Saturday, February 28, 2015

Adoption 101: The Process

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 20

If you are an adoptive family or are familiar with the process this will be old news to you and you might just want to come back on Monday. I have had a lot of people ask about what the process to adopt is and also ask why it all takes so long when I say that we may not bring our daughter home until 2016. I thought I would try to explain exactly what is involved in the adoption process. I will use the process for China because that is the one I am currently familiar with, other countries will have a different process though the homestudy and immigration steps will be the same. I will also add a '$' after each step which involves writing a check.

Here we go...

Step 1: Decide to adopt. A family will either find a child first on a waiting child list or they will sign on with an agency  and wait to be matched with a child. Because we started with an identified child, I will explain that process.

Step 2: Find a placement agency ($). This is the agency who is responsible for communication with China and who provides guides in country to complete the adoption. It is very important that this agency be chosen carefully. (Adoption ethics - Finding an agency)

Step 3: Submit your Letter of Intent to China (LOI) ($). This is the letter which asks China (specifically the CCCWA which is the government department in charge if adoptions) for permission to adopt a specific child. Along with a letter, there are financial statements and proof of the parents ability to care for a child which need to be submitted.

Step 4: Receive Pre-Approval from CCCWA (PA). This is the letter giving the parents provisional approval to adopt a specific child. With PA the parents then need to submit a completed dossier to the CCCWA within 6 months. The dossier is the collections of official documents which show a family's ability to be good and able parents. The wait from LOI to PA can be anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. We received PA for Tina very quickly.

Step 5: Find a homestudy agency ($) and complete the homestudy ($). The homestudy agency may or may not be the same as the placement agency; it depends on the states you and the placement agency are in. The homestudy is a document required of every family who wishes to adopt regardless of the type of adoption. A homestudy will consist of the following: multiple visits to your home and interviews with a licensed social worker; interviews of each of the children in the home; copies of financial statements (tax returns, savings accounts, checking accounts, retirement, life insurance), statement about water quality, employer letters, health reports on every person and animal in the family, letters of references from family and friends, birth certificates, marriage licenses, 12 hours of adoption training (or four hours per additional adoption), FBI fingerprinting of everyone 18 and older ($), and state child abuse clearances for every state everyone 14 and older have lived in from the age of 18 on. (This is the step which is currently hanging us up. We are now on week 9 of waiting for IL to run our child abuse clearances... can't complete the hoemstudy without them.)

The social worker takes all this information and compiles it into a document and determines if the family is approved for adoption. The homestudy will also include a statement from the social worker stating the number of children, age, sex, and special need the family is approved to adopt. In most states the homestudy is now complete. In a handful (including IL), the homestudy then goes to the state to be approved. You know my opinion on that by now, I'm sure.

The homestudy process can take anywhere from an extremely fast couple of weeks to many months depending on the speed of the family collecting documents, the speed of the social worker writing the study, and the various approval processes. We completed everything but the clearances in one month.

Step 6: With the homestudy completed the family now begins the immigration process for the child. The first step is to submit the preliminary application (I800A) to US immigration (USCIS) ($), the first step in the visa process. The I800A consists of a lengthy application which must have various documents attached... birth certificates, marriage licenses, and the homestudy (there may be more) and a hefty check to pay for fingerprinting.

Step 7: Wait for the fingerprinting appointment and then be fingerprinted again. If you are paying attention you will see that this is the second fingerprinting which has happened in the process. This is because government agencies don't play well with others and do not share fingerprints. So the FBI gets one set and USCIS gets another. Even better is this double fingerprinting happens every single time you adopt. Because fingerprints change, you know. (Where's that sarcastic emoticon?)

Step 8: Compile dossier while you wait for provisional immigration approval. The dossier includes an approved homestudy, birth certificates, marriage licenses, financial statement, employer letters, letters of recommendation, police clearance letters, and medical reports, as well as a set of family photos.

Step 9: Receive provisional immigration approval from USCIS. This is the final document to be included in the dossier. USCIS approval can take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks assuming they do not ask for any additional information.

Step 10: Certify and authenticate the dossier. Certification involves taking the notarized documents to the Secretary of State's office so they can certify the notary ($). If a document was generated in another state, it will need to be mailed to that state for certification. Some states required a county certification before the state certification can be added. Once the dossier is certified, it must be authenticated by the Chinese Consulate ($). There are several consulates around the country and each authenticate documents generated in certain state. It is possible you will need to use multiple consulates, usually paying couriers to carry the papers. Depending on a variety of factors this step can take one to two weeks.

Step 11: Overnight dossier to agency for review ($). After spending so much time and money on this stack of papers you do not want it to missing. The agency reviews it and puts it in order. If everything is fine it will then be sent to China. This step is commonly referred to as DTC, or Dossier to China. This step can take up to two weeks.

Step 12: The dossier is reviewed and the logged-in to the CCCWA's system and you are given a log-in date. From being DTC to having your dossier logged-in can also take one to two weeks.

Step 13: Receive Letter of Acceptance from the CCCWA (LOA). This is the official permission granted to a family from China to adopt a specific child. Current waits for receiving LOA (counting from the log-in date) are running anywhere from 70 to 90 days.

Step 14: Apply for immigration permission to bring a specific child into the country by filing the I800 application with USCIS. This application includes information on your specific child with details of their orphan status. It is this step where the US government determines that the child fits the criteria of the US Government to be classified as an orphan. Once granted, this is the first part of the child obtaining their US visa. Currently this step is taking anywhere from 11 to 36 days. Amazingly this step requires no money.

Step 15: Now the rest of this visa-stuff is a little complicated and full of acronyms and time frames which really only matter to the families who are waiting. What you need to know is that the National Visa Center communicates with the CCCWA and send important papers and emails back and forth which all result in the family getting closer to travel. All of this back and forth business takes about a month.

Step 16: CCCWA issues an invitation to the family to travel to China to adopt their child. (TA). But don't buy plane tickets yet, there is still one more step. The placement agency then needs to make a consulate appointment with the US Consulate in Guangzhou. With this date, the agency works backwards and arranges the adoption date and the family can now buy plane tickets ($). Getting a consulate appointment can take a day or two. Once the family can begin to make travel arrangements, they will probably travel within one to two weeks with all arrangements being made within that time.

Step 17: Travel. Some families choose to go a couple of days early, do some sightseeing and get over their jet lag. Some agencies plan orientation days in those days before as well. For the actual adoption, the first item on the itinerary is the child's province. This is where the family meets the child, pays the orphanage donation ($) if it wasn't wired ahead of time, and completes more paperwork. Some families will need to also travel to the child's hometown to complete the child's visa. From the province everyone then has to make their way to Guangzhou where the US Consulate is. More paperwork is done as well as the visa physical and the consulate appointment. Usually about 24 hours after all this is done, the visa is issued an the family is free to leave to go home. The time spent in country is usually two weeks. If a family is adopting more than one child and those children are in different provinces, the time spent will be close to three.

Step 18: You would think that is all, huh? Well, after a family is home, the paperwork continues. China and each state require a certain number of post-placement reports ($) on the child. In China's case, we are required to submit reports for the first five years the child is home. Families will also want to apply for a US birth certificate  or Certificate of Foreign Birth for their child ($). Social Security numbers also need to be applied for. This can be dragged out for a long time... I still need to get H.'s US birth certificate, but somehow just never seem to have $1000 (thank you IL) just lying around. We'll probably do H. and Tina at the same time.

Step 19: Buy a fireproof safe to keep all the documents in and every few months panic that you've lost them and compulsively check their presence.... or is that just me?

So does everyone have all that? Crystal clear and very straight forward with absolutely no redundancy, right?

Friday, February 27, 2015

In which I make my children eat chocolate sandwich cookies

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 19

Everyone has been looking forward to today ever since the two packages of chocolate sandwich cookies with creamy filling came home from the grocery store. And what did we do with these cookies? Learned about the phases of the moon, of course.

We are beginning to learn about the travels of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. Before they ever set out, Meriweather Lewis spent a couple of years learning the different sciences he would need to complete his tasks successfully. Astronomy was one of those sciences and was just related enough to the phases of the moon to make use of the cool activity. (Because when you find a cool educational activity, you really want to use it.) So this morning found everyone at the table with a globe, a lamp (for the sun), a tennis ball (for the moon), paper plates and stacks of chocolate cookies.

Here is D.'s completed project to show you what we did. On the paper plate everyone drew the sun (on the edge) and the earth (in the center). We then used our globe, lamp, and tennis ball to see why we see the section of the moon illuminated that we do during the month. As we learned about each phase, the cookie eaters would take apart their cookie, eat the portion of cookie/filling that were not needed and add them to the plate. The new moon phase (without any stuffing) was their favorite since it required the most eating.


For those who are curious, the phases of the moon go new moon (between the earth and the sun, with no stuffing), and continuing counter-clockwise around the circle, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, third quarter, waning crescent, and back to new moon. 

(I completely stole this from a picture on Pinterest. There was only a photograph and no link to any other webpage, so I can't give credit where credit is due.)

Everyone enjoyed it and were able to really understand the phases and why we see what we see. When we were reading in our history book a little later and read about the lunar eclipse which played a part in the fall on Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, we had a brief discussion about how eclipse work and they were easily able to understand what was being talked about because of our earlier discussions and demonstrations. Homeschool win!)

The biggest hit of the morning was that I was telling them to eat cookies and I wonder if they will all have vague cravings for chocolate sandwich cookies when the look at the moon.

G. (no she doesn't seem cold even though it is 15 degrees outside)

K. and D.

L.

L. and K.

H. and L.

Oh, and here's your bonus vocabulary lesson for the day. I had no idea, so I looked it up, the word 'gibbous' refers to the shape of a circle which is left if you take a crescent shape out of it. I pretty much is only used to refer to certain phases of the moon because it's not a shape that we really need to describe at any other time. Now you know.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Our current plague

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 18

(Warning: probably you don't want to read this if you are eating anything.)

In my continuing effort to document real life as opposed to some pretend, glossy magazine life (because I know you all think that's what we live [insert sarcastic emoticon here]), I'm sharing our latest little bit of fun.

Flies.

Everywhere.

OK, not really everywhere, but certainly a lot around certain rooms. And enough to be really annoying and cause us to put up numerous fly strips. We've even considered putting on our coats and leaving the doors open for many hours, but it's just too cold to do that, and we kind of like our pipes to stay warm and cozy.

I have more than a sneaking suspicion that some uninvited animal came into our house and died inside a wall somewhere. The good thing is that we aren't really bothered by any smell, though there is a very odd scent I get every now and then when I'm in either of the two bathrooms that are above and below each other. Thank goodness for small favors. We've had this happen before, and that time you really could smell whatever it was. I'm not really anxious to get to experience that again.

In the meantime, we will continue to battle the flies. I'm sure they'll disappear at some point... probably right around the time the weather warms us and the doors are open and the flies come in.
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On a more serious note, I have another article published. Culture and Adoption: Sharing What You Don't Know

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

It's OK to relax

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 17

For the past week or so, I've been feeling pretty tired. The weeks haven't been particularly difficult or busy, in fact, they've been pretty darn normal. I think it is this normalness that is causing me to ponder my fatigue, both physical and emotional. Though I'm tired, I am finding it difficult to gear down and actually relax. It's as though I've forgotten who to. This is rather odd for me and I've been trying to think why. Here is my conclusion. The past four months have been so crazy that I have jumped into automatic high alert and my body is finding it difficult to gear down. You want to hear the list from the past four months? I don't share this with you because I want you to be impressed by me, but because it's part of my point that things sneak up on you and you don't always realize it. Here's what we did:

- Three surgeries, one being the unplanned emergency type
- One hospital test
- 22 doctor's appointments, not including the standing twice a week variety we already do
- One college graduation
- Thanksgiving (which we hosted)
- Directing Christmas pageant and children's choir
- Christmas
- Crisis with HG with a very long ER visit and a week of difficult things as we worked to get her services
- New Year's party
- Doctoral comprehensive exams
- Three ear infections
- Two rounds of stomach flu
- Hosted a bridal shower
- Hosted a wedding
- Two tech weeks and two performance weekends for children in theater
- Decision to adopt an 11th child and application to China
- One homestudy completed
- Parents visited for a weekend

So add in that with the usual stuff... homeschooling, feeding ~12 people, keeping the house in order, teaching piano, keeping up with writing jobs, and all the other stuff of everyday life... and I can see why I've been feeling odd. It was a lot. Especially with expanders failing and various complications after H.'s surgery, I began to feel as though I was just moving from crisis to crisis and I could feel myself living in a high alert state.

Here's where I'm going with all of this. It is not good to live in a constant state of high alert. It makes small things that would normally not even register as being a big deal seem more difficult and big things become even harder. There is no way for your body to relax when bad things aren't happening and you are always looking for trouble. I have been having to purposefully make myself sit down and relax (and no, spending time on the computer, people, is not relaxing... my gut feeling is that it makes us all more stressed, but I'll have to wait for someone to do a real study to prove me right.) It involves putting more margin in my life again and realizing that having moments where I'm not doing anything are OK. It is OK if I sit and knit. It's OK if I snuggle with my littles and spend an hour looking at picture books. It's actually even OK if I sit for a bit and don't do anything at all... even if there is a load of laundry in the washer. I hate the jumpy feeling of not being able to relax and I've been using techniques on myself that I learned to help TM calm down.

It is also good for me to feel what it is like to live in this heightened state for a longer period of time because it gives me empathy for some of my children. Children from hard places live in this state perpetually, for TM, I'm convinced it is the only thing he knows. If I have difficulty gearing down from it after only four months, how much more difficult is it to learn to live in a more relaxed state? It makes me realize that he needs support in working towards this goal.

I wonder how many other people live in this state and don't even realize it. Our society doesn't give much room or permission to relax or allow margin in our lives. It's not healthy and makes one short-tempered. So everyone, take a deep, relaxing breath or two... look at your schedule and see what really doesn't need to be there... and practice not being busy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What the littles have been up to

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 16

It's been a long time since a posted any pictures of G. and L. They're doing well. They're busy, happy (except when they're not... and then they're really not), funny little girls. I love seeing what they are going to come up with next. Usually.

Blocks and entire imaginary stories... long, long involved stories... have been the name of the game for K. and the little girls for the past few days. Some of the blocks have been carted downstairs (the third floor where they [the blocks] live is not heated and right now it's a little chilly up there) and there has been much building and playing in the kitchen. There have been castles and houses and roads and superheroes and at one point Jericho was even built and then the Israelites knocked it down. I admit to stopping the catapult which used a very long block to launch other blocks, powered by K. dropping a stack of library books on one end of it.

I like to eavesdrop and listen in when they don't realize anyone is paying attention. It is so interesting to see where their imaginations take them and what they come up. I am also still grinding my teeth over that study that came out a while ago purporting to prove that younger children from large families were stunted intellectually. OK, the study only said in vocabulary, but you can't tell me that the underlying presupposition was that they were stunted intellectually as well. I even thought about keeping a running list of the unusual-for-a-kindergartner-to-use vocabulary that I heard in their play. You'll be relieved that I decided not to. I realized no one but me really wants to read it.

I'll leave you with two stories before I show you the pictures from what is going on behind me. The first relates to vocabulary (no, evidently, I can't let it go). We were watching our Marco Polo movie on Friday and one of the travelers mentioned they were stocking up on provisions. G. pipes up and asks, "What are provisions?" L., without prompting, turns to her and says, "They are supplies, just like in The Brave Cowboy." Well done, L. (The Brave Cowboy is L.'s favorite book.)

The other is about H. God knew what He was doing when He gave H. little siblings with big imaginations. They have been the best teachers she could have hoped for. Imagination was not something that could be considered an emerging skill when H. came home. It just wasn't there. She has spent a lot of time watching K., G., and L. and sometimes even playing with them (this happens more and more these days) and she is learning to imagine. The best thing I saw this weekend was from Sunday. For some reason or another K. announced that it was his stuffed dog's birthday (that dog has more birthdays than anything I know... he must be at least 100 by now). If it is your birthday, you must have presents, right? So at some point in the afternoon I discover four busy little bees wrapping items out of the recycling bin in newspaper. They then proceeded to have a party where the gifts were unwrapped. You would have thought they were real toys by the amount of joy each was greeted with... and H. was right there with them, extolling the wonders of each "gift". Beautiful.

G. (guess who picked out her own clothes)

K., H., and L. (who also picked out her own clothes... I think that's a Superman shirt under the sweater.)

L.

H. who is engaging in tandem play more and more. It's a step in the right direction.

G. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Wanderlust

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 15

I'm realizing that there is a theme in our homeschool studies this year and that is long, long travelling adventures. We've just finished the travels of Marco Polo and are now going back to the rest of the Middle Ages, and having finished the human body are now starting another unit study, this time on Lewis and Clark. I don't think I fully realized we were doing so many travel narratives when I was putting it all together. Or if I did, I didn't remember it until I started reading our Lewis and Clark book this morning.

This is probably more of a reflection of my own interests than anything else. I love to travel and well written travel literature is one of my favorite genres. (I've also been known just to check-out travel books such as Fodor's or Rough Guide from the library on places I'm interested in.) My list of destinations I want to go to is very, very long.

More than a couple of my children share my wanderlust. Last Friday we sat down to watch the DVD, In the footsteps of Marco Polo. This is a movie documenting that travels of two men in the early '90's who traced Marco Polo's journey. As we were watching the introduction and the men were describing where they were going, D. gets a funny look on his face and suddenly bursts out with, "I want to do that! I want to go there!" I understand this feeling of wanting, needing to do something, go somewhere. I sympathized with him because I felt the same way watching the little red line move across the map.

Every so often dinner conversation will center around cool places to visit. Everyone has their own favorites. In the end it would turn into a world tour. Inevitably someone will suggest I set up a 'Go Fund Me' site to pay for this big adventure. As hilarious as it would be to chronicle the traveling adventures of a family of 12, you'll notice there is no such listing. We'll have to continue to be satisfied to continue to travel in our imaginations.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tet and Chinese New Year 2015

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 13

Last night we celebrated Tet and Chinese New Year, though we were a day late. We spent the evening with the H-S family and ordered in Chinese food, which thrilled H. TM has stated for future reference that Vietnamese food is better and we should have ordered that. The objection was noted and will be kept in mind for next year.

I will pause here for a brief digression. In our defense, it is far, far easier to order Chinese take-out than Vietnamese as the only very close VN restaurant closed several years ago. You would think in a city of 75,500 people that has over 90 restaurants in its downtown alone, that there could be one Vietnamese restaurant. Is there Ethiopian? Yes. Thai? Yes, many. Mexican? Yes. Chinese... French... Spanish... Italian... Japanese? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Vietnamese? No. Now, back to the topic.

The evening was pretty low key. We ate and there might have been some fireworks, but you didn't hear that from me. TM and I had picked up some sweets at the Vietnamese market for our party. Dried fruit is part of the Tet celebrations and I found some bags marked "sweets for the New Year". We had candied ginger, winter melon, and lotus seed.

The ginger was very spicy, which some people liked. The winter melon (white stuff) was incredibly sweet and like eating straight sugar, and the lotus seeds (round), were just a little bland (I thought.)

The hit of the evening was this bag of Chinese New Year's candy which I had bought. 


Now I will admit to buying it with a little trepidation. The packaging was all in Chinese and I've had some really, um, interesting (that would be the polite form of gross) Chinese candy. Despite my warnings to the children that I couldn't guarantee the tastiness of the product, the bag was opened and swarmed upon. It turns out that it was pretty darn good. It was a sort of crispy wafer cookie texture with different flavors... coconut, coffee, chocolate, peanut butter. This is what was left.


AL H-S arrived home later that evening and was able to translate some of the package. The three characters on the front name the candy as "crisp heart sweets". Now you know.

So, happy year of the goat, everyone. 

And I'll end with one more little digression. In China, it is the year of the goat/sheep/ram. You'll see it different ways. This is because Mandarin uses the same word for both sheep and goat. (Some day I'll have to ask one of my Mandarin speaking friends how the Bible passage about the sheep and goats is translated into Mandarin.) Vietnamese uses one word for sheep and a different word for goat and the year is consistently called the year of the goat. So there is your cultural linguistics lesson for the day. 
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