Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The "Hidden" Supply of Children

Now that the Olympics are past, waiting families hope that the flow of children will accelerate and wait times will decrease. Hope is often pinned to the large number of non-IA orphanages in China's Social Welfare system. Once some of these orphanages join the international adoption program, the thinking goes, they will submit large numbers of dossiers to the CCAA, and wait times will begin to fall.

There are several problems with this assumption. The CCAA has been adding new orphanages to the program since it began international adoptions in 1992. Each and every year has seen new orphanages join the program. Some of the early orphanages eventually had large adoption programs, but the last orphanage to join with any significant numbers was Suixi County in Guangdong, who joined in 2002. Since that time, I am aware of no new orphanage that has submitted any significant numbers of children.

There is a very good reason for this. In my conversations with directors of non-IA orphanages, all have expressed little desire to become part of the IA program. There are several reasons for this reluctance. First, the CCAA requires orphanages to make substantial investments in the facilities in anticipation of visits by foreigners. Additionally, orphanages are required to hire medical and nanny personnel beyond their current levels. Lastly, the paperwork required for an international adoption is significantly more cumbersome than paperwork for a domestic adoption. All of this obviously adds to the overhead of a facility, and consequently many directors have chosen not to participate.

But what about the financial benefits derived by the international adoption program? Won't that create an incentive for orphanages to join the program?

Many of the orphanages joining the program begin by submitting files for special needs children. For example, Huidong County (Guangdong) joined the IA program in May 2007, submitting five files. Four of the five children had special needs, and the fifth child was over four years old. Thus, the adoption of special needs children can be a motivation for directors to join the program.

But what about the orphanages? Are there not possibly large numbers of untapped children that could be brought into the international adoption program?

Probably not. The problem has several facets. China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs reported in 2001 that there were 1,550 state-run welfare institutions, 160 of which specialized in the care of orphans. These facilities were said to have cared for approximately 41,000 children (Kay Johnson, “Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son – Abandonment, Adoption and Orphanage Care in China”, Yeong & Yeong Book Company, p. 204). The problem is that in the Chinese, "Social Welfare Institute" (fuliyuan) encompasses not just orphan care but also old people care. A significant portion of the 1,550 State-run "welfare institutions" take care of no children whatsoever. In fact, upwards of 30-40% of the above numbered facilities take care of only old people.

Thus, the pool of potential participants in the IA program realistically stands at around 1,100 facilities, still a large increase over the approximate 450 facilities currently in China's international program. (A 2004 Chinese Government pronouncement states that “Today, China has 192 special welfare institutions for children and 600 comprehensive welfare institutions with a children's department, accommodating a total of 54,000 orphans and disabled children. If accurate, and I have no reason to believe it isn't, that would reduce the number of non-IA orphanages to a little over 300 facilities).

It is difficult to make contact with the 700 non-IA orphanages. There is no centralized listing, and often even local 114 (Information) directory assistance have no phone numbers for the small orphanages scattered around China. Thus, conducting a systematic survey of the non-IA orphanages is practically impossible. However, in July we contacted thirteen non-IA orphanages located in Fujian, Guangdong, Hebei, Hubei, Hunan, Liaoning and Zhejiang Provinces. While not a large survey, the results of our conversations with these directors is nevertheless informative.

Keep in mind that these thirteen orphanages are not direct participants in the international adoption program. Conventional wisdom suggests that these directors should have large numbers of children in their care, and be anxious to cooperate with any family seeking to adopt a child in their care.

Duplicating the protocol of our April 2006 survey of international orphanages, I had a caller pose as a domestic family from the area interested in knowing if there were any children available for adoption. Two of the thirteen (15%) indicated that they did not care for children, and were strictly in charge of old people care. Four of the thirteen (30%) flatly stated that they currently had no children in their care, and that there were waiting families. The number of families waiting averaged about 25. One of the orphanages (Lianzhou, Guangdong) indicated that they transferred all of their foundlings to the Qingxin orphanage for international adoption. Only one orphanage (Xianyou, Fujian) indicated a single available child, adoptable with a 20,000 yuan donation.

The remaining six orphanages reported that they only had special needs children in their care, with waiting lists of families desiring healthy children (in the case of Enmei orphanage in Zhejiang the list has 600 families). One director indicated that his orphanage would not adopt a special needs child domestically because "we don't trust a family to care for the special needs child long-term." Experience has apparently shown this director that domestic families may indicate a willingness to adopt a child with a special need, but that most, if not all, change their minds some time down the road.

I am convinced that none of the non-participating orphanages in China's welfare system has any significant number of healthy children that can be brought into the IA program. Every non-IA orphanage I have ever visited or contacted had no healthy children available, and nearly all of them had waiting lists of families ready to adopt any children that arrived in the orphanage.

Thus, non-IA orphanages don't join the international adoption program for several reasons -- high capital expenditure requirements; few children that need placement in the IA program. In other words, the orphanages not in the IA program already have a working adoption program outside the IA program, programs that don't require the bureaucracy of the CCAA.


The thirteen orphanages contacted were:
Xianyou, Fujian
Doumen, Guangdong
Lainzhou, Guangdong
Xinfeng, Guangdong
Hengshui, Hebei
Hongshan, Hubei
Zigui, Hubei
Ningxiang, Hunan
Hongwei, Liaoning
Rixin-Dalian, Liaoning
Huangnanzhou, Qinghai
Enmei, Zhejiang
Tongxiang, Zhejiang


Anonymous said...

We're in line for NSN. Being that we requested 14-28 month NSN, I don't care about the wait time as much as I care that she will have proper care before we arrive to get her. As you stated (and as I already suspected), the non-IA SWIs are run with less care to the children, and most likely less than standard facilities, the thought of adopting from a previously non-IA SWI scares the bejebies out of me! I'd much rather wait, and hopefully get another referral from an SWI that's sponsored by HTS. Our first daughter was in a loving environment in Anhui province, with surroundings that seemed more like a daycare center than an SWI.

Shari said...

This is bittersweet news. Wonderful news that it seems abandonment rates have gone down and that the healthy children in China's SWIs seem to be adopted domestically much more frequently. Sad for all the families still waiting to adopt internationally from China.

Anonymous said...

So the new program the CCAA began recently to help SN chidren and older children to be adopted faster is a good thing. Since they are the majority of children waiting for homes it is good to see China put them first rather than inflate the NSN International Adoption program with the few children that are NSN so that foreigners may adopt them. People are flocking to the Ethiopia program now in hopes of adopting very young NSN chidren. It wont be long before corruption and greed overrun that program, too.

Linda said...

The use of the words "in their care" when referring to the low number NSN children is very misleading. With an increase in the number of SN children entering the orphanages, a great number of NSN children are sent to foster homes, this is the latest trend. So when China and you speak of there being fewer NSN children in the "orphanages" you are correct, but now I would like to see some hard core facts on how many there are in the entire system, including foster care. I believe the recorded number of NSN children in "orphanages" is deceptive when the foster care system is not included in your fact finding.

Research-China.Org said...

I realize some readers might be tempted to distinguish between children in foster carte, orphanage care, hospital care, or some other kind of care to re-interpret the numbers, but I make no such distinction. When I report numbers, it is ALL children under the jurisdiction and control of the orphanage. It doesn't matter if they are physically in the orphanage or not, they are still "under the care" of the orphanage.

Furthermore, I don't believe that orphanage directors make such a distinction either. If a family contacts the orphanage to adopt, no director is going to say, "Well, I don't have any healthy children in the orphanage itself. Too bad they are all in foster care and thus unadoptable."

Readers who suspect my interview results are skewed based on whether the children are in the orphanage physically or simply in foster care don't have a clear understanding of the orphanage system.


Anonymous said...


You said "in the case of Enmei orphanage in Zhejiang the list has 600 families".

My sinical side says that even if this is only 50% right - 300 families exceeds the number of children adopted yearly from some of the largest orphanges in the IA programs ie Fuzhou City, Jiangxi.

Anonymous said...

I think that is Brian's point.

There are far more waiting domestic families than there are children available, "or acceptable" for domestic adoption.

One year ago, the director of the SN adoptions for the agency we used to adopt our son, visited several orphanages in Guangzhou, when she adopted her son. There were 600 local families waiting to adopt from a Guangzhou orphanage. So, yes, there are far more domestic families waiting to adopt from some orphanages, than there are children (assuming NSN and AYAP - just like IA PAP's) in those orphanages.

As to the comment about not wanting to adopt from an orphanage new to IA. From personal experience, I can tell you that our youngest - the first and only IA from his orphanage, was far more loved and cared for, than one of my other children from a regular IA orphanage - 4.5 years later, we are still dealing with the ramifications of abuse and neglect.

Anonymous said...

Hello Brian,

I appreciate all the research you've done over the years.

Regarding this issue, what do you think is the CCAA's motivation or justification in continuing to accept international NSN adoption requests if the current wait of 30 months can only increase given the fact that the CCAA has been covering an average of 7 calendar days every month for the past 18 months?

Research-China.Org said...

I suppose the most likely explanation is that the CCAA doesn't feel they can have a SN program only, and thus continue to except NSN applications so that their program is not viewed as having made any substantial changes. However, the recent "shared list", and the emphasis the CCAA places on matching NSN families with that list, leads me to believe that the CCAA will continue to emphasize the SN program, and allow the wait time to increase for NSN.


Anonymous said...

When will our state department step in and strongly recommend that US familes do not enter into the process with China.

I am about as anti government intervention as you can get, but at some point to keep requiring costly updates for waiting familes for finger prints etc for a truly unknown time frame seems inheirantly wrong.

Anonymous said...

It's sad that those who need it most are put through so much pain. I wish that Chinese took better care of their children.

It is nice to see that more children are being adopted in the country. That's how it should be, but it is hard on international families.

Anonymous said...

you Said
"However, the recent "shared list", and the emphasis the CCAA places on matching NSN families with that list."

As a parent looking forword to a SN referral I would like to see where that was reported?

You said on "Wait Time Prognosis for 2009"
"The Chinese have a long history of downplaying the number and issues with the Special Needs children in their system. They, in many respects, hide these children from adoptive families and the world."

Wouldn’t it be just as easy, in many respects, hide NSN children from adoptive families and the world?

You would then end up with a sentence that looks like this.

"The Chinese have a short history of downplaying the number children in their system. They, in many respects, hide these children from adoptive families and the world."

Research-China.Org said...

Harrah's sent the following to their families:

"On April 11th, CCAA announced to all agencies participating in the online program that they would like agencies to match the children on the larger shared list with families who are already DTC for a NSN child but who now wish to adopt a child with medical or developmental needs."

Any agency that has access to the new shared list has been informing families of this new emphasis by the CCAA to migrate families from the NSN backlog to the shared list children (most with minor SN).