About two years ago, I wrote a long 4 post blog series called Choosing An Agency. It was later posted on No Hands But Ours as a 10 part series I’m Ready To Adopt. Finally, I expanded on these for my book which includes even more information and a huge list of questions to ask a potential agency in the appendix section. My stats show that generally, people only read 2-4 of the posts, so I feel what is needed is a simplified guide to choosing an agency for those who only want to hit the main points. This post is the first in that series, which is intended to give you a general overview of important points to consider when choosing an agency. It is not content from my book. If you want the in depth version you can use the resources I’ve linked to above.
When you choose to adopt from China, you can either choose an agency to match you with a child or you can choose a waiting child and sign with the agency who has their file. There are pros and cons to either of these matching methods. Let’s begin by discussing the different types of files.
Shared List – The shared list is a listing of files available to any agency. For many countries outside of the US, it is the only source of files. The shared list can only be viewed by agency personnel and is composed of both LID and Special Focus files. At any given time, the shared list is about 75% boys and 25% girls. There are usually very few LID files on the shared list because they get locked almost instantly by agencies.
LID Files – Your LID is the Log In Date for your dossier. LID files are reserved for families who already have a dossier logged into China’s system. LID files tend to be younger children with minor needs. Because adoptive parents overwhelmingly prefer to adopt girls, girls will often be designated LID to an older age or with more moderate needs. Fewer boys are labeled LID, and boys are more likely to be designated as special focus even if they are young and with minor needs. LID files are designated to an agency for only 3 weeks, and they may be switched to Special Focus if they remain unmatched after about 3 months.
Special Focus Files – Special Focus files are files which China feels will need a little more help to place. For that reason, they may be matched to a family who does not yet have a dossier in China or one which requires a waiver from China’s normal parent requirements. Special Focus files are often for children who are a little older, or have moderate or greater special needs. However, as LID files can be changed to Special Focus simply for not being matched quickly, it is very possible to find young children with minor needs who are designated Special Focus, particularly boys. If you fall for a child who is labeled Special Focus, don’t worry that you are missing something. The only thing you are missing is a wonderful opportunity to add a child to your family!
Designated Files – Designated files are any files not on the shared list, but designated to a particular agency. This could be through a partnership, a program such as Journey of Hope, hosting program, or simply because the agency requested the file be designated to them. Most designated files may be transferred to another agency but not all agencies will transfer files. Agencies are most likely to agree to transfer a file if the child is older or with greater special needs. The files of young children (girls) with minor needs are what pay an agency’s bills, allowing them to stay open to help place those kids which need more help to find a family. For this reason, those files are rarely transferred. If an agency will not agree to release a file for you, ask the agency for the child’s birthdate and when their designation time is up so that if they don’t place the file your agency can request it from the CCCWA.
Partnership Files – Most US agencies now have one or more partnership orphanages. The agency provides aid to the orphanage in a variety of forms. In exchange, all new files from the orphanage are designated to the parter agency for a designated time period. Partnership files are designated for 3 weeks for LID files and 3 months for Special Focus. Partnership files cannot be transferred. If a partner agency cannot place 80% of the files, they can lose the partnership with that particular orphanage. Most LID files are now placed through partnerships, so if you know you would like to adopt a LID designated child, you will want to ask an agency about their partnerships.
Former Shared List Files – Recently, about 2000 of the files from the shared list were removed and designated to four particular agencies. These files were mostly files which had been on the shared list for a long time. The agencies are responsible for updating the files and advocating for them. They will be listed on the Rainbow Kids website. For more information on this program and how to view the files, read this post.
Finding Your Child First
Many people prefer to find their child first and use the agency which has the file. This will involve adopting a child designated Special Focus, so you would want to be open to at least a moderate amount of needs. Flexibility in gender and age is also helpful. People who prefer to find their child first often like the idea of adopting a waiting child or like to have more control over the matching process. If you find your child first, you will have a longer wait from the time you identify a child until you travel, so consider how you would feel about that when deciding if finding your child first is best for your family.
Besides agency photolistings, here are some ways to view waiting children, most agency designated:
While some people are fine with using any agency which has their child’s file, others prefer to rule out a few agencies that they absolutely would not use. It can be useful to ask a few questions to make sure you are comfortable with an agency before viewing their files.There are three different methods that agencies use to decide which set of potential parents will end up with a child on a photolisting. I know this information makes the post a little long, but it is important to ask the agency how they will match photolisting files with families, because you might not be the only one who is interested in the child.
The most common is First Come, First Served. The first person to ask for the file gets to review it, and other people who want to review the file are added to a list. The first couple has a certain amount of time to review the file and decide–maybe a few days, maybe a week or two. (While files which are pulled from the shared list are only locked for 72 hours, agencies have a greater latitude in their designated files.) If they decline the file then it is passed to the next family on the list, and so on until someone is ready to submit a Letter of Intent (LOI).
Pros: Only one family views a file at a time, which does not put pressure on the family to rush into a decision. First come, first served is a principle which seems fair to Americans (further on into the process you will realize this is not an Asian view), so it is not as disappointing to not get matched with a child you love. You know it’s not personal, you just weren’t first in line.
Cons: This can really drag out the process for the other families and the child involved. If there is a child who is seriously cute but with a serious medical condition, the file could be viewed numerous times before someone is ready to write a LOI. One parent told me their child’s file was turned down 50 times before they accepted it! For children with time sensitive medical needs or who are close to aging out, this method can waste valuable time.
Let’s call the second method of matching Race To The Finish! Agencies who use this method will allow all interested families to view the file at the same time. The first family who is ready to write a LOI gets the child.
Pros: This more efficient methods cuts down on the wasted time of First Come, First Served.
Cons: This method can really pressure families to make a decision before they’re ready. Maybe they’re still waiting to hear back from a doctor who reviewed the file but they don’t want to chance losing the child. Unethical agencies can pressure families to act quickly by saying they think another family is really interested when really, they just want to close to deal and get you to sign.
The third method is Committee Decides. Multiple families are allowed to view a file at the same time and if multiple families are ready to move forward then an agency committee chooses from among the potential families.
Pros: Committee Decides is the least popular method and it is easy to find people who are angry about it online. From my perspective, I’m not sure how “I saw her first!” is any more fair? Committee Decides is a child-centered method to find the best family for a child. While most of the young children with minor needs would thrive in any loving family, there are often instances where some families would be a better fit than others. If a child has a time-sensitive special need such as Thalassemia, isn’t better that they be matched with a family who is already DTC so that they can come home six months sooner than if the family who saw the child first was only starting on their home study? Wouldn’t a better family for a child who is deaf be a family who is already fluent in sign language and a part of the deaf community? How about older children? Wouldn’t the best family for an older child be a family who is experienced with the challenges of older child adoption and who has parented past the age of the child rather than a family with only younger children and just beginning their first adoption? So I will take the unpopular stance and say that I think this method is better for the children who are being placed.
Cons: I will also acknowledge the serious flip side to this method, which is that it is harder on the potential families. It is very common for people to feel emotionally connected to a child from the first moment they see the picture. I can understand how devastating it must be to feel deep in your heart that this is your child, and now a committee is telling you that there is another family better for the child than yours. Not only is it a loss, but it comes as a veiled insult. If you feel you can’t handle the heartbreak of a committee deciding that you aren’t the best family for a child then it is important to know which agencies use this method and avoid their photolistings.
Next week we will look at more general agency considerations for those families which prefer to choose an agency first.