"When you're looking at a program in general, you want a stable program, much like China," says Sarah Hansen, adoption director for the Philadelphia area Living Hope Adoption Agency. "You should be able to get a fee breakdown of where the fees are going. You don't want to see that any fees are unexpected. Adoptive families are targeted as having money. You want to find a program that isn't a trend... just a stable fee schedule."
Once you've found the right program for you, "It's definitely a process," Hansen says.
To adopt a child from China, prospective parents must put together what's called a dossier.
"That's basically your application to the Chinese government requesting approval to adopt a child from China," Hansen explains, noting that the dossier typically takes three to five months to complete.
As part of the dossier, parents must submit a letter or petition to adopt, addressed to the China Center of Adoption Affairs, including their reason for adopting and why they feel that they would make a good home for the child.
In addition, documents must be submitted for each parent, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, a financial statement, employment letters, health forms, background checks and photos, to name a few.
Furthermore, a home study must be completed.
"That's when a social worker comes out to the home, interviews the family extensively, investigates the home and basically makes sure it's a good environment for the child," Hansen says, adding that approval from U.S. Immigration is also required. Ultimately though, she says, "The final approval is from the Chinese side."
For parents looking to adopt a healthy child, "China will choose the child for you," Hansen explains. "That process is currently taking up to five years."
Parents willing to adopt children with special needs have more liberty to choose their child, rather than have the child chosen for them. In addition, adopting a child with special needs takes significantly less time than adopting a healthy child.
Prior to bringing home a child, experts urge parents to educate themselves just as they would if they were having the baby naturally.
"If they have genetic history of something, they educate themselves about the possibility of their kids having it. They read books about the first nine months... they join nanny groups. They don't think about it as educating," explains Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Anderson Adoption Institute. "We need to do the same thing in the adoption world. We need to understand the children that we'll be adopting."
In addition, parents must be prepared for the challenges that come with taking a child into their home.
"Typically, the younger the child, the easier the adjustment for everyone involved. But there's always going to be an adjustment, regardless of age," Hansen says, adding that the biggest adjustments include the language barrier and bonding with the family in general. "Coming from a rural area, many of the children have never seen Caucasian or an African-American person, never smelled them, never been around them."
A rule of thumb, Hansen adds, is "however old the child is at the age of adoption, that's how long it will take to adjust. If you adopt a child at a year, give them a year to totally adjust to you."
And parents must be ready to accept the issues that many orphaned children come attached with.
"They're going to do better and they're going to thrive if you're willing to address the issues that your kids have," Pertman says. "It doesn't mean that you shouldn't adopt them. It means that these kids need parents, and the parents need to be educated."