August 04, 2007

China Adoption Wait--The Technical Details

I've been getting a lot of questions lately about our adoption primarily centered on two things--why is the wait so long and are we able to track our wait. The answer to the first one I'll address in a moment. The answer to the second one is, "sort of." It's like waiting in line at the airport. You can see that there are fewer and fewer people in front of you the longer you wait, but you still don't know how long it's going to take to get you to the front. So we can track it, but we can't predict it.

Before I start, I'll give you a brief glossary:

: China Center for Adoption Affairs. This is the central government agency in China responsible for all Chinese adoptions.
Referral: This is the match of you and your child.
Dossier: This is your completed adoption file. It includes your homestudy and various other pieces of official paper like your birth and marriage certificates, financial statement, doctor's report, etc.
LID: Log-in date. This is when the CCAA has reviewed your dossier and has placed you in line. Our LID is March 20, 2007.
Referral Batch: Matches are made once a month (or once every four weeks or so) and they come in batches. That is, people are referred according to LID, so when a referral batch comes out, it has an LID cutoff date before which every dossier receives a referral. In other words, the line goes in order and nobody gets to skip to the front.
Paper-ready baby: A child whom the CCAA has decided is truly an orphan, available for international adoption, and has his or her own dossier including pictures (sometimes just 1, usually no more than 3) and brief medical information and personality information (likes music and sucking on her fingers, etc.).
SWI: Social Welfare Institute--an orphanage.
Rumor Queen or RQ: A blogger who tracks and reports China adoption information.

Okay. The short answer to why the wait is so long is because there aren't enough paper-ready babies. In China it is illegal to place a child up for adoption, so the children must be abandoned somewhere. Once found (usually very quickly--birth parents tend to place their babies where they will be found, like at the steps of a police station, the orphanage, or a crowded market in the early morning), he or she enters the equivalent of China's child welfare system. Some babies are placed in foster homes (this is an increasing situation--yay!) and the rest are placed in orphanages, called Social Welfare Institutions (SWI). Once there, a child cannot be made available for adoption until the government has determined that the child is either an orphan or that they absolutely cannot find the parent(s) and reunite them. It can take a while and cost some money for this to happen. Once this happens the child becomes paper-ready and his or her file goes to the CCAA for matching.

The flip side of this coin is that there are too many parents. The China adoption program has skyrocketed in the last couple of years. People are drawn to China because the children are usually quite healthy and because the program is stable and predictable. Nobody gets to skip to the front, regardless of celebrity status (when Meg Ryan adopted her daughter from China last year, she had to wait just as long as everyone else). There are also no bribes or individual lawyers and judges who make special determinations. Because of these and other reasons, China has become the most popular international adoption country. In the last couple of years, parent dossiers have been flooding in, but the process to make children paper-ready has not changed, so the inbalance means that there aren't enough paper-ready kids to match with paper-ready parents.

So now that we know roughly why the wait is so long (there are, of course, several other reasons that contribute to the wait, but that's the main one), the next logical question is, "how long will the wait be?" This is where we can get more specific. As I said, referrals come in batches roughly once every four weeks and are limited by an LID cutoff date. In the past (more than 2 years ago) there were just about one month worth of referrals in each monthly batch. This made for an expedient wait of around 6 months for adoptive parents. Now things have slowed down considerably.

CCAA just referred their August batch on Thursday. The LID cutoff for this batch is November 21, 2005. Yes, 2005. That means that everyone with an LID after Novemberr 22, 2005, is still waiting. Above I mentioned that in the past, entire months were referred in each batch. That has not been the case. The August batch matched only 7 days. That means that the July batch cutoff was November 14, 2005.

To illustrate just how slow things have gotten, here's a breakdown of how 2007 referrals have gone:
August 2007 batch: 7 days matched
July 2007 batch: 7 days
June 2007 batch: 6 days
May 2007 batch: 6 days
April 2007 batch: 2 days--this was an extremely depressing month. The CCAA moved forward only 2 days for the entire month.
March 2007 batch: 11 days
February 2007 batch: 16 days
January 2007 batch: 19 days

Reading from the bottom up, you can easily see a steady decline in the number of days in each batch. To break things down on a higher level, the CCAA has only been able to match approximately 3 months worth of dossiers in the last 8 months. If you look at it on a weekly level--well, with an LID of March 20, 2007, let's just say we're staying away from calculators.

The next question, then, is, "will the matching speed up?" The answer to that, according to just about everyone including agencies and regular people who follow these things, is, "it has to." The CCAA has been very tight-lipped on the subject, but the general understanding is that China does not want the wait to exceed 3 years. Will that happen? It's really hard to say. There are so many factors that go into the matching. Nobody knows how many babies are actually referred in each batch or how many parent dossiers are logged in in the first place. Some months contain more holidays (non-working days for the CCAA) than others. Some SWIs are sending more or fewer children than they have in the past.

The primary source of information for all things China adoption is a site called the Rumor Queen. The RQ has a wide readership but can be a double-edged sword. She reports rumors that people have forwarded anonymously, but they're not always right. It can be an emotional rollercoaster to hear all kinds of conflicting information and to try not to get your hopes up when rumor has it that the next batch is going to be huge and it's only a week. However, the RQ does have a lot of interesting historical information and she's the only one who tracks these things.

The RQ has several straw polls of what month and year your LID is and other information of the same variety. Obviously the people who read the site and who respond to the poll are a small, self-selected group. However, in a general sense, it may be possible to extract some high-level pieces of information. High-level in the sense that according to the RQ polls, November 2005 has the most LIDs ever seen in the China adoption program. Assuming that that information is an accurate representation, it's more understandable to see why it has/will take the CCAA ~4 months to match the single month of November. (it looks like March 2006 is going to be a bitch too)

A look at RQ's poll results (each number is one family):

November 2005: 450 (families responded)
December 2005: 256 (a significant drop)
January 2006: 232 (still falling)
February 2006: 195 (still falling)
March 2006: 365 (ouch)

And you really can't go much further beyond that because people start reading (and voting) the closer they get to referral, so dates later than those above may not represent actual falling numbers of LID batches, but rather that a smaller number of people are reading and voting.

So at this point, we can track where we are in line, but we can't predict when we'll get to the front. The wait time is agonizingly slow but seems to have levelled off in the last 4 months. Continuing at that pace would mean a very, very long wait, but chances are good that once the CCAA plows its way through November, that we're going to see a speedup raising through February matches and then dropping dramatically again through March. However, another factor is that January is chock-full of Chinese holidays, so when they're actually making matches in January for whatever dates they've gotten to at that point, we're going to see smaller results too.

Did I mention how complicated it is?

So I hope this gives you a better understanding of the wait and where we stand in line.

Posted by Shelby at August 4, 2007 10:27 AM

Wow. So essentially you don't know when you might be getting a baby from China. Damn. That's insane.
You guys are amazing and so much more patient than I would be in your shoes.

However, the nursery should look amazing! (I kid, I kid..) Have faith, Shelby. I know the wait will be worth it. We're here cheering and praying right along with you! Think of all the Build-a-Bears this kid will have! ;-)

Posted by: Annastazia at August 4, 2007 04:13 PM

Yes, it is very complicated. Hopefully people around you will be respectful and just quit asking.

Posted by: Katrina at August 5, 2007 12:49 PM

We am patient. We can wait, but we look forward to holding my third granddaughter. Mostly, we look forward to seeing the look of her loving parents as we spoon over our granddaughter.

Posted by: Pop at August 5, 2007 09:13 PM

Make that "We are patient." Also, "our third Granddaughter". It's tough being an engineer!

Posted by: Pop at August 5, 2007 09:16 PM
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