There is nothing like packing for adoption travel. I remember scouring the Internet for suggestions of what to take. I made list upon list, double and triple-checking everything. Snacks, medical supplies, toys, bottles, clothes, passports, paperwork, and $10,000 in cash. Neither my husband nor I had ever carried that much money, and we guarded our two fanny packs ($5,000 each) with our lives. Three flights later and four visits to the bank to change our massive dollars into yuan, and we were ready. We had to pay notary fees, registration fees, medical exam fees, orphanage service fees, and the mandatory orphanage donations fee.

Since adoptions to the U.S. from China began in 1992, mandatory orphanage donations have been a part of the adoption process. The amount began as $3,000 and only increased once, in 2008, to $5,000. It is not uncommon for a country to have mandatory orphanage donations, and, in fact, when my family completed the adoption of our daughter from India this past February, we paid a fee of $3,500 for the “care of the children” at our daughter’s orphanage. A description of “care of the children” from our agency cites costs for food, clothing, shelter, medical care, foster care services, orphanage care, and any other service provided directly to the children. When we adopted from China in 2015, the wording regarding our mandatory orphanage donation read the same.

On December 7, 2017, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) issued a public notice ending the mandatory orphanage donations, effective immediately. Adoptive parents would still be able to make a voluntary donation, should they wish to do so, but the amount of the donation would be at the discretion of the adoptive parents. Additionally, whereas previously the mandatory donations were made before the child’s adoption is finalized, now donations could not occur until after the adoption had been finalized in the province.

One of the reasons cited is that the consulate in Guangzhou (where all American families must obtain their newly adopted child’s visa) received numerous complaints regarding the large $5,000+ fees in cash families carried with them while they traveled. While CCCWA did explore the possibility of wire transfers, an update to China’s Anti-Corruption Law helped change the mandatory fee to volunteer in an effort for orphanage donations not to appear as an adoptive parent’s attempt to buy the child. To be clear, both China and the U.S. are signatories of the Hague Convention, which seeks to prevent the abduction, sale of, or trafficking of children. Both countries employ stringent laws and procedures to make sure each child eligible for adoption is placed by strict Hague guidelines.

Families in the adoption process received copies of the December 2017 notice from their adoption service providers (ASPs) with the direction that, as the new notice states, “Foreign adopters may donate out of the free will.” Families struggled with how to proceed, but their ASPs could offer no advice since per the new guidelines, the CCCWA could take action against any ASP perceived to be influencing families in their decision to donate, one way or another. Families about to travel had budgeted for the orphanage donation and now had to make a personal decision. For families in the process, the expectation to donate had always been there, and they had to decide whether to keep the line item. But what about families just beginning the process?

The unfortunate aspect of the new CCCWA ruling is that many provinces and orphanages in China were not made aware the mandatory donation might discontinue. To date, some families have chosen to donate the full amount, and they report that the orphanage directors are “gracious and appreciate the donation.” Some families have donated a portion, and some have not donated at all. Social media is abuzz with families seeking guidance from other families as to how to proceed. Adoption service providers cannot help, since per the CCCWA, such guidance could cause disciplinary action. And looking to other countries is no help since many already dictate mandatory donations. For each family, it must be a personal choice.

Adoption is an expensive endeavor. Between home study fees, agency fees, government fees, and travel, the total amount adds up quickly. For my family, of all the fees we paid in our process to adopt our son and daughter the (then) mandatory donation was the one payment we knew went directly to the children. True, corruption is everywhere. True, you can never be sure where exactly the money will go. But there is little doubt foreign donations have helped these organizations greatly throughout the years. The question is, What happens now?

The Chinese government may offer more support for the thousands of waiting children, but it’s also possible that orphanages will be forced to support themselves. Maybe families will donate more, and maybe they will donate less. What the landscape will look like two, three, or five years from now is impossible to say.

How about you? Have you traveled or will you travel to China soon to complete an adoption? Will you make or did you make the now optional orphanage donation? If you’re considering adoption, is a donation to your future child’s orphanage something you would consider? What would you do?



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