home. She is now an outgoing two and a half year old who adores her older brothers.
Like our family, Karen and Ryan had no plans to adopt another child. However, when they visited their daughter’s foster home, they met a little boy that they were both immediately drawn to. He made a mark on their hearts, but they were settling into life as a family of five with their new daughter, and they weren’t considering another adoption at that point.
A few months after they returned home, Karen saw an advocacy post for the little boy that we now call AJ, and she knew that she wanted to adopt him. When she pointed AJ out to Ryan, he reminisced about meeting AJ, but Karen didn’t feel that her husband was ready to consider adding another child to their family. However, just a week later, Ryan told Karen he had been praying about AJ and that he thought they should look into adopting him.
Karen was ecstatic, and she and I began frequently texting about AJ, about his special need, and about how to transition an older child into their family. Unfortunately, when Karen and Ryan decided to pursue adoption again, the new requirements prevented them from submitting a Letter of Intent to adopt AJ. Their youngest child had just turned two, so they would have to wait. This didn’t deter them. They began talking with their placing agency and home study agency about what all they needed to do in order to begin the process when they were allowed. Karen said that they were met with doors closing one after the other.
The final issue was when they learned that they would have to have an approved home study in order to submit their LOI. “Ryan and I were nervous we would go through the whole home study process again only to have him matched with another family,” Karen admitted.
Ultimately, they made the decision that they couldn’t pursue adopting AJ at that time. They had both fallen in love with this little boy, and if they moved forward with another adoption, it would be for AJ only. They also didn’t feel comfortable starting the process in the midst of so many major changes in adoption on both the China and US sides.
“We were and are still devastated. We ache at the thought of him remaining in China. At this point, we do not believe we will adopt again, but with God anything is possible,” Karen said.
For now, they pray daily for AJ and for the family that is meant to be his, whether that is their family or another.
For now, they are waiting with hope that adoption requirements will not continue to make it more difficult for families to adopt the children that are waiting.
For now, AJ waits.
In August, he will celebrate his 6th birthday without a family. When he was found, he was weak and malnourished, and he needed heart surgery. Since he has received surgery and proper care, AJ is now a strong little boy. He is independent, and he is generous with other children. He enjoys helping others and sharing with them. He loves to smile and play. He is eager to be cuddled and loved.
I know this because I, too, have met AJ. I have held his little hands. He eagerly engaged my husband and oldest son to play with him when we were at the foster home. He was my son’s foster brother. Had requirements been different, he would have been well on his way to traveling home with Karen and Ryan, being reunited with his foster sister, and becoming the third in a trio of brothers.
Karen and Ryan are not alone in their despair over all the recent changes in adoption requirements. Many of our readers here at NHBO are facing this as well. The entire adoption community has leaned into each other for support and encouragement over the past 10 months.
We have seen families lose referrals.
We have seen large families who are willing and eager to welcome more children into their homes move on to pursue other intercountry adoption programs.
We have seen families simply walk away, defeated after months and years of preparation for adopting from China.
We’ve seen families pause their adoption journeys, waiting until they are eligible for China adoption.
And after all the changes, many are simply waiting to see what’s coming next.
Have the rule changes and requirements affected your family’s adoption plans? We’d be honored to share your story. The China adoption community is always here to support you.