Photo Credit: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock.com

I have three children whom we adopted from China over the past four years, and I’ve found that there are still some preconceptions out there about what the China program looks like. Ten years ago, the China program was mainly non-special needs infant girls, with the timeline from dossier submission to referral to travel averaging under a year. Much has changed in those ten years; here is what you need to know.

The China program is a special needs program.

Children who are waiting for families will almost always have some type of medical need, though the range of these needs can vary tremendously: from corrected in China and now healthy to needing life-long support, and everything in between. While there are still families waiting for a non-special needs referral, China is still matching dossiers logged into their system in January 2007; it typically takes months to match a single day’s worth of dossiers.

When you sign up with an agency, you will be asked to complete a medical conditions checklist, which essentially tells the agency which special needs you would consider. This can be an overwhelming activity, and I guarantee that, unless you are in the medical profession, the list will include diagnoses which you have never encountered, much less considered parenting. The best advice I can give is to do two things: First, sit down with your doctor and ask for definitions and range for each of the conditions. Second, even if you eschew Facebook and social media, make an exception and join a China special needs Facebook group and ask questions of the parents whose children have the conditions you are considering.

And remember, even non-special needs children will still have to negotiate the trauma that they have experienced in life. Trauma is a fact of adoption and parents need to be prepared for it. Sometimes trauma issues can make even the most serious medical issues pale in comparison.

Think boy.

Ten years ago, there were orphanages filled with baby girls needing homes. Today, due to a wide variety of societal influences, the number of boys is at least equal to, if not greater than, the number of girls. Families still continue to prefer girls over boys when adopting, often waiting for up to two years for a referral, while boys, many with minor needs, wait for a family. Being male has become its own special need.

Timelines will vary.

The route to being matched with a child can look very different for different families. Some families find their child on an agency waiting child list or on an advocacy list and start the process to bring that child home before starting a dossier. Depending on how long their dossier takes to put together, these adoptions can take anywhere from 10 to 14 months on average. Other families complete their dossier and submit it to China in order to be matched with a child. If a family is open to multiple special needs and to a boy, a match can happen almost immediately. If a family has few needs they are open to and only desire a girl, the wait for a referral can be up to two years.

The internet and social media are your friends.

I know I’m repeating myself, but I feel really strongly about this. There are so many unknowns with international adoption that it is in a family’s best interest to educate themselves about all the possibilities. The best way to do this is to be able to meet and talk to as many other adoptive parents as possible. They’ve already been down this road and their stories and information are invaluable. There are Facebook groups for researching agencies, for researching special needs, for support for a specific special need (which, if it is a rare diagnosis, is extremely valuable), for questions about travel, and for post-adoption support. I have watched as parents who are struggling in China, overwhelmed with caring for this new child, come to their Facebook support groups and have nearly instant support and advice and shoulders to cry on. I don’t think I’m overstating when I say for more than a couple of these families, it made the difference between coming home with a child and not.

I also know that there are some agencies who tell their clients that they are not allowed to make use of social media China adoption groups. I don’t think it’s too extreme to say that this is crazy. Yes, like all social media, there is good and bad, but in this case, the good and the education and support that come from these groups is too important for an agency to forbid use of social media. (I’m not even sure they really can, but this is just my opinion.) I would personally steer clear of any agency that did not take this type of education and support seriously.