Sunday, December 16, 2007

Adopting Special Needs Children

My research over the past two years convinces me that the need to adopt healthy children from China is over. China's problem with infant trafficking makes apparent the domestic demand for healthy infants, and the long waiting lists at most orphanages is compelling evidence that many families inside China are desirous to adopt through official channels. Given the recently adopted principles of the Hague Agreement, it is clear that from a moral and ethical point of view, China needs to keep her healthy children home.

But that doesn't mean the China program needs to end. In fact, were I the head of the CCAA, I would revamp my special needs program to encourage and facilitate the adoption of China's truly disenfranchised -- the thousands of children living in her orphanages that were born with special needs -- large birth marks, cleft lips, missing fingers or toes, hepatitis, and any number of "imperfections" that make them for all intents and purposes unadoptable inside China. Many of these special needs present unsurmountable financial problems to domestic families, but are of little consequence to families with medical care opportunities in the West. Thus, I believe the CCAA should expedite SN referrals, allow prospective adoptive families greater access to special needs children, and do everything possible to migrate the 14,000 annual international adoptions into the Special Needs program. It presents a win-win-win scenario -- Orphanages receive the continued financial resources they require, domestically unadoptable children find homes, and adoptive families would not face the ethical dilemmas of taking a child from China that could easily have been adopted domestically.

I have a special place in my heart for these children. What follows is the story of one family and how they came to adopt two special needs children. Laurie M. describes the questions all of us face when considering a special needs adoption: Am I able to do this? What if the problems are worse than I expected? But in the end she and her husband made the leap of faith, and are now parents to two beautiful children with special needs.


It was Spring and my husband was going to China on a Cleft Lip/Cleft Pallet (CL/CP) mission trip with an adoption agency and he wanted me to come along. My hometown had been completely destroyed by Katrina the prior August, and my heart and soul were in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and certainly not in China. I was very sad and didn't want to add the pain of China's orphaned babies to the load that was tearing at my heart. If I went, I knew that while he was in surgery, I would probably have the opportunity to tour a few orphanages and being a very empathetic person, I felt it would be too much for me. As I expected, he came back saying he wanted to adopt a child. I said, emphatically "NO!" A year later, after tax time, our accountant said that his solo practice was doing extremely well and he looked at me and said, " can we adopt a child?" I said, "I'll look at the web site. That's all I can promise." I looked at the web site and found the waiting child photos and kept looking at them for a few days. I got their application and filled it out and brought the medical checklist to Robert. He refused to check even one special need. Honestly. He wouldn't budge. He wanted a NSN little girl, apparently, while I was thinking of a SN little boy.

I looked at the web site again, and my heart kept being drawn to a little boy who looked wise beyond his two years and kind of dapper too. I requested his paperwork and saw that he had a repaired CL/CP. Robert is an ENT and does CL/CP surgeries and ear surgeries and I felt that we could easily handle this kind of special need. I found a yahoo group for his orphanage, where I found that these babies were all raised in foster families and that the adoptive families loved the director and the care their children received. The children often had few, if any delays and they were obviously well loved and had adequate nutrition. I looked in the paperwork for signs that this little boy would thrive. He cried if not fed first. Good sign, he expects his needs to be met. They said, before his lip repair, that he would "smile so sweetly". By that I knew he was loved. He was in foster care so he had great chances of bonding with a new family and the fact that his CL/CP were both repaired very early also meant that his chances for good speech were excellent. The SWI had taken a special interest in him and done what they found was best for him long term, by repairing the palate. They had only had a few special needs children, and he was their only boy. I also learned that children with CL/CP have such a difficult time feeding that under ordinary orphanage conditions, they will not survive. They have to have had one on one care to have gotten to the point that they were considered adoptable, so many of the orphanage deprivations and delays would be less likely. Early nutritional deficits should be expected because of the cleft, which explained his small size. I felt peaceful and confident and in my heart, I knew this little boy would thrive in our home.

So...I presented Robert with the paperwork and asked him to pray about just see if he felt what I felt for this little boy. Our agency put him "On Hold" for us and I waited. The first deadline passed and he agonized and could not decide. They gave us an extension. The deadline came and went. Again, he could not decide. One final weekend extension was granted, but they really needed to know by 5:00 on Monday evening. I was in the grocery check out at 5:00 when he called me. "We need to talk when you get home. I want to go for a walk," he said. In all the weeks of waiting I grew to accept the fact that he would most likely say, "No" and that was fine for me. I knew in my heart that if we were not both 100% committed that we should not proceed. We walked and he said, "I don't have the faith for this kind of thing." "It's OK. I understand," I said. Then he added, "But I think we are supposed to bring this little boy home." "What?" "I think you are right. He's our son."

Well, then there was the whirlwind of paperwork and PA and finally the trip to China over the Christmas holidays. This little child seems tailor-made for our family. He even shares some of our weird little foibles. We love him passionately and he loves us and brings us so much joy. Every day or so, my husband looks at me, and sighs and says, "Thank You." He says that he struggled with all the possible complications and the treatments for CL/CP that he knew about. My intuition made the job easier for me, but he had to find a way to work with his intellect to say, "Yes." He's so glad that he did.

After the adjustment period, when our new son was happy and thriving, I began to look again at the waiting child lists, and to think about one last child. My husband looked me and said, "No more CL/CP kids. No more boys." "Ok."

One day, I saw a new list and there was this little girl at the top of the page, with a sweet smile. I asked for the password. She had been abandoned the month before we traveled to China last year, at 4 years old. I looked at her and my heart just broke. I thought about how our son would have felt if he had gone to the bathroom and come out and found that we were gone. It hurt so much to think about it. Her special need was a varus elbow deformity. Her arm had been broken and repaired, leaving her with a long scar.

When asked to show that the elbow bent, for her referral pictures, she looked both very sad and almost angry. She looked straight at the camera, not timidly, just directly, and when she smiled, she looked like any other sweet little girl in a school photo. The pictures looked more like "after" photos than "before" photos. Her paperwork said that she liked group life and played with children of all ages. She could pick up a peanut with her chopstick and she loved to talk and was "broadloving." If that were not astounding enough, she could count to 100 and skip and hop on one foot. I thought she was lovely, but I also realized that she would have memories of whoever had cared for her before her abandonment and that there would potentially be PTSD issues to address, too. These concerned me more than her varus elbow. While there was a wealth of information and photos of our son and even his foster mother, there was very little real information about this little girl's past. I wondered and talked with friends in China about possible scenarios for her abandonment.

The agency had a petition process, in which interested families submitted applications and pre-adoption paperwork that included a social worker's recommendation and information on how the special need would be addressed. It was Wednesday and the paperwork would all be due by Friday. I approached my husband and showed him her pictures and asked what did he think. "She's wonderful. What do you want to do?" "Petitions for her are due on Friday. We probably won't get picked." "Oh. I think we should go for it," he said. "What?...don't you want to read her medicals, don't you need to think about it?" "No. You've done all that." "You don't need to agonize and pray and wait?" "Nope." I called our social worker and we got started and I called the agency. They had received over 50 emails about her. Wow! That was encouraging for this sweet little girl. Even though she was an older child and had a SN, she would, without a doubt, be placed! I breathed a sigh of relief. I talked with the staff at the agency about why she may have been abandoned and what she would need. I said, "Well, I am sure, with all those people, you will find her a good home. That's all I really care about. We probably won't turn in a petition." "Well, I don't want to discourage you," she said, "but the chances of being chosen are very slim."

I hung up the phone and called my husband and explained. "I think we should still petition," he said. "Really? It's $250 and it's non-refundable." "Yes. It's a good cause." "Ok." I kept going with the paperwork. I had heard from a friend that we could add a letter explaining why we felt that we were a good match for her, and I added that, along with our family photos. I explained to our 6 year old son what I was doing and asked if he had anything he wanted to tell the people who were choosing her family. He said, "Tell them we will be gooder to her than anything and I think she'll be the best little sister ever!" So I put that as a post script to the letter, explaining, "Of course, he realizes that we might not be chosen." I am told that when the committee met, they each believed that they would have to argue that we were the best match for this little girl. It ends up that the decision was unanimous! We were meant to be her family.

We were honestly stunned and excited and amazed. Now we are once again chasing down papers and trying to figure out how to prepare a little girl who is very far away for her new family. We know that there are risks with an older child adoption and that, in our daughter's case, there will be special abandonment issues that we will be helping her to work through. Someday, we may hear the whole story of her life, as she remembers it. But for now, we know that she is also in a very good SWI and that the children are loved and well cared for. They are all named, "Precious" something. She is our "Precious Girl" for now. What was her name before? We don't know. Who did she live with before? We don't know, but we pray that she was loved and treated kindly. We hope that her ability to be kind to others means that someone has also shown her kindness. Now, we wait and we pray.

If you are considering a special needs child, I can honestly say that our son has brought a particular kind of light and joy to our days, and he brings a smile to strangers' faces every day. A friend has predicted that our waiting child will become "one of the greatest loves of [our] lives." I always say that adoption is not for the feint of heart, but sometimes in life, those great leaps into the unknown are the best kind of all.


Anonymous said...

I have to say as the parent of two children adopted from China that I am very disappointed about your statement that IA of NSN children should cease in China. Where would you suggest that the infants and children who are currently being adopted (>10,000 per year) go? Do you have hard, concrete evidence that these children would be adopted domestically? What about the older children (NSN) that are currently available for adoption? Do you have evidence that these children would be adopted domestically as well. The argument that there is child trafficking in China does NOT PROVE that IA is interfering or inhibiting domestic adoption nor do the results of one survey prove that either. One study with a very small sample size and flawed study design, does not support the premise that IA is interfering with domestic adoption.

I find it hard to believe that the CCAA or the government of China would continue the IA program if domestic adoption was going to be so severely limited as to prevent a child to remain within China. They are doing everything to actively promote domestic adoption (which I fully support). While I support your premise that the SN program needs to be expanded, I am saddened that a parent whose has adopted children from China (meaning you) would suggest that the NSN program should cease to exist, particularly with the lack of evidence you cite. I respectfully submit that you are entitled to your opinion, but please consider the ramifications of what you write.

I fully support the expansion of the SN program and the mandate of the CCAA’s which is to find families for children, not children for families. This is currently being achieved via the NSN and SN programs within China. There is absolutely NO solid evidence to prove otherwise at this time. IA remains an important route to find families for children within China.

Research-China.Org said...

I don't know how one can improve on a study that asks every director involved in domestic adoption if a domestic adoption is possible, and be told by nearly all of them that tehre is a multi-year wait.

I don't know how you can look at experiences such as Hunan where directors are buying trafficked children for the sole purpose of adopting them internationally for money.

In a country where people risk jail to provide childless families with children, one can safely assert that the IA program is an island of demand unrelated to the domestic issues facing China.

The adoption of healthy children continues in China for one simple reason: money. The directors need the money to operate their facilities, the CCAA needs money to remain in business. For families to continue to naively believe that there is a true need to adopt healthy children form China is to ignore the myriad evidences to the contrary.

And yes, I believe every one of the healthy children would readily be adopted, IF the orphanages removed the barriers to doing so (money, geography, etc.)


Anonymous said...

I don't know anything about your facts, but I do know that we adopted a wonderful SN little 2 year old girl last year and she is the light of our lives. Turns out she is perfectly healthy and does not have the SN China thought she had at all. We were twice blessed. We hope to adopt again as soon as we have the $$. We will request SN again. My husband was also adament about NSN and when I saw our daughter I asked him to just look at her and pray. He did, and he called me 20 minutes later and said call the agency. Her supposed SN was very scary, but she was ours and we knew it. We still tear up at the sight of her.

artcarlady said...

"any of these special needs present unsurmountable financial problems to domestic families, but are of little consequence to families with medical care opportunities in the West."

I took particular note of the wording "medical care opportunities." Not to be confused with health insurance, which may not be enough help for the average family considering some types of SN adoption.

While completing our adoption in China doctors found undiagnosed medical problems with our match child. We have decent health insurance, but the it would never have come close to covering all the costs associated with her care. It was heartrending to get on a plane and go home knowing that the medical technolgy in the States might have helped her, but the long-term cost of that help was well beyond the means of our middle-class family like ours. Now we sponsor her foster care in the hope that our money will go further in China and help improve the quality of her life.

Anonymous said...

I agree Brian. It is heartbreaking for me when a friend who visited my daughters orphanage states that she and her husband will adopt now after seeing these children and I have to tell her that the orphanage she went into was an international adoption orphanage and she would not be able to adopt a local child from there.
She then looks into the program further only to see that if she decides to adopt, she will need to travel further outside her area and also pay a very large sum of money.
Very sad considering if the government made it easier for her she would have opted for adoption, therefore allowing one more child to remain in their homeland.

I would wonder how people in developed countries would feel if they were infertile or unable to have a child and they found out that there were no children available because they were being sent to people outside their country!

As a North American, I expect North American families to have the first opportunities to adopt. This is not what happens in China. Not even close.
And it is all about money.
It is the foreigners who are having the first chances, and the Chinese who seemingly come last.

I also agree that Special needs children can still not often be adopted domestically in China and the much-needed medical care and such does justify them leaving the country.
I hope it is only a matter of time that these children will also be able to remain in China.

Times are changing and many in this generation of adults in China have a new outlook on females and on adoption. The only thing that is keeping the program set up the way it is seems to be the money coming in from foreigners and the much needed help from charities.
However money could still enter the program and charities could still assist if people continued to give without the need to get a child.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your posts.

I tend to agree that NSN adoption is coming to an end, not just because of fewer children but for what IA has become. While there is still a need, the shear number of families who have sent dossiers in the last couple of years with a marked slow down of paper ready children has really put IA in an awkward situation - for the CCAA and adoption agencies.

I say this because the number of children adopted by the US this past year is again down from the previous three years but still higher than 7 of the previous 10 years. This number may be skewed by the fact that there may be significantly more SN in the recent year but still, the program is viable for a relatively small number of children – as it has always has been and it is not limitless.

I find it sad that many forums continually infer a secret conspiracy at the CCAA and thousands if not millions of little girls are being punished and kept locked away from us. All we hear is that it took 6 months in 2004 to get a referral and now you have to wait 3 years. Forgetting simple fact that to keep up with the 6 months referral schedule you would have to have doubled or tripled the number of adoptions every year to keep up with the demand starting three years ago.

Anonymous said...


Do you think this issue is being properly addressed by slowing down the IA referrals rather than just abruptly shutting down the IA program? The resultant increasing wait time seems to be redirecting prospective parents to special needs programs and discouraging new international applicants.

By handling it this way, it seems China would be allowing the system time adjust to reduced funding from International applicants and at the same time avoid the outcry from international applicants who had been waiting for several years based on the pretense that there was a need.

Research-China.Org said...


I think that the CCAA is seeing a shift to SN, but I believe that they still don't believe there are enough families that would adopt only SN children. If they wanted to truly bring about a total migration to SN, they would create greater incentives, such as reduced wait times, the ability to select a child (I wish the CCAA would put ALL SN children into a big database, and allow families to "sort" the children by various criteria such as orphanage, SN, age, etc. I believe that many, many families would consider a SN child if they were able to select one from a first child's orphanage, for example.

There is much that could be done to improve the SN program.


Anonymous said...

I agree that NSN IA will never be the same again and truthfully I could see this coming two years ago.I seems to me that the best way to handle the problem of so many families waiting for NSN is to just go back to the beginning when only families with no children could adopt NSN. Families with children had to be willing to accept a child with SN's. It really makes the most sense to me. I will never understand the families that have several grown children waiting for a NSN AYAP baby girl. Or families that have four or five kids waiting for another baby. For many people now waiting this will be their only child. When we decieded to adopt we chose SN's for two reasons. One, we already had kids, one was a girl, and our second reason was that it didn't make sense to us to wait years for a child when there were children waiting for a family now. We are now on our second SN's adoption and I know that my DH and I would never have it any other way.

Anonymous said...

So Brian, what were your thoughts on this prior to your adoptions? Just curious. Because with our 9/2006 LID I find it funny that you (among others) sing a different tune once your family's are established. I agree that if there are barriers that are keeping domestic adoption from happening then that's wrong, but don't try and act like you've had this aberration that they should close off IA!!!!

Research-China.Org said...

It is an unfortunate reality that the only way to gain experience is by going through it. Of course I am interested in this BECAUSE I have adopted from China. So the argument that I am talking about this only because I have already adopted is illogical.

To extend your line of thought, individuals like Peter Goodman of the Washington Post shouldn't research the adoption program because he has never adopted from China, and thus "doesn't get it."

We have thus eliminated everyone except those that are waiting to adopt.

Do you really think that segment is interested in knowing the truth?


Most are like yourself, I suspect -- not wanting anything to change until after they get their child home. I understand that, but rather than slay the messenger, research the message.

The reality is, the Hunan Scandal was simply the tip of the iceberg. Orphanages all over China are buying children every day. Peter Goodman's article, although provacative in its conclusions, did present testimony that domestic families are often prevented from adopting children due to the international adoption program. As Cathy stated above, many orphanages are set up only to do international adoptions, and prohibit domestic families from adopting. Like Cathy, I would ask yourself how you would feel if you were told you could not adopt a child because all of the children in your country were being adopted by Chinese.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the story of adopting children with special needs. I am so thankful that there are families who are able to care for these children and have the resources to do so. Each family is different and only they can decide whether SN is best for them. As a single mother adopting from China- I do not feel that I have the resources/person power to be able to support a little one who may need medical or additional treatment. I realize there may still be delays, needs for additional services and/or treatment related to the delays but I was nervous about going into this situation knowing there would be multiple medical appointments on top of the delays associated with being raised in an orphanage.

It's important to remember that - hindsight is 20/20 and it's easy to say that all children coming out of China should be SN when you have 3 beautiful, NSN girls. I think it strikes a cord for those of us who do not feel capable of going the SN route.

In my career- I have dedicated my life to working with kids with disabilities and their families. I feel fortunate that I get to help SN kids in my daily work even if I have not chosen to adopt one from China.

Remember -we all do this for different reasons and- many of us got into this BEFORE the huge slow down & word re: baby trafficking- etc.

Research-China.Org said...

Actually, I have two NSN and one SN child. Our youngest was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, which was determined to be a misdiagnoses after we got home.

That aside, not all SN children require longterm care. Many have simple problems that make them unadoptable in China. Large birth marks, extra fingers, etc., are some simple "special needs" that can be easily repaired one a child is home. Fortunately, China is doing many of these surgeries in-country, and organizations such as "Love Without Boundaries" do much to improve the chances for these kids.



Anonymous said...

I agree Brian that there has been a shift from NSN to SN. We began our china adoption thinking NSN, but just didn't know enough about the SN program. 2 weeks after receiving our LID we added our names to our agency WC families list. Did the increase in the wait play a small part in our decision....yep. And honestly I don;t think there is anything wrong with the increase wait time being part of a families decision making process. Those who are still waiting for a NSN baby need to remember that there are no guarantees that your little one will not have a SN. I have seen quite a few families discover that there that their "NSN" child did have a special need.

We are the proud parents of a perfect little girl who just happened to need medical interventions to lead a normal healthy life.

Our special need was SJ, her special need was us!

Robert McLean MD PhD said...

As the reluctant but very happy and blessed DH in Brian's story, I am not sure that I agree with his conclusion. There is good evidence that if not female infanticide then at least female abortion is going on. The male to female birth rate is still very skewed. This argues that the fundamental problem of undervaluing females in Chinese society is still prevalent. I don't think that the supply side of the equation has changed. NSN girls are still being abandoned. I think what has changed is the international demand has increased because of the successful adoptions that have occurred (in contrast to some of the horror stories about adoptions from Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union, see the most recent Newsweek). Has the dynamic in China changed for domestic adoption? Thus, if international adoptions dried up, the orphanages would fill back up with NSN girls.

I also see many concluding from Brian's essay that international NSN adoption is tantamount baby trafficking in all circumstances. I am not sure that he is implying this but the inference is hard to avoid.

Also, I can't differentiate between children who are abandoned because they are females and those that have syndactly, say. What's the difference?

But I do applaud Brian for asking tough questions.

Anonymous said...

Your quote of "I would ask yourself how you would feel if you were told you could not adopt a child because all of the children in your country were being adopted by Chinese."

Well fortunately we have felt that to a certain extent by trying to adopt a child domestically and being told that the price tag is about 3 times that of an IA. How is that considered fair? I realize that those who have been through an experience know more about what takes place. But I also know that unless I knew what the entire experience was throughout China then I wouldn't just focus on bad things. Is it really that rampant throughout China? I've read through your post and you mention one article. WOW, that's convincing! I'm sure I could do the same for the other side of the argument. Yes, your right, I don't want the boat rocked since my wife and I are waiting for our first child. However, once we get our child I don't plan on makes waves and spoiling it for those patiently waiting for their child to come home. In the end, what's this about? I believe the answer is it's all for the children. They can have a great life whether they are adopted domestically or through IA and I don't think one trumps the other.

Anonymous said...

Adoption is needed in many countries around the world (including the US) for many reasons.

China doesn’t have 20K children a year avilable to meet the current western demand and yet we harp on them because they "only" had 8,000 children last year and most likely fewer next year. We would not be having this discussion if 30K people were not already in line for a child in China - we confuse the supply / demand imbalance as some type of conspiracy.

Korea is down to about 1000 children a year- we don't hear the same outrage with them - We are happy the Society and Economy allows the fewer abandoned children to stay in country.

We can only hope that this too happens in China, sooner rather than later. Yes, I have my daughter because of the situation in China when we adopted her - my wish is not to take away the joy of a new family member from a wanting family (if you have four kids already or no children) - but I do not hope for continued economic factors and personal pain of birth parents that forces the children to be abandoned just to meet a quota.

These girls are human beings - not boxes of dolls to be made, dressed up and shipped out monthy.

Anonymous said...

I have valued your writngs for too long to easily dismiss your statement that NSN IA Chinese adoptions are no longer needed.

You may have explained in an earlier post, but I continue to be confused by this point: I believe the number of orphanages/SWIs participating in IA increased dramatically within the last few years, yet the toal number of children available for IA continues to decrease. Even with decreasing abandonments, if there are drastically more IA orphages, wouldn't the number of available children at least stay the same?

Also, in your linked post, you mention that your agent contacted orphanages that participate in IA: I need to ask.. do you have an idea of how many (or, percentage) of orphanages/SWIs that do not participate in IA? and, is their wait time for domestic adoptions similar (and, how do you arrive at your conclusion)?

Research-China.Org said...

Collectively, most orphanages are seeing declines in the number of children being submitted for international adoption. For that reason, the CCAA encourages non-participating orphanages to submit files for IA. However, there are significant hurdles an orphanage must go through in order to be eligible to participate in the IA program. They must have a modern facility, medical care capabilities, adequate caregiver/children ratios, etc. The CCAA requires this, no doubt, to prevent a Western family from being upset when visiting an orphanage at the poor care or run-down facilities. Obviously, the financial resources are not available for all orphanages to participate.

As an example, as of September 2006, there were 116 orphanages, 54 of them participating in the international adoption program. Last year I visited the Huadu orphanage north of Guangzhou. This orphanage is not a participant in the IA program. When I met with the director, she told me that even in her small district she has a two year waiting list of families waiting to adopt, and she limits applicants to only those living in Huadu.

Some individuals feel that my survey of orphanages last year was "dishonest" because I had someone act like she wanted to adopt when in fact she wasn't. This method was employed because it was the only way to get actual information from directors. Calling as an American and asking questions results in significant disinformation, as directors try to present the best image possible, or parrot the party-line. The most accurate information is gained when directors think they are talking with a domestic family seeking to adopt, and 93% of orphanages refused to assist in a domestic adoption, and almost all of 3% that were willing to adopt, expected large donations in return.

Families can continue to believe that adopting a healthy child is in the best interests of the child, and in many ways I am inclined to agree. However, the countries of the world have decided that children should stay in their home countries whenever possible. I didn't decide that, but it is the LAW.

These are my points of reference when analyzing the continuing need for IA adoption of healthy children:

1) There are between 15 and 30 MILLION childless couples in China. This population is driving the illegal baby-trafficking problem in China.
2) One can safely assume that at least 15,000 of those millions would be willing to adopt a child legally rather than illegally. Evidence for this demand is the fact that nearly every orphanage I have surveyed or visited has a waiting list of domestic families seeking to adopt.
3) Six orphanage directors in Hunan purchased babies from traffickers for years simply to feed the international adoption program.
4) Many, if not all, orphanages offer financial "rewards" to people who bring a baby to the orphanage. While most offer transportation cost re-imbursements of 10-50 yuan, some offer "rewards" as high as 3,000 yuan. In other words, the problems of Hunan are ongoing. Why offer these incentives if the supply of healthy children was so plentiful?
5) The CCAA has repeatedly said that the primary reason for the increased wait-time is the lack of healthy children in the orphanages. Some discount these statements as propoganda, but do so with no convincing evidence. Items 1-4 above present compelling evidence that the CCAA is truthful in their claims.
6) Many people have e-mailed me with testimony of orphanages full of healthy children. In every case, additional research proved otherwise. I have never seen or met a director who didn't submit the paperwork to the CCAA for adoption on every child that qualified for adoption. Those who maintain otherwise must provide evidence other than "I visited an orphanage full of children."

The bottom line is for me is the following:

China is comfortable in allowing about 12,000 children to be adopted each year. Due to the one-child constraints imposed by China the vast majority of Chinese will adopt only healthy, young infants. Each year, the number of SN children abandoned is increasing (2 to 3 million per year). Worldwide, more than 15,000 families would be willing to adopt a SN child.

Therefore, it is everyone's best interest -- the children's, the orphanages, and adoptive families -- for China to adopt only SN children. This allows for children unadoptable in China to find families, it allows healthy children to remain in their birth country (as decided by the Hague Convention), and it results in orphanages having more resources to care for the children that remain.

Ending the NSN program and converting it to a SN-only program maximizes the public good.


Anonymous said...

While in country in 2004 we were told that locals could not officially adopt in the same city / county as you live because of the possibility that some might abandon and try to adopt their own child to avoid fines. This was in response to question about domestic adoption to our guild - I don't know of that was true then or if is still is.

You have also mentioned that the majority of children for IA come from three provinces, Hunan Jiangxi and Guangdong. If locals in Northern provinces truly can’t adopt locally, what is the practicality of a middleclass family making a trip to pick up a child in a neighboring city / county or province?

I am not questioning your position - I tend to agree, I just wonder if a couple in Nanchang would have the same wait or obstacles as a family in Tianjin.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a detailed (and rapid) response.

With a LID of mid-Feb 2007, I (honestly) find your assessment emotionally unsettling, but your source data is more concrete than anywhere else I have seen.

Research-China.Org said...


Your information from 2004 is most likely not accurate for several reasons. First, most orphanages choose the children a domestic family can choose from, thus preventing the issue you mention. Second, no orphanage indicated that a local family could NOT adopt; rather, every orphanage indicated a preference of adopting only to locals.

Guangdong, Hunan and Jiangxi provide the most kids because they have the highest populations. Northern Provinces have fewer people, and thus fewer children (speaking in very broad strokes). There is little reason to suppose a family could not travel to adopt, especially if they were in a position financially to pay the 5-30,000 yuan orphanage fee.

Opportunities for a family to adopt are predicated by several factors, of course, each of which would vary from city to city: Abandonment rates, attitudes of the area director to domestic adoption, special needs ratios in the area, etc. An orphanage director might be pre-disposed to adopt domestically, but if he faces substantial financial demands due to high SN rates in his facility, might still place the children internationally to take advantage of the higher financial results.


Research-China.Org said...


I want to reassure you that I am not advocating China's changing a policy that would be detrimental to families already waiting. I am a firm supporter of "grand-fathering" all changes. I am also not a big fan of second-guessing decisions already made. I would encourage waiting families to explore the SN program, I would encourage the CCAA to cooperate with families that seek to change, and I would encourage families investigating China to adopt SN.

I would not want waiting families to be told they can't adopt a child they have already applied for at this time.


Leigh Ann said...

Wonderful article, Brian.

Thank you so much for highlighting the story of the 4 year old being adopted.

We leave in January to adopt a 5 year old girl in Hangzhou. She has a brain deformity resulting in Cerebral Palsy and I truly believe she would never be adopted domestically.

NSN children who can be adopted domestically should be. Whether or not people agree, or want to face reality, IA adoption in China is changing, that is a fact no one can dispute. In my opinion, it's changing for the better - for the children of China and that is what is important.

Anonymous said...

In response to some of the comments about families with older children waiting to adopt along with childess couples - this plays into Brian's complaints about the SN program in general. I have a friend who submitted January of 2006 and is still waiting for a baby. She has 5 older boys and an adopted 6 year old daughter from China. She desperately wants to switch to the SN program but CCAA changed their rules last May and once you have submitted with an agency you can not change agencies for a WC. Because her agency is small they get very few
SN and every child receives multiple applications the SAME DAY. CCAA is simply not allowing enough SN babies for the number of people willing to adopt them.

Anonymous said...

What should also be pointed out is that the SN program first needs to be re-vamped and regulated, instead of letting each agency set their own rules. While this family's story is touching, I am already a client of the agency they used. I did not apply for that child, but I know that in perhaps half of the matches, current clients are getting passed over for new clients, such as these folks. While they may be "the perfect family," they are also new clients and new cash-flow. I do not mean to pick on them individually; I am merely saying that this system has major flaws. To match an SN child with a family who has yet to complete a dossier merely makes the child wait even longer for a family when there are many families with their paperwork already in China, possibly already reviewed, that would be great families to the SN child. So just as domestic adoption should have preference over international, so should those who are ready to adopt as opposed to those who just saw a child on a list and want to start the process.

Anonymous said...

Your friend cannot realisticaly expect the CCAA to be able to go back and revisit a dossier that is almost two years old and change over to SN.

I realize that the wait is long, but if they have been reviewed, approved and if the time line holds up will have their child in the next 3-4 months, Their trying the change at this late date is the same as re-applying to the new rules. You mentioned that they have 6 kids - not sure how many are at home but they may have too many to adopt under the new rules.

On the flipside if they are Jan 07 lid and not processed/ reviewed that switch might be possible.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous, my friend wanted to switch almost a year ago. These rules apply to ALL submitted dossiers, even those submitted last month. CCAA simply will not let you switch agencies even if there is a child whose file will be returned back and given up forever. Additionally, this rule was not in effect before last May's rules change so while it may cause extra work for CCAA it is not something they haven't done in the past and it did allow for more adoptions of SN children. Not that it matters at this point but my friend only has 2 children at home.

Anonymous said...

You state that: "3) Six orphanage directors in Hunan purchased babies from traffickers for years simply to feed the international adoption program." I am sure people did this to make money, but we don't know if there were also motives to help parents abandon their children safely (e.g. not leave them on a sidewalk but transport them safely to a SWI) or to help the children already in the SWIs by providing extra funding for basic living expenses through adoption fees. Yes, the upshot was that babies were sent to Hunan SWIs instead of other SWIs (which may have made no difference in the overall IA numbers), and many were adopted internationally. Surely, IA funding was a huge part of the equation, but if they could get that money from domestic adoption (since you state that Chinese families are having to pay a lot to adopt, too) or if the money would have come from IA but gone to a different SWI, then feeding the IA program isn't the sole explanation for or outcome of this scandal. The children involved in this scandal still needed families no matter if they were domestic or international or through Hunan SWIs or Guangdong SWIs. The whole matter is murky at best.
I'm not disputing that IA brings huge financial incentives, only that the Hunan scandal doesn't tell us anything concrete, really. We can only speculate on it.

Research-China.Org said...

The Hunan scandal began as a recruitment program instigated by the orphanage directors to increase the number of children coming into their orphanages. The directors based performance compensation on how many babies each employee located. Employees were encouraged to make contact in hospitals, schools, etc. to locate families that MIGHT be interested in giving up their child. It was this recruitment and compensation program that resulted in the Guangdong connection being made.

At first, the traffickers received 200-300 yuan for each child, but as word got out about the steady stream of children available from this ring, other orphanages began to compete for the children, pushing the price to 2,500-3,000 yuan by the time the story broke.

You can look at is as a way to "keep the children off the street", or believe that these kids would have ended up in orphanages anyway, but that is patently false. The numbers of children adopted out by these orphanages increased annually, just like the adoption numbers of orphanages with substantial "reward" programs are increasing today.

The problem with Hunan was not that the directors were caught purchasing kids, but that it was publicized. China's little secret is that baby purchasing has been done for years, and continues today. It is widely known to everyone in the adoption community in China. And it is done for a very basic reason: to increase the numbers of children available for adoption.


Anonymous said...

I still believe that there is a lot of mystery surrounding the Hunan scandal. I've heard from different sources, and there is a lot of speculation (much of it logical); but there remains much we don't know. We are making logical leaps, but they remain leaps without firm facts behind them, in my opinion.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. However, I believe the scandal is more complicated than what I originally heard. It sure has given me much to ponder.

Anonymous said...

Brian, do you know approximately when orphanages started "baby purchasing"? Know it must be after 1995 and before 2005, but when did the tide turn?

Research-China.Org said...

The answer will vary from orphanage to orphanage. Much more about this subject will be discussed in future articles.


Anonymous said...

I understand intellectually why there are fewer NSN children available than there were when I adopted my own children six and four years ago, respectively - simply, fewer NSN children are abandoned, and there are increased opporturtunies for domestic adoption. However, I do not understand why the slowdown was so ABRUPT after the Hunan scandal; that is, why was the slowdown not a bit less abrupt). Do you think it was because the scandal forced China to start referring more children for domestic adoption, or was it because it forced China to limit its IA program, or was there perhaps another reason entirely why the sudden slowdown occurred?

Research-China.Org said...

The trend before the Hunan story broke was to longer wait times, but at a slow rate. The Hunan stoppage from December 2005 to April 2006 was like a large log falling into the river: It quickly backed up the flow of referrals. Wait times increased from about 210 days in October 2005 to almost 350 days by April 2006.

I suspect that several factors play a role at this point. While I expected wait times to fall once Hunan came back on line in April 2006 (actually September when referrals began again), it seems the impact has been minimal.

Increasing demand from international families also play a big role. It would be interesting to chart the submissions from the various orphanages from January 2005 through now and see if Hunan truly had an impact on submission rates. Additionally, it would be interesting to chart dossier submissions to see the pattern of submissions over that same period.

With those two components, perhaps the reasons for the increasing wait times would become clearer.


Denise Grover Swank said...

I have a 4 year old daughter adopted from China 3.5 years ago and a newly adopted daughter from Vietnam. In fact, I was in Vietnam this past October/November during the big "investigation" situation. Over 20 NOIDs were issued because of these investigations.

The US Embassy claims that there is baby trafficking occuring in some Vietnamse provinces. Because of this belief they denied several visas just on the thought that trafficking had occured but with no evidence to support their beliefs.

My question to you is why would the US crack down on this in Vietnam but turn a blind eye to it in China? Don't get me wrong, I am not stating I don't believe your statements! In fact, I believe it is happening in both countries. I just don't see why they are treating the two countries so differently.

BTW, thank you so much for your blog!

Research-China.Org said...

I think the major difference between the two countries is that the trafficking in China seems to be limited to children willingly given up by their BPs. So far, there has been no evidence that kids are kidnapped and trafficked for adoption. I'm not saying to doesn't happen, simply that I have seen no direct evidence that it has happened. Should such evidence appear, I believe that that U.S. Government would take the appropriate steps.

But it is difficult. The Hunan story provides a case study on just how hard it is to prove such charges. The problem in Hunan was widely known, and nothing was done to stop it, mainly because those involved felt it was not morally wrong. Once the story broke INTERNATIONALLY, China went through a big show of "investigating" the adoptions, and declaring to every government that none of the trafficked children had been adopted (I am using the common understanding of the Chinese Government's declarations, not what they actually said). In fact, while their statements did NOT state that no trafficked children had been adopted internationally, clearly hundreds of trafficked children were adopted. But everyone involved -- the Chinese, the agencies, and the adoptive families were anxious for Hunan to go away, and did nothing to encourage further investigation.

Had more investigation been done, it would have been seen that the culture in Hunan is symptomatic of a cultural paradigm that permeates the adoption program there. Children are viewed as a commodity to be cared for and adopted for significant sums of money. "Rewards" are offered to draw more children into the orphanage system. Employees are encouraged to form relationships with hospital workers and others that might have access to children. We might legally state that these children are given up, but when the government or a middle-man offers a poor rural family 3,000 yuan for a child, many "give up" children who wouldn't otherwise.

Time will tell is this problem creates another "Hunan scandal", but the commodity-driven attitudes regarding China's orphans provides the perfect environment for abuse.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Brian for drawing attention to the sn kids of China. It breaks my heart to hear that international adoptions in China are slowing to a near halt because there are still so many kids in need. Just a year and a half ago I toured an orphanage that houses primarily special needs kids while I was adopting my cl/cp daughter. There were 60 babies there that day. My "healthy" Chinese child has more special needs than my sn child-folks should quit deluding themselves. I'd rather take on the problems I know than ones I don't. The special needs program needs attention.

Anonymous said...

If NSN adoption is no longer needed in China, why don't they just stop it, and do solely SN adoptions? Sure would be less painful than waiting forever for a child that truly could be adopted in China. Rip off the bandaid now. Of course, if it were easier to adopt SN that would be nice to - at the point I am at, its not an option (due to logging in with an agency that has no SN children, we meet all other qualifications).

Anonymous said...

I wanted to be offended and totally disagree with this blog post. Instead it's thought-provoking. I won't say I agree entirely, but I also wasn't able to summon the outrage that I wanted to have when I began reading. I appreciate having many different sides to IA presented. It's the only way to begin a true education.

Disclosure that may show my biases: I'm already adopting a child called "SN."

Anonymous said...

Although I at first was extremely angry with your statement- I can see that it would be highly beneficial to both China and US families to switch to all SN adoption program. I adopted last August a little girl with a small minor SN (would not qualify for assistance here). I met her foster family and I can tell you for sure -if they could have adopted this little girl, they would have- But they were not allowed to even consider it- based on the rule of Foster Care and her orphanage. For anyone who thinks this issue is simple- well it isn't - I am gripped with the knowledge that my daughter could have had a perfectly wonderful life in China (her previous home) with a very loving family - If the current Chinese system changed to favor domestic adoption. Our family feels very fortunate to have our daughter- but at some point I will share this information with her. My greatest hope is that our daughter will grow up with a willingness to help others and to share her stories to the benefit of others. If I had never met her foster Mom- I may have gone through life wondering if they wanted to keep her- I know this may be difficult for those of you waiting- But I really believe China has the ability to domestic adopt out every single healthy infant and probably some with special needs too. It is sad to think financial constraints and policy are the reason we have our daughter, but I am grateful to know I can share her life with her foster mom who we stay in touch with.
I also think we need to be careful - the Chinese Govt will lie about orphan numbers, orphanage conditions, current social problems (that they may culturally feel are not social problems)and the fact that they make decisions based on if the publicity of these things are embarrassing to them. We need to be careful that we are not used by their government to promote Propaganda- if you are in China doing RESEARCH- I am absolutely positive the Govt KNOWS it. This is not the same as doing RESEARCH here- You are naive to think that your answers to questions were not rehearsed by Orphanage directors that were told how to answer such questions when your Chinese friend called. China is very aware of you and your thoughts and this blog- It is monitored by their government. That makes all of your research suspect as being influenced by the government of China. China has no intention of becoming a Democracy or having freedom of speech, religion, and decreasing prejudices based on ethnicity and color. It is possible that the Chinese government has used you to promote their adoption policy changes. I think that you need to consider this as you do your research. The government is very detail oriented and things do not easily slip by them.
All in all- I appreciate that I can state my opinion and thank you for that opportunity.
Although I know my daughter was loved in China- I feel she will have a much better life here - because she can choose her own future for everything.

Research-China.Org said...

I don't share your cynicism regarding China's ability to control information. I have many individuals that feed me information, and I can assure you they are not feeding Chinese propaganda. Obviously when we first meet a director at an orphanage, they speak the party line, there is no denying that. But we know the party line -- we have heard it thousands of times. After a while, and as the relationship deepens, the guards come down and the true facts emerge.


Anonymous said...

We adopted three children from China with special needs years ago. Back then the special needs program was basically unheard of and the process was much different than it is today. Most folks were asking us why we would do such a thing when we could adopt healthy children. I couldn't believe the insensitive comments that some idiots made to us. Our children's stated health issues have been the least of our problems. They had many other issues we were totally unaware of, but so have many nsn children! However, if we did it all again we'd go the same route as before.
Our children were waiting for us to come and get them and we did! I wish China had made more of an effort to get the special needs children adopted out all along. Foster care in China has been helpful in reducing the number of children suffering the effects of institutionalization, but there's more that could and should be done.
All children deserve a home and I wish more folks would realize that children with special needs are no less of a child than any other. They just wait longer and that trend needs to stop. A child shouldn't wait longer for a family because she/he was born with or without something that was beyond her/his control. The gov't of China should control and monitor the children released for adoption and ensure that all children have an equal chance at finding a family.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved this article, Brian!! I have three daughters from China - one NSN infant adoption, and two "waiting child" adoptions. While I have no regrets about adopting my "healthy baby girl," who is a treasure, I cannot even tell you how much joy my two SN children have brought into my life. I also believe you are correct in your assumption that there is no longer a need for an NSN program, but that there are so many children who still wait for families because of medical conditions that are easily treatable in the U.S., or simply because they are older.

Anonymous said...

Another thought on waiting child adoptions: The biggest two things the CCAA could do to incent more SN adoptions are:

1. To reduce the orphanage donation for these adoptions, and perhaps some of the other fees as well.

2. To remove some of the restrictions placed on the program in May 2007 - particularly the restriction that inhibits single parents from adoption.

Anonymous said...


Can you please clarify this blurb from the 12/22/07 Ottowa Citizen

"Stuy predicts by the end of 2008, China will have to stop the adoption of healthy children."



Research-China.Org said...

I didn't say "will have to", rather I said "will". I believe China is very close to ending her NSN program.


Andy said...


Given a possible global recession, with Chna paticularly exposed, do you think there could be a need for the large back log of international parents?


Holly said...

Could you tell me how many orphanages in China only adopt domestically, and if there area any that don't adopt out at all?

Research-China.Org said...

There are an estimated 1,500 orphanages in China, so about 1,000 do domestic adoptions only. These are generally very small facilities.


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say, I loved that little girl. We were one of the 50families who called about her, but unlike you, we did not petition. I am glad to see she found a wonderful family. She will be a blessing to your family. I hope you travel soon. We just received another SN referral for our second cleft l/p boy. I wish you speedy travel. Maybe, we will see you in GZ.

Anonymous said...

What a sweet comment. Thank you. Maybe we will see you in Guangzhou! I pray your little boy will be a great blessing to you!

Lola Granola said...

I just want to thank you for this and your other posts.

We are very early in this process, still shoosing countries and agancies et al. I've just learned the terms "SN and NSN". Tha't how just getting started we are. ut you have given me a lot to think about, and the woman who shared her story even more. There are needs we couldn't cope with, but otherw where we could make a real difference in a child's life.

No matter what we decide, thanks.