How to Select a China Adoption Agency, Part II

 January 18, 2012

It is so easy to make decisions about agencies based on gut feelings and likability.  I don’t discount these 6th sense impressions but they should not be the primary rationale for choosing an agency.  There are more tangible, objective measures that can be used to get to your short list of agencies.
On a macro level all agencies provide the same basic service but when you look closer there can be significant differences in execution. When comparing services ask your prospective agencies’ about how they handle key components of the adoption process including the dreaded paper chase.
During the Home study and Dossier phase you will be asked to provide reams of material to your social worker and /or placing agency.  I was surprised to learn that much of the information asked for could have been requested by or completed by the social worker or adoption agency, certainly they could make the multiple copies of these documents.  But alas thrice now I have been emailed a list and basically told to "get er dun". .. oh sure call if you have any questions too cause ya know, we're here to help. Right.  

Until recently I didn't even know there was another way.  There is.

One of my 3 dossier's....not fun.
Look for an agency that generally does all they can to ease the paperwork burden on its Clients.  Compare services in a detailed fashion.  You may be surprised that some of the higher priced agencies are actually turfing a lot of the work back to their Clients while other more moderate priced agencies are willing to go the extra mile. Trust me on'll want that extra mile.

Home Study/Home Study Review
You already know from your time spent learning about the program that a home study prepared by a Hague accredited agency is the first step in a Chinese adoption.  A home study does not have to be completed by the placing agency. It is possible for the home study to be completed by a Hague home study agency and simply be reviewed by the placing agency.  I have seen home studies completed in a matter of weeks while others take 6 months.   When talking to a prospective agency ask about the following;
1.       What documents, training and clearances are required to complete the home study? What is the adoptive parent responsible for doing?  What does the agency the agency do?
2.       How long does it take on average to complete the home study?  If the agency is simply reviewing another agency HS how long does it take for the review? 
3.        Ask if they are willing to guarantee a turn around time.

Dossier Preparation: 
Dossier preparation requires lots of tedious work and paper chasing.  There is a huge divide in the industry. Some agencies provide a full service package and do much of the paperwork for the client, others provide little more than a list of required information and assembly directions (something you can get off the internet for free, BTW) and other offer tiered plans that charge higher fees for dossier prep.  My agency called their service the “Dragon Dossier” package and charged a couple extra thousand dollars for the service. In hindsight this was a HUGE waste of money for us and ultimately my agency’s “extra” service wasn’t as good as other agency’s standard service. (And by the way, does it seem like dossier prep should even be an adoption agency "extra" or does it seem to be more of an essential part of the adoption process???).

...Live and learn...(and then blog the heck out of it.)

Things I would compare carefully if I had to do it over again;
1.       Is there a separate or extra fee for dossier preparation? If so how much and what exactly will you be doing?  Are there any out of pocket fees not included in the agency fee (USCIS filing fees, fingerprinting, notary services, copying services, etc)
2.       How much direction, support and hands on work is provided by the agency?  Are instructions provided through personal interaction, phone calls and meetings or does the agency just send you a form letter listing the dossier requirements?
3.       Does the agency fill out any forms for you or do you have to do all the work?
4.       Does the agency use a database management system that allows frequently used demographic data to auto populate forms or do you have to keep reentering the same data on different documents?  (As an example my agency had me fill out a questionnaire, an application, a dossier cover page, a parent information sheet and a travel sheet ALL INTERNAL USE DOCUMENTS WITH THE SAME INFORMATION.  A simple Microsoft Access program could eliminate much of this work by the PAP. ) Bottom line are you doing things that require your personal involvement or are you doing clerical work that could be provided by the agency.  Any agency that pushes this sort of work back to the PAP client should be reflecting this lower level of service in their fee.
5.       How much assistance is provided with USCIS?  Are forms completed by your agency,  reviewed  before submission or does your agency just send you the form filing instructions (once again information that is available on line)?  Will you agency follow up on flinging?  If  so what is the time line for this?  Does the agency have relationships with Case Officers at USCIS and are they able and willing to work to expedite a file for a seriously ill child or a child that is aging out? (If you intend to adopt a child who will require editing ask how many times the agency has successfully expedite a file.)  What exactly is the follow up protocol?  (My agency only seemed to follow up after I asked for help.)
6.       Who handles notary services?  How are documents authenticated/apostilled etc? Is the agency responsible for making multiple copies and assemble the final dossier or does the PAP do this?
7.       Once the dossier is completed ask how long translation and DTC (Dossier sent to China) will take?  Ask them what the last 30 day average for DTC to LID (log in date) has been?  Compare the DTC to LID timeline to the timelines reported on the China Adopt Talk Special Needs Forum.

(to be continued…)

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