Finding an Agency that Matched
Before I begin, I want to start by saying everyone's response to our posts has been AMAZING! It's such a great feeling to know your love and support through this process! It's also great to know our post is being read- 98 people read my last posting the day I posted it! WOW! Thank you all for loving, supporting and caring for Ron and I in this adventure!
I wanted to begin this post with a quick review of "What to Expect When Expecting." Ron and I went to watch the movie last night and thought it was great! It was definitely funny at times, but touching and real in many others. The thing we weren't expecting was that adoption was part of the story line. Jennifer Lopez's character and her husband went through a Hollywood version of the Ethiopian adoption process. Although it wasn't 100% correct (Ron and I won't be picking up our son wearing a white cape to a musical procession), it was still really neat to see! I think the movie did a great job illustrating that adoption is an equally valid method of building a family! Adoptive parents experience many of the same hopes and fears as pregnant parents, but with a lot more paperwork and rules. We recommend the movie to everyone looking for good laughs and warm, heart-felt stories!
In the last post, I hinted at the challenge of finding an agency. There are literally HUNDREDS of adoption agencies around the US, so deciding on one is a challenge. One of the beauties of international adoption is that we can use any of them- we aren't limited to only the agencies in Washington. Once Ron and I knew we wanted to adopt from Ethiopia, we then started looking at agencies that worked there. Again, we used the adoption.gov website for information provided by the State Department. Although Ethiopia is not a Hague Association country for adoptions (to be discussed later), Ron and I wanted to use a Hague certified agency. We thought, "The more credentials, the better." The adoption.gov website lists all Hague certified agencies by state (it also lists the ones denied of accreditation as well).
Once we narrowed down our agency list from hundreds to a hundred or so, I went to the Ethiopian Embassy website (http://www.ethiopianembassy.org). There, I found the adoption page (http://www.ethiopianembassy.org/OtherResources/OtherResource.php?Page=AdoptionEthiopianChild.htm) and researched agencies that are approved to conduct adoptions in Ethiopia. We then went through our two lists to find a Hague accredited agency that also was approved in Ethiopia. We narrowed our list down to 30 or so!
From there, we just started exploring agency websites. We were looking for credentials, information provided, ratings and references. Also, we were looking for an agency that "felt right." I e-mailed and called over 20 agencies. Many were really supportive of Ron's and my unique situation. A few weren't :(. One agency told me that because Ron was in the military, they wouldn't work with us as they view the military as a too unstable environment for a child...ouch! Needless to say, we're not using that one!
After narrowing our list down to about 5 agencies, Ron and I began looking at costs. Ok, we actually looked at costs over 2 years ago when we really started talking about adoption to see what we were getting into and if it was something we could even afford. We knew African countries were some of the least expensive to adopt from (especially considering the costs of adoptions from Eastern European countries such as Ukraine and Russia). For those that know me are well aware of my hesitation talking about money. Although I'm going to try to avoid specifics, for the purpose of this blog, money will be mentioned. I think it's important for other families to see that adoption is possible and understand our thought processes with the financial side. Plus, understanding the financial costs of adoption means that we're not taking adoption lightly!
Adopting from Ethiopia involves many aspects: agency fees (for the agency's services), Ethiopia international fees (for the Ethiopian government and their orphanages), HomeStudy fees (to be viewed eligible to adopt in the US), immigration fees, travel fees, visa fees, post-placement fees, etc. After reviewing the costs of numerous agencies (probably over 100), we realized there are some costs that can't be changed or controlled. For example, our I-600 form for the immigration service is a flat rate of $920.00. The Ethiopian government fees are anywhere from $8,000-$10,000.00 (which can't be controlled by us). However, what we could control was the agency fees. In looking at agencies, the TOTAL cost for an adoption for Ethiopia (paperwork, notaries, translation, travel, agency/international fees, HomeStudies, immigration, visas, travel, courses, post-placement, etc.) is $22,000 -$34,000.00 (which is actually a bargain in the adoption world). Ron and I have chosen a program and plan that will keep us at the very low end of this range. Don't worry, we realize it's a lot of money, but the finances will be something to be discussed later...
We then narrowed down our list of agencies to the ones that were most cost efficient. We initially decided upon WACAP in Seattle, WA. We actually went to meet with them 4 weeks ago! We LOVED the staff and their program. We even completed our application and paid our application fee. However, we were told that the current wait time to adopt a young, healthy Ethiopian boy was 2-3 years with the agency. The reason is that WACAP runs their own orphanages and currently, many of their orphanages are full of children that are not eligible for adoption- their families have not given up parental rights. As such, WACAP provides care for the children because they drastically need it, but their orphanages are "full." This has slowed down the adoption cycle.
Since Ron and I will be in Thailand for 3 years and I won't be earning my American salary, we figured now is the perfect time to create our family as I won't be working at a career job, just local hire. Plus, in the next year, Ron will have free time (yes, that is an actual word to you military folk). Ron's free time and flexibility this next year will enable Ron to travel to Ethiopia to pick up our son without interrupting his studies in the following years. We then decided we wanted to complete our adoption in the next year or so, not next 2-3 years. This realization brought us back to the drawing board...
I found A Love Beyond Borders agency in Denver, Colorado, which I LOVED! When I called to ask about their Ethiopian program, I was blown away! They currently don't have a true wait list- their families are referred/matched to a child within 1-2 months of all the paperwork being completed! I was shocked! In researching them further, I learned that they conduct all of their Ethiopian adoptions through Adoption Avenues Agency out of Portland, OR. I found Adoption Avenues' website and contacted them directly to see how they worked and if I could cut out the middle man!
Adoption Avenues Agency (AAA) is an agency run by a Romanian M.D. I knew immediately that I liked that the manger had a straight train of thought, was to the point and offered no fluff! Just what Ron and I wanted. We know we have a very unique situation and wanted an agency to work with us. We also didn't want to pay for the "fluff" as we are having to do our own research for our situation. I called AAA (http://www.adoptionavenues.org/) and spoke with Radu's (the founder's) daughter. She told me that her dad was in Washington DC on a layover going to Ethiopia. Within 30 minutes, Radu called me back! He was just as I had imagined: kind, honest, encouraging and factual. Most of all, straight-forward and supportive of helping Ron and I! We got a, "Sure, no problem!" and "I help families overseas all the time" from Radu!
After hearing our entire situation, Radu told me that if we worked hard to complete our HomeStudy, our immigration and our Dossier (all to be discussed later) and submited everything to Ethiopia by the beginning of August, the remainder of the timeline would be in his control. Radu told me that Ron and I could adopt our son from as soon as December of this year (2012) to as late as July, 2013, depending on our situation. Once the Ethiopian government accepted our Dossier, the agency then would work directly with government-run orphanages to find our "match" (or son).
Ron and I researched AAA further. People either love or hate the agency. Those that loved it love that Radu is a man of few words but huge results. At the end of the day, he gets things done. Those that hated the agency wanted more communication and directions (fluff). Ron and I both read the reviews and felt very confident in our decision. We wanted a straight-forward agency that produced results that also provided us enough freedom to conduct the adoption in our unique situation!
We completed AAA's application and mailed it in last weekend (a very happy day)! On Thursday, Radu sent me our "check-list" to get things going! I spoke with Radu this past Monday and was told that we should have our HomeStudy done "yesterday!" That meant, "Get a move on it!" So Ron and I got moving...with the HomeStudy...