Advice for Adoption – Part 1 : Choosing the Right Adoption Agency

As we touched down back in the U.S., I thought to myself about all the things we learned on our trip and all the knowledge I wish I had know before beginning the process of adopting from China. We had chosen American World Adoptions simply out of a desire to find an agency that wasn’t going to take our money and run..also their long relationship with China adoption.  We had heard so many horror stories of precious families being taken to the cleaners by unsavory organizations and AWAA came with a strong reputation. As for China, I had always felt called to this country for many years for the purpose of adopting and after reading “China Ghost”, we knew what we had to do. So, without further delay, here is part 1 of “things we wish we had known before we started this process” in the hopes that other families may be able to make a more informed decision on their own adoption journeys…

Choosing the Right Adoption Agency for You

• As with any service based organization, your mileage may vary but we would encourage you to take a second look at a local agency that you have personal access too. Our agency of choice was a large agency and we learned on our trip about their efforts to grow by buying out other China specialized adoption agencies (because their clients were traveling with us). There appears to be big money in Chinese adoption and despite the fact that your efforts are purely noble, you cannot (and should not) assume the same of the organizations who are facilitating your journey. We learned of many places where the financial side of the adoption experience is still very clouded despite the claims of these organizations of total transparency. Here are a few examples:

- The Chinese Civil Affairs office is in charge of many aspects of the in-country planning of your trip. You must have a guide with you at all times and they are supplied by this office (yes, it is for your safety and their able to keep tabs on your travel). However, if you are an adoption agency working in China, it is in your best interest to keep the Civil Affairs office in a good mood so that you may continue adopting children in China (or grow your business). Which means, this government office can dictate the guides the agencies use and the locations you visit and the costs you pay. If you don’t like it, you can adopt from another country. And in case you have not read in the news, the Chinese government is repeatedly listed as the most corrupt in the world.

- Request a total breakdown of all expenses as soon as you are able – especially your travel expenses. Our agency refused to provide that information even after repeated requests from others in our party. Are you getting the best costs and is your agency working toward making this massive financial burden to follow God’s calling on your life any easier? In our case, the trip was planned in less than 10 days with final flight confirmations coming within 5 days of departure – anyone can tell you that we paid the highest available price for every flight we took (9 to be exact) as they were all last minute bookings. When we asked why they do it this way and pointed out the obvious about driving up the costs of the trip, we were told that this is just how it is done. Your travel VISA is only 30 days in China so there must be some fast planning for in country duties, however, your travel visa is valid for 90 days so it seems to be quite wasteful to be booking flights 5 days from notification of travel approval. And extremely expensive, as we found out.

- Speaking of costs, the estimate that our agency provided is a “low ball” estimate and our costs ended up on the high end of every estimate provided. Our in-country expenses topped out at over $5300 (which is over the latest numbers on our agencies web site) despite the fact that we were traveling in a notoriously slow time of year for China tourism during a worldwide recession. One would think that traveling during the Christmas holidays or Chinese new year would generate high costs like we experienced but that does not appear to be the case. We also traveled with another family who skipped the 3 day trip to Beijing and flew directly to their province (only second adopters can do this) yet their in-country expenses where within a hundred dollars of ours and they had two more people traveling with them.

- Don’t be naive. Everyone along the way is making money off your decision to adopt. The agency (obviously but, does paperwork pushing and phone calls really require $6,000?), the travel agencies booking your flights, the guides in China (which, by the way, are TOUR guides), the adoption orphanage in China, the hotels preferred by your guides in China and the “museums” with the gifts shops 3 times the size as the museums at the end. They all want a piece of the action and get it while you are teary eyed and desperately clutching your new child. To be fair, some of what you see is amazing but many times we felt like we were running the gauntlet to get out of China without dropping some more Yuan for another tip or fee!

- And lastly, we speed shipped via FedEx document after document at the request of our agency to make some deadline imposed by them or China only to learn about these documents sitting in lock boxes in China for weeks or on the desks of our agency employees for days on end. Lots of expensive shipping costs where unnecessarily levied on our adoption journey because of lackadaisical planning and follow up.

• Do not, for any reason, leave your agency alone or your adoption will take longer (and get more expensive). We experienced several occasions where documents took much longer to return from government offices or our agency and upon calling, we learned they were sitting somewhere because someone wasn’t looking for them. If you sit back and believe that your agency is using every ounce of their experience to process your adoption paperwork as fast as possible – or even in a reliable manner – you will be greatly disappointed. I would call often, email often and stay on top of them like white on rice – do not fear being the squeaky wheel because you are paying for them to do this right!

• We had a good experience with our agency until our paperwork hit the travel office stage of the process and then everything fell apart. We would highly recommend you doubling your attention when you get notification of the transfer of your adoption to the travel office. It was our suffering and struggling through the inexplicable delays or dropped balls in the travel office that lead us to question the dedication of our agency to our adoption – and started us looking a little less dreamy-eyed into the other areas of their operation.

• Some upsides to the traveling was the clean hotels in nice locations.  Our guides were helpful and always a phone call away if needed for anything!…..and there were times we needed them! All of these items will be covered in future posts…

Is AWAA the best option out there? Only each of you can determine that for yourself but if you are going into it with lower expectations than all should be good for you. Just stay on top of the process and you will probably be fine. This being our first adoption, we thought it best to leave it to the experts and the result was leaving a month later than we should have to get our daughter – paying a whole lot more than we should have – and fouled up flight reservations for the return journey that almost forced us to miss our flights (we planned the inbound travel and it went without a hitch) because the proper ticket was not purchased for our adopted baby!

Again, your mileage may vary but for us, we would recommend those looking at AWAA (or any other agency) take a second look at other options. Ask the hard questions and take into strong consideration the answers you get and how you get them. It will go a long way in letting you know what kind of adoption experience you can expect.