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A Wayfarer is a person who is traveling, a particular place, a circumstance, a stage of life, etc. Let's walk the road of adoption together. The journey is so much better with company!
Much of this information is useful for any adoption, but this blog is designed to be a
I hope this blog will be helpful to you in your adoption whether you are considering, waiting or home. I started this blog when we were adopting and found there was next to nothing on the web in any orderly manner. I set about to collect information for myself and then for others. Now, there are more sites for resources, but still not much that brings it all together. I hope this blog will serve as a sort of clearing house for Ethiopian Adoption Information. Please feel free to contribute your knowledge through commenting.
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Welcome to the journey!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Questions to ask prospective adoption agencies

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It is important to select an agency that will not discriminate on the basis of your faith, schooling preferences, family size, etc…… We also found it important that they not ADD to the country requirements or show us good reasons for adding. I sorted through about 4 different lists from on line and added my own questions to the ones I took from the other lists. Here is that list. I also would strongly suggest doing a google search on the agency, country program coordinator and seeking out opinions of others. It shows a lot about a program. Be aware that one disgruntled client, even if it is not the agencies fault, will post multiple times as different id’s in as many places as possible, so check it out well. Everyone has at least one upset client. You have the right to answers to these questions and any others before you pay a dime. Many of the answers can be found on their web site or from prior clients. Fill in first and then use it as a test to see if they answer consistently. Asking questions represented on this list will narrow down your list of possible agencies. They will answer or make some excuse to not answer, require payment first, hang up on you, never get back to you, etc…. (all of those happened to me, and I was very polite). Only two out of 10 agencies were willing to answer all the questions and one failed a Google search miserably. We were very happy with our choice. Also check out the yahoo group Agency referral list. Use this list to create your own list.
• How many children did you place last year?
• How many children did you place from each of the programs in which I am interested?
• How long have you been placing children from each of the countries I’m interested in?

•( How soon after I apply will my home study begin? How long will it take to complete?)
When will I know if I have been approved?
• If I am not approved, can I find out why? Is there an appeal process?
• How long will it take from home study approval to the referral of a child? What happens if I don’t feel I can accept the child referred?

Time allowed to accept the referral?
Receive new referral?
• (For international adoptions) Once I accept a referral, how long until I travel to adopt my child?

  • May siblings travel as well?
  • How long has the process been taking?
  • How are in country problems addressed?


• What will be the total cost of adopting through each program? Do you supply a breakdown of fees in writing as well as a schedule of when payments are due?
• Does the fee cover the home study, all post-placement visits, fees to the placing agency (international or in-country), international processing, transportation and miscellaneous fees (visa, dossier preparation, notarization, medical exams, document translation, exit tax)?

*Other expected costs estimated?
*Do we have to take large amounts of cash to country?
• Do you have an annual report that demonstrates fiscal accountability? How does the agency spend leftover funds? What percentage of the funds is spent on administration?

*Are the fees set once we sign or are the subject to increase?
If the fees increase is there an option for us to withdraw without penalty or to change programs with out penalty (transfer fees to new program)?
International Programs
  • Do you have more than one foreign adoption program? Could I switch my application to another country if regulations change or a moratorium is declared?
  • Are the international agencies you work with licensed in their own countries? How long have you worked with them?
  • Are they part of your own agency?
  • Do you help prepare clients for the adoption trip? Do you help make travel arrangements?
  • Do you have bilingual representatives respected by the authorities in each foreign country to obtain or assist with the referral of a child? Will they be there to assist me through the process when I arrive?
  • For sightseeing?
  • Housing? Transportation?
  • Do you provide financial assistance to the orphanages from which you place children?
  • Pre adoption education? Post adoptive assistance?
·        Can I have a hand in choosing my child, or will I be “matched” with a child by you? 
·        What kind of information is available about children you place?  Will I see medical reports, photos, videos?  Will I learn about the child’s history prior to placement at the orphanage?
·        Have you, the director, met the children?  Will you have met my prospective child personally?  If not, on whose word are we relying about the condition of the child?
·        What is a typical time-line from the time I accept a child to completion of the process?
·        How does the timeline for baby-adoption compare to the timeline for older child adoption?
·        May I travel to meet my child before the process is complete?
·        May I travel to pick up my child or do I have the child escorted?  Which do you recommend?
·        Is it possible to adopt two or more unrelated children, or do you discourage it?
·        Is it possible to meet my child’s birth-relatives?  Does my child have a living parent?  (Adoption is legal after the loss of one parent.) 
·        What is the cost for an adoption of one or more children?  Are there hidden costs?  Will I be charged for foster care while my child awaits completion of the process?
·        What kind of post-adoption support does your agency offer?  If we have a difficult transition, will you be able to help me through it?  

Other Pertinent Questions
  • Do you give clients a copy of their rights with their application form? Do you provide a contract that spells out my responsibilities toward the adoption as well as what you are responsible for?
  • Is there a written policy of quality assurance that will address my concerns during the process?
  • What kinds of support services do you offer before, during and after placement?
  • What if the adoption doesn’t work out?
  • What are your professional affiliations?
o       Do you run an agency list-serv – a forum for pre- and post-adoptive families to converse online?  If not, is there a way for your families to communicate with one another?
o       What is considered Special needs?
Is there a discount for such adoptions?
o Extra fees for 2 children?

o How many visits to the country are required? How long is the visit?
o Can you sight see during that time?

o What are your recommendations for home study agency?

o References for your agency?

o Hague accredited? State licensed in? Are you licensed in the country we seek to adopt? ( you need to see the licensing papers/certificate of each of these).

All agencies are not equal; they do not charge the same fees, they do not have the same transparency of process, they do not reply to clients' needs and questions with equal speed, they do not have uniformly competent and responsive staffs in the U.S. and abroad, they do not provide equivalent amounts of information on the children, and they do not demonstrate equal commitment to the devastating orphan crisis.
All international adoptions have murky aspects; in a land of no birth certificates and the plague of HIV/AIDS, it can be very difficult to get a clear history of a child; so part of your homework is determining how much uncertainty you can live with (if a child is 11 rather than 9, will that still work for your family?  How would you deal with a medical "surprise"?) Nevertheless, if an agency has a long track record of misinformation, you'd want to go with one with better access to or fidelity to reality.
1.  Is the agency licensed in the U.S. and in Ethiopia?  (check out the U.S. Dept. of State website... etc.)
2.  Are clients generally happy with the agency?  If they are unhappy, were they satisfied with the way the agency handled the problem and that constructive criticism led to a change for the future? 
3.  If there is public unhappiness with an agency, what is the source of it?  Do you sense that the truth is out there or that there is a spin campaign? Email communication can quickly lead to rumor-mongering and hyperbole; on the other hand, email can also lead to the revelation of problems.
4.  How closely involved are the agency personnel with the children available for adoption?  Does someone know the children personally, or is he or she relying on reports from people unconnected with the agency.?  Will you be told, about a child, "She's bright and happy" or "She is said to be bright and happy"?  Who from the agency knows the child personally and can give you accurate information? 
5.  What are the fees?  What is the timeline?  How do these compare with other agencies?  If the referral to travel time is 3, 4,5 times as long as other agencies report, ask why and be sure you are satisfied with the answer and can live with the wait.  Waiting for a referral is tough; waiting after the referral is torture. 
6.  What kinds of information (photos, medical records, school records, videos) are you being offered about older waiting children? Can you choose among the waiting children or are you be "matched" by the agency? Which approach appeals to you? 
7.  What kind of humanitarian work is the agency performing for the millions of children not being adopted?  If one agency's fees are, say, twice that of other agencies, where is that extra money going?  If another's fees are suspiciously low, what quality of care are children getting and what kinds of efforts does the agency make on behalf of children not available for adoption?
8.  What is an agency's approach to children who are HIV-positive or have other physical or emotional challenges?  What is an agency's commitment to older children in need of families? If an agency is offering nothing but healthy babies and plenty OF them, is this ethical adoption practice, given the unprecedented orphan crisis in the country? This would be a red flag.  If an agency refuses to process adoptions for HIV-positive children, now cleared by US immigration, what is that agency's excuse?  
9.   What does the agency do to support families considering a disruption?  Do they have a policy or are you on your own?  Critical information to know if you are adopting an older child in particular. 
10.  Can you be in open uncensored communication with other families who have adopted through your agency?  What do the already-adopted children say about the agency's facility in Addis? 
11.  If you travel, can you visit your child's care facility at will and communicate directly (with a translator of course) with the people most directly involved in his/her day to day care?  
12. Regarding the placement of children and communication with the adopting parents:
a. how long to referral after dossier? HIV testing procedure – will the child be referred to me with the results of the Elisa test (0ver 18 months) or the PCR test (important for under 18 months)? Will the child be referred with the medical AND social or without it? (Should be WITH both). If I or a doctor find information to be unusual will you have the child re-checked by the doctor in country? Will my concerns on the medical be addressed respectfully?
b. how long to court date after referral? Will we be notified the same day of the court decision?
c. how long to embassy date after court passed? How long before travel will we have to make flight and accommodation arrangements? 
d. after referral will we be given updated “progress” reports on our child(ren) such as social awareness and interaction, growth and development, personality? Do you have photos and such above info sent by other families traveling or by orphanage or adoption agency personnel? 
13. Can I have contact with the orphanage prior to adopting? Can a liaison of mine visit my child on my behalf?
14. If my child has a medical situation after we are matched and before we travel will I be notified? How long will you wait to inform me from medical event? 
15. What is your communication pattern with the in country representative? Are they available to answer specific information from adopting parents regarding the referred child?
16. How often are cases from your agency heard in the court of specific country? When is the US embassy appointments scheduled for? They should have a standing slot for US embassy and maybe the court as well. 
Other questions more related to specific adoption circumstances and preferences: 
1.     Will the agency work with you to get you to Ethiopia in order to visit the child prior to adoption so that he or she can come home on an IR-3 visa instead of an IR-4?  Either a one-off visit or arrange for you to arrive a day or so before the court date? 
2.     Will the agency facilitate meeting and ongoing communication with any of the child's remaining birth relatives?  If you do not want to meet the birth relatives, will the agency be supportive of that? 
3.     Will the agency provide a facilitator/translator to be with you as much as you want?  If you want to "go it alone" for chunks of time, will they be supportive?  If you absolutely do not want to be alone on the streets of Addis Ababa, will the translator be available to you whenever you need him or her?  Will the agency translator meet you at the airport and get you to your hotel or will you have to manage that on your own? 
4.     Does the agency have a compound on the grounds of the orphanage at which you can stay?  Does the agency put you up in a specific hotel?  Do you have to find and/or book a hotel on your own?  
5.     Especially with some of the newer and smaller programs, I'm likely to ask: If you only place 5/10/15/etc. children a year, what does your orphanage staff do with the other time?  Do you have orphanage staff?  Do they work for more than one agency?    

***Selecting an agency can be a life altering decision. The right agancy for your family is too important to be taken lightly but I think that most families should consider the following:

1. No agency that is not in compliance with the laws of the state of which it is licensed would remain licensed to complete adoptions. Reviews of the agencies and it's compliance is done on an annual or bi-annual schedule and those with substantiated complaints would either have their license terminated or be put on notice to comply within a short amount of time.

2.Every agency is subject to complaints in this highly emotional, costly process especially when you consider that the foreign side of International adoption is so difficult to monitor or control. All agencies do their best to have a program that is smooth and informative from the foreign side but in many cases there will be events out of their control, like closing either to shut down for a period or permanently some country programs.

3. Anyone who has ever gone into a sports store will find the walls lined with sneakers. Just because those purple and orange Nikes are not for you does not mean they will not be perfect for someone else. Agencies are the same. Some clients want to turn in their paperwork, send a check and be notified when the process is completed. Some will want to talk to someone 24/7 as a worry or concern comes to mind. These clients seem to forget that working within an agency is a job just like theirs and most of the case workers have families and like to have days off to rejuvenate. One occasion I have heard complaints from clients an these lists because their e-mail was not answered for 3 days but the clients failed to mention is was over a long weekend when they were home from work and had time and energy to send the e-mail and also to think and worry about those pressing questions they needed answered immediately. Be kind and considerate to your case worker. They are in many times devoted mothers and their /husbands need them to.

4.In some cases these lists become ways to slander agencies by people who would never consider them selves to be so unkind in their real world. I know of one recent case where the father lied on his application about his arrest record (he told of 1 DUI but forgot to mention the 2nd that sent him to jail or the Hit & run he or his wife were never really cleared of) He not only left out these details on his application to the agency but had prior to that lied on his home study. Guess what? USCIS rejected his family for international adoption based on his dishonesty and arrest record. The man is now suing the adoption agency for not completing his adoption in a timely fashion.

5. Another case was stopped just prior to issuing the immigration visas for 4 kids from Ethiopia when the mother & father were arrested for assault on each other. The agency and USCIS were concerned about the children's well-being in this family based on the arrest record. The family even took it to the State's Attorney in their state. After a year of counseling they went through another agency working in Ethiopia, brought home these kids and then disrupted at least 2. Slandering the agency for not allowing their adoption to be completed in a timely fashion was their outlet. Both of these clients filed negative stories on the Agency Referral List......

5. Post-placement follow-up. No matter which agency you choose, with any licensed to work in Ethiopia you will most likely have a positive experience, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to check and see how much support others have received post-adoptively. Ask for contacts of families who have children in their late teens or young adults. Not only can they advise you about issues today but can advise you on how much support they received after they adopted their kids. (From another woman) I am living in the US after 7 years in Ethiopia and I can tell you I receive calls every day from post-adoptive families seeking help. Teen years are especially difficult for adopted kids. Our foster care systems in the US are bulging with foreign adopted kids and in many cases the kids are relinquished because the families had no one to turn to when the problems first arose. It will become critical to your family to make sure you seek advice and assistance as soon as you see issues popping up. This is not a time to be shy or feel guilty for needing help...there is no shame in needing help...only in needing it and not asking for it.

A great site for checking out agencies and lots of good information for discerning what is right for your family.... click Here

1 comment:

  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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