Tuesday, August 23, 2016

We Know Who the In-Country Searchers Are, But Are They Any Good?

UPDATED: September 23, 2016

As the Chinese adoptee population begins to mature, a growing industry is developing around the need for many adoptees and their families to search for birth parents and other information. As a result, people inside China, most of whom used to work as agency guides when adoptions were prolific, have now moved into the search industry. The current main players in this arena are "Xixi," "Tiffany," "Jane,"  and to a lessor extent "Bruce Yu." We have written about our own experiences with these searchers on our subscription blog, but we felt polling a larger pool of families, families that have had direct involvement with these searchers, was warranted.

We created a poll asking adoptive families on our search group if they had paid any in-country searcher to seek out their child's birth family.  Eighty-one families responded (interested families are encouraged to submit their own feedback relative to these searchers for future survey updates, which we hope to conduct monthly). The following is a summary of the experiences of these participants, and their assessment of the services they received.

The dominant searcher in China is Xixi, an ex-agency in-country guide based in Guangxi Province. Fifty-six percent of respondents had utilized her services. Families had Xixi search in a wide area, ranging from Guangxi Province to as far away as Zhejiang Province. Families reported that on average they paid from $300 to over $500 for the research, although 20% of faqmilies paid more than $500.

Survey results indicate that Xixi is well loved by her clients. When asked to rate their satisfaction with her services, the forty-six families rated their overall experience as 3.69 (1 = Wish I hadn't done it, 5 = Completely satisfied). All but sixteen respondents rated her 4 or higher.  Common comments touted her quick communication, flexibility, and honesty.  When asked if they would recommend Xixi to other families, Xixi rated 3.80 (Would recommend).

There were a few non-fans (16/46). One respondent commented that they felt Xixi "applied a 'one-size-fits-all' approach, rather than listening to us and hearing what we wanted. We didn't need photos and souvenirs (we'd already been there) and didn't want to pay for that. We were fairly sure the orphanage was involved in our daughter's 'abandonment' and didn't want them alerted to our search, but she went straight to the orphanage director. We wanted her to discreetly interview other people, but all she did was put up posters (which we told her up front was not a priority for us, given the fact that we didn't think our daughter was truly abandoned)."

Of the forty-six families that had hired Xixi, three reported success in locating their child's birth family.

The second main searcher used by families inside China is Tiffany, an ex-shop owner in Nanchang.  Utilized by 10% of respondents, Tiffany's clients were also very happy, for the most part, with her services.  Like Xixi, Tiffany charges families $300 or more for a search, and she has conducted searches in Jiangxi Province and neighboring areas.  Eight families in our survey had used Tiffany's services, and most (63%) rated her as a good or awesome value.  Happy clients emphasized her doggedness and commitment to follow through on leads, etc.  Tiffany's overall client satisfaction average was 3.38.  When asked if they would recommend her to other families, Tiffany rated 3.13 (Nearly neutral).
None of the families that utilized Tiffany in their searches were successful in locating their child's birth family.

A distant third option utilized by families was Jane, hired by five families. In contrast to Xixi and Tiffany, Jane has an average satisfaction rating of 3.4. Jane's fees appear to be lower, with most families reporting they paid between $100 and $300, and no family having paid more than $500.  Jane appears to search predominantly in Anhui Province.

Respondents cite Jane's lack of organization as the major dissatisfier: "The searcher did not appear to be organized for the search and it was a lot of hit and miss for the day of the search plus information provided turned out to be inaccurate by the searcher.  I didn't trust the translation.  It was not matching the expressions of the people that she was talking to and I had to prompt for a translation and I was told often that it was nothing.  Information about the original orphanage location turned out not to be true.  Told us at one point that someone came forward but we had to return to [the city] to meet the person first which the searcher could have done for a cost.  We met with a TV station the day after the searcher left and a much better response where they found the original orphanage, took us to the police station, had DNA taken, the gov. office.  It was suggested that my daughter is from another city further away so it would have been helpful to help us search there."

 When asked if they would recommend Jane to other families, she rated 3 (Neutral). One of the five families reported locating their child's birth family by using Jane.

Out of the eighty-two families that have taken the survey, only eight have obtained birth family information through their searcher: Three with Xixi, one through Jane, and the rest through local contacts such as "Baby Come Home" and other area residents who the family befriended.

As more families participate in the survey, our sample size, especially for lessor utilized options such as Jane and Bruce Yu, will grow, allowing us to make better characterizations.

If you have utilized an in-country searcher to try and locate birth families, please consider completing our survey.  Your experience will help other families to make informed decisions.

Full comments can be read on our information site under the "More" tab, "Searcher Reviews".  

Searcher Survey


Anonymous said...

It's interesting to note that only families who have had no success in locating birth families have so far taken part in the survey. I have heard that all three searchers have found birth families over the years (how many I don't know) and I personally did witness first-hand one birth family/adoptive family reunion with XiXi.

Some (many??) adoptive families who are fortunate enough to locate birth family are not willing, perhaps for their adoptive child's privacy, to share this information. This is unfortunate because I think the details of a successful search could really help other adoptive families/adoptees, especially those searching in the same area.

Susan Morgan

Anonymous said...

Brian, thanks for all the work, it is very interesting to read! I agree with Susan's comments. Only today I saw a link to the survey being published on a Dutch FB group, so I hope the results will be updated. It is my impression that Xixi is used by most Dutch people. Also, to reach more people it might be worthwhile to put the link on some other FB groups. I am sure that way there will be response from those who found birthfamily. Since the survey is anonymous, people do not need to worry about privacy.

Anonymous said...

I tend to believe the percentages, especially the high rate of non-success. While I know some searchers have found birth parents, there are many, many more cases where they did not. Not completely their fault since many of us are dealing with fabricated information. But I believe for every adoptive family that did have success with a searcher and has not responded to the survey, there are many, many more adoptive families who did use a searcher and had no success and also has not responded to the survey, so I don't think the percentages are going to change drastically. Brian, do you care to give a guess as to the chance of success with a searcher, for an adoptive family that does not have detailed, unique finding information? My guess is that it is very, very low, probably 2% or less. Actually, the only successes I am aware of with searchers are with adoptive families who do have detailed, unique finding information.

Unknown said...

We have used Xixi twice and been pleased and are not represented in your survey results. We met a birth family and searcher for our eldest daughter. Unforutnately they were not a DNA match. The searcher refused to provide information to us in person as our daughter "was not old enough" not because of Xixi. She has assisted us with our second daughter where there was more possibility of corruption and this is perhaps the one orphanage where there is a personal connection. My guess is that it is the same orphanage that showed up in your survey. We are using her as our guide on our next homeland visit and I would recommend her. In all searches there will be obstacles. The goal is to gather information and sluice out as much of what was as possible. She rocks at that. She secured our eldest's finding outfit after our first visit. I have nothing but praise.

Research-China.Org said...

Anonymous: While having unique information is often a positive, we have located birth families of children found at the gate of the orphanage. There are many factors that go into a probability of success, and it is hard to isolate one factor and say, "This situation will be a high success rate." If searchers know the unique aspects of a given orphanage, their success is increased. If they treat every orphanage and child's circumstances the same, then success will invariably be lowered.

Anonymous said...

I have used xixi's services for my eldest daughter. We found the birth family in Guizhou province. Xixi is experienced and eager to investigate each detail. She is easy to approach and I would certainly recommend her. In fact she is now searching for my youngest daughter in Hunan province. We are from Holland.

kantmakm said...

I have worked with all the searchers (except Jane) on different levels. Every one of them have been responsive and have provided exactly what I had asked them to provide - this does *not* include actual BF locating, as that is something we need to do ourselves as a family. Bruce gets information quickly and efficiently, however, it's expensive (hong bao required) and ethically tenuous. Tiffany is a dear friend of mine - we were at her home in Nanchang for my daughter's 8th birthday, so I'm recusing myself from commenting. XiXi is kind and detail-oriented - we did not use her for searching, but were in pretty constant contact last china china trip as we were trying to get DNA kits exchanged with each other. It all worked out.

kantmakm said...

Hiring a remote searcher and expecting them to just go out and find birth family is the epitome of privileged expectations. Honestly, that's just not how this works. A (re)searcher can give a family clues, background information; can provide guiding and translation and contacts and interviews - all essential components. But really and truly at the end of the day, there is no substitute for being present in-country.

Anonymous said...

We also contacted Xixi in 2012 and she found the biological family of our eldest daughter from Nanning. Xixi was very helpful and when we met the biological family for the first time she also accompanied us. This year we met the bio-family again and we travelled on our own. I would certainly recommend Xixi as a searcher.She is very easy going and helpful dealing with the Chinese culture.

Anja from The Netherlands