Q & A: Adopting from China

For almost twenty years, China has been the most popular source country for international adoptions by Canadian families. Since the peak year of 2005, however, adoption numbers have decreased while wait times have increased. The exception is China’s special needs (“waiting children”) program, which is now the largest source of international adoptions to Canadians. In this Q&A, we talk with two families who recently adopted through the waiting children program.

How have things changed with adoptions from China?

Josh and Jackie: A lot changes in several months, let alone 10 years! Many other countries around the world have since opened their doors to international adoption. China’s one child policy was recently lifted, which will surely have a huge effect on the number of children available for international adoption. China as a nation is becoming increasingly wealthy and families are better able to afford having more than one child. Even before the one child policy was lifted, many families were willing to pay the penalties to the government for having more than one child. Lastly, since many Chinese citizens now have the means to adopt, adoptions within China have become more  common.

How long did your adoption take, and how old was your child when they came home?

Josh and Jackie: Our daughter was 18 months old when we adopted her in April 2015. From when we applied with China to when we were matched took about 1.5 years; six months after which we brought her home.

Paula: We adopted our daughter Maeve from China’s waiting child program in January of 2013. She was 20 months old at the time and had an unrepaired cleft lip and palate. We waited for two years from submitting our application to travelling to get our daughter. The government of Newfoundland, where we live, is not very efficient when it comes to international adoption, so we paid for a private homestudy to speed up the process.

What are the differences between China’s regular and special needs programs?

Josh and Jackie: It’s our understanding that the “regular” program typically features healthy infants and that the wait is now seven to ten years. We’ve heard this program is being phased out because of the lack of healthy infants available for adoption. The “waiting children” program features children with some form of physical or mental health condition, ranging from mild to severe. Typically, these children are one year old and up.

Paula: I’ve noticed that families who want boys in the waiting children program tend to be matched more quickly.

What types of special needs do children in the waiting child program have?

Josh and Jackie: The most common are developmental delays or cleft lip/palate. Healthy older children are also considered to be “special needs” because of their age, as are children who have had surgeries but are otherwise healthy.

What’s the hardest part of the process?

Josh and Jackie: The wait and the uncertainty. You don’t know how long it will take to be matched. You don’t know when you’ll travel. You don’t know how reliable the information or its translation you receive about the child is.

Paula: The waiting time was the hardest part for us.

What surprised you?

Josh and Jackie: Being matched relatively quickly. When we first applied to the China program, we were told the expected wait times were approximately 6-12 months. At the 12 month mark, we were told to expect another 3 years but were matched 6 months later.

Paula: Our daughter was very ill when we brought her home. She weighed only 18 pounds and was suffering from malnutrition. She couldn’t sit up or roll over and had no muscle tone. We were not expecting her to be so ill.

What’s life like like now that you’re home?

Josh and Jackie: Excellent, most of the time! We’ve been home 8.5 months now. Our daughter has formed a secure attachment with us and adjusted well, we think. Her language and development have been coming along wonderfully.

Paula: Maeve is catching up every day! We attend weekly therapies at our local children’s hospital. The staff are wonderful. However, they haven’t worked with a lot of internationally adopted children and weren’t familiar with institutional delays. Maeve spent 20 months in an orphanage, which delayed her development. I’ve heard that for every 3 months spent in the orphanage, you should take 1 month off the child’s developmental age.

How do you connect your child to her culture?

Josh and Jackie: We haven’t done much yet because of the relatively short time we’ve been home and the fact that she’s only two! But we’re connected with other local families that have adopted from China. We plan to celebrate Chinese New Year and attend local cultural events. When our daughter is older, my husband hopes to do Mandarin classes with her. We’ll also travel to China together as a family one day.

Paula: Both of our daughters are from China, so we try to keep connected to their culture. We’re members of our local Chinese association and we celebrate many Chinese holidays.

Can I select my child’s gender?

Yes. China is one of the few country programs that still allows families to specify gender on their application. Because more than 80 percent of all adoptive families prefer girls, families who are open to boys are usually matched faster than those who are only open to adopting a girl.

Do all children from China who need families have special needs?

Yes. The majority of children in China waiting for families have some sort of medical or developmental special need.  This is due to a number of factors. Namely, in recent years, China has eased their one-child-per-family policy, causing fewer families to abandon children. With China’ s growing economy, Chinese families also now have greater resources to care for their children — another factor that has contributed to fewer overall cases of child abandonment. Domestic adoption is also becoming increasingly common, allowing for children — primarily healthy infants — to join loving adoptive families in China before being considered for international adoption.  However, many families are still unable to care for a child with special needs, leaving many children with special needs waiting for a loving adoptive family through international adoption. When applying, families determine their openness to age, gender and types of special needs.

Nearly half of the children Holt places from China have conditions that can either be corrected with surgery or managed with treatment, such as:

  • Cleft lip and palate
  • Orthopedic issues like limb differences or clubfoot
  • Heart defects requiring less-involved surgery
  • Atresias such as ear atresia or anal atresia
  • Prematurity/low birth weight with accompanying developmental delays or medical issues
  • Skin conditions such as birthmarks, angiomas or removable tumors
  • Developmental or speech delays

Families who are open to more involved special needs may be matched with a child with these types of conditions:

  • Complex heart defects
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spina bifida
  • HIV
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Urogenital abnormalities
  • Thalassemia requiring regular blood transfusions
  • Vision or hearing loss
  • Dwarfism
  • Albinism
  • Down syndrome

How long does it take to adopt from China?

With Holt, the process to adopt a younger child with a correctable or manageable condition takes approximately 2 years from time of application to placement. The more flexible you are with age, gender and special needs, the sooner you will be matched. Families who are matched with a child featured on the Holt photolisting — a child with more complex special needs — often complete the process in about one year. Either way, China is one of the fastest and most stable adoption programs.

How much does it cost to adopt a child from China?

Holt International is a non-profit agency serving vulnerable children around the world. Holt’s board of directors mandates that Holt’s adoption fees are completely transparent and in the low-mid range, compared with other agencies of our size and scope. We advise families to budget about $35,000 total for an adoption from China, which includes travel to China and all related adoption expenses between application and placement. Additionally, all in-country adoption costs are included in our China program fee. Holt wires these funds to China prior to the family’s travel. Holt families are not required to personally make large cash payments while in China. Our fees are on par with, or less than, many of the leading agencies.

Are we eligible to adopt from China?

In June 2017, the Chinese government issued new eligibility requirements.  These guidelines limit family size, restrict the age of the youngest child in the family, and require one year between adoptions. They also relaxed the length of marriage requirement, give singles more flexibility, and confirm that the Chinese adoption authorities are open to well-controlled mental health conditions in one or both parents. They now require that there be no more than 50 years between the age of the child and the younger parent.

China is one of the most flexible international adoption programs, so please talk with one of our China team members before ruling yourself out.

Can singles adopt?

Yes! China is one of the most stable, predictable adoption programs open to single female applicants age 30+ who meet the eligibility criteria.

Should I search for a child online and then work with whatever agency is assigned to that child?

This approach doesn’t work out for most families, and can actually be counterproductive. Not all children waiting for adoptive families have online profiles, so you are only seeing a very limited number of children in need of a family when you browse various China agency photolistings. In fact, most of the children with more minor special needs never appear on an agency photolisting, and per China’s requirement, these children can only be matched with a family who has already sent their dossier to China. Your options will be broader and your process faster if you select an agency and begin your homestudy and dossier paperwork before identifying a child you wish to adopt. Families cannot be matched with a child or have a child’s file held for them without an approved home study. If you see a child online who you are interested in adopting, but have yet to start the process with that agency, there may be other families with the agency who have begun or completed paperwork, which allows to move forward with the matching process.

Are all children available to adopt through Holt on the China photolisting?

Not even close. In fact, most of the children Holt places with families never appear on the photolisting! Only children who need extra help finding families — often older children or children with more involved needs — have profiles posted on our photolisting. Children with more correctable or manageable special needs are quickly matched with families in process with Holt and never need a photolisting profile. If you are interested in adopting a younger child or a child with less significant special needs, the best thing you can do is start the process and submit a dossier so that you are eligible for a referral of a child with this profile.