How to Choose an Adoption Agency from China
I’m often asked which adoption agencies I recommend for families who want to begin the adoption process to be matched with a waiting child. While there are a few that I favor over others, it’s entirely more helpful to coach families along in finding out which agencies they’d like, which fit their own family and their unique needs. Every agency is a bit different in their culture and vision; your job as a potential adoptive parent is to discern which best fits your own family culture and vision.
First, make a pot of coffee. You’re going to need it, maybe even more than the notebook and pen you also need. Sit down in front of your computer and start searching. Look at the blogs of families who have recently adopted from China (look at No Hands But Ours to start or put “China adoption blog” into your search engine). Ask the bloggers which agencies they used. Join Facebook groups focused on adoptions from China (just search “China adoption” where you’d search for a friend’s name). Connect with people there, and ask which agencies they used. Start to make a list of agencies that may be of interest to you, just agencies of interest. Don’t form any judgments. Don’t make any decisions. Just make a running list of agencies with which to connect.
Once you feel like that list is pretty complete, click around some more. Check out their websites. Get a feel for how they market their agency, what their catchphrases are, what seems to set them apart. In that notebook you have, write the name of each agency on the top of its own clean page, and start filling those pages with notes and specific questions as you go. If they are on social media, check them out there, too. Get a feel for the level of engagement families have there. Look to see how they advocate for waiting children, if you like how they present children without families to the public. While these things don’t tell you everything, they can tell you a lot about what agencies are about. Trust your instincts as you go; if you see stuff that makes you feel like you couldn’t work for them, then you shouldn’t contract with them to grow your family. Narrow down your list to those agencies that you feel like may have a parallel vision with you.
While the online world can tell you a lot, it doesn’t tell you everything. You’re going to actually need to talk to real people, in real time. So set aside a chunk of time when you can find some quiet, and bring your well-charged phone (and maybe more coffee). As you call each agency, have those notes you’ve already written in front of you, and use the following as a guide as you keep taking notes.
- Ask to speak to the director of the China program specifically, making a note of his or her name, rather than an administrative assistant or someone else on staff in the office who tries to field questions. You want to talk to someone who not only knows the program inside and out but who you’d be working with pretty closely
- Start open-ended: “Our family is considering adopting from China. We’re just looking at different agencies right now, and I’d love to learn more about your program.” Then stop talking. That’s it. No need to tell your whole story; there will be plenty of time for that later with the agency you decide to use. Right now, just ask the simple question and allow the person on the other end of the line to talk freely. What you hear will provide you with answers to a few of your questions, confirm what you already knew or sensed, and maybe raise issues that you have not considered yet. It will also give you a feel for that person’s personality as well as the culture of the office, how they work and what they value or see as important to communicate to potential adoptive families.
When you’re invited to ask questions, here are some you may want to ask:
- Who would be our primary point of contact? (If that’s a different person, schedule a later time to connect with him or her, too.)
- Do you have any religious affiliation? What does that mean really? How does that play out in how you do business? Do all your staff come from the same faith background or share the same worldview?
- How many children from China did you place with families last year?
- How many partnerships do you have with orphanages in China? (Some agencies openly share this information; others do not. In recent years, it seems that more placements have been made via exclusive access to individual children because of partnerships than through the shared list to which all adoption agencies have access. More partnerships likely means more access to more children, though this may not be entirely true since some orphanages are smaller than others, etc.)
- Does your agency do any sort of relief work in China beyond facilitating adoptions? (This may or may not be important to you. Note, though, that if an agency facilitates teams to visit and serve at orphanages where they have partnerships, you are more likely to be able to get updates and more information about children you are considering adopting which is really helpful. And this may provide your family with more opportunity for an ongoing relationship with your child’s orphanage and opportunities to serve, keeping in mind that this could change at any time because that’s just how things go in international adoption.)
- How do families who are using or have used your agency connect? Do you offer gathering events for local families, some sort of online community? Do you intentionally connect waiting families or families newly home with their children? (Again, this may or may not be important to you. But it is good to know what they offer. If you do not desire to connect with families now, you may want to later for your child’s benefit, particularly if your child comes to you from an orphanage where this agency has a partnership, which means that they likely will have other families with children from the same orphanage.)
- What type of training do you offer? Do you require any additional training beyond the Hague training all agencies require?
- Do you work with specific agencies in my state for home studies and postplacement reports? (Obviously only relevant if the agency is not local to you.)
- What kind of follow-up do you offer once families are home? What kind of ongoing support do you give?
- Can you provide a description of all fees broken down so that I can compare it with other agencies?
- Does your agency provide options or suggestions for grants or financial assistance?
- Can you provide me with a copy of the contract prior to paying an application fee?
- Would you be willing to connect me with families who have used your agency in the last six months or so? (If they are, then actually do that, make those connections happen.)
- What would you say makes your agency different or stand out from other agencies?
When your calls have been made, your pages filled and your pot of coffee empty, take a deep breath. It’s a big decision worthy of overthinking. But don’t let it cripple you. If you are convinced that you are called to grow your family through adoption, take those notes, talk with your family about the options, pick one that jibes with you and go for it. There’s a child waiting for you.
Kelly Raudenbush is a mother to four children and cofounder of The Sparrow Fund, a nonprofit committed to encouraging and equipping adoptive families. Learn more about her family's adoption story, how she's been changed by it and what life for as a parent to four children with all sorts of unique needs and gifts at My Overthinking.